Dave Barry

Interview with Bob Graham

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, October 16, 1983)

I was nervous about interviewing the governor of Florida. Usually when reporters interview the governor, they ask questions that reveal a detailed knowledge of the issues:

REPORTER: Governor, on Feb. 9 at approximately 3:40 p.m., you indicated that you support the issuance of 6.74 per cent deeds of accrual for the proposed 427.71-square-mile Mucklands Natural Wildlife Preserve, home of the tusk shell, or scaphopoda, a class of mullusk that dwells to depths of 5,000 meters and captures its prey with filamentous tentacles?

GOVERNOR (approvingly): That is correct.

I don't know much about the issues in Florida. I live in Pennsylvania, and until a few days before the interview, I didn't know the Florida governor's name. I considered making that my first question:

ME: What is your name?


ME (probing): Bob what?

Well it turns out I needn't have worried about the issues, as you'll see when you read this transcript of the interview I had with Gov. Bob Graham in his office in Tallahassee. Every word of it, so help me, is true. I have condensed it some for space and clarity.


BARRY: Why does Florida need both a Senate and a House?

GRAHAM: Well, because if we had only one, they could probably get their work done in about three point one seven eight days per year, and there are scores of people whose living depends on their being up here for 90 days. It's actually a form of an employment plan.

BARRY: I've been asking the working people of Florida if they have questions for you, and I have a question here from a working person in Miami named Ray Bubel, who....

GRAHAM: What does Ray do?

BARRY: He works for Tropic.

GRAHAM (into tape recorder) Hello, Ray, glad to see you there.

BARRY: Ray wants to know what you're going to do to lower taxes, and I don't think he's talking about everyone here. I think he's talking about Ray's taxes.

GRAHAM: We're going to raise Dave's taxes, so he can pay more of yours, Ray. I mean, you can see that Dave can certainly afford it. Look, he comes here with this chi-chi Swiss-Italian suit....

BARRY: Look at this. This is right off the rack from Gimbel's.

GRAHAM: Yeah, probably came right over from Santa Margarita....

BARRY: A man gets on the best-dressed list, and he becomes insufferable. (NOTE: Graham recently made a list of the 10 best- dressed men in America.) Do you realize what kind of limp- wristed people put people on the....

GRAHAM: I'm the only person who ever made it using only one tie. (He shows his Florida tie.)

BARRY: What can the state do about harmonica safety? I don't know if you have any idea how many Floridians die every year in harmonica accidents....

GRAHAM: Well last year we actually made some substantial improvement. In 1981, there were four people who died of harmonica accidents. Now actually, I think it's only fair to count three of them, because the fourth one was actually, I would say it was more of a swimming-pool accident. He was playing the harmonica in the swimming pool and actually jumped off the shallow end, hit his head, and we don't know whether it was the fact that he swallowed the harmonica, or the brain damage. They counted it as a harmonica accident. Now, this year, or 1982, the last year for which we have statistics, we only had two harmonica accidents. I think it was the result of the public-service ads that I did....

BARRY: The Harmonica Safety Day I think was a wonderful....

GRAHAM: ...and we built it around the theme that if you want to play Dixie, it's fine, but don't do it in front of the air- conditioning duct, because that's where we found that most of the deaths occurred. It was the vacuum that was created.

BARRY: This leads us pretty much directly to toads. I've been staying at a house in Broward County, and there are, every morning out on the patio, toads the size of mailboxes. What can we do?

GRAHAM: I grew up in the town of Pennsuco, and in Pennsuco, in my backyard we had lots of toads, and particularly this time of year, the toads are really out. And the way we dealt with them was with BB guns.

BARRY: The great environmentalist.

GRAHAM: Yeah. I used to go out in the afternoon with my friends and BB guns, and that's how we diminished the toad population.

BARRY: If you were to hit these toads in this Broward County home with a BB gun, they would just get enraged, if they even noticed it. They would barge into the house....

GRAHAM: Listen. If you want to just go out there like some amateur, firing away, that's what'll happen to you. But what you've got to do, you've got to wait until the toad raises his head above a 45-degree angle, you get that soft...have you heard that phrase, the "soft underbelly"? Winston Churchill was big on soft underbellies, and he tried it in both World War I and World War II. But you got to get them right there (gesturing toward throat).

