Goat Tales

In which intrepid Chauncey tangles with a stray dog followed by a frantic ride for help

We never knew whether it was illegal to keep our goat inside the city of New Orleans. We never had to know. Because our Bywater neighbors never cared what parties we threw, what concerts we hosted, what goats we kept. Whereas my parents in Conroe aren't even allowed to hang their choice of drapes in their own windows. And another nosy Texan neighbor called the police on my new editor's grandparents, for housing Chauncey in their overgrown garden while we're homeless in Houston.

Everywhere we've landed since the evacuation has been another attempt to accommodate the goat. As if just being New Orleanians hasn't gotten us enough free meals and drinks, Chauncey has been, as always, the Great Ambassador. He's finally led us here, to this goat farm! An older, hippyish couple own the whole neighborhood: a large clump of houses and small farms -- on a bayou! The area is called the Fifth Ward; I hadn't known the world outside New Orleans divided itself into wards. "Fifth Ward also has Houston's highest crime rate," informed my new editor, who found us this situation. "S'where I figure you'll feel most at home."

The couple will arrive home in three days. I haven't met them yet. Their goats are being kept at a separate location while they vacation in Colorado. But as I type on their computer, two huge prehistoric sheep stare in at me through the window -- a chicken rests atop one's back. I don't see Chauncey anywhere underhoof. He's closer in size to the chickens; a clean little toy compared to the sheep; no balls, no horns. The breeders sawed off then cauterized Chauncey's horns at birth, without asking our preference. We snipped his nuts later.

My girlfriend, Mizzy, has been at her parents' in D.C. all week while I've holed up alone in this big house as if in a writer's colony, an artist's retreat. Mizzy and I have little responsibility. Nothing is expected of us refugees, for now. Our boundless cell phones roam free of charge; our rich, kindly landlords will have bigger concerns; Entergy will have stopped knocking on our door (painted with its big orange X) about that past-due $300. And all this while our bank accounts are stuffed with FEMA and Red Cross money. When this couple return, they want us to rent a two-bedroom house across from the goat farm for $475! No lease. Month-to-month refugee special. With a Jacuzzi. And cable Internet. On a goat farm! The exact situation Mizzy and I have often theorized about, out loud.

But though Chauncey is meant for a farm, he looks small and lost in that vast gray pen built for beasts four times his size. The currently absent goats have eaten every stitch of green, mowed the pen down to just gray, so I take Chauncey on eating walks around the neighborhood -- like taking a dog to pee, except eating takes time. I lead Chauncey down to the thickest roadside weeds and hide in the shade reading The Bonfire of the Vanities (drawing my own comparisons to the recent governmental reaction in New Orleans) and watching Chauncey munch for the length of one chapter.

But even a Tom Wolfe chapter's never long enough to give a goat his fill. Thus, so hungry and so small, Chauncey slips out of any pen, evacuating the gray in search of green. Goats are famous masters of escape that learn to work latches with their tongues. We shifted Chauncey into a smaller chicken-wire enclosure within the big gray pen, but still, every morning when I step outside, Chauncey comes trotting up the road on hooves like tiny high heels.

What can I do? Just hope he doesn't get mugged.


One Jack-and-Coke into another slow refugee afternoon, I heard a shriek like a hawk. "Chauncey!" I sprinted through the big house and out to the pens. "Chauncey!"My simultaneous first sights were a medium-sized black dog rushing away along the fence, and Chauncey scrambling toward me, squealing, bleeding. I snatched up all of his 27 pounds and gripped his muscular throat to plug the pencil-thick red stream. "No, no, no!" I shouted in response to Chauncey's hot tragic screams in my face. And suddenly, not having a car didn't seem so bohemian, so cute. I could only carry this bloody armful out onto the dirt streets, bleating, "Help me! Help me!" But the farmers were all gone. Chauncey's legs straightened out, back at an angle like he was cliff-diving -- like death throes. "Chauncey's dying! Help!" I cannot imagine the first impression my teary, red, anguished face -- and shirt and shorts painted with blood and the screaming goat in my arms -- made on the pale young man who finally piled us into his Mustang.

Our young driver didn't know of any animal hospital. His Mustang idled as I watched him rack his brain, calmly, but with his fists up on either side of his head, like thought conductors revving and revving and: "Okay! Yes! An emergency vet!"

"A closeone?" I asked, knowing that in Texas anything "close" is still far away -- another reason to miss New Orleans. After 20 minutes on the freeway, Chauncey's transport instinct kicked in and he lay still, squealing only when I released his throat -- the bleeding had stopped. Chauncey remained a civilized beast, while in my panic I harassed our driver: "He's gonna bleed to death!" I shook Chauncey to keep him from falling sleep. "Is the vet actually closeyet?" Our driver's continual Shh, shh, shh, shhhhwas meant as much for me. But I couldn't help believing that Chauncey was about to become another of Katrina's after-the-fact fatalities. And while Mizzy is gone! I couldn't stop blaming myself: Why did I let them cut off his horns! Why wasn't I out there spending time with him? I spend more timewriting about Chauncey, and talking about him at parties with strangers…

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