“Now remind me,” drawled the writer. “Was he the nun with the enormous plastic phallus? Or was he one of the dueling Joan Crawfords?”
What is the weirdest place in America's weirdest state? There is a strong argument to be made for the town frequently referred to as “Key Weird.” This is, after all, the home of a guy who routinely bikes around town wearing nothing but a G-string and a homemade stovepipe hat. It's a place where the U.S. Department of Agriculture got into a legal snit with the operator of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum over permitting for the home's many six-toed cats. And it's the place where a legal dispute developed over a cache of valuable emeralds that one treasure hunter testified he found in the Gulf of Mexico by following a map he bought for $500 from a guy in a bar.
Still, I have friends in South Florida who contend that Miami is far stranger than anywhere else in the state. They cite the case of the guys who carried a shark, bleeding and gasping for breath, onto the city's Metromover in the middle of the night, then ended up leaving it, dead, in the middle of a street. (A photo from the train wound up on Dave Barry's blog.) Believers in Santeria often leave dead chickens and dead goats on the courthouse steps in an effort to sway trials. So many have piled up that there's a voodoo squad of janitors assigned to cleanup. And then there's the Causeway Cannibal, aka Miami's face-eating zombie, Rudy Eugene. You may recall Eugene stripped naked and chewed on a homeless man's face while high on ... bath salts? LSD? Angel dust? No, just plain old Mary Jane. The victim's life was saved by a police officer who shot Eugene dead but also accidentally wounded the victim.
Central Florida produces its own brand of landlocked weird. Right now, for instance, about half the Lakeland Police Department is facing suspension in a huge sex scandal that involves, among other things, an officer requesting to drink a woman's urine. And let's not forget all the weirdness that goes along with Disney, such as allegations that both Donald Duck and Tigger groped female visitors.
You could also argue that the Florida Panhandle produces more weird news on a regular basis than anywhere else. Look at the stories that wind up on Fark with a Florida tag. At least half of them come from the police blotter of the Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach. And it was the Panhandle community of Vernon that became known as “Nub City” for all the rampant insurance-related self-maimings.
That said, I have to tell you that I think Ground Zero for Florida Weird is Pasco County, a semirural area just north of Tampa.
The cops in Pasco County are constantly dealing with strange cases—Tasering a runaway kangaroo, for instance. In Pasco County a first date—with a man wearing a red mohawk and a spider tattoo—may result in a stolen car. A gang of teenagers planning a burglary may huddle together like a football team and pray, "Hey, God, get us through this. We know you don't like this, but get us through." It's not unusual to see headlines like this: “Fetish Model Indicted in Pasco Sex Party Slaying.”
Part of Pasco's weirdness originates from the fact that it's home to a lot of people you wouldn’t expect to find grouped together in one spot. In the 1970s it was a hotbed of Mafia activity, as documented in the book and movie Donnie Brasco. Now, instead of the Mob, it's got nudist resorts. By some accounts, Pasco is the Nudist Capital of America. The nudist resorts produce a steady stream of stories, such as when a nude woman went swimming with her nude family and was attacked by an alligator. She was saved by her husband kicking the gator in the head. (Did I mention he was nude?)
The different cultures of Pasco County often don’t get along. In 1990, a coven of Wiccans got into a shootout with neighbors who contended they were Satanists conducting sacrifices. In 1993, the Ku Klux Klan joined the Adopt-A-Road litter patrol, kicking up a fuss among people who lived along the road they adopted—even though the Klan promised to wear safety vests, not white robes, while picking up trash on the roadside.
I admit the conclusion regarding Pasco County took me by surprise. I think a lot of Key West's weirdness these days is forced. Eccentricity feels more like a tourist attraction than an external expression of an internal need. It doesn't hurt to come to Key West, check it out and prove me wrong.