huckster

The term comes from the Middle Dutch word hoken, which referred to an itinerant peddler. You know, somebody who traveled from village to village, hawking (which also comes from hoken, by the way) his wares. Inexpensive pots and pans, jugs and jars, knives and scissors. Cheap goods that needed replacing or repair with some frequency.

By the middle of the 19th century, huckster had taken on an offensive connotation through much of the world. Hucksters were considered to be a low form of swindler, people who relied on the gullibility, greed, naïveté, prejudice, vanity, pride, and dishonesty of their customers to sell them a product of low quality — or one that didn’t work at all. A snake oil salesman.

snake oil

Which brings us to Senator Ted Cruz. Unlike many Republican politicians from Texas, Cruz isn’t stupid. I mean, when Congressman Louie Gohmert argues against providing US funds to China to help preserve the habitat of certain rare species of wild cats and dogs because (and seriously, I’m NOT making this up) he’s concerned the Chinese will turn those dogs and cats into “moo goo dog pan or moo goo cat pan,” you can assume he must have nibbled on lead paint as a child. Gohmert is just stupid.

Ted Cruz isn’t stupid. Cruz went to Harvard Law, and graduated magna cum laude, He clerked for J. Michael Luttig of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is a big deal. He then clerked for William Rehnquist, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is an even bigger deal. Ted Cruz is not stupid.

If you're a jackass and you know it, raise your hand.

If you’re a jackass and you know it, raise your hand.

He is, though, a complete jackass. An arrogant poseur, a smarmy and egregious dick, a huckster of the first order. His latest snake oil scam? He’s introduced two (not just one, but two) bills that would ‘protect’ states that bar same-sex couples from marrying.

The first bill (S.J. Res. 12) is called ‘a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to marriage’. It would apparently (and I say ‘apparently’ because Cruz hasn’t supplied the text of the proposed bill yet) create an actual constitutional amendment prohibiting legal action against states that banned same-sex marriage. That’s right, this wanker is proposing to change the goddam U.S. Constitution to reflect his own religious values. And I use the term ‘values’ loosely.

The second bill (S. 1080) would apparently (and again I say ‘apparently’ for the same reason; Cruz hasn’t bothered to actually write the text of the bill) limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts to consider cases involving same-sex marriage. Basically, Cruz wants to block the power of Federal courts to hear or rule on marriage equality cases until after his constitutional amendment bullshit has been resolved.

For external use only.

For external use only.

These two bills are theater, part of his right-wing kabuki dance intended to feed the homophobia of the ignorant yahoos who might vote for him during the presidential primaries. Neither of the bills has a fucking prayer of ever becoming law. Cruz knows this. Remember, he’s not actually stupid, though he plays stupid on television. These proposals will not only give him cred among right-wing lunatics, they’ll force the other Republican candidates to take a position on them. That means they’ll either fall in line with Cruz, which makes him look like a leader, or they’ll oppose them, which will weaken them in the eyes of the rabid Republican right-wing  Either way, it’s a waste of time and money on symbolic, self-serving claptrap.

In other words, it’s classic Ted Cruz — the strongest and best liniment known for the cure of all pain and lameness. For external use only.

i’m not against, i don’t think, i don’t believe

It’s really sort of amazing. Here’s Marco Rubio — Republican Senator from Florida and hopeless candidate for President of These United States — telling Bob Schieffer, the mummified host of Face the Nation, two totally contradictory statements in a row:

[I]t’s not that I’m against gay marriage. I believe the definition of the institution of marriage should be between one man and one woman.

He’s not against gay marriage — he just believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. No matter how many times I repeat that, it continues to defy my ability to make sense of it. Schieffer, to his credit, didn’t leap out of his chair and scream “What the fuck are you talking about?” He allowed Rubio to continue.

States have always regulated marriage. And if a state wants to have a different definition, you should petition the state legislature and have a political debate. I don’t think courts should be making that decision. I don’t believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

But State courts have always had the power to decide if laws passed by State legislatures are in accord with the State constitution. That’s what happened in Massachusetts in 2004. And in Connecticut in 2008, and in Iowa in 2009. And also in Wyoming and Alabama and Wisconsin and Arizona and West Virginia and eighteen other states. Of the 37 states in which marriage equality exists, 26 of those states legalized it through the court system.