BARRY: What do you think of the idea of -- this is an idea I came up with....

GRAHAM: God, it's about time.

BARRY: What we do is drain the Everglades, kill all the bugs, put in nice, clean restrooms, fill it back up and have a theme swamp. What do you think?

GRAHAM: John Kennedy once made the statement that victory has a hundred parents, but defeat is always an orphan. I want to tell you, you got a lot of orphan ideas. But your idea, it's not a bad idea, it's just an old idea. They've had that idea of draining the Everglades and creating a theme swamp for 102 years. A fellow by the name of Hamilton Distan had it. Actually, Hamilton Distan was the real father of Walt Disney Senior, who was the real father of Walt Disney Junior, and it's been sort of a genetic aspiration of the family for a long time.

BARRY: About your proposal to have school kids speak only a foreign language for six weeks, I'm sure you're a busy man, you probably didn't think of this, but what if they have to go to the bathroom?

GRAHAM: Well, they can ask in Spanish, or French, or Portuguese.

BARRY: Well what if they don't know how to ask? You're going to have kids going home with soiled pants, and it's going to be your fault, the governor's fault.

GRAHAM: Maybe this will give them a chance to develop some vocabulary for the laundry room.

BARRY: Have you, in your workdays, ever considered one of the less-traditional jobs, like transvestite dancer?

GRAHAM: I only do those jobs that I feel equipped to do.

BARRY: What was the worst job you ever did?

GRAHAM: All the jobs have been wonderful, because they've all been in Florida.

BARRY: Even scooping poop in Ocala?

GRAHAM: Yes. A very good job, done with Floridians, some of whom were equine, some of whom were humine. Human.

BARRY: Do you plan to run for Senator? You can tell me.

GRAHAM: I am fully committed to doing the absolute best job I can in the responsibilities for which I have been elected.

BARRY: Will you accept the Democratic nomination for vice president?

GRAHAM: I am committed to do the best job I possibly can in the responsibilities that the people of Florida have elected me for.

BARRY: How about the Republican nomination for vice president?

GRAHAM: I am committed to do the best job I can in the responsibilities to which the people of Florida have generously elected me.

BARRY: Will you personally run for president, like Reubin Askew, who is a former governor who left the state to do that and has never been heard from again?

GRAHAM: Same answer as above.

(Here Steve Hull, the governor's press secretary, enters with a copy of Graham's book, Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job.)

GRAHAM: David, let me ask you this question. Actually it's going to be a series of questions. One, do you have a copy of Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job?

BARRY: No, I don't.

GRAHAM: Well why not?

BARRY: Did you sell it?

GRAHAM: Yes, we did, for $5.95.

HULL: We'll give you one free if you'll review it.

BARRY: Why don't we just tell the readers? (Speaking into the tape recorder): Buy Gov. Bob's book. $5.95, at bookstores near you.

GRAHAM (grabbing tape recorder): Politics is a tenuous business. You need to have something you can fall back on. I need the royalties.

BARRY (grabbing tape recorder back): A great read. Four stars. Couldn't put it down. Part where governor scoops poop in Ocala especially good.

GOVERNOR: Are all of the newspapers you write for general- interest newspapers, or do any of them have specialty orientations? Like do you write for a poultry magazine?

BARRY: No, I don't write for poultry magazines. I'm a Presbyterian.

GRAHAM: Well if you want religious angles, we can give you religious angles. But the question is, are they all general- interest audiences? Because if they are, you can do one overall review of Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job. If they have a specialty audience, we can help direct you to some of the subtleties and nuances that will appeal to that particular audience, whether it's an audience that's interested in citrus horticulture, or in beach sand maintenance....

BARRY: I'm starting to nod off here.

GRAHAM: Yes, but what ARE you going to do to promote our sales? (Grabs tape recorder again.) We haven't sold a book in the last seven months.

BARRY: You need more pictures of naked people and less pictures of you in there, Governor.

GRAHAM: If beefcake it takes, beefcake they'll get. But we really need some help, and, Dave, we're giving you a lot of exclusive, thoughtful comments, and it seems to me that the least you could do, as a quid pro quo, is to give some real impetus to our book.

BARRY: I'll push it. I will....

GRAHAM: Because what we're really trying to do is build a....

BARRY (to aides): How can we cut him off on this?

