MIAMI — Dangling into the sea like America’s last-ditch lifeline, the state of Florida beckons. Hustlers and fugitives, million-dollar hucksters and harebrained thieves, Armani-wearing drug traffickers and hapless dope dealers all congregate, scheme and revel in the Sunshine State. It’s easy to get in, get out or get lost.
For decades, this cast of characters provided a diffuse, luckless counternarrative to the salt-and-sun-kissed Florida that tourists spy from their beach towels. But recently there arrived a digital-era prototype, @_FloridaMan, a composite of Florida’s nuttiness unspooled, tweet by tweet, to the world at large. With pithy headlines and links to real news stories, @_FloridaMan offers up the “real-life stories of the world’s worst super hero,” as his Twitter bio proclaims.
His more than 1,600 tweets — equal parts ode and derision — are a favorite for weird-news aficionados. Yet, two years since his 2013 debut, the man behind the Twitter feed remains beguilingly anonymous, a Wizard of LOLZ. (The one false note is his zombielike avatar: The mug shot belongs to an Indiana Man.)
His style is deceptively simple. Nearly every Twitter message begins “Florida Man.” What follows, though, is almost always a pile of trouble. Some examples:
Florida Man Tries to Walk Out of Store With Chainsaw Stuffed Down His Pants.
Florida Man Falls Asleep During Sailboat Burglary With Gift Bag on His Head; Can’t Be Woken by Police.
Florida Man Arrested For Directing Traffic While Also Urinating.
Florida Man Impersonates Police Officer, Accidentally Pulls Over Real Police Officer.
Florida Man Says He Only Survived Ax Attack By Drunk Stripper Because “Her Coordination Was Terrible.”
“Now I think there are people who actually aspire to Florida Man-ness,” said Dave Barry, who celebrates Florida’s brand of madness in his popular columns and best-selling books. “It’s like the big leagues. It’s the Broadway for idiots.”
The number of @_FloridaMan’s followers is 270,000. Homages have proliferated: fan art, copycat Twitter feeds (California Man, Texas Man) and, most recently, a craft beer with Florida Man’s avatar.
Florida Man is considerably more popular (and funny) than competitors like Texas Man (732 followers) or California Man (129). But is the Florida Man who Accidentally Shoots Himself With Stun Gun While Trying to Rob the Radio Shack He Also Works At truly more wacky than, let’s say, an Arkansas Man or New Jersey Man?
Longtime observers insist that he is.
Take the Florida Man whose surgically amputated leg was found in a hospital Dumpster. “The leg has a name on it,” said the best-selling author and Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, who has wisely peopled his novels with fictitious(ish) Florida Men. “If this is New Jersey, the leg does not have a name on it. In Miami, the leg has a name on it, and it’s the name of the person who owns the leg.”
Again, this being Florida, the man sues — out of “humiliation,” Mr. Hiaasen noted — because his easily identifiable leg, via a hospital tag, was unceremoniously dumped.
“There is always an extra twist of weirdness at the end of the Florida story,” Mr. Hiaasen said. “Weird stories happen everywhere, but they usually come to a logical conclusion. There is always one more shoe that drops in Florida.”
And there is so much more of it in Florida, he added. “It’s not just shooting fish in a barrel,” Mr. Hiaasen said, “but shooting mutated, deranged, slow-moving fish.”
He cited the car thief who had been caught by the police in the parking lot of the Miccosukee Tribe’s casino on the edge of the Everglades. The thief had the bad sense to try to escape by plunging into a pond behind the casino.
“As soon as he hits the water, he gets eaten by an alligator,” Mr. Hiaasen said. “This is the way things must be here.”
Mr. Hiaasen, chagrined at the authorities, added: “They kill the alligator. They should have given him a Crime Stoppers award. Does this happen in Arkansas? I don’t know.”
There is the Florida man, high on the drug known as bath salts, who was recently arrested by police after having sexual relations with a tree. He called himself Thor and tried to stab the officer with the officer’s badge. How about the mailman who recently landed his homemade whirlybird near the base of the Capitol so he could deliver letters of protest to members of Congress: also a Florida man.
In fairness, there is also @_Flor1daWoman, the only person @_FloridaMan follows. And while far less prolific, she is no less wacky:
Florida Woman Arrested For Tying Boyfriend Up With Cellophane.
Florida Woman Tells Police She Knew Truck Was Stolen, But She Didn’t Know It Was “That Stolen.”
Florida Woman Attacks Man Who Accidentally Photobombed Wedding Picture.
For writers, there is no greater muse than Florida Man or Florida Woman.
“Stephen King comes here for material now,” Mr. Hiaasen said. “He’s out on the west coast.”
Roy Black, a prominent lawyer who has represented his fair share of Florida Men and Women — the kind loaded with money — said he had put some thought into why Florida breeds or inspires its own brand of crime and criminals. He said it is partly the polarized nature of the state — very poor to very rich, very liberal to very conservative. It is partly the state’s cavorting culture — South Beach, spring break, half-naked people, late-night clubs. And it is partly the legions of immigrants from Cuba, South America, Central America and Haiti who sometimes import their old-country vendettas. “Where else do you get retired torturers from Argentina?” Mr. Black asked.
California’s kumbaya vibe is absent here, and so is Texas’ ideological fervor. With so many transplants, allegiances lie elsewhere. New arrivals are often shocked to find that South Florida is segregated, cliquish, brazenly rude and typically indifferent to most annoyances, including its maniacal drivers.
“That’s the most common misconception about Florida — that we are a melting pot,” said Billy Corben, who has made several Florida-esque documentaries, including “Cocaine Cowboys,” about the rise of cocaine violence and capitalism here in the 1970s and 1980s. “We are more akin to a TV dinner, where sometimes the peas spill over into the mashed potatoes.”
“As long as the Champagne is flowing and the checks are clearing,” he added, “nobody asks a lot of questions here about anything.”
Drugs and the weather are also culprits. The steaminess adds to the seaminess. And outdoor living makes for easy viewing and recording. As Mr. Barry put it, people do drugs and act erratically elsewhere. “But it’s not warm outside all the time everywhere,” he said. “In Ohio, they stay indoors.”
Here, reinvention remains the national pastime, which is why hucksters and criminals do quite nicely.
“As they say,” Mr. Corben remarked, “Los Angeles is where you go when you want to be somebody. New York is where you go when you are somebody. Miami is where you go when you want to be somebody else.”
Hence the Ohio fugitive who was nabbed here last week in an isolated trailer park. He had been on the lam for 56 years.