Oh, #Florida!

What Makes a Weird Florida Story a Weird Florida Story?
The rules are different here.
July 16 2013 6:45 AM

Oh, #Florida!

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What makes a weird Florida story a weird Florida story?

Gnomes and other garden ornaments fill the back garden of Nigel and Jean Balcombe in Ashford, southeast England February 10, 2013.
Garden gnome, deadly weapon?

Photo by Luke MacGregor/Reuters.

“Brothers and sisters, this morning I intend to explain the unexplainable—find out the undefinable—ponder over the imponderable—and unscrew the inscrutable." —Florida poet James Weldon Johnson

Every day weird news comes out of Florida. As with the famous saying about porn, we know what it is when we see it. But what elements combine to make a story that occurs in Florida fit the definition of “weird Florida”?

Thanks to a lifetime of observing Florida weirdness all around me, I have formulated a few general rules. I also consulted a couple of experts on this subject: Brendan Farrington, who since 1998 has compiled an annual roundup of bizarre behavior in Florida for the Associated Press; and Barbara Hijek, who writes the FloriDUH blog for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Here's what we came up with:

1)      The story generally involves an unusual weapon. A machete is okay. A samurai sword will do. A lawn gnome is waaaaaaaaaay better.

2)      Nudity is not essential, but it is recommended.

3)      The presence of an animal helps, especially an alligator, whether large or small. Some sort of big snake is good. Monkeys are an old standby. Llamas are the new hotness.

4)      The participation of Florida's many sex-industry workers tends to boost the story's visibility.

5)      You'd be amazed how many stories there are about sexual encounters gone horribly awry (and how great the mugshots are). Note: Said encounter does not have to involve a couple. It may, however, involve something from No. 3.

6)      You'd also be amazed at what people post on Facebook.

7)      For “the Happiest Place on Earth,” Disney World manages to generate a lot of weirdness.

8)      You can always count on some help from 911.

9)      Florida thieves steal the strangest things.

10)  Mistaken identity stories are frequently good for a laugh.

One word of caution: Don't ever look back to see what happened next to the people in these stories. What you find might bring a tear to your eye.

Craig Pittman is a native Floridian and an award-winning reporter who covers environmental issues for the state's largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes