Time for the annual Chinese New Year cover, celebrating the beginning of the lunar year February 19 – the first new moon after the groundhog sees his shadow, or something like that.
It’s a good time to honor the fine, go-to tradition of getting unstuck on cover ideas by sticking a pair of shades on a critter – a tradition so traditional it’s now rationed, by cover designer request, to one shaded critter a year. Burned this one early for 2015 – but how can you resist a pair of purple, heart-shaped glasses on such a handsome representative of the Year of the Goat… umm, Sheep. Ram?
Seems to be a little confusion over species specifics for the eighth position in the Chinese zodiac, said to be based on the order in which twelve animals showed up when the Buddha called a meeting of some kind. Maybe the Buddha wasn’t much of a goat farmer and just heard the first baahh and said, “Goat year,” because, depending on where you look, you can find all three references.
Goat, Sheep, or Ram?
Thing is, they’re similar but different – so, in the interest of clarity, here goes. (Take notes – this gets tricky.)
Ahem. Male goats have horns that curve backwards, although females can have them, too, as well as beards. Male sheep have horns that curve back and circle around to the front and are called rams, as are Dodge trucks, and, sometimes, male goats – even though they’re also called “Buck” or “Billy,” as are country western singers, who are also often horny.
Sheep have wool and have to be sheared and goats don’t, sheep graze and goats forage, sheep flock and goats roam, and sheep are often the butt, so to speak, of Aggie jokes, while only one goat joke comes to mind and it’s no more appropriate here than any of the sheep jokes. Sheep’s tails hang down and goats’ stick up, unless they’re feeling sick or scared – or, presumably, sheepish.
Still there? Hang on – it gets better.
The Judas Goat.
Kinda what it sounds like. A Judas Goat isn’t a metaphor – it’s an actual trained goat narc. (Don’t worry – they don’t wear heart-shaped sunglasses that say “Goat” in Chinese.)
Sheep are cute and cuddly, but ain’t the brightest bulbs on the animal kingdom makeup mirror, needing shepherds and cool dogs with intense eyes to keep them out of trouble. Flocks will stop indefinitely in front of an obstacle instead of going around it, and follow anyone with a shred of leadership ability.
Enter the JG, a goat trained to take charge and lead the flock – straight into the place where they’ll come out as mutton on the other side, while he gets an out of jail free card. Apparently, the sheep never seem to think to ask the goat where they’re going, and never put two and two together. (“Seen Fred lately? Last time I saw him, he was following a goat into that building over there, and – wait, the goat’s going in again. Let’s go follow him and see if Fred’s there.”)
Goats, of course, have that other PR problem.
Horns, cloven hooves, weird eyes, and a strange tendency to stand up on their hind legs and walk for a few feet has led them to be associated with – well, you know – the “D” word. It’s a bum rap, because everyone who’s seen the right flicks knows the devil would look like Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson. (For the best story ever on walking goats, listen to Ray Wiley Hubbard’s hilarious lead-in to Last Train from Amsterdam on Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club.)
The Chinese zodiac sees Goats and Sheep as loving, gentle, dreamy, creative souls. Sheep are a little more security-oriented, like walking sweaters, and Goats are more independent, mischievous, playful, and way funnier to watch. Rams are – well, tough.
Take your pick for 2015, but if the flock heads into a strange building – go for the Goat.