“What the hell is wrong with Florida?” is the type of question Dave Barry is often asked about his home state after colorful Florida stories go viral (like Florida Man Seen Firing Musket at Cars While Dressed as Pirate or Florida Man Says He Danced on Patrol Car in Order to Escape Vampires).
In his new book, Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, released this month, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist acknowledges that his home state has become known as the “Joke State.” But after traveling through Florida, Barry offers this defense of the state’s quirkier crimes: most of the “low IQ people doing stupid things, frequently naked,” are actually from other places, Barry writes.
Using his trademark ironic humor, Barry argues that Florida’s weirdness – the alligator heads for sale, the underwater mermaid shows and the clothing-optional bars – is actually a reason to love his home state. Here are five things Barry learned in his Florida travels that taught him: “Even our boring parts are exciting.”
1. If the skunk ape exists, it likes lima beans.
Barry travels to the murky Everglades to meet Dave Shealy, a former drug smuggler turned skunk ape enthusiast. Shealy founded Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters because he claims to have seen a skunk ape three times. (For the uninformed: a skunk ape “is Florida’s version of Bigfoot.” According to legend, it walks like a man, is covered in dark hair, is seven feet tall and smells like bad eggs. “It is said to like lima beans,” Barry adds.) Though Barry doesn’t see any skunk apes on his expedition with Shealy, the skunk ape expert shares stories about previous alleged sightings.
2. For $25 you can get a psychic reading for your dog.
Barry travels to Cassadaga, Florida, “The Psychic Capital of the World,” and gives a psychic a picture of his dog, Lucy. The psychic observes that Lucy is smart, spiritual, loving, passionate and energetic.
“In short,” writes Barry, “to summarize what Lucy’s aura reveals, as seen by a professional in the psychic field: Lucy is a dog.”
3. At The Villages – an "active" retirement community where a couple was caught allegedly having sex in public – there was no sex, only white people dancing.
Barry quickly learned that when the folks at The Villages aren’t riding their golf carts or drinking $5 wine out of cups, they’re dancing. He writes, “There are three main types of White Person dancers”: freestyle disco, couples from dance classes, and line dancers. And most of them wear serious expressions like they’re “installing drapes.”
Barry’s favorite dancer of the night? A retired lieutenant colonel of the United States Air Force who beautifully melds karate and Elvis-style dance moves. The ladies love him – especially his suspenders.
“Women love them,” says the retired lieutenant. “I’ve had them unhook ’em.”
4. Shooting machine guns turns "non-threatening civilian guys into a pair of world-class douchenozzles."
Barry goes to the shooting range Lock & Load Miami with his buddy, Ron Ungerman, for the “Machine Gun Experience.” Barry picks the $209 Special Forces package and Ungerman selects the $179 Scarface package. Barry adds a Glock to the mix because of the Fetty Wap song. “I will never own a ‘rari, but I’m thinking it might be fun to say I actually fired a Glock,” writes Barry.
When the guys are done shooting their respective machine guns, Barry writes, they’re “both totally wired, like squirrels on speed. We are giddy and euphoric. We agree that the Machine Gun Experience is one of the most fun and exciting things we have ever done…”
5. "Key West is Florida’s Florida – the place way down at the bottom where the weirdest of the weird end up; the place where abnormal is normal."
Barry and his friend go bar hopping on bicycles. They see drag performers, visit a strip club owned by the city commissioner, and end up at a clothing-optional bar. Barry and his buddy see two male “saggy old exhibitionists” with their legs spread open. Writes Barry, “So often the people who want you to see them naked are not the people that you want to see naked.”
Despite the undesirable nudity, Barry says he loves his home state even more after his trip. His advice: “To my fellow Floridians: Don’t ever sober up.”