Category Archives: FloriDUH

#Friday Reads: Bring on the Laughs with Razor Girl and First Star I See Tonight

This week’s theme is humor. I tend to write with a slight sway to what I’m reading, and since I’m pushing towards the end of a contemporary romance that will hopefully be infused with a marbled layer of chuckles, humor I need.

Humor I got.

Book 1: Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen.
Carl Hiaasen is ALWAYS good for a laugh. Wait, no, I’ve known people who have suffered stomach cramps from doubling over in laughter while reading his books. And because truth is stranger than fiction (especially in Florida), many of  Hiaasen’s nut-job characters and insane situations are inspired by news clippings. Here you go: Woman Crashes Car While Shaving Her Privates –your real life Razor Girl. I still haven’t figured out if Hiassen satirizes or merely exaggerates the impossible realities of our beloved screwball state, but as always, his humor hits razor sharp.

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

The new full-tilt, unstoppably hilarious and entertaining novel from the best-selling author of Skinny Dip and Bad Monkey

When Lane Coolman’s car is bashed from behind on the road to the Florida Keys, what appears to be an ordinary accident is anything but (this is Hiaasen!). Behind the wheel of the other car is Merry Mansfield–the eponymous Razor Girl–and the crash scam is only the beginning of events that spiral crazily out of control while unleashing some of the wildest characters Hiaasen has ever set loose on the page. There’s Trebeaux, the owner of Sedimental Journeys–a company that steals sand from one beach to restore erosion on another . . . Dominick “Big Noogie” Aeola, a NYC mafia capo with a taste for tropic-wear . . . Buck Nance, a Wisconsin accordionist who has rebranded himself as the star of a redneck reality show called Bayou Brethren . . . a street psycho known as Blister who’s more Buck Nance than Buck could ever be . . . Brock Richardson, a Miami product-liability lawyer who’s getting dangerously–and deformingly–hooked on the very E.D. product he’s litigating against . . . and Andrew Yancy–formerly Detective Yancy, busted down to the Key West roach patrol after accosting his then-lover’s husband with a Dust Buster. Yancy believes that if he can singlehandedly solve a high-profile murder, he’ll get his detective badge back. That the Razor Girl may be the key to Yancy’s future will be as surprising as anything else he encounters along the way–including the giant Gambian rats that are livening up his restaurant inspections.

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (September 6, 2016)

Book 2: First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
While many readers may have caught on to Susan Elizabeth Phillips stories a good decade or two ago, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m late to the contemporary romance party. Phillip’s books pretend to fall into the crossover category: they’re released at hardcovers on the mainstream fiction shelves, so readers who are above or afraid to pick up a skinny Harlequin paperback can read without having to explain. But I’ll let you in on a secret: though they are sometimes labeled as “romantic fiction” they are still  romances. Funny, flirty, and zany romances. Why else would Phillips have won the prestigious RITA award four times and be a recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award? Try one, you’ll like it…

 First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

A no-nonsense sports hero and a feisty female detective go head-to-head in this funny, fresh, seductive novel from the award winning NYT bestselling author known for her unforgettable characters, heartfelt emotion, and laugh out loud humor.

He’s the former quarterback of the Chicago Stars football team.

She’s trying to make a success of her very own detective agency.

Her first job? Follow him. Let’s just say it’s not going well.

Not well at all….

Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. The problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.

Which is why a great detective needs a first rate imagination. “The fact is . . . I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just . . . mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding that Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham,, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants just might be an intrepid detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Series: Chicago Stars
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (August 23, 2016)

Are you reading anything good this week?





