Bryan and I had missed the chicken auction on Friday due to other work, and settled for the goat auction instead. We pulled into the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo public parking lot on Saturday afternoon about 15 minutes after the goat auction was to begin, and we were worried about missing it. We rushed toward the Auction Barn, asking people along the way for directions. We’re both native San Antonians who’ve spent significant time in New York City, but we noted than whenever we asked people where the Auction Barn was, we almost unconsciously ramped up our Bexar County drawls.
“Y’all know where the Auction Barn’s at?”
We were met with friendliness by people in felt hats.
“Why, just down here, on the right.”
We made it — and while we were almost 20 minutes late, I was informed (while Bryan went to get us a couple of cold beers) by two cute, intensely focused teenaged girls sitting in the goat-smelling barn bleachers that the dang auction “was supposed to start a half-hour ago, but we’re still waitin’.”
The pretty girls’ names were Chelsea and Kristin, one a high-school junior, the other a sophomore in Brady, Texas (“it’s not far from San Angelo”), both involved in 4-H, and raisers of goats who’d sold at auction the week before.
“Was it sad to sell your goats?” I asked them.
They exchanged amused looks.
“Well,” Chelsea allowed, “it’s a little bit sad, but really after all this time, you’re glad to move on.”
What was her goat’s name, I asked.
“I tell people it’s LB for ‘Li’l Bit,’ but it was really ‘LS,’” she confided.
“They do make an awful lot of poop,” I suggested.
Both girls giggled knowingly.
This was the finals of the Junior Goat Auction — starring junior people (under 18) and junior goats (under a year old). I was given to understand that this was the Big Event, goat-wise, and draws kids — of both species — Jaycees and Katelynns and Rylees and Shelbys and Taylors from Eldorado, Big Spring, George West, Leakey, Pecos, and Harper, and some small towns Bryan and I had never even heard of.
The buyers were segregated from the plain-ol’ spectators by a picket fence. Non-buyers hunkered down on our proletarian bleachers. The buyers, some of them representatives from H-E-B, Valero Energy, some big South Texas ranches, plumbing- fixture wholesalers, even a liquor store, were served beverages by strapping young men in bright-orange Western shirts festooned with Jack Daniels black armbands stuffed with bills (tips, we guessed?), for all the world like exotic dancers or quinceañera girls.
Bryan and I noted that goat buyers and others in the VIP section dressed more elaborately, as a rule, than the bleacher crowd. We admired the frequent sartorial nods to Victoriana, which abounded on both men and women: Embroidered waistcoats, lots of buckly hardware, detailed shirt-cuffs on men and lacy camisoles on ladies, enormous hunks of turquoise cradled in silver … and a cheerful lady wearing what appeared to be a leopard-spotted Snuggie.
“I like it when the ladies go Navajo with their outfits,” Bryan mused.
After the auctioneer delivered a prayer calling for our servicemen and women to come home safe from war, and for us all to be better Christians and to get home all right, the auction began. The kids and their goats appeared shiny-coated and bright eyed, hairs clipped to the Platonic ideal of clean-cut-ness, except for the tassels left on the ends of some of the goats’ tails, like the puffball on a poodle’s, and the often voluminous and carefully set hairdos of some of the girls. The first few adolescent sellers of goats were goat-auction-celebuteens, winners of college scholarships presented with novelty-sized checks from sponsors, their excited parents whooping in the stands. I was impressed when one goat fetched $16,000.
Finally, the awards portion concluded, and the full-on bidding commenced, the auctioneer pre-deeming it a “total fantastic goat sale.” Bryan snapped photos (see his slideshow at sacurrent.com!), while I recorded some of the auctioneer’s rhythmic, trance-inducing patter. The auctioneer paused the action to call out a group of festive, well-heeled and heavily turquoised ladies of a certain age called, collectively, the “Chicas de las Cabras,” (or “Girls of the Goats”) who maintain a “wine-and-cheese social group.” The ladies held a $10-per-ticket raffle benefitting the goat auction, the grand prize for which was a $1,000 credit at a western-wear store in Yoakum. The winner would also be presented with the sticker-decorated “pickle jug” used to collect tickets.
“They’re the Housewives of Yoakum County,” I opined. We pretty much loved them, especially since these particular ladies had gotten worked-up and dancy during a pre-auction recording of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” (Bryan informed me that the musical selection during the actual Rodeo Events is equally unexpected; one participant, lurching from the gate during Bronc Busting, had been heralded by the opening strains of New Order’s “Blue Monday.”)
