Sit back. Relax. You won’t feel a thing.
A small prick to the arm and the warm Southern realities begin coursing through your veins in a cocoa butter-scented anesthesia that blurs paradise into paradox and sours the wafting scent of orange blossom til it evaporates into plumes of exhaust. You could be forgiven for going numb at this point, for lying down in front of the oncoming bullet train and entertaining callous notions of invincibility. You are, after all, in Florida, where skin cancer is a like a picture on a postcard and institutional stupidity is (barely) funded by the state. You are getting very sleepy.
But it never really takes, does it? You find your eyes are propped open with toothpicks and the overwhelming absurdities dance before your pickled retinas. In a moment of panic, you forget who you are, where you are, when you are. A cast of slightly broken characters parading around in headline-ready vignettes. Over there, holy-rolling George Rekers rubs up against a rent boy in an elevator. Over here, billionaire politico Jeff Greene helps Lindsay Lohan slide down a cocaine staircase onto a coral reef-bound yacht. Out in the sticks, Pastor Terry Lewis strikes a match in the direction of a volatile global religious conflict and twirls his overgrown mustache. You look for a car to get away in, but you can’t afford it. Naturally, you call your grandmother who kindly offers to sell your baby and float you $9,000. It’s just business.
And it’s all business in Florida. Just ask Gov.-elect Rick Scott, who erased more than $1.7 billion in Medicare and Medicaid fraud with the lint – and $73 million – lining his deep pockets. Ask Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, who tucked a scandal involving the Republican Party’s Amex card away in the back of his wallet by speaking softly and waving a big Cuban schtick. Ask Amway fat cat Rich DeVos who, in the middle of the Great Recession, deftly shanghaied the City of Orlando into building him a $480 million Magic dream house.
Or better yet, look into the nearest mirror and ask yourself, “How did I get here?”
Our vanity – or futility – often finds us doing just that during the compilation of our semi-regular compendium of the scrotal state’s most unnerving irregularities, slapping the insides of our elbows to find the right vein that’ll help us make it all go away. The clattering voices and swishing eye-rolls that come with national notoriety create such a din that we can’t even find a peep of reason anymore; our false optimism is popped like a party favor from a celebration we don’t remember at all. And there we are, lying prostrate across a peninsula where headlines and grumpy retirees come to die.
“This is Our Dumb State,” we sigh, with enough booze on our breath to set it alight. And, once again, it’s time for us to own it. Anyone got a needle?
It’s hard enough to raise a child in a state that treats public education like a poor people’s virus, but throw in the simulated distraction of electronic agricultural chores and you’re bound to run into some weeds. Back in January, Alexandra Tobias, a 22-year-old from Jacksonville, was simply going about her bored-mom business of chain smoking and adopting lost pink cattle on the Internet when she was rudely interrupted by the crying of her 3-month-old son, Dylan. Like any good unemployed mother worth her weight in FarmVille corn, Tobias threw down her imaginary gunnysack and apron, got up from the computer and ran to the boy with her arms wide open. Then, she took those arms, grabbed the baby and shook him – ostensibly to see if there were any pixilated seedlings trapped in his diapers that she could use in her game – and maybe, just maybe, smacked the infant’s head against the computer.
No worries, though. Nothing another cigarette couldn’t fix. According to The Florida Times Union, Tobias then placed the baby on the couch, huffed her way outside to light one up and came back in only to find that the family dog – a real dog – had knocked poor Dylan off the couch. The child, clearly insensitive to his mother’s needs, started crying again. That was his mistake. Tobias picked him up and shook him again, because that worked so well the first time. Then, according to police reports, the baby stopped breathing and Tobias called 911. Unfortunately, Tobias was already on probation for domestic battery, so when her baby was pronounced dead, she was in a double heap of real manure. She’s now stuck in jail awaiting sentencing in December, with no farm to call her own.
Because the recent grassroots uprising of tea-stained backwoods populism had nothing to do with racism or violence, it came as a complete shock when the news broke in November that Sanford’s Nations Trucks dealership – “the largest pre-owned truck dealer in the entire Southeast!” boasts its website – decided to mine its retread (on me) demographics for the perfect incentive to boost business. Never mind the lot’s slogan: “We sell trucks, not gimmicks.” General sales manager Nick Ginetta, clearly hip to the fact that most rural guzzlers of gas are also flag-wrapped bellies full of Second Amendment heartburn, decided to offer the completely reasonable add-on of an AK-47 with each truck purchase. “My buyer is absolutely a gun owner, no question,” he told the Associated Press. And guess what? Sales doubled.
