Monday, April 19, 2010
It's as easy as breathing, and every bit as hard.
This feeble effort, for instance:
The old goat was uncomfortable standing on a raised platform (perhaps, it occurred to him, a platform was by its very nature raised, but he had never before stood on one; a few moments earlier the man had instructed him to get up on the platform, and, coaxed by the rope around his neck, the goat had done so).
This platform was small, had been hastily assembled out of scrap wood at hand, and did not feel sturdy beneath the old goat's wobbly legs.
The old goat also wasn't at all comfortable wearing a red felt vest, green satin britches, straw hat, and wire-rim spectacles, although he was somewhat astonished by the improvement in his eyesight that had been effected by the glasses. Be that as it may (and was), the ridiculous get-up was not his idea. Clothing of any sort had never figured in a single idea he'd ever had, and he'd had his share of ideas. Ideas, in fact, were his stock in trade.
If he weren't convinced this whole charade was necessary to save his neck, and if a human being hadn't tied the rope around that very neck to drag him about, he wouldn't for a moment have gone along with this nonsense.
The old goat wished like hell he'd never opened his big, fat mouth. There was nothing he could do about it now. He could talk, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to make the most of it and speak his mind.
The humans got a kick out of a talking goat. Always had. They saw him as entertainment. The old goat, however, hoped for something more truthful than mere entertainment.
Actually, what he truly hoped was to spook the living bejesus out of the people who came to hear him speak. If he was to do his job he would need to choose his words carefully --his English was decent, but he'd had to pick it up where he could and hadn't exactly spent his long life surrounded by humans of much eloquence or erudition. The old goat also spoke in a very slow and halting tenor, poorly pitched, and with a slight lisp that tended to lend unintended comic effect to his words. This last was something he was keenly conscious of as he stood on the platform.
The old goat also, of course, couldn't write, so whatever words he did speak had to be either extemporaneous or committed to memory.
There was surely some risk, he supposed, for a goat willing to speak plainly and honestly to humans, but the old goat had also surmised that there was potentially a good deal of money to be made off a talking goat. He was counting on this factor --and the sheer wondrousness of the spectacle-- to allow him to speak his mind.
A large crowd had assembled at the fairgrounds that day, and they were still pressing into the hot tent as the old goat wobbled slightly on the platform and awaited the signal that he was to speak.
When a loud and gracelessly hyperbolic introduction had been made, and he had received his signal, the goat raised his head and stared out at the gaping faces that surrounded him.
"This gentleman," he said, nodding in the direction of the man who had provided the introduction, "has described me as a 'storytelling goat.' I'm afraid this is not quite accurate. I do not have any stories for you. It is my belief that those who begin by telling stories inevitably end by telling lies. I do not wish to lie to you, and also am of the opinion that the world is a story that tells itself. That story --whatever it might be-- should be sufficiently harrowing, heartbreaking, entertaining, and instructive.
"No," the old goat continued, "I am not here to tell you stories. I am, in fact, reminded of a monstrous swine maiden of my acquaintance who saw her business as the telling of stories, and the 'nurturing' of stories in others. 'For what,' she would frequently ask the barnyard animals, who, I might add, were her only audience, 'is your character dying for want of?' She would ask us to imagine those very words as if they were lodged behind our ribs in a sort of circling maze, with the question mark at the end of the sentence stamped squarely on our hearts. What a foolish question to ask a herd of animals destined for slaughter! How many possible answers I could have given that wretched woman, and not one of them would have been profound enough to satisfy her exalted and misguided notion of the importance of stories.
"So, no, I am not here to tell you stories. Pardon me if I repeat myself, but I wish to be clear. I can only tell you what I have observed and learned in my long life, which has not been blessed with a great deal of kindness or happiness. In this, I know, I am surely not unique, but I nonetheless believe that the ultimate source of all cruelty and unhappiness is standing right here before me. If it is your honest opinion that my words do not apply to you, I ask that you not take them personally. I must tell you, though, and please understand that this knowledge gives me no pleasure whatsoever, that from my experience I can only conclude that a great majority of human beings are monsters and...what is the word? Dicks. They are dicks, and the dicks, from what I have seen, cause nothing but suffering and misery and the endless perpetuation of untruths and make believe of the most grievous and heartbreaking sort. They will dress a tired old goat up in ragged human clothing and hope that he will deliver some mock, feel-good bunch of hogwash masquerading as wisdom that will allow all the victims of the dicks to walk away feeling good about themselves and hopeful regarding the human condition. That this goat cannot and will not...."
There was a great deal of obvious discomfort and vocalized displeasure in the crowd as the old goat moved into this peroration. A steady gaggle of parents dragging youngsters by the hands was making a hasty retreat toward the exit in the back. At one point the man at the side of the platform had given a hard jerk to the rope around the old goat's neck, which caused the spectacles to slide from his face and bounce from the platform into the crowd, where they were pounced on by a scrum of children. Eventually, before the old goat could properly wrap up his remarks, the man with the rope, assisted by a group of clearly exercised men, succeeded in wrestling him from the platform, hauling him through the back of the tent, and shoving him into a trailer.
The old goat was driven away, and was not heard from again for over a year. When he did finally reappear --at a county fair in Illinois-- he had been bought and sold several times and was a truly doddering, glassy-eyed creature who had been reduced to reciting classics from the folk and fairy tale canon to crowds of rapt youngsters and mocking teenagers.
When he died a short time later he was buried outside a local historical society in a small town in the Midwest (the same institution is also in possession of his spectacles, the gift of an anonymous benefactor). His grave is marked with a modest plaque that reads simply, "Hiram, The Beloved Storytelling Goat."