But Rubio had still more to say about same-sex marriage. He continued:

I also don’t believe that your sexual preferences are a choice for the vast and enormous majority of people. And, in fact, the bottom line is that I believe that sexual preference is something that people are born with.

Rubio agrees the ‘”vast and enormous majority” of folks who identify as gay are born that way. But he apparently also believes that being born gay automatically deprives those folks of the privilege of marrying somebody they love.

Here’s the interview. Rubio’s incoherent  and contradictory stance on same-sex marriage is near the end (it begins around the ninth minute):

Earlier in the interview (if you can stomach it) Rubio makes equally incoherent and garbled statements about U.S. policy towards Iran, his reasons for running for office, and climate change. This is classic Rubio — a dedicated refusal to offer up any answer that might some day be used against him. This is the guy who, when asked about the age of the Earth, said this:

“I’m not a scientist, man….[T]here are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created.”

Then followed that up with:

“It’s one of the great mysteries.”

No, it’s not. It’s not a great mystery. Rubio may not be a scientist, but folks who ARE scientist are pretty fucking clear about this NOT being anything remotely like a mystery. By weasling out of the question, Rubio is effectively saying “I’m not a scientist, and I’m not willing to believe anything scientists tell me.” He’s effectively saying “Science can go fuck itself in the neck.”

I'm not a biologist. There are multiple theories about whether this is my finger. It might be my finger. It's a mystery.

I’m not a biologist. There are multiple theories about whether this is my finger. It might be my finger. It’s a mystery.

But there’s one brightly illuminated, internally consistent, deeply suppressed thread that ties all those disjointed positions together. It’s this: Rubio wants to get elected, and he’ll attempt to avoid saying anything that might possibly cost him a vote. If he has any strong opinion about anything at all, he’ll strangle it in the crib before letting it interfere with his ambitions.

You know what’s really a mystery? How a person is able to stand erect while having a spine made of Jello.

iowa this close to becoming oregon, probably

April is the cruelest month — for Jeebus. Oh, not because of that Easter thing. You know, that whole being crucified business, and having to rise from the dead and all. That’s part of the savior job description. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

No, I’m talking about April being the cruelest month in terms of respect. Respect from the Iowa House of Representatives. That’s right, Jeebus is getting dissed by legislators from the corn-fed state. We’re only halfway through April and we’ve already had three folks who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS offer prayers to begin the daily legislative session. Three! This month!

And last month? Last month there were…well, okay, there weren’t any non-Christians giving the invocation in March. Or February. Or, okay, January either. But that’s not the point. The point is in April there have been three. So far. A Wiccan priestess, a Muslim imam, and a Jewish rabbi (and c’mon, you know you want to follow that up with ‘walk into a bar’ right?). And Jews and Wiccans and Muslims ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.

It’s like the legislature is treating people who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS just like they were Christians. And Republicans who love Jeebus are totally upset.

That cranky woman with the big hair? Tamara Scott. She’s an Iowa representative of the Republican National Committee (for Jeebus). And on the day a Wiccan addressed the Iowa lege, she made the following point:

“I was there at seven o’clock, before the witch got there. I wanted to welcome her with prayer. The storm outside? That was my fault. I was praying for lightning. In love. In love. Just a little joke.”

No, wait. That wasn’t her point. That was just a lighthearted jest about killing witches. And people say Christians don’t have a sense of humor. No, this was her point:

[W]hen we’re not willing to defend our God in the public square, we shouldn’t be surprised when others try to replace Him.

You guys, we are totally replacing Jeebus by allowing three different folks who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS to offer a prayer in the Iowa House of Representatives. Those three prayers given earlier this month, they completely wipe out all of the 58 Christian prayers that were given during the rest of this year.

