Nonfiction: Duck Duck Goat by Cathy Salustri

Duck Duck Goat


For almost 13 years, I wrote for The Gabber Newspaper. The Gabber, for those of you who don’t exist within the realm of the small-town nirvana that is Gulfport, is the weekly paper that serves the roughly 12,527 people who live in town. That paper was my home for almost 13 years, and even though I don’t write for them anymore, I still live in Gulfport. I don’t exactly miss covering the Little League parade every year, but man, do I miss the dinner party stories I used to get working there.

I love my town; nevertheless, Gulfportians – and that’s what we call ourselves, Gulfportians – Gulfportians seem to have this “live every day like it’s a full moon” mentality.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to hit you with Weird Florida” stories. I’m not going to tell you how weird or wacky or oddball we are in the Sunshine State. I’m going to tell you about news stories I had the, uh, opportunity to cover in Gulfport. And we aren’t so much weird as we are – well, we’re a small town. I believe these sorts of things happen in larger towns, too, but there’s more room to ignore them. Here, we all just sort of bump into each other over and over again, and so it seems like we have more unusual things than, say, Baltimore.

Because The Gabber is a small paper, I had the wonderful task (and ethical dilemma) of covering news and penning an opinion column called Hard Candy. What Gulfportians now call either “Duckopalypse” or “WaterFowlGate” started with a Hard Candy column I wrote called “The Duck Snatcher.” In it, I wrote about the Pekin ducks and a cute duckling that had taken up residence at the pond by my house. The ducks had disappeared and locals were murmuring that someone had stolen them.

Cute, right? I mean, the alleged duck snatching aside, ducklings make for a warm and fuzzy topic. That’s what I thought, too, until I found myself writing a headline Hefty Bill For Duck Theft not soon after.

Seriously. Bigger papers – papers with budgets for things like more than one editor and newsrooms with doors and things like that – bigger papers make the copy editors write the headlines. I wrote my own headlines, and I’ll be honest with you, it was fun. Sometimes I’d come up with them on my own; other times, I’d post a one-sentence synopsis of the story on Facebook and let my Facebook friends decide. I wish I could claim that one as mine, but it was someone on Facebook who suggested it.

So, OK, I had written the column and thought to myself, well, that’s a damn shame about the ducks but we’ll never know what happened. But then my phone rang and it was our chief of police, Rob Vincent.

“Hey, uh, I just want to let you know, we caught a duck-napper last night” he says.
I remember this so clearly: It was a Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to the end of the workday. I was standing in the kitchen and I just stopped and said, “Are you fucking with me?”

He was not fucking with me. One of the other cops told me later, “I read your Hard Candy and thought, ‘these people are high.’ And then Parks” – that’s another officer – “catches somebody stealing ducks the next night.”

So, I write the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft story and Chief Vincent contacts me again, but not because they’ve caught more duck-nappers but because he wants to let me know technically, it wasn’t duck theft because – and I quote – “that would imply the ducks belong to somebody.

I realize that sounds all “born free” and very drum circle-esque for a police officer, but remember that in Gulfport, we’re now into week three of Duckapolypse and the duck nappers – excuse me, alleged duck nappers – are threatening to sue, and everyone’s a little uptight.

Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention that? 13 years with that local paper and the only time I ever wrote anything that made someone get a lawyer and threaten to sue was the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft article. They ultimately dropped the case, but for a while there I was pretty sure I was going to have to testify in court… About ducks. And duck thefts.

WaterfowlGate – and trust me, this is one of many stories I loved writing – only got weirder from there. One time and one time only in my career have I promised to protect the identity of a source from the police. A source who feared legal prosecution because he — or she — previously harbored ducks and knows the locations of other ducks currently in what I can only describe as “protective custody.”

See, in Gulfport, it’s illegal to keep ducks in captivity, and this person was part of an underground duck network.

Here’s my lede for the story headlined Gulfport’s Duck Underground Fears Prosecution:

Apparently in response to recent press about duck activity at Gulfport’s Tomlinson Park, local duck sympathizers, fearing legal repercussions, have returned a raft of Pekin ducks to the pond.

