Novelist Carl Hiaasen Plays Not My Job

Apr 21, 2012
Originally published on April 21, 2012 12:03 pm

The Florida novelist tells us what he finds so weird and inspiring about South Florida and answers three questions about extreme cold-weather activities. (Rebroadcast from Feb. 5, 2011)

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

CARL KASELL: If you're a novelist, you have to spend a lot of time trying to think up characters and plots so odd, so extraordinary, that they can captivate an audience that's seen it all.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Or you can just live in South Florida and write down what happens outside your window.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl Hiaasen has written several best-selling novels about extreme behavior in Florida, and he says all he's done is change the names.

KASELL: We knew he was the man to talk to when we went to Miami in February of 2011 and invited him to join us with panelists Roxanne Roberts, Mo Rocca and Alonzo Bodden.

SAGAL: Roxanne asked him to get specific about what made south Florida so special.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Before you go further, can you give us one sentence on the nature of the weirdness? Because everyone knows of the weirdness, but not the why of the weirdness.

CARL HIAASEN: Well, I think it's sort of an amiable depravity, I would describe it as.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: You know, we're all in this together. Florida has always been a magnet for outlaws and scoundrels and sort of a predatory element.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: You know, for many years we were flooded with retirees from up north.

SAGAL: Yes.

HIAASEN: And the people moved with that herd down here to prey upon them.

SAGAL: Right. That's almost like a Mutual of Omaha kind of scenario.

HIAASEN: It is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And here come the herds of buffalo, and trailing them, the vultures.

HIAASEN: It's the wildebeest on the Serengeti, only here.

SAGAL: Right.

HIAASEN: And the rest of us...

SAGAL: Except the wildebeest are all driving Cadillacs very slowly.

HIAASEN: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So let's talk about the last couple of years, since last we spoke. To me, one of the more interesting things that you've done is elect your new governor, Mr. Rick Scott.

HIAASEN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Now, Rick Scott, who we haven't mentioned on the show before because we were afraid no one would believe it, this is his first elected office.

HIAASEN: Right.

SAGAL: And his prior experience was running a health care company, which defrauded the federal government out of about a billion dollars.

HIAASEN: Yes. It was the biggest Medicare fraud in the history of Medicare.

SAGAL: Right. And so, explain to me, as a native Floridian, the mindset that says this is just the man to handle all of our affairs?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: Well, it's sort of the same reason that I've always advocated that felons should be allowed to vote. Because who better qualified to judge the politicians in our state.

SAGAL: Exactly.

HIAASEN: But getting back to Scott, he ran a very, very successful campaign. He spent, I don't know, 78, 80 million dollars of his own money.

SAGAL: Yes.

HIAASEN: Which used to be our money.

SAGAL: Our money, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

HIAASEN: But he had one of the greatest campaign slogans ever, which was "hey, they never indicted me."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: And, you know, no Floridian could resist that.

SAGAL: That's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Not your last book, the book before that was actually a memoir about playing golf, picking up golf again.

HIAASEN: Oh God, yes, it was terrible. I had given up golf for about 36 years and I was persuaded to go back. It's horrible. It's probably the most disturbing book I've ever written and it's nonfiction.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: All of it really happened.

SAGAL: Why disturbing?

HIAASEN: Because of the things that happened to me and because some of the language was - I couldn't show that book to my mother, ever.

SAGAL: You're one of those people who swear a lot on the golf course?

HIAASEN: Yeah, yeah. Well, if you saw what happened - it's carnage. It's a terrible, dreadful sport.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: So I started up again and a friend of mine, Mike Lupica, a sportswriter.

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

HIAASEN: And I would call him up, and he's a good golfer, and I would tell him what had happened to me that - you know, like one day I sunk a golf cart. And I thought...

SAGAL: Wait a minute.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: You know.

SAGAL: Stop.

HIAASEN: I sunk the golf cart, and I thought well this must...

SAGAL: In what?

HIAASEN: In a lake.

SAGAL: All right, in a lake.

HIAASEN: Yeah. And I thought, this must happen all the time.

SAGAL: Sure.

HIAASEN: Because there's hills on golf courses.

SAGAL: And lakes.

HIAASEN: And lakes. And if you don't set the brake, by golly, that's what happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: And I am, to this day, insisting there was a brake problem. But anyway, so I call up Lupica. I would tell him these stories. There were snake incidents. There were a few other things that happened that weren't very pleasant. And he would just say, he said you've got to start keeping a diary because this doesn't happen to anybody else.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: And I said, you've never sunk a golf cart? He said, I've been playing golf since I was six years old, I don't even know anybody who's sunk a golf cart.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: So that was why I wrote this book. It was called "The Downhill Lie," and it was just about everything bad that had happened to me. There was an incident involving live rats and a seven iron.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Were they live at the end of the story?

HIAASEN: No ma'am, they were not.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Carl Hiaasen, we are really glad you're here. We've asked you here to play a game we're calling?

KASELL: Where we're from, frozen water falls from the sky.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You've lived your whole life in Florida, so what the hell do you know about winter?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The only way that you can tell the seasons are passing is the waxing and waning of snowbirds on the beach.