In fairness, Ms Scott admits people who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS also have a right to give the invocation. You know, technically and legally and all that. I’m just going to take a wild guess here, but I suspect she probably hasn’t actually read the decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway, but it surely does say a pre-session prayer is okay so long as it “does not discriminate against minority faiths in determining who may offer a prayer, and the prayer does not coerce participation with non-adherents.” Ms. Scott understands they have that right; she just thinks it’s a shame that people who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS actually get to use it. Just because they have the right to do it doesn’t mean we ought to let them.

Jeebus would not approve of folks who, again ARE NOT CHRISTIANS, praying right there in the open in front of the people who have to make our laws. No sir, Jeebus ain’t having none of that. Jeebus would know exactly what to do. And so do his followers.

About half of the legislators skipped the Wiccan invocation so they wouldn’t be sullied by listening to somebody — and we’re talking about a woman here, a woman who IS NOT CHRISTIAN — say a prayer. Having to listen to people who believe something different, that’s persecution, right there. Others showed up for the prayer, but turned their backs to the Wiccan just like Jeebus would have done. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake,” Jeebus said, “therefore shalt thou make your persecutors look at your butt.” Or words to that effect.

If you want to risk your immortal soul (or your mortal soul, if that’s what you have), you can hear what the woman who IS NOT CHRISTIAN had to say. You’ll probably be okay, though, if you turn your back to your computer while she’s speaking and engage in the Jeebus Butt Defense.

There. Did you hear that? She said ‘goddess’ and ‘spirit’ and right there are the end? She said ‘ah ho’ and you know what that means. Okay, you probably don’t know what that means, but you know it IS NOT CHRISTIAN.

Still, there’s room for hope. Yes, they let a Jew and a Muslim and even a Wiccan speak and pray, but at least they’ve kept the Buddhists and Hindus away. Once we let those people through the door Iowa might just as well give up and call itself Oregon.

Editorial Note Below is a list of every person giving the invocation before the Iowa House of Representatives this year. Invocations given by people who ARE NOT CHRISTIAN are in boldface:

