Dog Shit House

by Mark Hahn


Once you step over all the dog shit by the front door, the house possesses a certain stillness and beauty. The roof above the porch is falling apart and the front steps are slowly crashing to the ground. Everything moves in slow motion here. Large bottles sit undisturbed in selves on the porch. A strip of carpet hangs in front of the open doorway, giving the interior a sense of fragile privacy.

In the cold air you can barely smell the dog shit. You just have to step over it when you enter the darkened house. The artificial trees and afternoon light give the place an illusion of life while the house crumbles under its own weight. The tattered bedding in the corner of the living room provides evidence that the place has been shelter to someone who has nowhere else to go — perhaps the neighborhood dogs filled the place up with shit to drive this person out. Dogs can sometimes read the minds of their masters.

People live just a few feet away and daily watch its decay. The neighbors’ guard dogs snarled and barked at us the whole time we were inside the structure. They knew that we didn’t belong here. They knew we were just outsiders sightseeing in a landscape of failed economics and personal tragedies.

This house is on one of the roughest hills in Miami, AZ. It is overrun with meth, guns, alcohol and poverty. Those struggling to maintain a decent life here convert their homes into tiny fortresses — every door and window covered with metal security grates. Fierce chained dogs bark at all who pass by. Undoubtedly, everyone on this street has an arsenal of guns inside their homes to give themselves a feeling of safety — never mind that once the alcohol and tempers flare they are much more likely to harm themselves or a family member than use their gun in self defense. As with most things in life, we strive for the feeling of security and control in our lives, no matter how thin the illusion really is.

Everything inside the house is what represents the concept of a home. The last occupant must have felt comfort inside these walls. This house was occupied right up until the day it became vacant. A roll of paper towels sits in the kitchen from the last time someone tried to clean it up. A towel hangs in the bathroom above the bathtub. Clothes hang in the closet and a bed hangs suspended from the ceiling. The precariousness of our existence hangs in every corner of this small house. In another life, it could have been any of our homes.

While quickly shooting inside the house, the curiosity of the neighbors was raised. I heard someone outside comment that people were inside the house. They wondered why we were inside the house. What were we doing? I looked out the front door and was greeted by a harsh glare from the man across the street. He took the posture of someone who was protecting his small plot of earth — holding onto the illusion of ownership. I wasn’t sure if he had called the sheriff or if he was ready to take the law into his own hands. It was time to leave. We were trespassing.

I emerged from the house and met his piercing stare with a smile. I held up my camera and tripod in a gesture of recognition — trying to show him what we were doing and reassure him that we were not a threat. His eyes looked right through me. He showed no emotion, did not move, defied any human recognition of me at all. His face showed a lifetime of hardship, disappointment and loneliness.

I wondered how far one had to be pushed to completely shut down. How long you have to fight in the hopeless battles of life — how deep the desperation and loneliness had to become — before you completely give up. I looked in this man’s emotionless eyes and wondered how far I am from that state, how far any of us are. We are all lucky, those of us who are still able to think, feel and dream of happiness and joy. At one time, the dog shit house had been filled with its share of happiness and joy — only now, it was all gone.