Sunday, February 22, 2009


I mean no disrespect, but Florida is a scary ass state.

To be fair my own state is probably just as scary, in its own endearing way, but it seems that every time I travel to The Sunshine State I hear horror stories about the small minded rednecks who run the asylum. 

Ouch, maybe that is too harsh.

In the spirit of the objective ethnographic researcher I will document two stories; comments to follow (mine and hopefully yours...)

The first story was told to me by Graham, a young teen who dropped out of high school.  He is now pursuing a 'good enough diploma' or GED while working as a cosmetologist.  

A contributing factor in his decision to 'drop out' was the sort of incident that took place one day before gym class. It is a requirement that everyone "change out" from their street clothes into their gym uniforms.  As an 'out'  gay teen he had endured many snide remarks from the other boys at school. This was only heightened in the locker room. On this particular day, as he changed into his gym clothes, a few boys accused him of looking at them.  Obviously, he needed to be taught a lesson.  

Afterwards he went to the principal; an adult who could provide some sense of justice or a voice of reason.  Graham was told that he deserved what he got because, after all, the other boys said he was looking at them.

The second story came courtesy of my niece's boyfriend, Gregg.  I met Gregg and with my ever present wit and charm I remarked that I couldn't understand a word of what he was saying.  Of course I could, but it sounded like he had a thick accent (Irish?) and it is part of my goofy shtick that I can neither talk with an accent or understand anyone with one.  Haha, hehe. Oops!  

Well, he does not have an accent. Turns out he had been attacked just 5 months before at a party.  Some good ol' boys were there making remarks and harassing an African American teen who had the nerve to attend.  When Gregg asked them to knock it off he was hit in the head with a Jack Daniels bottle.  The blow made him drop to the ground where he was relentlessly kicked in the face until his jaw was shattered. He had to be airlifted, bloody and in pain,  to the hospital.  He showed me the deep, dark scars that run along his jawline (how did I miss them?) that were a result of the surgery. 

His 'accent' is a consequence of the fact that he is unable to open his mouth very far.  

I was totally wrapped up in this horrible story. "What happened to the guys who did this?" I asked. Gregg replied, "Nothing". 

Nothing was done. 

He was told it wasn't worth pursuing. No one wanted to support him in his quest for justice because this stuff happens. Oh well.

Both of these stories, along with a few others that were less dramatic but still unsettling, made me think about authority; authority related to my role as a teacher. In our schools, at least in MY school, we stress respect. All of our class and school rules have respect at the core. When the rules are broken, there are consequences.

What would happen if a child came to me for help (or justice or to be a voice of reason or to simply listen) and I blew it off? What a horrible lesson. I hope I don't do that. Certainly not to the extent of the Florida stories but I hope I allow my students to feel that the wrongs of their world can be made right again.  Fundamentally I believe they can.  

I suppose I must remember that just because someone has 'authority' it does not mean that they are deserving of it. 

Just ask Graham or Gregg. 

I couldn't resist the juxtaposition of the happy, sunny images of The Sunshine State with these horror stories.  Look below the surface and all is not so bright.  


findingmywingsinlife said...

I am sorry you have such dishearting feelings for the state of Florida and no one should ever be treated as those you have spoken of were. But remember,several bad apples do not make the whole apple tree. I have family who currently live down there and I know at least one of my blogger friends are from that area...I believe that they are not of the same character that breed ignorance or poor impulse control...

Arielle Lee Bair said...

Those stories are absolutely horrifying. While I don't know much about Florida (my brother in law and his family live there, but that's about it), I can say that I'd be willing to bet any state has stories like these (as unfortunate as that is) that we either know or don't know, depending on our circumstances and connections.

It's disheartening, yes...and it gives me chills to read... and I pray that things of this nature stop and stop fast. I can't imagine being a teen who was abused in such a way only to have no one insure that justice was served...

So terrible...

Barbara said...

Now you know why I left the Sunshine State and never looked back. I grew up with many people who were extremely bigoted. One of my good friends was a football player whose father told him to "draw blood from the niggers on the other teams they played." That was typical and I was sick of it.

WAT said...

Florida does suck! WAIT! I'm in California! How bad are we though I ask? Supposedly we're very progressive, but I dunno! How ironic, THE GOLDEN GIRLS takes place in Florida! GO FIGURE! LOLOL!

Man, sorry to hear about Graham and the homophobes in high school, but I'm almost sure that kind of crap still happens pretty much everywhere. The Oscars last night touched upon this very subject, especially when the "Milk" screenwriter went up to give his acceptance speech.

