Like most people born and raised there, I have a love-hate relationship with Florida. On the one hand it's got the Keys, the beaches, all-night bars, a great winter climate; on the other hand, it's completely overrun by unadulterated crazy. The following piece features a pretty entertaining personal story about my home town of Miami, made even moreso by the fact that despite all my complaining, I may wind up once again settling in the place that I just can't seem to escape.
"Into the Wild" (Originally Published, 1.5.08)
By now it's pretty much common knowledge that Florida is the most batshit lunatic place on Earth.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating that the entire state is basically the basement of "The South" and as such it acts as a makeshift dungeon into which all the dregs of Southern society can be dropped and allowed to go about their corrupt, under-educated, spouse-abusing, child-porn-downloading, meth-addled lives.
Think Escape from New York, but with rednecks.
Case in point: About a decade or so ago -- before the arrival of Elian Gonzalez and the subsequent pandemonium that finally alerted the rest of the world to the hostage crisis that's been going on in South Florida since the inmates took control of the asylum -- a news item made the rounds that would leave those who witnessed it both scarred and speechless for years to come.
It involved a Santeria priest, a live goat and a room full of reporters.
Basically what happened is this: Miami's amusingly large community of believers in silly Afro-Caribbean superstition had been feeling the heat from local authorities for some time; animal rights activists and good, old-fashioned sane people were finally beginning to question some of the methods and practices of the Santeria "religion," particularly when it came to the slaughtering of live animals as various sacrifices to one god or another. I'm not exaggerating when I say that not only is it common to see live goats and chickens roaming the front yards of some Miami homes -- blissfully unaware of their impending date with a kitchen knife, one would imagine -- but the City of Miami courthouse employs a special detachment of janitors dubbed the "Voodoo Squad" which is specifically tasked with the removal of the chicken parts, blood and fairy dust sometimes left outside of courtrooms. (Ostensibly, such magical detritus is offered up by friends of defendants on trial in the hope of, say, getting Raul "Pachuco" Diaz-Gonzalez-Martinez off on felony drug charges via the appeasement of Papa Chango.)
In an effort to allay the outrage of the few decent people left in the Greater Miami area, a local Santero made what would quickly become a horrifically ill-advised decision to hold a news conference at which he would demonstrate the "humane" way that animals are handled during Santeria rituals.
Now, if you live someplace, oh, I don't know, normal, none of this sounds the least bit terrifying -- absurd maybe, but given that the laws of decent society and general sanity would apply, you'd likely be safe in the knowledge that what seemed as if it were about to happen wouldn't actually happen.
Again though -- Miami.
So there he was: a self-proclaimed practitioner of the light-arts of Santeria, dressed in a pristine white robe, standing in the middle of his own living room, holding a large knife and calmly, amiably addressing about a dozen reporters -- a surprisingly insouciant live goat lounging at his feet, thoroughly oblivious to the surreal bit of theater going on around him.
Once the holy man was satisfied that everyone was in place, the show began. He spoke a few words, an invocation of the spirit world I'd imagine, then in one fast and fluid motion reached down and grabbed the goat -- who had by now finally wised-up and realized that something was very wrong -- and slashed it deep across the throat with the giant knife.
I truly hope that someone had enough of his or her faculties intact to take a picture of the gaggle of reporters at that moment. I have no doubt that their expressions were well beyond anyone's power of adequate description.
The goat struggled for a second, then the blood sprayed out of the vicious wound in its throat like a geyser. The priest grabbed the animal and tried to hold it over a small bowl that had been placed on the floor in front of it and surrounded with an assortment of religious knick-knacks. Needless to say, attempting to aim an eruption of blood of that size is easier said than done; the stuff was going everywhere. It was creating a huge crimson bloom on the terrazzo floor and had already forced the reporters to take several steps back in some combination of shock, revulsion and a desire not to get goat's blood all over their shoes.
After what seemed like an eternity, the poor goat's struggling was reduced to a few sickening twitches and it went limp; one would hope the embarrassment killed it before the hemorrhaging did. The scene was absolutely quiet -- an entire room full of reporters, the kind of people you typically couldn't get to shut the hell up if you poured concrete into their mouths, stunned into silent submission.
And at that -- with a dead goat lying at his feet and a bloody knife in his hand, wearing robes stained a gruesome red, in the middle of a living room that looked as if the Manson family had just dropped by -- the priest non-chalantly stood up, looked directly at the reporters and their cameras and said, completely straight-faced:
"Now there -- did you see anything inhumane?"
I once asked Miami Herald columnist and best-selling author Carl Hiaasen if he'd ever consider moving away from South Florida. His response: "Are you kidding? Why would I leave all this great material?"
I bring this up because, once again, I've been reminded that what's "normal" in Florida pretty much meets the legal definition of insanity anywhere else.
In yesterday's Miami Herald, I noticed a headline which read -- and no, I'm not kidding (as if there should be any doubt after that last true tale) -- "Goat Abuse Sparks Outcry."
I of course immediately wondered if, ten years after the fact, someone had finally locked up the infamous Santeria Slasher, but as it turns out the story in question is even more twisted -- if such a thing were possible.
The subheading read, "The case of a goat who was raped and killed has pushed for a bill that would outlaw bestiality."
Just in case you missed it, let me repeat -- a goat who was RAPED and killed.
"A Sunrise state senator and a St. Petersburg representative have filed legislation to make it a first-degree felony to have sex with animals.
''It's true. It's sick. There needs to be a law,'' said Democratic Sen. Nan Rich, a longtime crusader for children and animal rights. ``There are 30 states that make this a crime. Florida isn't one of them.''
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he would sign the bill into law if it made it to his desk.
Rich said she was as shocked as she was ''disgusted'' when she learned of the rape and asphyxiation of a family pet goat named Meg who was pregnant with twins last year in the town of Mossy Head in rural Walton County.
A suspect in the case, a 48-year-old man, is serving an 11-month, 29-day jail sentence on animal-theft charges in connection with the attempted abduction of another goat in a separate case, according to Walton County Assistant State Attorney James Parker.
Parker said he couldn't prosecute the suspect in the death of Meg because DNA samples taken with a sheriff's office rape kit were inconclusive. Parker said he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement last week to re-test the evidence."
There's nothing about this story that doesn't scream Florida. In fact, if it had happened somewhere else I'd be inclined to say that Florida could've sued for intellectual -- or lack thereof -- property rights.
From a pet goat, to a raped and pregnant pet goat, to a murdered, raped and pregnant pet goat (a no doubt hastily conceived but admittedly inspired redneck plan to both kill off the mistress and avoid having to pay child support), to a lack of anti-bestiality laws in a state that not long ago literally kicked down Terri Schiavo's door and forced a feeding tube down her throat, to the bizarre obligatory outrage from Florida politicians -- those not in jail or currently under indictment -- now valiantly determined to confront the state's rampant animal-rape problem.
It's just all so perfect.
It's just all so -- Florida.
The place where sanity goes to die.
This is why I don't live there anymore.
It just isn't safe for normal people -- to say nothing of goats.