On September 11, 2001, while jets were screaming into towers in NYC, president George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida at Emma E. Booker Elementary School — there to participate in a reading of “My Pet Goat” by Siegfried Engelmann. He has been vociferously criticized for his seeming lack of decisiveness and action during the time of what many people regard as a crucial turning point in American history. Some say it seemed in keeping with his previous shirking of responsibilities years earlier while in the Texas Air National Guard when he went AWOL. While in Sarasota, Vice President Dick Cheney was in charge of the response to the attacks.
As for “My Pet Goat.” it’s actually called “The Pet Goat.” ‘The’ not ‘My’. As a translator (I’ve translated Heinrich Heine poetry), I know how important these differences can be. And, truly, anybody who has compared, say, R. J. Hollindale’s translation of Nietzsche’s work with Walter Kauffman’s will know that such differences in the field philology are not mere instances of pedantry: meaning must mean something if it is to make sense to the reader. That said, “The Pet Goat” has a follow-on story, “The Goat Stops the Robber,” a far more nuanced narrative showing the disadvantaged students in the elementary classroom how mistakes can be made in gated communities.
It should also be noted that “The Pet Goat” is extraordinarily difficult to find on the Internet or elsewhere. Some theorists have theorized that the story was ‘disappeared’ because it contained esoteric symbolism and coded information about the attacks on 9/11. I make no such inference here. In fact, there is a solid and reasonable explanation for the difficulty in finding these simple tales: They are not stand-alone tales, but part of Reading Mastery — Level 2 Storybook 1. There: That mystery is solved. We needn’t lose sleep again over any proposed bleak symbolism. The stories that GW Bush was participating in with the disadvantaged Black students in the classroom are available on the miraculous site Archive.Org. You can view them there and read what the children read. Here it is.
But more importantly is the recent discovery that two more follow-on sequels have been discovered. They were not included in the textbook. I have come across them surreptitiously, through channels I would rather not divulge. Think peer-to-peer (wink). Scholar stuff. I have taken the liberty of parsing these documents and of translating them from Directed Instruction code to ordinary English, although I have gone out of my way to channel the voice of the author of “The Pet Goat.” The two tales, pasted below, are titled “The Robber Calls the Cops” and “The Pet Goat Does Time.” (At least, that was my translation of the titles — I haven’t heard back from Hollingdale yet.) One other consideration: Engelmann was interested in highlighting the letter -e for the children. Thus, he included word pairs to flesh out these differences: can and cane, pan and pane, cap and cape. I have had to relax these rules a bit, opting in my translation to capture Engelmann’s voice, rather than settling for a literal or littoral translation. Alas, this is the common conundrum of those who render the words of foreigners into English.
I would suggest that the intrepid reader begin with now readily available original tales at the link provided above. (Perhaps download them in case the Thought Police are patrolling the neighborhood, n’est c’est pas?) And then on to my translations. A short Critical Thinking Skills set of questions follows. There is no right answer. Proceed as you will.
The Robber Calls the Cops
A girl once had a pet goat. Her dad had a slightly dented red car. It was an extra large MG two-seater and it liked to roar.
The girl had a Ma. The Ma had died. Dad was sad. The girl was sad. Ma had taken too much oxycontin when she heard that 9/11 conspirators lived on Escondito Circle, just down the road. Now Ma was dead. Now Dad was a single parent. Now the girl was sad.
A “car robber” with a sore bottom had a goatee. He looked just like Maynard G. Krebs (later Scooby-Doo), the prototype hippie from the 60s. He was suspected of grand theft auto by the girl and her dad. It was a gated community in Florida.
When the “car robber” came down from the blue sky, where he had been thrust up by the goat’s horns, he landed on dad’s red MG. Head first. He said “Ouch.” And other words.
The “car robber” was pressing charges for felonious assault, he said. Roger Ramjet was the name of the goat. He had gone too far, said the “robber.”
The community had cops. They arrived in no time. It was a gated community. What happened? they asked, drawing their billy clubs.
Dad said the hippie was trying to rob his car. He was bent over the seat, said dad. I was just checking out your ride, man, said the “car robber,” lying. He said, the goat rammed me. He said, I came down from the blue sky onto the red car. The black and white cops nodded.
Roger Ramjet was the name of the goat. He was a billy goat. The cops be-bopped the billy goat with their billy clubs. Just because. He was cuffed and stuffed into a car that was not red, but black and white.
The girl cried. The goat cried. The dad cried. We all cried, said the students and teachers of ________________ Elementary School.
