Dave Barry’s Answer to All Your Problems? Mace.

The best-selling author tells us about the wonderful and weird state of Florida -- the terrain of his new book -- before answering advice questions and inviting a barbershop quartet into your office.

Photo Credit: Michelle Kaufman

Rico Gagliano: Each week you send in your questions about how to behave, and returning to answer them is one of our favorite etiquette guests: writer Dave Barry. You may have chuckled your way through one of his thousand or so humor columns for The Miami Herald, which were also syndicated. He won a Pulitzer for those.

Dave’s also the author of around 12,000 bestselling books [Dave laughs] and his newest is a love letter to one of his favorite topics: his home state of Florida. The book is called, “BEST STATE EVER.” It’s mostly tongue in cheek of course. He joins us, naturally, from Miami. And Dave, welcome back to our show.

Dave Barry: [Muffled] Thank you very much. [Now clear.] I’m trying to talk to my tongue in my cheek.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, there you are!

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well done.

Dave Barry: Well, I had explain it immediately, though.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Well it is radio. So you call this book best they’d ever but you actually are from New York, not Florida. So, can you recount the memory of your first impression of your native land?


Dave Barry: Wasn’t good! I was hired by The Miami Herald and at the time I was living in this community in Pennsylvania, very bucolic, safe little community. The Miami Herald flew me down for interviews and this was early ’80s, the height of the cocaine Cowboy era. I literally saw cars on the street with bullet holes in the side and there were drugs falling from the sky, washing up on the beaches. That actually was a good part.

Rico Gagliano: So you were like, “I’m in!”

Dave Barry: Yes! Yes. So anyway, I spent like ’83 to ’86, I would come down every few months doing stories. I ended up going all over the city and all over South Florida and I sort of went from thinking God this is the scariest…” to really kind of find it was fascinating. So now, I love Miami because it’s never ever boring.

Rico Gagliano: Was there a moment where you’re like, “This is the place for Barry.”

Dave Barry: It was probably like some January day when, you know, sleet all over my house and my car in Pennsylvania and I thought, “Man, why am I doing this?”

Rico Gagliano: So it wasn’t the richness of story that you could get.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Rico, you’re searching for some poetic moment about Florida, when the truth is, you move for the reason that everyone else does.

Dave Barry: Also, the taxes are really low!

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right. At one point in the book, you say, “You know, you pay high taxes for corrupt government in the northeast and you can pay for nothing for corrupt government in Florida.”

Dave Barry: Exactly. We get corrupt and incompetent government for way less money.

Rico Gagliano: That’s enticing. At one point you write about Florida’s roadside attractions, which, Florida seems to have the most in the weirdest of these things. For instance, there is a place apparently that promises a glimpse of “Mermaids eating apples under water.”

Dave Barry: Yeah, that’s Weeki Wachee. It was started in 1947 by a guy named Newt Perry who could hold his breath for eight minutes under water, ladies and gentlemen. And, you know, a guy gets hungry and thirsty doing that, right?

So he started this attraction which, still exists, and these Mermaids — and I should stress are not real mermaids, they’re women wearing tails — swim around and they breathe from hoses and they drink from some kind of bottled beverage and eat apples under water. And then they do a great patriotic finale to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be An American.” Forget about Disney, man.

Brendan Francis Newnam: How did these attractions become a thing? Basically just to entice tourists, I guess, from the north?

Dave Barry: Yeah. Back then, there was no Interstate 95, so people were kind of driving on roads where there were sides to the roads. We call them road sides. I hope I’m not going too fast.

People would put up attractions, and 90 percent of these attractions involve alligators, which we have in abundance down here. And the truth is, alligators are the world’s most boring creatures because they basically just lie there in the muck for days on end.

If you throw fish at them, you know, they stack the fish up on their noses, like nine fish deep. And then, every now and then, to try to make it more exciting, they would have alligator wrestling, which is the most overrated activity in history.

Rico Gagliano: This is people wrestling the alligators of course. It’s not two alligators wrestling each other.

Dave Barry: No, that would be pretty exciting. Or two guys wrestling over an alligator, or something like that. But no, a man goes out and the alligator doesn’t want to be part of this. Like sometimes they have the audience decide which alligator, and all the alligators like, “Please don’t pick me. Please.” [Laughs.]

They drag the alligator out there. And it’s like, “Oh God not again!” And the guy gets on its back and does all these daring things. You can just tell the alligator just wants to go back into the muck with the other alligators.

Rico Gagliano: Like [imitating the alligator’s point of view], “Yep. Yep. You got me. You got me again.”

Dave Barry: “You win!”

Rico Gagliano: “There’s the choke hold.”

Dave Barry: Yeah. It’s kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. The alligator is the Washington General, and it never wins.

Brendan Francis Newnam: You know I need to ask you, my Facebook feed is filled pretty much every day with news stories about various ill-advised activities that Florida men and women engage in often nude. And you and you have a theory about why Florida attracts weird and occasionally stupid people.

Dave Barry: Florida has only 6 percent of the U.S. population, but accounts for 73 percent — this is a statistic — of the nation’s weirdness.

My theory is, like, if you were to imagine a crate with high sides, but no top. And in the corner, that lower right-hand corner, there’s a little corridor and you put rats in there, all the rats will eventually go down that corridor.

