long but good Florida Man Explains His State's Weirdness The book opens with this quote from Lawrence P. Lessing: “Florida is a study in abnormal psychology, useful in signaling the … hidden derangements of the national mood.” Unpack that idea for us. We’ve been like that ever since. We’re the petri dish for a lot of things that end up spreading across the country. Our concealed weapons and stand-your-ground laws were both adopted by dozens of other states after us. It seems like every major issue in the country winds up starting in Florida, or reaches its ultimate expression here—like the recent shooting at Pulse Nightclub where you had issues involving gun control, gay rights, terrorism, and Hispanic identity all crisscrossing, in one spot, right here in Florida, in the land of fantasy. You write, “The smell of cocoa butter is my madeleine.” Talk about your own Floridian childhood and how the state has changed. I grew up in the Florida Panhandle, playing on the beach, and one whiff of cocoa butter takes me right back to childhood. [Laughs.] I used to go hunting and fishing in the state’s forests with my dad. But a lot of the places we used to go are now suburbs. My dad finally got rid of his hunting dogs, saying "There’s really no place to go hunting anymore. You have to drive to Mississippi to go hunting." That’s one of the things you notice if you’re a longtime Floridian: Things change very rapidly. Another Florida native I was chatting with compared it to being the kid in that movie The Sixth Sense, because you’re constantly seeing things that aren’t there anymore. That’s part of why people in Florida tend to live for today and not necessarily think about the consequences. Everything changes and you have to grab for the gusto! Later, you became a crime reporter for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). Give us some juicy items from the police blotter. The police are constantly coming across things that they couldn’t possibly have covered in their training, like the weekend in 2013 when police officers in Tallahassee confronted a runaway llama and wound up subduing it with their Tasers. [Laughs.] Or the day an officer pulled a guy over because he was weaving around, and the guy explained he had a squirrel in his shirt that was biting him. The officer reported, “I had the suspect secure the squirrel and step out of the vehicle.” [Laughs.] My favorite was a report about a woman who had gotten upset at her live-in boyfriend and hit him over the head with a New Orleans Saints commemorative lawn gnome. [Laughs.] You constantly see things like that as a journalist in Florida. Right now, some of my colleagues are chasing a story about a man who assaulted a flamingo at the Busch Gardens theme park. [Laughs.] How do geography and weather affect Floridians’ temperament and outlook? When people ask me why Florida is so crazy, the number one thing I point out is that in 1940 we were the least populous Southern state. Now, we’re the third most populous state in the country, with 20 million people, plus 100 million visitors per year, all crammed into this 35-to-40-mile-wide strip along the coast and Interstate 4. We are a place that a lot of people come to, to try and start over. We’re the land of 1,000 chances. Put that many people together from that many different places, speaking that many different languages, and they’re bound to start ramming their cars into each other or chasing each other with machetes over whose dog pooped on whose lawn. [Laughs.] Our tropical climate is another reason why we produce so many weird stories. We’re not cooped up inside, weathering out a blizzard. We’re out 365 days a year, doing crazy stuff, like getting bitten by sharks or having samurai sword battles. One of your chapters is called “The Gunshine State.” Why are Floridians so gun mad? We have more concealed weapons permits than any other state: nearly 1.4 million. But we don’t know how many guns are actually here because if you don’t get a concealed weapons permit, you don’t need a license to have one! We have more places selling guns than we have post offices that people ram their cars into [see below]. And they have been doing a wonderful business during Obama’s presidency. People keep getting these messages that Obama is going to take away their guns, so they dutifully go and buy more guns! And every time we have a mass shooting, like at Pulse Nightclub, gun sales go up again. [Laughs grimly.] I call it a combination of peer pressure and fear—or fear pressure. If you know a lot of other people have concealed weapons, then you will want one, too. You don’t want to be the one in an argument about trimming the hedge who is only armed with the hedge clippers. But the problem with all these concealed weapons is that a lot of times people forget they have them. We lead the country in accidental shootings. In one incident, in a hotel in Clearwater, this guy knocked the gun out of his pocket and it hit the floor and five people were wounded. [Laughs.] Crime writer Carl Hiaasen once called Florida “a sunny place for shady people.” He’s right, isn’t he? My goodness! We lead the country in Medicare and identity fraud and we are a hotbed of people using Fix-a-Flat ingredients to increase the size of their butts. [Laughs.] Even back in pre-state days, we were known as a rogue’s paradise and that hasn’t changed at all. Charles Ponzi, the guy who invented the Ponzi scheme in Boston, fled to Florida and got involved in a real estate fraud. You can’t trust anything you see or hear in Florida. The Wall Street Journal found that more brokers with flags on their licenses are located in Florida than anywhere else. We have an awful lot of elderly retirees here, who have money to invest, so people find ways to pick those suckers clean. One of my favorite con jobs was when a gang managed to convince a large number of elderly folks in Florida that they needed special, government-approved toilet paper. [Laughs.]They managed to get more than $1 million from their victims for that! Every state also has sleazy politicians, but Florida’s pols take the cake. According to historians, from 1920 to 1940 there wasn’t a single election in Tampa that wasn’t rigged by gambling interests. In 2014, the mayors of three different Dade County cities were busted for taking kickbacks. In my hometown, four of the five county commissioners have been charged with various high crimes and misdemeanors, ranging from consorting with prostitutes to taking money that was intended for charity and using it to buy football tickets. It doesn’t matter which party is in power, either. In the '70s, when the Democrats were in charge, a whole bunch of politicians were charged with various crimes. Now we’ve got Republicans, but the same thing is happening.