That’s what you call a group of ducks, by the way – a raft.

This duck sympathizer was one of three “safe houses” — you know what? I’m just going to quote the article:

“This duck sympathizer is one of at least three homes who provide assistance, nourishment and shelter to orphaned, injured or malnourished Pekin ducks.

“The duck sympathizer tells The Gabber that the unorganized underground network of duck rescuers takes in orphaned ducks … This unofficial group of duck guardians keeps the ducks safe and well fed until such time as the ducks can survive on their own at the pond.

“One duck rescuer says that the two ducks that disappeared the first week of June are still missing from the raft, and The Gabber could not match photos of the missing ducks with any current ducks in Tomlinson Park. The fate of these two ducks remains unknown. The Gabber’s duck source says they do not believe the people accused of duck snatching (who could not be reached for comment) have a history of duck rescuing.

“The rescuers have released the majority of the ducks back into the pond, the duck sympathizer says, because in light of recent coverage in The Gabber, they feared the city would charge them with illegally keeping ducks.

“Whereas Gulfport changed its laws a few years ago to allow for chicken ownership, it does not allow for duck husbandry.”

In about 15 years, there’s going to be a young lady in therapy because her mom had to release the ducks because of me.

That was, I thought, pretty much the end of WaterFowlGate, but sometime later, I was in the Horse & Jockey, which is actually not a Gulfport bar – and I’m talking to a friend, and I make an offhanded joke about Gulfport’s sewers being on the brink of collapse but as long as there weren’t ducks trapped in them, no one cared. Half-joking, she responds that Gulfportians don’t notice city issues that aren’t duck-related.

I start to laugh, but mid-chortle, a woman I’d never met before approached our table and interrupted with, “You’re talking about ducks. You must be with the Gabber.”

We spent the next seven minutes discussing duck-related issues. I finally asked her about the sewers and how she felt about their current state of disrepair, and she developed a pressing need to be elsewhere.

It’s not all bad, though. I love my town, even if I don’t write for the small-town paper anymore. A local restaurant put duck breast on the specials menu in my honor, and when a goat disappeared a year later, there was no question who was covering that story.

Ah, yes, Gordan. Most people think his name is Gordon, but no, it’s Gordan. Gordan’s owner had a big van – not a mini-van, but one of those old-school vans so popular in the 1970s and early ‘80s and with a certain type of man – we all know the type, he’s the guy who still can’t get over Lynyrd Skynard’s plane crash. Anyway, Gordan rode around with his owner in the van when they were on land, because they had an apartment in Gulfport but also lived on a boat in Boca Ciega Bay.

Yes, that’s right… the goat. Lived on a boat. His name was Gordan. He rode in a van. This was the point in my career with the Gabber where I seriously considered writing all my articles styled after Dr. Seuss, because when your news stories start to rhyme I think it’s a mark that you’ve truly arrived as a journalist.

So, anyway, back to the van and Gordan… I swear, that one was not on purpose… ANYWAY, when Gordan’s owner, Eric, left the boat, he’d often take Gordan with him. On this particular evening, Eric had done some work on his motorcycle and wanted to take it for a ride to test it out. Now, clearly, he couldn’t take his goat on a bike – I mean, come on, it doesn’t even rhyme – so he left Gordan leashed in the van with hay, water and the windows open.

When he came back, Gordan was gone.


Sometimes the stories write themselves.

So, what does Eric do when his goat gets kidnapped? Does he call the police? No, because one, living on your boat isn’t legal in Gulfport, and two, neither are goats. So, obviously, calling the police would have attracted unwanted attention. Eric went another route.

He spray painted “PLEASE RETURN MY FRIEND GORDAN THE GOAT” on his van, along with his phone number, because apparently Eric and I have different definitions of “low-key”.

The next day, Eric received a phone call: “I think I have your goat.”

Gordan, it seems, had a little adventure the night before. Only Gordan will ever know the full story, but what we do know is this: Somehow, Gordan found his way from the Gulfport beach parking lot, through South Pasadena, over the Corey Causeway bridge, and headed north until he found a bar called RipTides, at which point, he walked into the bar.

And so, this goat?

He walked into a bar.

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