The deal came with a caveat: Prospective semi-automatic-assaulters would be re-quired to pass the boilerplate background check needed to purchase such unnecessary artillery and, should the buyer be some lily-loving pansy, he (or she?) could pass on the AK-47 and opt instead for either $400 cash or a gun-shop voucher to purchase a different firearm. Secession is only two tanks away.
There are some maladies (or psychotropic hallucinations) that only a Silkwood shower can capably address; others simply require a lot of water. On Nov. 1 at the not-at-all-suspicious time of 5:30 a.m., Atlanta massage therapist Earl Davis, 29, jumped a fence into a Hollywood, Fla., water treatment plant, stripped down to his birthday suit and proceeded to wreak havoc on the tap water of the South Florida burb for no apparent reason. The stunt was enough to excite the criminal antennae of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, mostly because Davis knew exactly how to penetrate the plant’s inner sanctum and shut down not only the main breaker but also the backup generator. And he was naked.
“I question whether he knew what he was doing,” Davis’ attorney Michael Leader told Newsweek. “I don’t think there was any malicious intent.”
Regardless, he was nabbed by water-plant staffers who found Davis – identifying himself, hilariously, as Mike Myers – sporting one of their biohazard suits. In other words, don’t drink the water. Davis said his social security number was 666-66-6666, because the devil doesn’t like water. Six U.S. Marshals were needed to carry him into court. He’s now under psychological evaluation, like most people living in Florida.
Long before the incessant water-cooler gurgle of pat downs and “backscatter,” full-body exposure inspired by the Transportation Security Administration’s foray into security voyeurism, the hostile locker-room potential of said technology had already made its Benny Hill entrance in Florida. During the last year, goateed TSA unpleasantry Rolando Negrin, 44, allowed himself to be a test-case for one of Miami International Airport’s shiny new electronic humiliation machines, holding his arms up and putting it all out there for his TSA colleagues to see. Well, what they saw was not much (and not in that squinty “is it a constellation or a galaxy?” kind of way). After about a year of displaying his diminutive personal baggage, Negrin had become the butt of the wet-towel snap hilarity common among underpaid workers. He fielded an untold number of snail or macaroni jokes until May, when his temper flared in a manner perhaps his penis could not. A supervisor pointed, laughed and sent Negrin into a fury; he “could not take the jokes anymore and lost his mind,” according to the police report.
Like anyone in need of alternate equipment in a pinch, Negrin reached for a long police baton and followed one of his coworkers out into the employee parking lot. When his intended victim, Hugo Osorno, cowered in his car, probably not giggling anymore, Negrin knocked him in his head and back with the bully stick, then demanded that Osorno get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness. Osorno did just that, then jetted off in his shamemobile. Negrin was greeted at work the next day by police who charged him with aggravated assault. No one – not even the littlest of ones – are safe.
TRIMMED TO DEATH
For 13 years, good ol’ boy Daniel Antrobus, 48, prided himself on his ability to trim unwieldy branches from Florida’s ever-ascending pine tree brush. He also, apparently, was rather fond of his frugality; his Leesburg tree-trimming business was called Bottom Dollar Tree Service. So when 5 p.m. rolled around one Tuesday in March, Antrobus wasn’t about to let a little on-the-job accident send him running to the timeclock or the tourniquet. From 40 feet in the air, Antrobus hollered down to his support staff that he had cut himself, but because he was already so comfortable perched up in the sappy branches, he would keep working and deal with the bone-exposing four-inch gash he had just carved into his own leg later.
“He’d look around every once in a while so you knew he was awake,” neighbor Elizabeth Hopkins, who eventually called 911, told the St. Petersburg Times. “You think about it and you think about it, and you want to go back and say, ‘You’ve got to get yourself down.’”