Hanging Mickey Mouse

A long time ago in a fantasy land not too far away, there once was a college freshman who longed to escape from both the rigors of college coursework and the protective eyes of her parents for the summer.  Some perky and persuasive recruiters combed her campus for the most fresh-faced, malleable, and all-American slave labor students to join their summer internship program. The competition was fierce, so this young and naive freshman pulled out her rows of earrings, wiped off her heavy eyeliner, swore her hair color was natural, and sweet talked the recruiters into paying her minimum wage to spend the summer at
After spending eight weeks sweltering in the Sunshine State’s repressive heat and humidity, this soon-to-be-sophomore had finally been released from indentured servitude and  graduated from the world-renown program. As her eyes glazed over from exhaustion, she reflected upon what knowledge she had gained through this highly coveted internship.
She gained an in depth knowledge of International Relations and how to peacefully cohabit with six people from five countries in one cramped charming, smoke-filled apartment. She discovered the French were the heaviest smokers and  best cooks by far (and usually at the same time); Norwegians often paid for their extensive clubbing wardrobes and blonde highlights by supplying the International Village with any and every drug imaginable; the Germans and the English battled it out nightly for the fiercely contested title of world beer drinking champions; and much to the chagrin to all the roommates, some Internationals could not be taught to flush soiled toilet paper instead of depositing it in the trash can next to the loo.
She learned to tune-out tolerate the stupid tourists of the world. She was taught not to point but to gesture like a beauty queen waving on a float so she would not offend any foreign guests.  As mobs of randy Brazilian youths exited from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride chanting “We wants the Redhead, We wants the Redhead” in her face, she learned how control her temper and not knee them in the groin. Eventually her conscience was numbed to the guilt of bilking a family of four out of a hundred bucks for cheap ponchos, a roll of film, and  two plastic swords.  She specialized in repressing snarky comments when at least fifty-nine overheated and under-deodorized guests per day asked, “What time is the Three O’clock Parade?”    Vodka helped.
She discovered the magic was merely a carefully crafted facade, and nearly everyone in life was assigned a role to play. While sweating in her polyester pirate costume, she smiled and posed for photos with Japanese businessmen and hoped the images wouldn’t end up on bedside tables or the internet. She learned not to be shocked when she caught Tweedle Dum groping Alice or Tigger wandering wasted through the garbage-filled underground tunnels. She never looked at fairy tales the same after she caught Cinderella in her underwear, smoking a cigarette, and swearing like a drunken sailor.  Childhood dreams are fragile and easily shattered.
After she carelessly shoved her hard-earned Mouster’s Degree into her luggage, she changed back into her own clothes and personality for the journey into the park to say her good-byes.  She rode the shuttle bus to the park’s employee entrance for the last time and knowingly strolled to her former outpost. With the help of a few like-minded cohorts, she placed the tiny noose around the stuffed Mickey Mouse’s neck and let him dangle lifelessly in the air.
The dream was officially dead. She had graduated back into the real world.

Survive the Rapture and Get Naked

Watch out world, a wild weekend awaits us all.

The BAD News: 

You had better party hard, kiss your kids, and knock as many items off your bucket list as humanly possible by Saturday.   Stop planning your Doomsday parties and trips to watch the aliens land in France in 2012 because you only have until this Saturday.

According to Family Radio, a so-called network of Christian Radio stations, Judgment day will be upon us May 21st 2011.  Yes, that’s this weekend.  Start praying or partying.  Family Radio has bought 1,200 billboards proclaiming the end of days nationwide and 2,000 overseas to scare us into submission.   Five caravans of followers have been criss-crossing the county to spread the word.

Funny how the billboards prominently advertise their website and live open radio forum.  Apparently marketing is a required class in wacko religious fundamentalism school because even though many of these people are certifiable, they manage to get their word out and bilk plenty of “believers” out of their social security checks and milk money in the process.

The radio programs have reported that great earthquakes will shake the Earth (at 6 p.m. EST if you want to brace yourself or go hide under your sturdy desk) and believers will be called to the heavens while the unrepentant will be “thrown to the ground and shamed.”

I’m hoping it’s similar to the morning after walk of shame.  Although unpleasant and embarrassing, it is certainly survivable even if one’s pride is no longer in tact.