1/12 Prayer offered by Darrin Whiting of Liberty Baptist Church
1/13 Prayer offered by Wayne Bahr, pastor of the Church of Christ Churches
1/14 Prayer offered by Brian Lund, pastor of Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church
1/15 Prayer offered by Pastor Nan Smith of Hope Methodist Church
1/20 Prayer offered by Pastor Mike Harvey of Carson Presbyterian Church
1/21 Prayer offered by Pastor Haddon Anderson of Garner Evangelical Free Churc
1/22 Prayer offered by Representative Bacon of Story County
1/26 Prayer offered by Pastor Brian Rihner of Grace Evangelical Church
1/27 Prayer offered by Pastor Jeff Erlemeier of Abundant Life Church
1/28 Prayer offered by Reverend Bob Dishman of Park Church of Christ
1/29 Prayer offered by Pastor Sarah Trone Garriott of Faith Lutheran Church
2/2 Prayer offered by Pastor Rod Rindahl of New Life Community Church
2/3 Prayer offered by Pastor Jerry Morningstar of Sully Community Church
2/4 Prayer offered by Pastor Dan Kuckuck of St. Stephen Lutheran Church
2/5 Prayer offered by Pastor Paul Willis of First Baptist Church
2/9 Prayer offered by Pastor Jim Mossman of St. Paul’s Lutheran and Presbyterian Church
2/10 Prayer offered by Pastor Steve Rowland of Rising Sun Church
2/11 Prayer offered by Reverend Erling Shultz of Sharon Center United Methodist Church
2/12 Prayer offered Pastor Tim Miller of Trinity United Lutheran Church
2/16 Prayer offered by Representative Baxter of Hancock County
2/17 Prayer offered by Pastor Bruce Smith of Macedonia Methodist Church
2/18 “God Bless America” sung by Aly Olson, Miss Iowa
2/19 “Our Father” sung by Senator Rita Hart
2/20 Prayer offered by Rich Taylor of Earlham Church of Christ
2/23 Prayer offered by Reverend Nathan Sherrill of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
2/24 Prayer offered by Bishop Walker Nickless from the Diocese of Sioux City
2/25 Prayer offered by Reverend Elizabeth Popplewell of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
2/26 Prayer offered by Representative Dolecheck of Ringgold County
3/2 Prayer offered by Pastor Wayne Sneller from First Reformed Church
3/3 Prayer offered by Representative Koester of Polk County
3/4 Prayer offered by retired Pastor Bob Bromley from the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ
3/5 Prayer offered by Pastor Eric Weaver from First Baptist Church
3/6 Prayer offered by Representative Hagenow of Polk County
3/10 Prayer offered by Representative Baxter of Hancock County
3/11 Prayer offered by Pastor John Taylor from Rock of Ages Baptist Church
3/12 Prayer offered by Father Ken Gehling, Chaplain from Mercy Medical Center
3/13 Prayer offered by Stephanie Erickson of Altoona,
3/16 Prayer offered Pastor Missy Brown of Keokuk Trinity United Methodist Church
3/17 Prayer offered by Father Dustin Vu from Blessed John XXIII Catholic Church
3/18 Prayer offered by Representative Gustafson of Madison County
3/19 Prayer offered by Sister Jeanne Hagedorn from the Congregation of the Humility of Mary
3/20 Prayer offered by Pastor Thomas Ross of Destiny Christian Church
3/23 Prayer offered by Retired Pastor Gene Bryant from Newton
3/24 Prayer offered by Pastor Darryl Larson from St. Matthews Lutheran Church
3/25 Prayer offered by retired Pastor George Hanusa
3/26 Prayer offered by Darin Dolecheck
3/27 Prayer offered by Aaron Britt
3/30 Prayer offered by Reverend Cindy Johnson from St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
3/31 Prayer offered by Father Michael Amadeo from Holy Trinity Catholic Church i
4/1 Prayer offered by Rabbi Todd Thalblum from Temple Judah
4/2 Prayer offered by Pastor Richard Hendricks from Metropolitan Community Church
4/3 Prayer offered by Representative Cownie
4/6 “America the Beautiful” played by the Oskaloosa String Ensemble
4/7 “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Ottumwa Meistersingers Singers
4/8 Prayer offered by Mohammad Kahn from Mosque An-Noor
4/9 Prayer offered by Priestess Deborah Maynard from Cedar Rapids Unitarian Universalist
4/13 Prayer offered by James Thompson
4/14 Prayer offered by Pastor Gary Marzolf from Newton First United Methodist Church
4/15 “Amazing Grace” sung by the Pioneer Lawmakers Memorial Choir
4/16 Prayer offered by Pastor Thomas Ross of Destiny Christian Church

that’s done, then

Well, there it is. Hillary Clinton is going to be the next President of These United States. We can all relax now.

Oh, we’ll still have to go through a painfully long and deeply vicious campaign. There’ll be an obscene amount of money spent, and it’ll get ugly really quick, but it won’t make much difference in the end. And, of course, there’s that whole election business, but I don’t think the Republicans can disenfranchise enough voters to prevent her election. So unless she does something incredibly stupid, Hillary will be the first woman president. It’s as inevitable as anything can be in American politics (which is to say it’s pretty fucking inevitable).

Hillary Clinton - Democratic candidate for president

Hillary Clinton – Democratic candidate for president

Here are three reasons why she’ll be elected. First, she’s a Democrat and right now the Democratic party is the only party in the U.S. that isn’t completely batshit insane. The GOP has encouraged and nourished extremists to the extent that nobody can survive a primary race without embracing at least a half-dozen policies that are so fucking ridiculous and/or hateful they’ll make the general public recoil in horror. Or, worse, laughter. Whoever survives the GOP cannibal island primary and gets the nomination will either believe or claim to believe some lunatic fringe ideas. Like evolution is ‘just a theory’ or ‘there’s no scientific consensus on climate change’ or ‘there is a war against Christians in the U.S.’ or ‘the Second Amendment is under attack.’

The most only closest thing they have to a serious candidate is Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush is about as interesting as a blancmange.