After three or four showings, Bryan and I decided to skulk around behind the show stage toward the back of the barn where we got to commune (over a pretty serious steel gate) with the young people and goats waiting backstage for their turn in front of the buyers. Our eyes were caught by a skinny, animated boy who managed to handle his goat while gingerly holding an ice pack to his head. Attending to him gently was none other than Miss Texas Rodeo, Devin Felger, lovely and kind and resplendent in her purple embroidered cowgirl get-up as she helped calm the sprited young goat and encouraged its young owner.
Bryan phtotographed them together, and we spoke to Miss Devin and to young Dustin Mangus, budding goat entrepreneur — a cheery, chatty, amiable boy with impeccable manners and a winning, ear-to-ear grin.
“Justin?” we asked.
He chuckled affably, grinning at us in mock-indignation. “No, no! I’m Dustin. D-U-S-T-I-N. Folks always think it’s Justin!”
Dustin allowed as to how “`his` head hurt a little,” hence the icepack, and that his goat was “ready to get the heck out out of here!”
When Dustin and his goat entered the stage, Bryan and I heard parts of Dustin’s story from the auctioneer, talking to the assembled crowd. The Mangus family had suffered a terrible car accident, which left young Dustin with a badly broken arm and a piece of plastic lodged in his eye. Bryan and I looked at each other in puzzlement. That well-adjusted, smiling boy … Car accident? … Plastic in his eye? Do what, now?
The bidding on Dustin’s goat, whom he’d let us pet, began. Whereas most goats had gone for $2,000, more or less, the bid value for Dustin’s goat climbed and climbed. $2,700, $6,000, $12,500, $40,000 …
“How much are we up to now?” a youngish cowboy who’d spent much of the last half-hour texting asked me.
“$45,000,” I answered, breathlessly.
“Well, I’ll be!”
Sixty-thousand dollars … an unbelievable $80,000 … buyers bid and bid, adding more and more to the pot, often by a thousand dollars at a go. Bryan and I stood speechless, listening to the auctioneer, then finally called Devin, Texas Rodeo Queen, over for a more detailed explanation.
“The family had that awful car accident, and Dustin lost his Daddy, and he had to have massive facial-reconstructive surgery. All the money he gets goes towards the medical bills,” she told us, choked-up.
So were we. We’d gone to the Stock Show semi-expecting to bear witness to an absurdist David Foster Wallace scene of the American heartland and had borne witness instead to actual heart.
When Dustin Mangus’s goat reached $100,000, the crowd in the barn and, possibly more amazingly, the restless teens and pre-teens waiting with their goats, broke into spontaneous and sustained applause.
“I figure here in a minute, thing’s’re about to git more interesting,” the auctioneer mused, on-mic.
He was right. The owners of Shining Star Ranch and of Rush Enterprises, a retailer of “premium transportation and construction equipment,” combined forces to bring the Mangus goat’s final bid to $150,000.
The barn crowd went wild, while the flirtatious, chatty teens awaiting their turn went rapt and respectful. Several ladies, including the Yoakum “Chicas de las Cabras,” dabbed heartfelt tears. So did a couple of male cowpokes (goatpokes?), truth be told.
I spoke to Sharron Arnold, Merchandise Marketing Coordinator of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, on Monday afternoon. Turns out Dustin’s only 10 years old, that the car accident that robbed him of his father, David, just happened on December 8, 2009; the family’s 2007 Chevy pickup ran off a wet road, rolled over and hit a tree roof-first. David Mangus was just 33. Younger than I. The Mangus family is from tiny Mullin, Texas, a country town about 100 miles due east of San Angelo whose population was reckoned in the 2000 census to be 175 souls, where 47.9 percent of those under the age of 18 live in poverty.
Dustin approached the mic amid the joyful disbelief, the cheering and weeping and whispers of the teens and the braying of the little goats.
“Thank you,” he said, in a shaky voice. “I don’t know what else to say. Thank you.”
Bryan and I tottered from the Auction Barn in a daze, a kind of post-goat-auction-miracle fugue state. We ate some weird deep-fried pickle chips in an attempt to anchor ourselves to the real world, but didn’t finish them.We ambled over to the petting zoo, where we caressed llamas and deer and more little tiny goats. We looked over the backs of cranky, toddler-assaulted livestock at each other, and beamed. •