Gus attended the county fair for some well earned leisure time and an afternoon filled with relaxed thoughts. He was a recent retiree from his career as a U.S. Postoffice mail sorter. He had spent long, painstaking hours accurately sorting mail, and packages into slots and trains of canvas-bags. He took personal pride getting every address precisely sorted to expedite delivery. He once got a commendation from the Postmaster General in person for his dedication and attention to detail in his work. Now retired, Gus looked forward to taking things easy and enjoying the simpler pleasures in life.
Gus traded his daily postal uniform for more casual attire. This afternoon for example, he wore a white, short-sleeved sport shirt and baggy blue shorts. He even wore a squarely placed Scottish golf cap, although he wasn’t Scottish and didn’t play golf. A simple man just thrilled to spend a sunny day looking at livestock from local farms. Gus wandered past gyrating carnival rides and efficiently navigated around loose throngs of bored town folk and their cotton-candy-hyper children.
Overhead popcorn shaped clouds tumbled lazily across the sky. Gus passed by many food vendors at the fair because he had packed his own sack lunch. Being unmarried and a frugal man, he didn’t like paying inflated prices on food at these events, he considered the charges near criminal. Instead he packed himself a modest meal the way his mother always had, consisting of one egg salad sandwich on white bread, wrapped tight and neat in wax paper and a fat, juicy pickle securely placed in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t leak and spoil the brown paper sack.
Gus followed a matted path to the stock pens and corrals located at the South end of the fairgrounds. A make-shift fencing signaled the entrance to the livestock area. Red, white and blue striped pennants hung over rope strung between steel pipes driven into the ground. Usually this part of the fair only interested local farmers and 4H-er’s, the townies preferring to gamble their money on gypsy games of chance and loud, rock-and-roll rides that clogged the fair’s midway. Gus just wanted a to take in the farm animals and eat his brown bag lunch.
While ambling though the stockyards and steel barns Gus noticed that the cages and pens were empty. He didn’t see any sheep, chickens, bunnies, horses or even prize stud bulls anywhere. The area seemed mostly deserted of two-legged and four-legged livestock. In one section, he walked by a long row of large wooden crates with chicken wire fronts and the name of an animal stenciled above the cage. But each cage was empty. Near the end of the line, he came upon a cage that held one animal, a medium-sized bacon pig. Gus stood there like he was frozen to the spot. Above the cage was a painted sign that clearly spelled the word G O A T. He stared at the pig and then stared at the sign. He was transfixed at the image before his eyes.
Gus put his arms behind his back, still holding his sack lunch and raised an eyebrow at the pig in the cage plainly marked GOAT. He couldn’t move, his mind and all his thoughts had locked-up on the visual paradox. He felt his palms go clammy. All his mail sorting experience and intuition failed to help him make sense of the spectacle. He leaned in closer to the cage and squinted at the pig. The pig’s beady eyes squinted back. Gus felt the back of his neck slightly tighten. His concentration was so strong that like a magnet, he started to attract the notice of people walking by. Following Gus’s intense stare, the people first individually and then in small groups also stopped and began staring at the pig in the cage labeled GOAT. Soon a small crowd had gathered, all frozen in mutual concentration. More were drawn to the spot, standing mesmerized with curiosity. Gus stood at the pinnacle of a knitted triangle of fair-goers. The pig just stared back at the crowd, motionless except for a random twitch of his bristled snout.
The entire scene, like gravity pulled the whole fair to that one exhibit. That area of the fairgrounds started to resemble a listing ship deck. All rides stopped, the blaring music stopped, even the slight July breeze ceased to move. Gus and the pig and the cage labeled GOAT had brought the whole fair to a stop. Suddenly without preface, Gus’s stomach emitted a loud, rolling growl from hunger. He sheepishly cleared his throat and straightened his posture. He shook his brown bag up and down to check if his lunch was still intact then turned around to look for a nearby picnic table. The pig grunted and turned his hammy flanks to the onlookers and began to nibble on hard ears of feed corn in the back of his cage. The spectacle had now changed, motion and sound were restored to the county fair. The mass of fair-goers broke up and randomly moved across the grassy fairgrounds like billiard balls on green felt. Gus sat eating his egg salad, occasionally dabbing a napkin at pickle juice running down his chin. When finished eating, Gus sat a moment to digest his food. Looking back across the grounds at the row of cages, he felt mildly disappointed he didn’t get to see any goats at the fair.