GRAHAM: ...we're trying to build a wave of reader interest in a NEXT volume of Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job.

BARRY: I'd like to know what you'd like to say to all the incredibly snotty people who write editorials about you and say the public is really outraged about something when they actually mean themselves and their wives.

GRAHAM (after a long pause): You see, dealing with editorial writers is...oh, all the analogies that you want to make will get you in such trouble later on....

BARRY: That's how they feel about you.

GRAHAM: Editorial writers are wonderful people, and I know they are just taking out their little frustrations by finding these little minuscule points of humor, slight little misconstrued apparent misjudgments. I think that being an editorial writer is a very excellent form of psychotherapy, and it costs a hell of a lot less than $100 an hour.

BARRY: Well Governor, I'd like to thank you for the interview, but I won't. I'll just say that on behalf of everybody in Miami, I wish you a very happy and meaningful St. Urho's Day. (Here I am giving the governor a hard time for once having declared March 16 St. Urho's Day in honor of the saint who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland.)

GRAHAM: Well I certainly appreciate that. The most memorable St. Urho's Day I had is one that is discussed extensively in Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job. It's a chapter of pathos; it's a chapter that has an undercurrent of humor; but it penetrates to the heart of the real meaning of St. Urho's Day. It's in that famous book, Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job, by Bob Graham, $5.95 at your local bookstore. Please buy it. We haven't had a sale in seven months. We're desperate.

(For the next several minutes, photographer Joe Rimkus and I tried to leave the governor's office while the governor continued to pressure me to get The Herald to print a review of his book. Then for some reason, I can't remember what, the governor whipped out his paycheck for his workday as a baggage handler for Eastern Airlines in Miami.)

GRAHAM: I just got my check for my job at Eastern Airlines (showing the check). I bet you don't get that working a day at The Miami Herald.

BARRY: $107.68. (To photographer:) We're in the wrong business, Joseph.

GRAHAM: If you guys would move from journalism to baggage handling, it would certainly improve the style and journalistic quality of Knight Ridder (The Herald's publishing company), and might even contribute to the happiness and underwear of the passengers who are relying on....

BARRY: Happiness and underwear?

(More random discussion follows, during which the governor, for reasons that would be too complex to explain here, suggests that we start a newspaper called "The Fort Lauderdale Mud Dauber." As we prepare to leave, he picks up his book again. He gets into a long passage about the time he worked as an auto mechanic.)

GRAHAM (reading): ... we checked out each of the wheel cylinders. Having determined they were OK, we then lowered the car to examine the master brake cylinder located under the hood immediately in front of the driver's seat. That was the problem. An accumulation of grit had reduced the brake fluid to the consistency of wet sand.

BARRY: Gee. What a story.

GRAHAM: I mean, look, here it is. Gonzo journalism, right here.

BARRY: The man can write. Whew.

GRAHAM: Now here, this is "Hard....

BARRY: Don't read any more. You'll just spoil it for me.

GRAHAM: "Hard Work in the Jay Oil Fields...."

BARRY (edging toward door): Hey, I'd love to ask you more....

GRAHAM: Here's kind of a teaser....

BARRY: ...but I know you're a busy man....

GRAHAM (reading): "That's the worst part of the job. If the wire snaps, we all get grouchy as hell" -- Danny Hidgon, wire- line technician.

BARRY (still edging toward door): Well, I realize you're very busy.

GRAHAM: I bet you don't even know what a wire-line operator is, do you?

BARRY: No, but I'm going to read the book and find out. I'm going to read it several times. I'm going to read the book over and over and over. (To photographer:) We better get going, so I can read the book right now.

GRAHAM: How about this one for a headline? "Orlando....

BARRY (pushing out into the reception area): OK. We'll....

GRAHAM (following us with book, still reading): "Orlando Bellhop's Long Haul...."

BARRY: If you have any more thoughts, just tell them to Steve Hull here, and Steve'll write them down....

GRAHAM: "...Long Haul With ERA Women, Old Soldiers."


We eventually left, me clutching a copy of Workdays: Finding Florida on the Job personally inscribed by the governor ("Dave, I'm not desperate, but my literary future is in your fingers"). If any of you readers would like to get a copy, you can order it below. Or, if you want to save the $5.95, you can just go up to Tallahassee, and the governor will read it to you.

© 2010, Dave Barry

This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.