I never knew his real name, or if I did, I've forgotten it. A tall, rail-thin fellow who always had a ready smile but few words, he lived just off the highway along with some goats and a lone red dog he called Goldie, a cross between a golden retriever and an Irish setter. Surrounded by craggy piles of cast-off junk, the little fly-speck shanty he called home appeared even more tenuous than its occupant. His only visible means of support was the occasional sale of a piece of his landscape and whose resulting vacant spot amongst the rubble was quickly filled twice-over.
Late in the evenings, the small herd of goats held court on top of an old, beat-up truck long past its prime, a twisted hunk of indistinguishable metal; bearded King Billy with his crown of horns more regal than any anointed Shakespearean monarch. Occasionally, Goldie would join her hooved friends in a chase around the yard, barking at their heels, each knowing the rules of the game. Serving as base, the hood of the old truck was safe harbor for the goats, the sound of their bleats an echoing cacophonous song. If her Capricorn yardmates stayed there too long, Goldie would get bored and amble off in search of something more interesting.
And so it would seem likely the old man was known to the locals as "Goat Man". It was not used in a mean way, just a name much like the postman, or the butcher. Someone told me once that Goat Man was very educated, had a master's degree in some field or other. I suppose it was possible. Those days, he was just an old hermit that seldom bathed, preferring the company and philosophy of four-legged friends. Any vestige of higher learning was well hidden underneath the old dirty "gimme" cap that was part of Goat Man's everyday uniform.
If his mood was just right, and the vistor willing to ignore the ripe odors, Goat Man would put Goldie through her tricks. Lining up several empty cans of various labels of beer, Goat man would send Goldie outside of the lean-to barn and ask a guest to choose a brew - care for a Jax, a Pearl, or maybe a Lone Star? How about a Shiner? Nodding his acknowledgement of the choice, Goat Man would pick up the selected can, hand it around for inspection, and then set it back amongst the rest. Then, giving a sharp whistle, Goat Man would call Goldie back inside. She would wait patiently for the signal to begin... ears pointed, eyes glued to his weathered face, she paid no attention to her audience. Goat Man would have a short one-sided conversation with Goldie and then with a slight upward point of his chin toward the wall, she would pad quickly to the line-up of cans, sniffing one, then another. She occasionally went down the line completely before returning to the right beer; placing her paw on its top, she would pull ithe can over, pick it up in her mouth, and carry it back to Goat Man. This would go on until the audience grew tired of the performance, certainly the man and the dog never wearied of the routine. Some people said that Goat Man would put a particular scent on the can, others said the dog got secret signals from him. Me? I always thought it was more the special bond between Goldie and Goat Man, a language only the two of them knew, a unique communication between man and his best friend.
Goat Man and Goldie were minor celebrities in the little coastal town, their fame reaching down the blacktop county highway to the next little sleepy fishing burg. Years passed and both friends lost battles to cancer; Goldie one year to a tumor in her abdomen, and Goat Man the next to lung cancer - the unsolicited gift of decades-long smoking of unfiltered Camel cigarettes. The kingdom of junk has long been razed over, but ever so often, the flattened odd can of Jax beer surfaces, its red and yellow label scratched by time and perhaps the faint markings of canine teeth.
*A republish from my 2004 archives*