In praise of Carl (Hiaasen) and Dave (Barry)

Every city needs at least one chronicler, a writer who knows its wretched excesses, abject failures and occasional successes and can bring them to life. Miami is lucky to have two: Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen. I’d say the world knows more about us from these two guys than from any other source.

The world, of course, thanks to Dave and Carl, thinks we’re wacky, vain, venal, and corrupt. Which we are. But Carl and Dave have also shown that once in a great while we can also be smart, principled and willing to risk everything for a noble cause. Think of Carl’s character “Skink,” the crazed but honest former Florida governor who camps out in the swamp off Card Sound Road. Skink, however, regularly shows up to save the day for the good guys, which usually includes protecting the environment from unbridled growth. That’s Carl’s principal concern, but he lays out his anti-sprawl, pro-environment point of view with such good humor and biting wit that we embrace it, too. He is a master satirist.

Dave is an absurdist. “You can’t make this stuff up,” he often says of the many weird things that happen here with alarming regularity. A homeless man who gets his face chewed off by a deranged passerby. Politicians who give away millions of tax dollars to a baseball franchise crying poor mouth but which turns out to be making lots of money. An emotionally unbalanced mayor who ventures out in his pajamas to get an early copy of the paper — at 1 Herald Plaza.

Nope, you can’t make this stuff up. But you make it the stuff of fantastic columns. Dave and Carl have written many for this newspaper over the last 30 years. They are one of the main reasons why I continue to have my copy of The Herald delivered to my home every day. In the hope that I’ll be able to read what Carl and Dave have to say.

Dave has quite a bit to say about Miami in his latest book, a laugh-out-loud novel called Insane City. I’d venture to say that this is a truer and more accurate description of Miami than Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood. Wolfe, of course, aspired to write Literature; Dave is just trying to entertain us. And, boy, does he ever, while making some serious points, too. Wolfe’s novel felt over-researched and by the numbers. South Beach drunks? Check. Wynwood art? Check. Rich people on Fisher Island? Check. Old folks at active retirement community? Check. And so forth.

In Insane City, Dave visits the same places and people, but to much better effect. This isn’t research, this is —magnified for comedic effect — the real South Florida. It’s organic, the place where we really live.

And oh so funny. How can you not like a book with a chapter that begins, “Your mature male orangutan is not a looker.”

Dave says he was inspired by the orangutans at Jungle Island and thus created one of his own named Trevor. “Trevor was going to be in a scene or two,” Dave says, “but he was so much fun that I just kept going and he wound up having relationships with two women.”

To find out who they are and how Trevor fared, you’ll just have to read Insane City. Do not, however, read it in the presence of anyone else or you’ll find yourself having to read aloud to your spouse the part you were guffawing over.

Dave’s novel has its serious side, too. Seth, the protagonist, gets involved in an escalating series of unfortunate —and hilarious — disasters that cause him to consider whether he’s marrying the right woman. A captain of industry invited to the wedding accidentally eats some marijuana-laced brownies and discovers that he should have eaten more when he was young and listened to Van Morrison.

I won’t give away more because you need to read it for yourself. Suffice it to say that there is — against all odds — a happy ending.

Which brought a tear to my jaundiced eye. That’s what Dave and Carl have done for all of us over the years. Made us laugh. Made us less jaundiced about the place we call home. Thanks, guys.

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