I will be sure to have my loved ones beside me and a top-notch glass of wine in hand as I watch the clock tick down Saturday.  Just in case.

The GOOD News:

If you manage to rise from the ground after Saturday evening’s cataclysm just dust off your knees and dump your clothes.  You won’t need them for Sunday’s main event: the Streak the Cove 5K Run. 

Yup.  It’s a naked 5K.

While that might be rather freeing and spare runners from chafing, well ladies, wouldn’t that just hurt a bit?  There is a reason women spend a small fortune in search of the perfectly supportive jog bra.   I suppose many men will be thrilled to sway in the breeze while imagining themselves as the original Olympians, but wouldn’t all that knocking be distracting?

I have a feeling the spectators will far outweigh the participants.  Which is all good and fine if the runners looked like this:

Considering the resort offers a steep discount to visitors 18-35 (and hey–kids are free!) I really don’t think the hot runner above is the average participant and guest.  Damn.

Alas, a trip to Cypress Cove is not going to fit into my weekend plans, but I give kudos to those who make it (and show it off).   Maybe they should advertise free admission and wave the race entry fee to all wide-eyed Family Radio listeners.  Give the caravan free on-site camping.  Offer them a complementary post-race drink at Scuttlebutts Lounge or Cheeks Bar and Grill.

After all, followers  are going to be searching for a new cause to dedicate themselves when they wake Sunday morning here on Earth without angel wings.  Why not go Natural?  I just hope they remember to bring LOTS of sunscreen.

Turning the Screw on State Employees

 The media, Tea Partiers, and Republicans have been on a crusade against state workers, denouncing high level bureaucrats with disproportionately high salaries and pension fund double-dippers. They argue it’s only fair to bring state worker benefits more in line with what’s offered in the private sector. Meanwhile, the average State of Florida public worker has been vilified in the rhetoric, turned into a scapegoat for all of Florida’s budget troubles. 

The public sector IS NOT the private sector.

When times are flush, private sector employees are rewarded with raises, exorbitant bonuses and solid benefit packages. They are compensated for exceeding quotas and getting their job done. I have never heard of a DCF employee receiving an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii for meeting his quota. Public employees are lucky if a co-worker organizes a potluck holiday party in the break room during lunch.

Here is a sample of current State of Florida job openings with annual salaries:

Psychiatric Aid (Night Shift) $18,259

Gaurdian Ad Litem Case Coordinator $15,762

Juvenile Probation Officer $21,642

Wildland Firefighter $24,579

Correctional Officer $28,093

Child Protective Investigator $28,093

High School Math Teacher for the Deaf and Blind $33,250

Unlike the private sector, there is not much hope of these salaries increasing when the economy improves. State employees have not had a raise in  five to seven years and Scott wants to permanently eliminate any annual cost of living increases.  Now Scott also wants employees to pay a mandatory 5% of these paltry salaries into a retirement fund. If employees had any chance of a raise they might be much more open to this option. Currently, after 30 years of low pay serving the people of Florida, most employees accrue less than half their annual salary. State workers who have any hopes of actually retiring already pay into supplemental 401k accounts.  Scott is changing the rules on many workers midway to late in their careers to suit his own needs.  Many employees believe they have been contributing already, a trade-off of non-competitive, poor wages for benefits.  The rug has been yanked from under their feet.

And Czar Governor Scott’s absurd new budget proposal would also raise an employee’s family medical insurance premium to $9920 per year, thereby cutting employee’s pay by $7760. For many employees, that $643 per month would be over half their paycheck–gone. If that passes, many full-time state workers will be living in virtual poverty. 

Let’s use an example. A Child Protective Investigator is called out day or night, often into dangerous neighborhoods and extremely volatile family situations, to save children who are being physically and/or sexually abused. The investigator’s judgment and experience (or lack of) can literally mean a child’s life or untimely death. If these proposals are passed, that college educated full-time public employee will bring home $322/week before taxes. After taxes, he would do better receiving unemployment. 
The Juvenile Probation Officer would be raking in just over $200 per week before taxes.  That is not a living wage.