HIAASEN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: No, you know how you could tell?

SAGAL: How can you tell?

HIAASEN: The color of the license tags change.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: Am I right? That's how you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So, we are going to ask you about what we people from the northern climes do to enjoy ourselves in the winter. Get two of these questions right, it'll be a prize for one of our listeners. Carl, who is Carl Hiaasen playing for?

KASELL: Carl is playing for Keren Eckstein of Orlando, Florida.

SAGAL: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Here's your first question. You ready?

HIAASEN: Yeah.

SAGAL: All right. One sport, a winter sport was invented, according to legend, by bored ski lift operators in the 1970s. Is it A: bong jumping? B: shovel racing? C: injury predicting?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: I'm going to go with bong jumping.

SAGAL: You're going to go with bong jumping?

HIAASEN: Yeah. Because that sounds okay.

SAGAL: It sounds like fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, it was shovel racing.

HIAASEN: Shovel racing?

SAGAL: See, the ski lift operators all have shovels.

HIAASEN: Yeah.

SAGAL: To remove the snow.

HIAASEN: All right.

SAGAL: One day they were bored, got in a shovel, there you go.

HIAASEN: Okay, fine.

SAGAL: Fine.

HIAASEN: Yeah, fine. Shovel racing.

SAGAL: Shovel racing.

HIAASEN: Oh geez, all right.

SAGAL: There are other country's expression, there are other countries that have winter besides ours. One of these is a winter recreation somewhere else in the world. Is it A: shark ice fishing in Greenland? B: full contact figure skating in Siberia?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: nude snowshoe racing in Norway?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: Oh god.

MO ROCCA: That sounds too happy, right?

HIAASEN: It does sound happy.

ROCCA: For Norway.

HIAASEN: But, you know what, I'm going to go with that.

SAGAL: You're going to go with what? What are you going to go with?

HIAASEN: The nude, was it snowshoe?

SAGAL: It was nude, I think, yeah. Nobody is looking at the snowshoes, though. It was nude snowshoe racing in Norway. Now, do you think that's true or do you wish that were true?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: You're probably right.

ROCCA: Yeah.

HIAASEN: What was the...

SAGAL: The other two were shark ice fishing in Greenland.

HIAASEN: I'm going to go with the shark ice fishing.

SAGAL: You're right, it's shark ice fishing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You yourself have been known to wet a line, as they say. You like to fish.

HIAASEN: Yes, I like to fish, yeah.

SAGAL: Right. So you probably will understand the appeal then of walking out on a frozen bay.

HIAASEN: Oh yeah.

SAGAL: In Greenland in the middle of winter.

HIAASEN: Yeah, that's...

SAGAL: Digging a very large hole and trying to catch a Greenland shark, which go up to about 21 feet.

HIAASEN: Yeah, I mean that's the one thing we miss here in Florida.

SAGAL: Ice fishing.

HIAASEN: Yeah. It just kills us.

SAGAL: Yeah, to know that you're missing out on that experience. All right, you've got one for two. Get this one right and you'll win. In 1918, the New York Times and other papers heralded a new hybrid winter sport that they thought was sure to catch on around the county. It was which of these? A: ice tennis, all the balls of tennis and none of the traction needed to get to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: ski jump wrestling in which the guy on top when they get to the end of the ramp wins? Or C: ice brick dodge ball, the sport that nobody played more than once?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: I'm sorry, the first one again?

SAGAL: Ice tennis.

ROBERTS: Wait, which publication? Did you say New York Times?

SAGAL: New York Times actually mentioned this, yes.

ROBERTS: The New York Times mentioned this.

HIAASEN: I think it's got to be tennis if the New York Times...

SAGAL: Ice tennis?

HIAASEN: Yeah, because I don't think the New York Times...

SAGAL: They're a bunch of snobs. That's the sort of...

HIAASEN: They're not going to go for naked guys wrestling.

SAGAL: I didn't say anything about them being naked.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HIAASEN: Sorry.

ALONZO BODDEN: I was right there with you. I was right there.

SAGAL: All right. But your choice, hold on.

HIAASEN: All right.

SAGAL: For whatever sick reason, your choice was ice tennis.

HIAASEN: I think it has to be.

SAGAL: And you're right, it is ice tennis.

HIAASEN: Yeah, there we go.

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: One Illinois paper said of ice tennis, quote, "It is expected that the idea will be imitated by many clubs throughout the country." That expectation was not met.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Carl Hiaasen do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, he had two correct answers, so Carl wins for Keren Eckstein. Congratulations.

HIAASEN: All right, good.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. Carl Hiaasen is an award-winning author and columnist. His latest book is "Star Island." You must read it. Carl Hiaasen, thank you so much.

HIAASEN: Thanks for having me.

SAGAL: For joining us.

HIAASEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Carl Hiaasen, ladies and gentlemen. Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: Thanks to Carl Kasell, all of our panelists you heard, all of our great guests and thanks to all of you for listening. I am Peter Sagal and we will see you next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.