Poor Gregg. My heart goes out to him, and karma will eventually get the A-HOLES that did this to him or those who did nothing about it.

F. Puddington said...

I totally agree with you to a very real extent. I lived in Vernon, FL for a summer when my parents briefly moved there a couple years ago. Vernon is 40 minutes north of Panama City Beach. My mother opened a consignment store with my aunt in the small town as a way to make profit and help a poverty-stricken area. Total loss on these people.
Here are some stories you might take delight and horror in:

Vernon is famous for being known as 'Nub City' for people would chop off their limbs in order to receive insurance money.

My mother asked a curious onlooker while preparing her shop why all the buisnesses and city buildings closed (all like 6 of them) on Thursday afternoons. The woman's reply was, "Oh that's when they used to lynch the niggers."

If you hit a snake, 'specially a ratt'ler, you were to take a picture of yourself with it and turn it into the one gas station where it would be displayed proudly with the size of the snake and time of it's death. Also, your turkey's or deer trophy's were acceptable as well.

Everyone REALLY knows everyone else. The man who owned the house before my parents was a sort of 'smooth operator' and on several occasions my mother would give her name and a fellow towns person would say "OHHHHHH, I know you, you live at such and such. Mr. X owned that house before you, I've been in your hot times." (THIS HAPPENED MORE THAN ONCE!!)

These things happened to us all the time. My family finally came back to Indiana less than two years after moving there. My mother swore never to live there EVER again. For those interested, they actually made a doc about this town. [Vernon, Florida by Errol Morris]

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Overall, I'm with you on Florida, Gary. There are some sane, moderate people there, but it's still a part of the Deep South. Both New York and California have their pockets of right wingers, but I think California has more. It's a long way from San Francisco to Bakersfield.

Now what's this about not being able to speak in accents? Surely someone who loves to do his British accent can't say that. Of course, no one from Long Island has an accent, right?

Barbara said...

F. Puddington -- I came from Panama City. I understand completely your stories about Vernon, just one of many such small towns in the Florida panhandle.

WAT said...

On a side note, I found your Medusa poem done in ASL YouTube clip! HOTT!


Gary said...

Wings - I am sure there are wonderful folks in Florida, after all my mom and dad live there now, but it does seem to me that the 'vibe' is not one of acceptance for differences. I hope I didn't offend.

Arielle - I think I was more taken aback by these stories than the young men who told them to me. It is like the frog in the hot pan story my friend Joy told me. A frog will stay in a pan (or is it water?) that slowly gets hotter (or boils) until it dies because it doesn't feel the danger. But if it is put in a pan (or water) that is already hot or boiling it will immediately hop out. It is the slow burn that we don't notice because we don't realize it is happening. I suppose if you are raised with hatred and ignorance you think nothing of it. It is the outsider stepping into it that is repelled.

Barbara - That is a horrible story. Wow. Just horrible. Glad you had the good sense to high tail it out of there.

Wat - Oh wait. The Golden Girls were down in Florida "Miami is nice, so I'll say it twice.." Key West is also pretty amazing. Like Wings commented there are good and bad apples everywhere. Next time I visit I want to be surrounded by only a good apple mentality.

Thanks for checking out some of the old videos. The Medusa one was my first and it took me FOREVER to figure out how to post it. It has gotten much easier since then.

F. Puddington - I'll have to check out this documentary. It sounds like there are quite a few characters down there in Vernon. Throw in a murder and you got a redneck version of The Garden of Good and Evil. Now, Indiana is a place that I had some happy, happy times. But that is another matter entirely...

JT - I do love to do a British accent. The trouble is it becomes a tour of Europe before too long. (right Joy :) And I totally forgot about the L.I. accent. That is probably the only one I can do with ease and mastery. Although I have been told I sound like I am from NY, I hope I don't sound like I am from L.I. (Do I?)

MarmiteToasty said...

Oh my goodness......I never realised Florida was such a brutal state.... unbelievable..

One of my sons was hit with a bottle when sticking up for someone less about to do so whilst walking through a rough part in town... he to was then beaten and had his jaw broken in 2 places, emergency surgry laster and weeks and weeks with his jaws wired together, he recovered the external scars... only time will tell about the internal ones.... one healing thing that helped was that both of the people involved in the attack were hunted down by the police and were sent to prison for up to 2 years, and the criminal justice board here compensated my lad with $20,000..... he would still of rather it didnt happen, BUT he said he would still stick up for anyone that couldnt stick up for themselves in a flash...


Ms. Gibson said...

The Good-Ol'Boy Network is alive and well everywhere, esp. south of the Mason-Dixon line.
I say this from a woman's perspective.


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