Up early on a Sunday morning, my dad and I drove to Swap & Shop, held every weekend at the old I-70 drive-in, a place where people from all over sell and barter goods—everything from clothes to animals.
The night before, my dad and I loaded a display table, mechanic tools, power tools, and various items into his red Chevrolet van with rusted fenders, plush red bucket seats, red shag carpet, a pair of white fuzzy dice hanging around the rearview mirror, a pine tree car deodorizer, and, in the back, a twin bed. We’d usually get to swap & Shop before sunrise, avoiding the long line to get in, and find a good place to setup, which made it easier to pack up and leave at the end of the day. For those selling goods, the admission cost for cars, trucks, or vans, was around $5; admission was free for buyers. On a good day, my dad would sell a few hundred dollars’ worth of goods.
After we were there for a few hours, my dad said, “Go see how much they want for one of them goats.” A short distance away from us was a man with goats and other animals. The man replied, “Twenty dollars each.”
Satisfied with myself for having completed the mission without embarrassment, I returned to my dad’s van.
My dad was making a sale. I decided to wait and see if he remembered sending me to inquire about the goat, hoping he’d forgotten about it. He hadn’t, asking as soon as he saw me, ‘’How much for one of them goats?” “Twenty dollars,” I answered with a smirk, acknowledging to myself that my avoidance tactic failed.
He dug into his pocket, pulled out a roll of bills, peeled off a crisp twenty, and handed it to me. I asked, “What’s this for?” playing stupid. “Go get me one of them goats,” he said.
Realizing that plan A failed, and understanding the seriousness of the situation, I tried to reason with him. “My pit bull will kill it.”
But my dad would not listen to reason or be swayed from his decision to make me go buy him a goat. My heart dropped, my face reddened, a lump grew in my throat, a sickening feeling settled in the pit of my stomach, my social status was going to be ruined by a stinking goat.
I walked back over to the goat herder’s truck, angry and now determined to buy a goat so my pitbull could kill and eat it, proving my dad a fool for not listening to me. Eyes blazing, and without a tremor of embarrassment, I dug into my pocket, pulled out the crisp twenty dollar bill, and told the goat herder, “I want to buy one of your goats.”
“Male,” I said. I wanted it to be a fair fight, my pit bull was female. The man pulled a goat from the truck, tied a rope around him, and handed me the leash. The goat was young, mostly white with small horns on his head, and unaffected by everything and everyone around him. Unlike myself: a self-conscious thirteen-year-old teenager. Now feeling silly, I started towards my dad’s van, the goat—wild and stubborn—being dragged and pulled along.
When we got there, I tied the goat up to one of the old drive-in speakers, and climbed into the passenger seat to hide my face. The goat, laying out in the open, exposing himself to the whole Swap & Shop, began eating the rust off one of the fenders of my dad’s van.
Once my dad saw him, he gave me some money to buy the goat something to eat. Seeing that he wasn’t a picky eater, I bought the goat four hot dogs for a dollar at the drive-in’s concession stand. I also bought him a Coke to wash them down with.
At the end of the day, we packed up and headed for home. We lived in an area called Birmingham, right off 210 Highway, a short distance from where my dad worked, in the Hunt Midwest Caves, as a supervisor with a truck shipping company called Space Center. Our house was right between two train tracks, the whole house would shake when a train came by. And when the conductors blew their horns at 2 A.M., passing the railroad crossing, I slept right through it. My parents had moved there after my brother and I started getting into a lot of trouble, in our old Northeast neighborhood.
When we got home, I opened the van’s side door to let the goat out. My pit bull and other two dogs came running. The goat, unfazed, just stood there, looking at them as they barked and growled. The goat raised up on his hind legs, dropped his head and lunged, head-butting one of the dogs in his side as the other dogs scattered. Then the goat jumped up on top of the dog house, claiming it for himself. I was shocked and amused, the dogs were afraid of the goat.
Z.A.SMITH DIARY OF A PRISONER: EXPRESSIONS OF AN ASPIIRING ARTIST OF LIFE
Zachary A. Smith, author of Smith's Guides