"Regrets, I've had a few," sang Frank Sinatra -- or was it Sid Vicious? -- and boy, do we Floridians know what that's like. This year, as we join the world in looking back and taking inventory of 2001, a lot of us are going to have red faces, and not from getting sun.
It's not terribly new to us, really. Florida always has been home to a disproportionate number of crackpots, freak shows and disturbing events. Legend has it that the only reason Ponce de Leon even lead the first European expedition into this state was because he'd heard stories of the Fountain of Youth. With a nutcase beginning, it's not surprising that nutcase events would follow all the way into the 21st century.
But in 2001 we seem to have hit an apex of dopiness unparalleled even in our own weird history. And so we'd like to take the opportunity to apologize to the entire world on behalf of the lax, inappropriate and mortifying events we've participated in over the past 12 months. Recovery, they say, begins with admitting you have a problem, and while we probably can't make amends for a lot of this stuff, at least we can 'fess up and say we did it and we're sorry.
The Presidential Election. Yes, technically it happened last year, so you might not see it as counting in 2001. But as a Floridian I have learned to count and recount and come up with different results, so it counts as this year. Because of disastrously confusing ballots; because of old, young, and in-between people who were baffled by them and didn't think to ask anyone at the polls, "So, if I want to vote for Gore, do I mark this box or that one?"; and because of faulty voter rolls that discounted many entitled voters, we dragged the country through an unprecedented, tedious and agonizing wait that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court and landed us with W. Yes, we know we are in a national crisis and, yes, we feel we should try to be supportive of the president through such things whether we voted for him or not. We just wish we were more rock-solid certain who that president is, and it's our fault that there's still doubt. Oops.
Old People. They're the ones, after all, who couldn't read the ballots. By having gorgeous weather, no state income tax and relatively cheap prices, we attracted them here, putting them in a concentrated block where they could make massive voting errors of this kind, instead of allowing them to remain as burdens in the spare bedrooms of their families in Minnesota. It's our own fault.
O.J. Simpson. A Florida jury this year had a chance to convict Simpson on a road-rage charge, which could have carried a jail term of up to 16 years. Simpson confronted a fellow driver after an incident near Simpson's house in Kendall, reportedly tearing the sunglasses off the other driver's face and scratching him. Simpson was acquitted in October. Six weeks later, police were searching his Dade County home because of his alleged connection to a crime ring that dealt the club drug Ecstasy. What does this guy have to do to get convicted? Kill somebody? Maybe we should have held him while we had him. Sorry.
Sharks. Before Sept. 11, sharks were the summer's Big Story, and as usual Florida's beaches saw more attacks than anywhere else in the country. We lured people into having a fun-in-the-sun vacation here only to be chomped on, and for waters that are infested beyond the call of duty, we're sorry.
Janet Reno. The former U.S. attorney general announced that she would enter the race for governor and so far is the leading Democratic candidate against Jeb. Because of her political celebrity and because the rest of the country is going to be watching with a keen eye to see if Floridians have learned how to vote yet, this race is going to take the focus of the country away from a lot of other issues that are important to them, and for that we're sorry. Maybe instead of letting us vote this time, they should just base the election on a boxing match (as we're pretty sure she could KO Bush with a hard look).
Training the terrorists. OK, those Florida flight schools had no way of knowing they were training the guys who eventually would steer their planes on a course that would change our world. Still, we were not surprised to learn there was a Florida connection to this whole thing, and we would like to apologize for whatever weird vortex of evil we are sitting in that makes us produce this kind of freakishness. Sorry.
'N Sync. We have nothing against the group members personally and are sure they are all fine young men who work very hard and are good to their mothers. But on behalf of everyone everywhere who has had it up to their chins with the boyband phenomenon (Backstreet Boys, O-Town, LFO) and is still being asked to consider all that stuff as "music" rather than "product," we're sorry. But we're not apologizing for Britney. We like Britney. Sorry.
Katherine Harris. Again, she's a little last season, but it's our fault that The Face, donning enough makeup to make Dame Edna look like an Ivory Girl, has stayed in the news for as long as it has. And now Florida's Secretary of State has decided to run for Congress, even as a Salon.com investigation found that her office was sandbagging efforts to clean up our voter-roll mess (salon.com/politics/feature/2001/08/04/florida/). Anyway, she's our responsibility, and we apologize for that.
Anthrax. It's hardly a surprise that the first place it turned up would be here. Bob Stevens, photo editor at The Sun newspaper in Lantana, succumbed to the disease early in October and became the first anthrax fatality in the recent rash of reports. We know anthrax was found in mail in other places in the country and was contracted by people other than Floridians, but we've got this victim mentality going now and are sure that somehow, since it started with us, it's all our fault. Our apologies.
Disney. Oh, why not? As long as we're unburdening ourselves, we know that "Disneyfication" is a thorn in the side of a lot of people who probably feel like they could go to Mars and still hear "The Lion King" soundtrack being piped in through the canals. Weren't the terrorists motivated by their anger at the suffocating spread of American culture? Our Disney parks are the biggest tourist draw on the face of the Earth, which means that we helped the blob get bigger. We couldn't help it. Pardon us.
We're sure there are some other things we're overlooking. (Like Creed. We really should be apologizing for Creed.) But since we're facing New Year's and its attendant resolutions, all we can do is resolve to be a little more vigilant, a little less kooky and a little more grown up. Our hope is that no more comedians suggest, at our next complete goof-up, that the rest of the country would be better off if Florida was cut loose and left to drift into the ocean. We resolve these things and wish ourselves better luck next year.
So without futher ado, here are some stories to wrap up the past year