Antrobus would not get himself down, though. That would take the services of Pasco County Fire Rescue, which eventually pulled Antrobus from the tree strapped to an extended ladder. By the time he hit land, it was already too late. The last branch Antrobus ever trimmed was his own.
Private nursing homes are the bread and butter of the old Florida economy, but like most under-regulated food products, when left to fester and rot they become a breeding ground for squirming horror. John Stumpp, a 76-year-old veteran who had lost his eye to cancer, was whiling away his glory years at the Gainesville Health Care Center in Pahokee, Fla.; that center, one in a chain of health care centers that received horrible ratings from state regulators, is operated by Okeechobee executive Maxcine Darville, who was known to live a lifestyle of “luxury cars and hot tubs,” according to The Palm Beach Post. Back in September, during a routine visit to a Veterans Administra-tion facility, doctors peeled back Stumpp’s eye-cover only to find that his socket had become a sort of nursing home for baby flies: maggots.
Not coincidentally, just a month earlier the Gainesville Health Care Center was cited by the Agency for Health Care Administration for similar treatment on an unnamed client. That client, according to the report filed, was “often uncooperative and refused to allow staff to change his dressing on the second shift 43 out of 57 times.” But the nursing home failed to notify the client’s doctor or legal representative, and is now bathing in the scalding water of a state investigation.
DEAD LETTER OFFICE
Normally Florida reserves its unbelievable child abuse extravaganzas for the living, gleefully cheering on its daughters as they scratch each other’s eyes out for their parent’s amusement. But in the case of Jacksonville’s Harper family, the cruelty inflicted on their daughter was far more morbid. Angela Harper died in a car wreck when she was 12, way back in 1988. So it was odd when the postman started delivering “stacks of bridal magazines, working mother publications, college inquiries, vacation guides, information on fertility clinics and credit card applications,” according to The Florida Times Union, addressed to Angela at the Harper’s home – where Angela had never lived – in 2004. It was as if their daughter had taken on a second life as a demographic expectation.
Turns out the Harpers had an enemy. Mark Wilcox, 50, had been harboring a grudge for more than a decade. In 1992, Mr. Harper fired Wilcox from his extermination business after repeated customer complaints; in the intervening years, Wilcox took a turn for the crazy and was, according to The Florida Times-Union, under “past and frequent psychiatric care.” All it took was a little dabbling in mail fraud to soothe Wilcox’s angst, and though in court he refused to admit exactly why playing out Angela Harper’s afterlife in the form of glossy magazines was a good idea, he did offer that “he didn’t realize how much grief he would bring to the Harpers and never meant to be cruel.” He was sentenced to six months of home detention and two years of probation. In both cases, stamps will be available.
Harper’s mother didn’t buy Wilcox’s shoulder shrug. “I mean he even sent information to my daughter on how to become a funeral home director,” she told the Times-Union. “How can you not consider that cruel?”
CAUGHT IN THE THROAT
It was bad enough back in 2007, when Florida had to endure the ignominy of yet another one of its residents gaining morning television notoriety via an exaggerated physical anomaly, but Jennifer Mee, now 19, seemed to embrace her sympathy celebrity when she popped up on the Today Show with the darndest case of the hiccups. Later to be known, inevitably, as the “Hiccup Girl,” Mee received sacks and sacks of sad-lady suggestions to remedy her 50-hiccups-a-minute malady and, just a month later, it all ended when her final diaphragmatic flutter – and her 15 minutes – climbed back down her throat. In the ensuing few years, Mee tooled around in a Chris Crocker afterthought haze: She pierced her tongue, ran away from her St. Petersburg home, occasionally worked herself back into a hiccup fit and waited for the cameras to roll again.
But that kind of lightning never strikes twice, not even in Our Dumb State.
No, Mee’s return to the trashtastic spotlight would only come with the October 2010 headline everybody was waiting for: “Hiccup girl charged with murder in Florida.”
Thanks, Mee. Allegedly, Mee had fallen in with a rough crowd of hooligans and when given the chance to be the bait in a St. Pete robbery scheme, she jumped at it. In the end, 22-year-old Shannon Griffin took three shots to his upper body and died for just $60 in loot. At a November bond hearing for her first-degree murder charge, Mee started crying. And then, guess what? Her hiccups returned! This is how lessons are learned in the Sunshine State.