Jeb Bush -- Republican candidate for president (probably)

Jeb Bush — Republican candidate for president (probably)

Second, Hillary Clinton is oddly scandal-proof. It’s not that she’s immune to scandal; it’s that she’s been a scandal magnet for so long that another scandal won’t really matter. Even better, so many of the scandals attached to Hillary have been so patently absurd that they suck the energy out of any genuine scandal. She’s been the target of a couple dozen Congressional investigations, all of which received a lot of press attention and all of which ended with a quiet ‘no actual wrongdoing was found’ report.

The Republicans will attack her, to be sure. The problem for them is that so many of those attacks will be clearly deranged. Every time some fuckwit calls her Hitlery, or attacks her as a Communist lesbian who killed Vince Foster to prevent him from revealing the Arkansas drug smuggling ring, it’ll chip away at any legitimate attacks that could (and should) be made against her. In that sense, the crazier the Hillary conspiracy theory, the better for her candidacy.

Hitlery - delusional fuckwit candidate for tyrant

Hitlery – delusional fuckwit candidate for tyrant

Third, like her or not, as president Hillary Clinton can be counted on to do some things no Republican would do. Like protect marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act. Hillary may not want to move the U.S. forward very far or very quickly, but at least she’s not trying to drag us back to some whitebread misguided fantasy of the 1950s.

I admit, Hillary Clinton isn’t the candidate I’d have picked. She’s not progressive enough for me, and she’s overly concerned with secrecy (though it’s hard to blame her for that, given the public shark pool she’s lived in for the last three decades or so). She’s too friendly with Wall Street, and she’s too inclined to consider the politics of an issue before anything else. But she’s pragmatic, she’s smart, and she’s been around the block a few times. We could do a lot worse.

holy peyote and the fuckwit collective

“I think it’s important we have a sense of perspective. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”

Seriously. This jamoke actually said that. Out loud. I mean, yeah, he said it on CNN (which nobody watches anymore) to Wolf Blitzer (to whom nobody listens anymore), but he still said it. If a fuckwitted tree falls in a fuckwitted forest and there’s nobody but Wolf Blitzer around to hear, does it still make a sound? It surely does.

Here. Listen to Senator Tom Cotton go boom:

So. We don’t treat gay folks nearly as bad as they do in Iran. Yay?

Senator Cotton claims the RFRAs issued by the legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas are ‘modeled’ after the original RFRA signed by President Clinton. Modeled after. Not identical, not similar to — modeled after.

Here’s a fact that for some reason always gets omitted in these discussions about the Republican-based RFRA laws: the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act was written to protect the rights of Native Americans whose worship practices were sometimes in violation of Federal law. Their religion sometimes required them to hold ceremonies on what they considered to be sacred land — but which was considered by the government to be Federal land held under Federal jurisdiction and therefore subject to Federal laws. And their religious rites sometimes required the use of peyote.

Peyote cactus

Holy peyote

That’s right, the original RFRA — the one Senator Cotton and Governor Pence and Governor Hutchinson keep saying was the model for their RFRAs — was created to allow American Indians to use psychedelic mushrooms on Federal land.

Now that is religious freedom. That protects the right to practice religion.

Can I get an Amen, brothers and sisters.

the fuckwit collective

Back in the early 1950s a biologist named James V. McConnell taught flatworms to run a maze. Well, not run exactly. We’re talking flatworms here. Dugesia dorotocephala. No legs, you see. And not much of a brain. Just enough brain to understand that turning left results in an electrical shock and turning right doesn’t. Just enough brain to comprehend that not getting shocked is, as Shakespeare put it, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Elizabethan playwrights aside, the point is as follows: Dr. McConnell demonstrated that flatworms are capable of learning from their mistakes.

So why aren’t Republicans capable of that same intellectual feat?

Dugesia -- more clever than Republicans

Dugesia dorotocephala — more clever than Republicans

Assuming you haven’t spent the last week orally attached to an opium pipe, you probably noticed there was a lot of anger directed at Indiana’s Governor Mike ‘Tunahead’ Pence for signing into law a pretty reprehensible Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA, which, sadly, is often pronounced ‘riff-rah’). Spence, who seemed genuinely surprised that folks would get upset by a law that effectively allowed businesses to discriminate against gay folks, has spent the last few days engaged in a virtuoso performance of high wire stupidity without a net.