Going against his own campaign slogan, “Let’s get to work!” Scott has plans to eliminate 7% of state government jobs, resulting in nearly 7,000 layoffs, with more cuts to come in the following year.  So those left with a job would be doing twice as much work for considerably less pay.

Supporters say if state workers don’t like it, they can find another job. Perhaps they can, but someone must do these jobs, and many of these positions are hard to fill under the best of circumstances.  Cutting wages and benefits will lead to a mass exodus of qualified, dedicated, and honest employees and increase corruption, complacency, and crimes against the citizens of Florida.  With his sketchy history Gov. Scott will feel right at home.

And although Florida is in such dire straits,  Scott is nearly doubling the budget of his own office to $635 million. This would go into  his own private slush fund so he can dole out our cash to his big business buddies, money he claims is designated to entices business to our sad state.  

Too bad no one is going to have any paycheck to spend.   State workers will join ranks of the million others out of work and on the unemployment line…if there is anyone left to work it.

Dear Parent: You Fail

Uninvolved, lazy, and uneducated parents of Florida beware:  YOU may soon receive a failing grade on your kid’s report card.

Representative Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) wants teachers to grade the parents of their  pre-k through third grade students.  As the Mom of an intelligent, well-prepared kiddo thriving in our public school system I am not exactly shaking in my boots.  But some parents should be.

According to the Orlando Sentinel we would be rated our ability to:

  • Send back teacher’s notes and acknowledge their existence in our world
  • Make sure our darlings do their homework (no matter how much they may protest) and study for tests (can you say “spelling words”?)
  • Get our kids on the bus or through the carpool line regularly and on time
  • Remember to feed (and water) our children and require them to get a decent night’s sleep

I’m actually pretty excited about this.  I may get a kick-ass grade for simply doing what I  do anyway.  Common sense earns a bonus.  Whoo-hoo!

But for those “other” parents– I’d bet their Lucky Strikes it won’t be the first “unsatisfactory” grade they have ever seen sent home from school. There’s always the chance that someone else calling them out on being a crappy parent might get them to put down that t.v. remote and pick up their kid’s homework assignment.  They may even get riled up enough to call the school (but most likely the news crews first) indignant and raging over being called an “unsatisfactory” parent.  But I doubt it.  These parent’s kids probably started forging their Mom’s signature on their report cards in Kindergarten.

I’m wondering if some parents will try for extra credit.  You know who I’m talking about: the helicopter moms who try to micromanage not only their kid’s lives but their classroom as well.  The nosy “I can do your job better than you” moms who volunteer in the classroom not to actually help the teachers, but to check up on them and make sure they are treating their kids like the extremely gifted, perfectly behaved, future prom king/queen and student council president they believe them to be.  Most likely, those kids will end up as stuck-up, entitled  Mama’s boys/girls still living at home at age 30, but those parents deserve to reap what they sow.  But at least their kids will have learned something in school.

The fact of the matter is, the parents who would actually care about getting a satisfactory grade on their kid’s report cards are already doing their jobs.    And the parents who refuse to communicate with the teachers, who let their kids run wild and don’t even have the time or inclination to make sure they have food on the table aren’t going to give a rat’s ass about a little piece of paper.

Most schools which receive overall failing test scores and grades don’t have a teacher problem.  They have a parent problem.   

Which is too bad for the schools.  And even worse for the kids.  They deserve better.

Unwinding on Star Island

I am lounging on my porch, cooling my heels after this evening’s inane drama with a chilly glass (or two) of chardonnay to help speed up the process. A thunderstorm has been teasing my scorched grass, lingering around the outskirts of my yard for hours. I’m thrilled the thermometer arm has finally slid under the 80 degree mark, but the humidity is still hovering around 100% and I can see the moisture (and mosquitoes) hanging in the over-saturated air.

