My pal, Mort the goat

When I was a kid I had a friend named Mort. Mort was a goat. Mort lived at the nearby Jewett residence in a stock pen that took up the entire square footage of what was essentially the Jewetts backyard. The Jewett kids spent most of their time playing at their front dooryard on busted, rusted snowmachine and push-mower carcasses. They didnt seem to care much about Mort the goat. All told, there were seven humans with some mixture of Jewett blood living in a particleboard shedwhich explains why Ive always thought of eight as my lucky number. Mort was a handsome goat with a salt and pepper pelt, black eyes, and two nearly two-foot long billygoat horns that arced, like finger nails, from his skull and on down to his spiny backbone. The word Ill use to describe Morts facial expression is a word I know from vocabulary classtaciturn. Mort was an inexplicable and alluring goat. I never once heard Mort utter baahh, but once every five or six minutes, through his nostrils, hed draw a heaping load of oxygenstand totally still for 15 secondsand exhale. Hed omit an almost violent sound from deep within his throat that could be described only as a wheeze. The first time I heard Mort wheeze I thought he was trying to surface a big ol coarse billy goat hairballbut nothing ever came up. When Mort would wheeze, I would always crack up; now some 35 years later, I still wonder what the heck it was that caused him to utter such sounds. During the last two weeks in August, and the first two weeks in October, the Jewett family would bring Mort around to the front door-yard. For $5 an episode, the Jewetts would tie the beast to a 1976 Arctic Cat Panther 440 and showcase his wheeze sessions to both clueless flatlanders and curious yard-sale enthusiasts. That was good money, especially if you remember that, back in 1977, five bucks could actually buy something that would take you a week to eat (or a day to drive). The Jewetts sign read: Billy goat wheezesshow every 5 minutesMort, the Old Faithful of goats! On the bottom of the makeshift sign were five, eight-point buck stickers, followed with an =s (equals) sign, and the word cheap. Idling cars lined up for miles, their drivers and passengers waiting for a chance to see the wheezing goat. Ruth Jewett, the barer of the entire Jewett clan, sold orange Madelines for 20 cents a piece; an extra buck bought you a press kit with tearsheets of newspaper articles published about Mort. For an extra $2 you received an audio tape of Morts two television appearances (a feature on the local Burlington news), and the lighthearted final segment of a Friday night, Walter Cronkite news broadcast on CBS-TV. If Mort were alive today, Im sure he would have appeared on CNN; this is ironic because the physical similarities between Mort and Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and Larry King are undeniable. I loved Mort and was upset by the freak show-like atmosphere the Jewett family had created. Their seeing a good opportunity to make money was understandable; their follow through to make this happen was admirable; but the sheer number of souls allowed to gawk at Mort seemed to me out of line with any regard to the creatures mental health and overall well being. One day, the Jewetts threw a party for a man who was their 10,000th customer served. When the man posed for a photo with Mort (and his Arctic Cat), I could see Morts pridethe thing that drew 10,000 people from miles aroundwas wounded. I could see his face had been washed of its handsome, sturdy, and natural-born taciturnity. Morts new expression was now one of being, well, subtly bewildered. With his spirit injured, the wheezing came more sporadicallynot every five to six minutes like it had before. Sometimes Mort would go an hour before a wheeze; this caused logistical problems for the four Jewett siblings who managed the operations. One day a new sign appeared at the Jewetts house: Mort has retired. Thanks for making the trip. Orange Madelines can be ordered here. A typed piece of paper was glued to the bottom of the sign as a P.S.: If youre from Brooklyn, N.Y., and your station-wagon breaks down, we recommend you not call Tellings towing. I visited Mort one evening after a busy, tiring day. As I was feeding the goat some corn flakes, I couldnt stop yawning. After Mort finished the corn flakes, and after hed licked his lips and gums clear of crumbs, he yawned! It must have been my yawning that triggered histhe same way it does with humans. Have you ever seen a goat yawn? Well, I hadnt either up to that point, but when I did, I thoughtand still dothat it was the funniest thing that ever occurred in the animal world. Worth ten bucks a car loadany day of the week. Rusty DeWees tours Vermont and Northern New York with his act The Logger. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at rustyd@pshift.com. Listen for The Logger, Rusty DeWees, Thursdays at 7:40 on the Big Station, 98.9 WOKO or visit his website at www.thelogger.com

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