Only in Putnam

Dateline: Sun 29 Jul 2007

We don't worry about no stinkin homeless out here. No home? Move to Owen County, which is free of zoning laws and, as friend and onetime Star editor Dick Hopper once said, of Owen dwellers, "They're anarchists down here." In Owen, you can always have a home as long as you can find an empty field or a patch of woods -- and you can -- and a tent. Or if you insist on going upscale, an old schoolbus is classy. For food, you hunt; you don't beg. Lawn decorations: an old toilet with geraniums in it. But that's only for the real landowners. Squatters will settle for wildflowers.

Things are different out in the country. Not always better, but different. While Marion County planned its tea party tax protest Friday night, I went to an auction in the woods near Cloverdale, at Raney's Auction Barn.

As Holden Caulfield used to say, I wish you could have been there, I really do. I'm not sure my words can do it justice. (And a camera would have been so citified). To cut to the chase: the auctioneer smoked. So did his helpers, "the mayor of Coatsville," (not really) and some other "mayor" from some other burg. So did men and women in the crowd. For dinner, you could buy yourself a hot dog with chilli sauce and nobody said two words about botulism or questioned the label on the can. The mangoes (green pepper to you) were free; watermelon was $3 for a whole one. Pies were made with lard.

"That's why I'm so fat," boasted the auctioneer. "Mah wife cooks with lard."

My favorite fellow was the guy with the diamond-crusted black watch and diamond ring; tan shorts; black T-shirt with an Eagle logo; and mullet. His foot or some bone was broken; over his cast, he'd wrapped bread wrappers. (It was raining). Like several of the guys, he was into coins. As in coin-collecting.

People are friendly, even warm, at Raney's Barn. When I struggled to carry out a heavy handmade white oak bench, a man instantly came to my rescue.

Oh, and did I say fat? Of course, not everyone is, but one scan of the crowd -- pie-eating, T-shirt draping, loose-flesh making -- and it's obvious that the average fitness program consists of an occasional hour of chopping wood and not much else.

There were some good antiques, but there was also country crap, including an old Camel wooden stand from a gas station or convenience store -- as in Camel cigarettes. "C'mon boys, this here is worth at least $100," said the auctioneer. Uh, no sir. Well, maybe in Owen County. In your trailer's living room.

At one point, I fantasized what would happen if a robber came in; after all, you're in the middle of a woods, with a register filled with cash, and many jeans back pockets were bulging. Then I thought, how silly. Most of the people here are armed, including the women. Who, by the way, are all "sweetheart" and "baby" as far as the auctioneers are concerned.

Fresh mangoes, anyone?

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