Having witnessed the outrage directed at Indiana and the ensuing havoc, what did the Republican legislators of Arkansas do? They decided to pass a virtually identical RFRA. Seriously. They watched Mike Pence slam a door on his own dick and turned to each other and said “Man, that looked like it hurt…let’s try it.”

Arkansas State Representative Bob 'Bag of Hammers' Ballinger

Arkansas State Representative Bob ‘Bag of Hammers’ Ballinger

Cuddly State Representative Bob Ballinger defends the Arkansas bill, saying it protects religious freedom.

“If it’s a butcher who is a Muslim and doesn’t deal in pork, you can’t make him deal in pork. If it’s a Christian who is against same-sex marriage, you can’t make him perform a same-sex marriage.”

Right there — those two sentences — a demonstration of densely packed stupidity. Flatworms reading those two sentences would look at each other in consternation and make unflattering comparisons between Representative Ballinger and a bag of hammers.

Allow me to clarify the issue. A Muslim butcher can’t be forced to sell pork, but if that Muslim butcher chooses to sell pork to the public, then he has to sell pork to all the public. He can’t refuse to sell pork to gay folks. What Ballinger and Spence and everybody else in the Fuckwit Collective that’s become the Republican Party want is the right to refuse to sell pork to gay folks.

It’s not that complicated. Thirty-three years ago the Supreme Court of These United States issued a ruling that spelled it out pretty clearly. Here’s the relevant portion of the decision in United States vs. Lee 1982 (emphasis added):

The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest… Congress and the courts have been sensitive to the needs flowing from the Free Exercise Clause, but every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs. When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.

Entering a commercial activity as a matter of choice. That’s it, right there. Becoming a butcher, a baker, or yeah, a candlestick maker is a choice. If you really truly honestly believe there’s a conflict between that commercial decision and your religious beliefs, you have to make another choice. Follow the law or follow your faith.

But refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding doesn’t make you a good Christian. It makes you an asshole.

Jesus and the Centurion

Jesus and the Centurion

Here’s a Bible story (seriously, I’m going to tell a Bible story here). So Jesus is noodling around Capernaum, right? And this Roman Centurion sidles up to him and says — wait, a tangent; you have to remember that Roman soldiers weren’t particularly popular with the native population of Palestine. So anyway, the Centurion comes up and says “Jesus, my body servant is way sick. Do us a solid and heal him, would you please?” Okay, body servant — another tangent here. Roman citizens who served in the military often had slaves whose job was to attend to their master’s bodily needs — everything from washing them to massaging them to dressing them to helping them release sexual tension. It was just part of Roman culture. So, back to the Bible story. This Roman asks Jesus to heal his body servant, right? Did Jesus say “Sorry, dude, I don’t serve the gays”? No. Did Jesus say “No cake for Centurions”? No. Did Jesus say “Oh, man, I’d really like to help, some of my best friends are Romans and boink their body servants, but sorry, no can do”?  No, he didn’t. Jesus just said “Okay, done.” And bingo, the servant was healed.

I’m not a Christian, but that’s a pretty good story. It’s a story that maybe Mike ‘Tunahead’ Pence and Bob ‘Bag of Hammers’ Ballinger and the rest of so-called Christians in the Fuckwit Collective might want to read. If Jesus can heal a body servant and dine with prostitutes and hang out with tax collectors, then you’d have to be a piss poor Christian to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

UPDATE: Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who had previously pledged to sign the legislature’s RFRA, changed his mind today. He returned the bill to the legislature and asked them to change the language. But it’s important to note that unless the governor actually vetos the bill — if the Arkansas legislature refuses to change the language as Hutchinson requested — the RFRA will automatically become law without the governor’s signature.

