Some time back, my friend Amanda sent me Buzzfeed’s wrapup of “The 40 Most Insane Things That Happened In Florida In 2012.” I replied that, technically, only 38 of the items qualified as “insane.” Firstly, Busch Gardens is the greatest theme park on the planet (safari! phenomenal rides! and free beer!), and tiger tug-o-war is unquantifiably brilliant. For years those lazy carnivores have had it easy, padding from straw bed to hand-tossed eland carcass, slumbering on sun-baked boulders… where do I sign my children up?!
Secondly, they don’t mention what type of hot sauce that dude attacked his Mom over. Tabasco, Tapatio? By all means, certifiably insane. But I, myself, have a chronic fixation on one particular hot sauce… available in only one grocery here, and frequently out of stock, so I’m forced to ration it vigilantly, to hide it from hapless guests, to glimpse a long-missed and too-loved friend innocently pluck it from the cupboard and liberally splash, splash, SPLASH their plate with its precious nectar and think, “You selfish, rat-faced tosser…”
Let’s just say I could see where the gentleman may have had a point.
My home state has always been weird, and sad, and desperate, and in desperate moments, a desperate state will often do things that end in a barfight or a mug shot, or a long silence on the other end of the line from someone weary of receiving this call and calculating the horizon of family obligation. Florida’s freak flag has always flown high; the internet just makes it more achingly visible. It’s inescapable, really, the deluge of bizarre news bits to come out of Florida; in a recent attempt to categorize the onslaught of absurdity, Gawker simply hashtagged the entire damned state.
My new obsession has been another sort of Sunshine State news aggregator: a Twitter feed handled Florida Man. Initially, I read it as titled: “Florida Man, the world’s worst superhero” — a columnar portrayal of the every-Florida-Man of headlines as a lone drunken, golf-cart-swiping, sex-toy-waving, butt-injecting man. Purely on its face, it’s tear-inducingly hilarious.
But it shortly began to feel sadder, more sweeping. There was something both stricken and foreboding in the Florida Man’s avatar face; like the hot sauce item, I began to wonder about the backstory behind each of Florida Man’s exploits, about who and what may have driven him over this edge, and about whether he might not have had a point.
“Florida Man Claims Deputies Arrested Him For Stealing His Own Jacket Back From Teen.” “Florida Man Left Baby In Car While Abusing Wife Who Confronted Him On His Recent Weight Gain.” “Florida Man Hits Boyfriend With Plate For Listening To Too Much Alanis Morissette.” Maybe, you think, Florida Man has his reasons, and they’re as solid and entrenched as cypress roots in murky depth, and maybe you don’t want to know what lies beneath.
Florida Man felt eerily like Michael Douglas’s D-Fens character in “Falling Down”: desperate, forlorn, on a precipice, pushed to violence and mania by life’s indignities and the world he walks through. Florida Man is a study of existential despair: he has at last understood his lack of control over his external circumstances and, unable to grasp what once defined him, has abandoned hope. He has stepped from his pristine F-350, or his riced-out Civic or his drywalling van, commandeered the nearest golf cart, and driven away into madness, into the Absurd. (Loosely defined here as assaulting someone with a fish, or a chalupa. Florida does peculiar things to a person.)
Thinking it a lark, I briefly considered using the parsec a day it would take to establish and aggregate @FloridaWoman. The first hit on my search results: “Florida Woman Arrested After Genital Kicking Spree.”
I don’t judge Florida Woman, her days of suffocating heat broken only by hair-on-end thunderstorms, concrete mini-mall miles that taper off into palmetto-bug-choked scrub, trucks that crawl her street each evening, emptying a cloud of mosquito fogger the city calls safe for her and her children to breathe.
I’m not saying what Florida Woman does is right, only that she might have her reasons.