The Goat Does Time
Long ago a girl had a goat. Long ago her dad had a red MG. Long ago the goat was sentenced and did time for felonious assault. It was Florida.
The girl used to visit the goat in the federal pen. The girl brought him caps and capes, cans and canes, pans and panes. The goat smiled. The girl smiled.
The goat now looked like Maynard G. Krebs. The girl was sad. The girl remembered the robbery and the sore hippie. Now that Roger Ramjet looked like Maynard G. Krebs the girl was sad.
Soon the girl stopped coming to visit. The girl was not a girl any more. She had a boyfriend. The boyfriend had a goatee. The girl who was not a girl anymore liked to pet his goatee. Soon she forgot about Roger Ramjet. Who was doing time. Because he tried to stop a grand theft auto. But the judge disagreed.
One day the goat ran away from the prison while doing road work. The newspaper called him Cool Hoofed Luke. He was now a scapegoat. He had been framed. And brutalized. The goat was bitter. He would never be the same.
The dad did not have an MG anymore. He had totalled it up a tree. It was a palm tree in Palm Beach, near Mar-a-Lago. The dad was not hurt. But he had drunk too much. The cops took out their billy clubs. They be-bopped dad. Just because. His head bled red and looked like his red car. He was cuffed and stuffed into a car that was not red, but black and white.
The goat returned to the girl who was not a girl anymore. He saw the girl with a guy. He said, “Baaah.” The girl stopped what she was doing. She knew that Baaah.
The girl who was not a girl anymore ran to Roger Ramjet. The goat smiled. She smiled. She told the guy to ixnay. The guy had seen that goat before. The guy did not smile. The guy went away.
The goat and the girl who was not a girl anymore talked for many hours. She put on some Folgers. They had coffee. She also brought him some cans and canes. The goat smiled.
The goat said a baaaad man in jail told him a guy he knew said that 9/11 was an inside job. The girl cried, “Maaah.” The goat cried, “Baaah.” They bemoaned the injustice of it all together. They were a platonic couple.
It was a gated community. It had cameras. The cameras saw the goat return to the gated community.
Outside there was a sound. It was a car door slam. The girl looked out the window. It was a taxi. Her father was home. He staggered in.
The dad explained what had happened to the red car. The goat explained what had happened in jail. The dad cried. The girl who was not a girl anymore cried. The goat cried, “Baaah.” They had coffee. It was Folgers. It was a red can. The goat had plans for the red can.
There was a knock at the door. It was the police. “Baaah,” said the goat. “Maaah,” said the girl who was not a girl anymore. “Shit,” said the dad. The police took out their billy clubs. The goat who looked like Maynard G. Krebs was be-bopped like a demonstration hippie during the 1968 Chicago convention.
The goat was cuffed and stuffed into a car that was not red, but black and white.
The girl who was no longer a girl never heard again from the goat who looked like Maynard G. Krebs. The girl who was not a girl anymore had missed her period. The girl exclaimed, “Maaah.” The guy, when told said, “Whaaa?”
The guy was the guy who called the cops on the goat who had rammed him when he was bent over the seat of the red car. He looked like Maynard G. Krebs. The guy could not find a job. The dad did not like the guy. The dad said, “He can cut cane or cans in Belle Glade, for all I care.” The girl who was definitely not a girl anymore said, “Maaah.” The guy sat around listening to Dylan all day. The guy petted his goatee until it grew an extra vowel and became a goateee.
The dad bought a new MG.
Follow Up Questions (Target: Critical Thinking Skills)
1) Which of the four episodes of the story do you like best? Worst? Explain why to the class.
2) The translator adds sound effects to the tales. Do you find this effective or distracting? Or something else?
3) John D. McDonald lived in Sarasota and Delray Beach was a haunt for Travis McGee, a beach bum detective who lived on his boat there, the Busted Flush. Do you think McGee would have caught Mohammed Atta and his pals who lived in luxury at Delray Beach? Explain first as a conspiracy theorist. Then alter your ego and explain from a conspiracy fearist point of view.
5) What do you think happened to the pet goat when he was released from jail on parole 15 years later? (Choose as many as applies):
a) The goat broke baaad in prison and became a recidivist.
b) He didn’t care if could never vote in elections again.
c) He went looking for the guy and the girl to kidnap their baby as payback for his traumas.
d) His horns never grew back.
e) He becomes a check-out boy at the local Winn-Dixie.
f) All the be-bops and his other Maynard G. Krebs ways led him to take up saxophone and enjoy a late stage following on the local Palm Beach blues circuit.
g) He meets a fetching goat and they have kids.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.