As a longtime chronicler of things Florida, I felt obliged to defend my state against the aspersions coming out of Texas these last few days. Lots of mean remarks about the relative sanity of Floridians compared to residents of other states.
As if we were crazier than those damn Texans.
So I sat down at my computer, dipped into my piddling reserve of righteous indignation and began to write. Hell, I was once rousted by a border patrol agent in Laredo, Texas, who figured me for an illegal immigrant. I know crazy places when I see ’em.
Except, I was distracted by a little item in Monday’s Miami Herald. Just a routine crime brief out of Bradenton. Three armed men leaped out of a black sedan and robbed a pedestrian. Their haul: 32 packs of Starbursts.
The great Starburst candy caper was only marginally crazy compared to the stuff Florida newspapers regularly consign, perhaps out of embarrassment, to the back pages. Which doesn’t do much to bolster my defense of Florida’s mental health.
Just over the last few weeks, we’ve suffered a spate of stories that make it sound as if Florida was off its meds. Like the 22-year-man who disrobed inside the CVS Pharmacy in Lutz, commandeered three doggie beds from the pet supply department and thought he’d grab a quick snooze in the buff.
Or the 21-year-old guy who piled some wood pallets and cinderblocks in his backyard in a St. Petersburg residential neighborhood so he could target practice with his 9mm pistol — to the terror of the mother of four small children who lived next door. We learned two years ago, when a resident of Big Pine Key built a similar backyard target range, that this is perfectly legal under a rather insane 2011 Florida state law that precludes city and county governments from interfering with gun ranges.
Last week, a 23-year-old man in Palm Harbor, a fellow of questionable judgment, tried to carjack a Pinellas County deputy sheriff in a marked patrol car (unsuccessfully).
And we can only hope that those Texans didn’t notice that story last month out of Deerfield Beach, in which the owner of Siegel Reptiles was arrested for battery and animal cruelty. Benjamin Siegel, 40, was accused of placing a bearded dragon lizard in his mouth, then swinging the creature around like a mace, like something out of Game of Thrones, using it to attack his employees.
Of course, misguided Texans are only responding to Florida congressman Alcee Hastings’ assertion, during a U.S. House of Representatives committee meeting earlier this month, that Texas is a “crazy state.” When that brought protest from members of the Texas congressional delegation, Hastings got weirdly specific. “One of their cities has a law that says that women can only have six dildos and the certain size of things,” Hastings told CNN. “And if that ain’t crazy, I don’t know what is.”
It seems more than a little crazy for a congressman to bring this up, but actually, it was a state, not a city law that prohibited possession of “six or more obscene devices or identical or similar obscene articles.” A court struck the law down in 2008, though not before Attorney General (and now governor) Greg Abbott, put up a vigorous defense.
Texans, right away, noticed that Alcee was from the state crazy enough to elect an impeached federal judge to Congress. That would be Hastings. Also, his remarks spawned lots of references to our infamous Miami zombie attack in 2012, also known as the Causeway Cannibal, when police shot a naked man who was attacking a homeless man — with his teeth. Or to South Florida’s world-famous underground illegal buttock enhancement industry in which all kinds of concoctions, including industrial grade silicone and Fix-a-Flat tire sealant, have been injected into willing posteriors.
Still, I’m not sure how these Texas cowpokes can draw these wild generalizations about 20 million Floridians based on, say, that guy from Punta Gorda who last week confessed to a London newspaper that back in 1971 he had had a year-long “relationship” with Dolly the dolphin in a Sarasota theme park. He claimed Dolly had “seduced” him. Nothing crazy there.
Admittedly, we do seem to nurture a disproportionate amount of untoward behavior. My theory has been that because we live in such a transient state — according to Census data, only a third of our 20 million fellow Floridians were born here — that folks might not feel the social pressure to act right. Not like back in Columbus, Ohio, where everybody knows your daddy.
Down here, it can be hard to figure out just whom to call daddy. Take the case of John Goodman, the billionaire founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, who adopted his 44-year-old girlfriend during his vehicular manslaughter trial in 2012 to protect his fortune against a wrongful-death lawsuit. An appeals court later revoked the adoption, calling it a “fraud on the court.” Somehow that story keeps popping up when people want to highlight our collective weirdness.
We might have an excuse: the heat. I came across a 2008 study published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, that suggested that once the temperature gets stuck for an extended period of time over 81 degrees — which pretty well defines our summers — the authors noticed “positive association between ambient temperature and hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders.”
The disorders included “symptomatic mental disorders; dementia; mood (affective) disorders; neurotic, stress related and somatoform disorders; disorders of psychological development; and senility.”
Which explains the guy down in Islamorada who took to firing his gun at iguanas sunning on a nearby sea wall, terrifying his neighbors. Or the fellow up in Zephyrhills who thought he could zip away undetected in a stolen Publix handicapped electric shopping cart.
We could also plead poverty for our unhinged behavior. Florida is famously chintzy when it comes to spending on mental health. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation found we ranked next to last among the states in per capita expenditure.
Texas, by the way, was dead last. Maybe that explains Ted Cruz.