By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Weeks into our Houston "evacu-cation," our New Orleans landlords call, wanting to know if we're coming back. Their phone messages (we haven't been brave enough to answer) claim that their property value has doubled, and though they won't raise our rent, if we are coming back to New Orleans, they need money for October.
This Fifth Ward Houston goat farm has been paradise (I've also made more money in one month in Houston than I would've all summer in Louisiana), but Mizzy and I don't want to lose our huge, gorgeous, cheap house in New Orleans, with its elaborate pygmy goat pen.
Hoping to further avoid this hard decision, we take Chauncey for a walk through a Houston park (so much cleaner than anywhere back "home") and end up answering the same old goat questions. We've always joked about typing up an FAQ pamphlet.
Q:Oh, my God, a goat! How did you end up with a pet goat?
A: Our wonderful rented house in New Orleans had a giant yard, so Mizzy wanted a dog. But I love animals too much to want to be in control of when one can and can't poop. So we joked about getting a goat, who would live outside all the time, pooping little odorless black beans wherever and whenever he pleased. We then jokingly found the Web site of Rosedale Farms on New Orleans's West Bank, and drove out to visit the goats. When the pygmies, like fat, knee-high seals with stubby legs, all silently approached us, questioning us with many calm, kind-seeming eyes, urban goat husbandry suddenly didn't seem so esoteric. "And with a yard y'all's size," the married farmer couple promised, "y'all wouldn't even have to feed him." Then moments into our visit, a mother goat gave birth. After witnessing the miracle of life for the first time ever (and after the lady farmer said she would have to find homes for the two newborn boys quick, before her husband sold them for food), we put down a $75 payment on a baby boy goat, to be picked up one week later.
Q:Goats eat anything, right?
A: We're not sure if it's because Chauncey's so small, or so spoiled, but I've never seen him glance twice at an aluminum can. He eats only what will give him sustenance -- and also anything that is flat, thin and crinkly: leaves, paper, plastic bags. Also cigarette butts from New Orleans's dirty streets. Sometimes we give him a handfuls of sweet feed in unsuccessful attempts to try to teach him tricks, even though our vet ordered, "Don't feed him anything. Just let him eat the yard." This same vet also claimed the cigarettes were actually good for cleaning out the internal parasites goats inevitably contract from always eating off the ground. Chauncey's diet -- like ours of constant fried shrimp and afternoon beers -- has been much cleaner on this farm in Houston.
Q:Does he live indoors with you?
A: We might bring Chauncey in when he's tired enough to pass out in Mizzy's lap. But because God wired goats to never stop eating -- and because many important things are made out of paper -- Chauncey is not a very fun houseguest. He lives outside here in Houston, with a dozen chickens, two spooky sheep and a trio of female Nubian goats five times his size, who treated him as Santa's reindeer did Rudolph.
These floppy-eared Houston girls -- Lisa, Latte and Mocha -- rammed and butted and bullied tiny Chauncey. The one time he stood up for himself (literally stood up on his back hooves, to a full height of two and a half feet), lanky Latte reared up in response and towered nearly seven feet above Chauncey. Still, he remains as close to the ladies as they will allow him, since our first week seeking refuge in the kindly farmers' empty house (before they'd returned from vacation, before we'd ever met them), he escaped the pen and narrowly survived a bloody wild dog attack. Days later, the farmers (who, like so many Houstonians, have been more parental to us than my parents) returned home to find a pack of five more wild dogs sniffing around outside their house. So, though Hurricane Rita left enough leaves on the ground to keep him round as a globe, Houston hasn't been as paradisiacal for Chauncey.
Not until the farmers moved us into our own cute little house directly across the street. The house is smaller but almost nicer than our New Orleans home, with its own diminutive fenced-in yard. Unfortunately, the first memory Mizzy and I created there was an argument, when I did not approve of her "trapping" Chauncey in our new yard. I vehemently believed that, though he didn't get along with the other goats, he nonetheless felt safer around them. But Mizzy wanted him closer to her. "Despite what he wants!" I shouted for all our new neighbors to hear. We ended up crying on opposite ends of our new cute house.
It was just that neither of us had freaked out since Katrina. Not once. Our sadness has been mellow. But now our landlords are pressuring us with ultimatums, and Mizzy's been offered a temporary job in Rhode Island placing Katrina victims in artists' residencies -- they would pay her rent, plus 20-something dollars an hour (unheard of in New Orleans!), and though it's only a nine-month job, I fear I might never see her or Chauncey again.