But the smart ones would turn around and figure out how to come back out. The dumb ones will be unable to do that. They’d be stuck down there. And the crazy ones would be maybe attracted to that. And that’s Florida. That’s us.

Rico Gagliano: What does that say about you, Dave?

Dave Barry: My point is, we have a lot of weird people, but they come from your state, probably. When you’re laughing at Florida, you’re laughing at your own state.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah. And I think you say at one point you’re the Ellis Island of stupidity.

Dave Barry: We are. Give us your weird and your stupid yearning to urinate naked in Wal-Mart. Don’t put it all on Florida. That’s all I’m saying.

Rico Gagliano: Well, as though to prove your point, we have had listeners write in from all over the country with problems for you to solve. Are you ready for this etiquette questions?

Dave Barry: I’m ready. Yeah. Let’s get to the etiquette portion…

How to vanquish vaguebookers

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Christopher via Twitter. Christopher writes: “What is the best way to approach a friend or relative who engages in ‘vaguebooking’ for attention?” For those who don’t know, “vaguebooking” is the act of posting an update on social media that is intentionally vague or passive-aggressive. An example would be like, “Some people don’t know how to listen.”

Dave Barry: Wow I had not heard of a “vaguebooking,” but what I would do is — this is Facebook. You can comment, you can react. Every time I saw that I would post something like, “You don’t know the half of it.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: You’d vaguebook back!

Dave Barry: Just vaguebook right- or the other way to go would be to say, “I know exactly what you mean.” Vague ’em right back. Get vague with them.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This is clearly a man who has been successfully married, right? This is the secret to relationships, is being able to vague back and forth.

Rico Gagliano: Years and years of that.

Nuclear gnomes

Brendan Francis Newnam: This next question comes from J.R. in L.A. J.R. writes: “I love to set out fun kitschy things on my front doorstep. How many gnomes is too many? My neighbors seem to dig it. I realize they might just be being polite.”

Dave Barry: I mean, I don’t want to be too critical, but some of us feel that one gnome is too many gnomes. If your neighbors are liking it, I would say, OK up to a nuclear family of four gnomes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s tops.

Rico Gagliano: Should they actually be different sizes, so that they represent a family.

Dave Barry: It’s L.A. And I think it’s 2016 and they can be however way they want to identify. They could be gnomes who identify as lawn flamingos.

Rico Gagliano: That is a good question, actually. Is there a preponderance — I mean that’s the stereotype, is that lawn flamingos, the ground is thick with them there in Florida. True?

Dave Barry: No I’ve never seen one except to be used in magazine photo shoots representing Florida [laughs].

Rico Gagliano: All right there you go. Punctured that balloon.

Shut down comedian co-workers with a joke judge

Rico Gagliano: Here’s something from Christine Instagram. Christine writes: “If you have co-workers who constantly repeat the same lame jokes on a daily basis is it possible to let them know the joke wasn’t funny the first time and therefore is definitely not funny enough to repeat. If so, how? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HOW?”

Dave Barry: She could go all academic and bring in a professional stand-up comic to listen to a joke and issue a ruling and everybody agreed to abide by this ruling: whether it was funny the first time, and if so, how many times it could be repeated before it’s not funny.

Brendan Francis Newnam: OK, so you’re saying bring in a joke judge, and the joke judge might be like, “Christine, that’s actually pretty funny.”

Dave Barry: Is she in L.A.?

Brendan Francis Newnam: We don’t know, we got this via Instagram. So we don’t know where.

Dave Barry: ‘Cause in L.A., I think roughly every third human is a stand-up comic.

Rico Gagliano: That’s right. Or someone who feels qualified to judge the arts. That’s a good idea. Should this person maybe sit on a little lifeguard stand?

Dave Barry: No, because it has to be more like a court situation. Maybe robes and a gavel.

Rico Gagliano: “Let’s adjourn to the court of jokes!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Is there a jury or is this just with the judge?

Dave Barry: No, no the judge rules. The judge is a professional stand-up comedian.

Rico Gagliano: He’s judge jury and executioner of jokes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I hear that stand-up comedians are really normal and easy to hang out with [laughs].

Dave Barry: They’re fun people. You’re always in a good mood.

Brendan Francis Newnam: If they’re not wearing it In-N-Out that day they can come to your office.

Fend off the office singer with a barbershop quartet… or mace

Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, this next question comes from Beth, who is in California. We know that for a fact she told us. And Beth writes: “I have a co-worker who sings along with cell phone ringtones. No matter what the ring tone is — a generic ring tone or a song — he sings along with it. People around me get phone calls all day. How can I nicely ask them to stop timing in every time.”

Dave Barry: My first thought is to use mace, but that’s probably against the law. Maybe another way to go more creative way to go would cost a little money. Hire a barbershop quartet to come in and stand next to this person and sing along with everything he does. And again, barbershop quartets are available because there’s not a high demand.

Rico Gagliano: If Beth and Christine work in the same office you’re just going to have a very fun office.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I know Dave, you’re really doing a lot for the creative community, encouraging their employment.

Rico Gagliano: By the way, I think the first mace thing, that is probably legal in Florida, right?

Dave Barry: Oh, here it’s legal. It’s not a problem. Everything is legal here.

Rico Gagliano: The answers to all these questions are mace, if you’re in Florida.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They use mace as Binaca in Florida.

Rico Gagliano: All right. Dave Barry thanks for telling our audience how to behave.

Dave Barry: It’s why I’m here.