The Fuckwit Collective strikes again.

so sad so cool

The truck, that was the first thing I noticed — just off the road, on the other side of a deep, grassy ditch. At some point in time it had been a serious truck. Not a gentleman farmer’s pick-up that could also be used to run errands, but a full-sized working truck built to haul serious payloads. Now it was basically a ruin; sitting lop-sided in the dead grass. It had been sitting there so long it had actually settled into the soil.

truck2

Beyond the truck was a house. A small farmstead, really — the house, a collapsed barn, a few small outbuildings, some sheds, a scattering of grain bins, rusted farm equipment. There was surprisingly little vandalism, aside from a few shattered windows and maybe the front door, which had been torn from its hinges. Most of the damage appeared to be the result of weather and long neglect. The property was clearly abandoned, and had been for some time.

It’s a curious term, abandon. It connotes a complete giving up, an absolute and total acknowledgment that there will be no return, a total surrender. Perhaps whoever lived there had originally intended to return — but at some point there had to be a moment of recognition that it would never happen. There’s something profoundly sad about that.

abandoned farmhouse2

Here’s an odd thing: I couldn’t bring myself to enter the house. I mounted the stairs and stood in the doorway, but I was reluctant to go inside. Not because it wasn’t safe (the house itself seemed pretty stable), and not because it would be trespassing (legally, I was already trespassing). I was unwilling to go inside because it felt wrong. It felt like a violation, somehow. What makes it odd is that at one point in my life I had a job that involved routinely trespassing and violating the privacy of other folks. But back then I was getting paid; to trespass in the house for no reason other than my own amusement seemed like some sort of transgression.

However, I didn’t feel that way about the other buildings on the property. I noodled around in them without any compunction at all. This one, for example.

music room2

It was just a few yards away from the main house. The roof had caved in a long time ago, and the debris made it almost impossible to walk around. It didn’t help that there were obvious nails and shards of broken glass lying about (combined with the fact that I was wearing sneakers). Still, it was easy to tell the building had most recently been used as a sort of office or studio.

The bones of an old Hackley upright piano occupied the main room.

piano also2

In 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, Milo J. Chase began building pianos in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few years later, his company was reorganized as Chase-Hackley Pianos. The company had a good reputation as builders of durable, medium quality instruments. The pianos could be bought directly from the manufacturers, which allowed buyers to avoid sales and additional shipping charges. This made Chase and Hackley pianos popular with rural and farm families — at least until they went out of business in 1930, victims of the Great Depression.

It’s easy to imagine farm kids sitting in front of this old Hackley, struggling away at some painful version of Clair de Lune.

tractor again2

Behind the house were a variety of small, slowly collapsing sheds and workshops, as well as well as some farm equipment — all of which suggest that at one time this was a rather successful farming operation. There was a woodworking shed, a machine and tool shed, and a couple of storage buildings — all of which were in some stage of dilapidation. Only a few had working doors; none had functioning windows.

As with the house, most of the damage was a result of time and weather — and in some cases, animals. One bench was littered with raccoon shit, there were what appeared to be small mammal nests under some of the workbenches, and paw prints in the dust.

shed again2

The barn was the most severely damaged structure on the farmstead. The roof and one wall had completely collapsed, two of the other walls were pretty unstable, and the fourth wall seemed to be supported primarily by stacked bales of old hay. I wouldn’t have gone inside at all, except that I could see some bones — and bones make me stupid.

So I crouched down and groucho-walked inside to look at them. It was dark, of course, and what I first thought was an old sack turned out to be the semi-mummified remains of a dog. It appeared to have died of exposure or natural causes rather than violence, and was eviscerated by other creatures after death. The roof was too low at that point to allow me to examine the dog closely. I couldn’t even photograph it properly; I had to hold the camera out at arm’s length and shoot blindly. This is the only shot that was in focus — which is probably just as well.

family dog2

I didn’t stay at the farmstead very long. Places to go, people to meet, and all that. But the entire time I was there, I was very aware of my own internal dissonance. I’m not a terribly self-reflective person under most circumstances. I don’t spend much (or any) time thinking about what I feel, or wondering why I do stuff. Yet I was conscious of being torn between feeling This is so sad and thinking This is so cool.

Because it was so sad and it was so cool, and it still is. I’ll almost certainly go back at some point when I have more time to explore. Maybe I’ll even overcome my conscience and actually go inside the house.