Saturday, August 8, 1998

O Florida. Arrrrgh Florida

Florida, Florida, Florida. One of these days I'll take a stab at writing about me own hometown as my cousin suggests. For now, here's the big picture...

Florida is a very strange place: a nonplace place, scrubbed clean of placeness. This notherethereness is a quality as old as swampland and suckers; the first hand-tinted postcards actually had the palm trees painted in (before palm trees were planted); image coming before reality. Our house was always foundationless, built on sand.

The postcards said: welcome to Florida, land of the endless vacation, heaven on earth! But heaven, of course is for the dead. Somewhere behind the Rufus T. Firefly handbills, unedited reality lurked. Florida, land of smuggling and crime. Florida, land of pioneer hardscrabble. A place where you could find farmers who got their hands dirty. Not to mention cowboys and indians.

The crackers go back to the original Florida pioneer mentality -- a pioneer mentality a little to the left of the usual Calvinist mania. Where typical overachieving USofA pioneer cried out "I WILL FORGE AN HABITATION OUT OF THE WILDERNESS IN ORDER TO GO AND FORGE AN HABITATION OUT OF THE NEXT WILDERNESS! I WILL WORK FOR MORE WORK!" (insert heroic pioneer statue here) the Florida pioneer said "I will forge an habitation out of the wilderness and then to hell with it. The porch is sagging? Let it sag."

Instead of More! Onward! Upward! Higher! Deeper! the pioneer goal, in our case, was to kick back and relax. You want food? Fish. You want something else? Hunt. House need painting? I don't hear the house complaining.

As to citified Florida, creating the illusion of eternal vacation was work enough in itself, and led to a kind of creative insanity -- evidence of which you could see in the buildings. Some futuristic, like the steel and glass latticework structures of the Sarasota school of architecture -- or ebuillient, like the architecture you see in Miami's South Beach deco district. Not to mention the goofball school (similar to all the hotdogshaped hotdog stands in SoCal).

All of this mixed up with fantastical/recreational stuff like winter baseball, the circus -- and untold myriads of cheesy but delightful roadside attractions. Outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual nuttiness.

And then Satan came.

Touching/inserting his horned finger into the heart of our state, said digit miraculously disguised as an appendange on a giant Mouse's enormous white-gloved three-fingered hand.


The undead Disney, like some vicious Maxwell's demon sucking entropy from everywhere else in the system, sucked all the fantasy in my blackholesunshine state into its imagineered deathcamp where children's dreams from around the world are sorted, numbered, selected, burned and turned into soap and lampshades.

Disney's Dream Inc. killed all the lesser dreamers -- no Mom'n'Pop could compete with the Mouse, after all...

And so, step by step, inch by inch, the roadside attractions died; the fantastic pink and aquamarine hotels were painted brown or torn down entirely; the palm trees died of blight; the circus left, along with most of the baseball teams.

There was nothing left but real estate.

Which all goes back to what CJ said -- we've been malled. We are a place without history.

This is not to say we never had a history. But Florida's history has been scrubbed over, remodelled, and torn down into nothingness. Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. Round here, you can't go home again if you drive away and come back the next fucking WEEK. Buildings go up; buildings go down -- workers zipping around like bees -- don't blink or you'll miss it. It's like that scene in The Time Machine where the Time Traveler sees the sun arcing in one fibrillating blur until it's one arc of fire across the sky like a neon tube.

The history we had was interesting, but the people who come here from Someplace Else don't come here for any history -- anymore than YOU want to see somebody else's turds floating in the toilet bowl in a strange motel room. What they want is clean shiny generic motel, with clean shiny motel rooms. Above all, they a clean shining bathroom -- with a nice, clean, gleaming, sterile bowl of porcelain, a strip of paper in its toity-bowl smile proclaiming SANITIZED FOR YOUR PROTECTION.

And they sure as hell don't give a rat's ass about John Ringling, Jose Marti or Billy Bowlegs.

Just tear it down and pave it over, baby.

What they want is that perfect, virginal, sanitized toity bowl motel room...

A place to go where nobody knows your name. A place where you, small fish in big pond there, are now the big fish in the small pond here with lots and lots of money.

A place for people with money to have an endless vacation.

A place for old people with money to die.

A place that isn't, above all, New York City or Kansas City or Detroit or Columbus or Chicago.

The people who've come here from Someplace Else have made a deliberate decision to leave their history behind. They trash their own past with hooting satisfaction that some people get cleaning out their attics and throwing away all of grandpa's old photographs. All that history is a large part of what they've left behind. The last thing they want when they come here is a place with a history of its own...

What they want is utopia -- a place that's noplace. A nonplace place, scrubbed clean of placeness. (Which, of course, is what they got.) Florida -- or the Florida the developers built. Heaven on earth...

As close to being dead as you're ever going to get without actually being dead.

* * *

And so, in post-Mouse Florida, the developers' dream of a place that is noplace has been built and, goddamnit anyway, it's just like that cornfield movie: "If you built it, they will come." Around here, at any rate, it works.

All of which leaves the native Floridian in the position of living in a colonized, conquered, dishonored nation in his/her own damn state. Florida is sortof the Third World of America -- within America! A low-wage, two-tier economic colony, right smack in the continental United States -- yes!

Gnash! Snarl!

The People from Someplace Else have a habit of hiring from Someplace Else as they think anyone from Florida (especially if you've got even a lingering Southern accent) is some kinda gap-toothed, drooling, inbred, banjo-picking, worm-ridden "Squeal piggy!" degenerate out of Deliverance.

Folks from Around Here, who tend (at least with regards to fools like me who didn't leave) to slip below the stations proper to their natural abilities -- also tend to get into that twisted, passive-aggressive love-to-hate mentality you see in a lotta colonized countries. (Ah, it's the goddamn Brits, you see. They stole our birthright, they did. If not for them, ah, the greatness that could've been ours, me boyo. The greatness that could've been ours...pass us another pint wouldja now?)

Yes, my friends. It is a dependent, contingent kiss-ass, suck-up lifestyle here in Florida. As a wiseman once said, "A service economy is an economy of servants."

And that's exactly what we are.

Servants of the fawning, bowing, scraping variety. Basil Fawlty types, who appreciate the opportunity to beg for scraps from our colonial masters.

Of course they're better than we are. Obviously! There's no point in arguing. Consider the contrast ...

Because -- instead of inventing things, producing things, building things, or making something happen -- it's so much easier to wait tables or sell drugs or cook up some con-game or, in general, feed off of somebody else's money and then bitch about it.

The People from Someplace Else get to feel superior. We get to feel victimized. What a deal!

And that's the kind of sickness I see. Florida is corrupt (which is what's so damn interesting about it). So far, the best contemporary writing I've seen about it is Carl Hiassen's stuff.

My own idea is to (A) write a group of short stories patterned after Joyce's Dubliners. (B) A parable of sick growth patterned after Frazier's The Golden Bough. Big, big ideas as usual. I've got lots of 'em, yep. And I'll get around to writing this stuff, I really will....

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