And I swear it is raining on my next-door neighbor’s lawn.

Ah, the joys of Florida.

Thankfully I am being thoroughly entertained by the most recent Carl Hiaasen novel, Star Island.

Thank you, Carl. Your new novel is exactly what I’ve been needing.

This new Florida fairy tale lampoons the glut of vaporous pop culture superstars taking over South Beach. The story revolves around Cherry Pye, a rather randy disaster of a lip-syncing pop star–essentially a Brittany Lohan. The cast of characters includes her spunky “stunt double” Ann DeLusia; Bang Abbot, an obsessed and odorous paparazzo turned inept kidnapper; and Chemo, a weed whacker wielding bodyguard charged with keeping her from going on a permanent bender. Throw in the requisite corrupt developer and the endearingly off-kilter crusader Skink and I am in for an entertaining ride.

I may have been dedicating most of my book related blog posts to Chick Lit and romances, but a special place in my book-loving soul is saved for smart and snarky satires.

And the King of that genre is Carl.

I read his first novel, Tourist Season when I was a young and impressionable reader around the age of 14.

And I friggin loved it.

The blatant sarcasm. The witty repartee. Murder, mayhem, and outrageous characters that seemed to push the envelope of parody…yet if you ever lived in South Florida, you were surrounded by them everyday.

Hiaasen tells of the dregs of society who somehow end up flowing (or fleeing) South and end up in the bizarre Wonderland called Florida. Who else can spin tales involving a crusading one-eyed ex-Governor turned Everglades hermit who dines primarily on road kill? Or a deranged red-neck with a decaying pit bull head attached to his arm? And why not dump a spiny sea urchin into the diaper of a greedy developer who paid crackheads to cut down acres of endangered mangroves in the Florida Keys? It’s absolutely brilliant and rather appropriate. I have secretly always wanted drop shopping bags full of snakes on a cruise ship and feed annoying tourists to a crocodile named Pavlov.

His books always have an unlikely hero, a gorgeous and gutsy young woman, corrupt bad guys to foil (usually developers, crooked politicians, and someone trashing the environment), a whacked-out ally who may be the voice of reason, and tons of examples of why most Floridians should be chased back out of the state or used for bait at Gatorland.

Perhaps I am biased because I am South Florida Native who has always been outraged over the “knock it down and pave it over” mentality of Florida transplants, developers, and politicians. I actually prefer swampland to strip shopping centers.

A little Florida before and after…

And it doesn’t hurt that my Mom went to high school with the guy, which is why we always referred to him just as “Carl” in my house. And he’s a Gator. I remember reading his savvy Miami Herald columns from the time I was old enough to pick up a newspaper (although sadly those should be on the endangered species list now as well).

I honestly can’t think of another author who can have me laughing out loud so frequently. I have to be careful about reading his books in public places. I could easily get kicked out of a library or off an airplane for sudden raucous outbursts. Drinking hot beverages while reading his novels can also be dangerous (coffee out the nose has been know to occur).

Carl’s black humor is usually laced with scathing truths regarding the callousness and immortality of our Sunshine State’s motley population. But sometimes I just need one of his clever capers to remind me how I tolerate living in this screwed up paradise we call home.

Killer Whales and Kindness

Sunday the Kiddo and I escaped to Sea World for one of our Mommy & Son bonding days full of sharks, sandboxes, and, of course, Shamu. We have had annual passes since the Kiddo was not even two, and although we cannot go nearly as much as we used to due to school schedules, we cherish these days of fun and learning.

Our local news has been in an uproar over the death of a Killer Whale trainer last month at Sea World. The press has been playing a vicious blame game with Sea World, accusing them of unsafe working conditions, animal maltreatment and exploitation. Now OSHA and PETA are also going after them, and even Capitol Hill is supposedly holding a hearing Tuesday to determine if marine mammals should be held in captivity.

