Carl Hiaasen is probably best known for his popular thrillers, but he’s also won the Newbery Medal for his children’s books and, most germane to our purposes, he is a longtime columnist for The Miami Herald.
A collection of those Herald columns comes out this month (Jan 28). It’s called “Dance of the Reptiles: Rampaging Tourists, Marauding Pythons, Crazed Celebrities, Larcenous Legislators, and Tar-Balled Beaches.”
The book documents some pretty absurd real-life stories Mr. Hiaasen has encountered. We thought that qualified him him handle the real-life etiquette challenges of our listeners, but his advice might actually make situations even crazier. After all, he is a Florida lifer.
Rico Gagliano: Carl, welcome back to the show.
Carl Hiaasen: Thanks for having me back.
Rico Gagliano: So, as folks might guess from this title, in the book you write about just a cavalcade of Florida dysfunction, and you have said in the past that the strangest things that a Florida novelist can dream up will eventually actually come true.
Carl Hiaasen: That’s the hard part, writing something that won’t come true, especially if you do satire.
Rico Gagliano: But I do think it’s interesting that the first essay here talks about the insanity of tourists. These are people visiting from outside of the state. So are Floridians really a special brand of crazy, or do you just write about your crazies more?
Carl Hiaasen: Well, I mean, many of the resident Floridians started as tourists – and that’s where the downhill slide began. But we also have to cope with, you know, 50 or 60 million tourists a year coming through, and that’s a lot for any population to absorb and deal with.
Especially when you’re talking about etiquette, this is the land where there is no tourist etiquette.
After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, many tourists up at Disney World aborted their Disney World vacation so they could drive down and see the hurricane damage and videotape it. The police had to go on TV and say this is not a tourist attraction. This is an emergency 911 zone. They were clogged with people with video cameras taking pictures. It was a real problem because they said “Heck, we’re in Florida anyway, let’s just go down south and see the real hurricane.”
Brendan Francis Newnam: And it’s cheaper than Disney, let’s be honest. The lines were shorter.
Carl Hiaasen: That’s right. They had real monkeys running loose. It was great.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, well, before we chatted with you today we decided to check out some of the recent headlines around Florida and maybe you can comment on these. Honestly, we just took a peek at Google News.
Manatee County deputies say a mother left her one-year-old child near a mailbox outside a home she believed was the current residence of the baby’s father.
Carl Hiaasen: Right, I saw that story. It’s like the mail carriers don’t have enough problems, now they’re picking up a baby. Yeah, it goes on and on.
Rico Gagliano: 40,000 bees found nesting at the Miami Airport.
Carl Hiaasen: Yeah, that’s not enough. They need more. Have you been to the Miami Airport? The bees are the least of your problems.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I was gonna say that’s probably the least of the weird contraband they find.
Carl Hiaasen: Anything that makes the baggage move faster, I’m in favor of, even if it’s 40,000 bees.
Climate, Geography & Compromise
Rico Gagliano: All right, well let’s turn to our listeners’ questions. They definitely have problems, but they are relatively better-adjusted than the folks you typically write about.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, so this first question comes from Brian in Philadelphia. Brian writes, “How do my roommate and I decide at what temperature to set the heater, and what constitutes comfortable? I like to be warm – I’m from Florida – he’s all for keeping it frigid.”
Carl Hiaasen: You know, he doesn’t say whether the roommate is a significant other or just someone you can insult freely. If it’s someone you have a romance with, you obviously let them decide what the thermostat is. If it’s just someone who’s splitting the bill with you…
You know, the first problem in all of this is that you moved from Florida to Philadelphia. I mean that’s Brian’s first problem. You’re gonna be cold.
Rico Gagliano: He’s escaping the bees for God’s sake.
Carl Hiaasen: Right. Or he tried to mail a letter and there was an abandoned baby in the way. You never know.
Rico Gagliano: Indeed, he’s like “I’m outta here.”
It’s a good question for you: I mean you’re a lifetime Floridian. Do you ever consider moving from there?
Carl Hiaasen: Well, after you read me these headlines, yeah I think about it all the time. No, but I mean, I was born here and I love the place and it’s a place that’s worth fighting for. I think if I was a transient, as many, many Floridians are, and enough of these headlines pile up on you, you start thinking about Caracas. Alaska starts looking pretty good.
Rico Gagliano: Or Philly.
Carl Hiaasen: Philly… even Philly, yeah. He’s gonna be cold. That’s the only answer. You just put on another blanket and suck it up.
Cigarette Butt Revenge
Rico Gagliano: All right, here’s something from Butt Out, they call themselves, in Minnesota. Butt Out writes, “I have a neighbor in my condo complex who is always throwing cigarette butts on the ground and I know Carl hates litterbugs. What should I say to this guy? I don’t know him but want him to see the error of his ways.”
Carl Hiaasen: Well, first of all, you don’t say anything to him because you’re risking your life in doing that.
Here’s what I would do. First of all, when he’s not home, you go around the property, you pick up as many of the cigarette butts as you can. Next, you order him a pizza. You intercept the pizza guy, you put all the cigarette butts on the pizza, you leave it at his front door. If he doesn’t get the message, then…
Brendan Francis Newnam: I like it. It sounded passive-aggressive at first, but it’s actually agressive-agressive.
Carl Hiaasen: It’s those gnarly chewed-up butts all sprinkled with the pepperoni. Yeah, come on. He’s gotta get the message.
Rico Gagliano: All right, here’s something from Mara in Riga, Latvia. “A good friend of mine,” writes Mara, “has a really rude boyfriend, who, to tell the truth, always annoys everyone in our group of friends. Unfortunately, but also understandably, my friend always brings her boyfriend everywhere she goes. Is there a polite way to invite my friend to let’s say my birthday party and clearly state that invitation is meant only for her?” That’s a tough one.
Carl Hiaasen: That is a tough one. I don’t see a way around it. We all know couples where we can stand one, but the other one is just unbearable and, especially holidays, birthdays, that kind of thing, I don’t know how you deal with it.
Somebody’s gotta be a close enough friend to say, “Look, you’re making a really bad decision here.” You know, set her up with somebody else…
Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s what I’m thinking.
Carl Hiaasen: Find someone better for her.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Let’s go back to your pizza strategy, you know what I mean? Order her a pizza with the really nice, non-rude person to deliver it or something.
Carl Hiaasen: Yeah exactly. Like the ultimate pizza delivery guy, and she just looks at him and…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wait, that reminds me of a movie I once saw.
Rico Gagliano: This is just what every lady is looking for, by the way, a pizza delivery guy.
Carl Hiaasen: Right, that’s the sort of the Seth Rogan solution. Yeah.
That’s why I don’t do an advice column. This is exactly why I don’t do an advice column.
Rico Gagliano: You’re doing great.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Carl Hiaasen, thanks so much for telling our audience how to behave.
Carl Hiaasen: I’m great, yeah. No telling what damage we’ve done here today. There’s gonna be vile pizzas delivered all the way to Latvia now, just because of us.