Amidst all this unnecessary brouhaha, I made it a priority to see Believe, the current orca show which highlights not only the majesty of these animals but their integral relationships with their trainers. I have seen the show dozens of times over its 4-year run, and it is always different. Some days the whales were ON, seemingly feeding off the audience’s energy, amazing me with their synchronized jump, flips, and splashes. Other days they seemed distracted or perhaps a bit lazy, showing off only a few behaviors, yet still delighting the crowds of first-time watchers. I love it, no matter what they do. Just to be in their proximity is enough. I secretly yearn to be one of the lucky trainers in the water with these awe-inspiring creatures, communicating with them, stroking their shiny skin, feeling their power, their intelligence, their affection.

Sea World trainers during the Believe show May 2009.

The changes in the show we witnessed Sunday were drastic. The trainers were no longer allowed in the water with the orcas (which was the main component of the show) and they had to stay several feet back from the water even when feeding them. The “show” element did not disturb me however, but the lack of physical attention these animals were now receiving saddened me. They are used to getting rub downs, hugs, tongue scratches and genuine affection from their trainers and now it was being forcefully withheld from them. I always believed that the attention, affection, and positive rewards that they received was one of the main reasons they tolerated captivity.

Later that day, we walked around to the rear of Shamu Stadium to the underwater viewing tank. Some days we are lucky and one or more of the whales would be swimming around in the rear tank and we would see them only a few feet away from us. I saw a glimpse of black passing by so the Kiddo and I ran down for a closer look. Kiddo was up right against the glass when the whale swam by and bumped the glass.

Now, when a creature weighing several tons “bumps” anything, it is a bit forceful and quite a surprise. Everyone crowded around the window jumped back a little and gave an amazed laugh. The whale came back again, and bumped a bit harder. When it circled back the next time, it paused directly in front of Kiddo and opened it’s mouth wide before moving on. Even though there was a thick glass, I clamped onto him and gave a very nervous laugh. A visitor behind us asked Kiddo if the whale had any cavities, because he sure saw ALL her teeth. We stayed there for one more loop of the tank and window bump before I decided I had enough. This was not normal behavior. It seemed aggressive, and thought we were perfectly safe, I was uncomfortable.

We started to leave when I spotted the employee usually stationed at the viewing area to educate guests and answer questions. I casually asked, “What’s up with the glass bumping? I’ve been here dozens of times and never seen that.” She gave a very nervous laugh, pasted a fake smile on her face, and said she had never seen it either. She had just called the behavior in to the trainers. Maybe the whale had a toothache and was trying to get someone’s attention. She was obviously trying to communicate something, but what?

I left feeling very sorry for these orcas and the people that love them.

Not because these whales and other animals live here in captivity. I firmly believe that Sea World does an outstanding job of caring for their animals and educating the masses about the wonders of these creatures. No, their lives are not the same as if they were in the wild. Many of the animals in the park have been rescued from certain death in the wild, and if possible they are rehabilitated and released.

Each person that has the opportunity to see one of these magnificent animals (which they would never have the chance to see in the wild) leaves with a better understanding, a greater appreciation, and a heart more willing to help protect them and the conserve their environment. There is just no comparison between watching a nature show on t.v. versus actually seeing a dolphin, making eye contact, watching it frolic and play (sometimes with real toys) to gain an understanding and respect for these amazing mammals. The few kept in captivity are essentially ambassadors for their species.

OSHA and the press need to chill on their witch hunt as well. They are treating the trainers as if they are children who don’t know they are playing with fire and that fire can burn. No one becomes a killer whale trainer without knowing the inherent dangers of the job. It is not a career one chooses because they are tired of flipping burgers. It is a passion, a lifestyle, chosen by compassionate and intelligent individuals whose love for these animals overshadows the risks involved. The bond between the animals and their trainers has now been stretched, and all parties are suffering.

Perhaps that is what she was trying to tell us…with all of the bureaucratic bumbling, please show us some kindness and don’t forget what we need…