Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Novelist Carl Hiaasen Plays Not My Job

Carl Hiaasen i i
Fenia Hiaasen/
Carl Hiaasen
Fenia Hiaasen/

Some people describe places in a way that makes you dream of going there. Who wouldn't want to visit Norman Maclean's Montana, or Armisted Maupin's San Francisco ... or Sarah Palin's Alaska?

And then there's Carl Hiaasen's South Florida. Hiaasen writes about South Florida so vividly and with such realism, it's a miracle that anyone visits there at all. He's documented Florida's rush to the apocalypse in dozens of novels, including Strip Tease, Skin Tight and the Newbery Honor-winning Hoot.

Hiaasen has lived in Florida his whole life, so the only way he knows the seasons are changing is by watching the waxing and waning of old people from the Northeast on the beach. We've invited Hiaasen to play a game called "Where we're from, frozen water falls from the sky." Three questions about how people in the Northern climes enjoy themselves in the winter.

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where we invite famous people on to answer questions about obscure things. There are some authors associated with a place who just make you dream of going there. You want to visit Norman Maclean's Montana or Armisted Maupin's San Francisco, Sarah Palin's Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And then there's an author who writes about South Florida so vividly, with such realism, that it's a miracle that anyone ever comes to visit at all. Carl Hiaasen is a Florida native. He's been documenting Florida's rush to the apocalypse in dozens of novels like "Strip Tease" and "Skin Tight" and the Newberry Honor-winning "Hoot." We are delighted to have him with us. Carl Hiaasen, welcome back to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: When last we spoke to you, we were really interested in - basically, a question, which is you write about South Florida in your novels, which are very funny but, shall we say, very hostile to certain things about South Florida.

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: As represented in your fiction. And you keep writing these novels and yet, you are still here.

M: I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I am.

SAGAL: So you're still here, even the last two or three years in Florida's history - and you're still not leaving.

M: The material is so terrific.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: I mean, for a writer, or columnist or for a novelist, it's a hard place to leave. And we have lots of writers pouring into Florida just because of our weirdness.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Really?

M: So I feel like I have to stake out - yeah, I mean I think Stephen King probably spends more time in Florida now than he does up north. I'm pretty sure he does. I'm serious. Yeah, I think he does. And I think he's horrified.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: He finally is, yeah.

SAGAL: Finally, we've discovered what could frighten Stephen King.

M: That's right.

M: 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.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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)

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

SAGAL: Yes.

M: 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.

M: It is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

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

SAGAL: Right.

M: And the rest of us...

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

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: Right.

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

M: 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)

M: 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.

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

SAGAL: Yes.

M: Which used to be our money.

SAGAL: Our money, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

M: He had one of the greatest campaign slogans ever, which was: Hey, they never indicted me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: That's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: If you could, if you had sort of magical powers, would you make Florida normal, or do you actually kind of like it this way?

M: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. That would be terrible.

SAGAL: Yeah.

M: You know, Florida is never going to - it's nothing I would have to worry about. If I had magical powers - I mean, I think there - it wouldn't be a bad thing to go back to the day where there were saber tooth tigers that took care of certain members of the species.

SAGAL: Oh, I see what you mean.

M: You know, I mean - I think as you drive around, the more you're here, you'll understand this.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: There are times when you wish that the saber tooth tigers were still here.

SAGAL: Really?

M: I'm just going to leave it at that.

SAGAL: To cull the herd a little bit.

M: Cull the herd, exactly.

SAGAL: We've covered stories in Florida of people - for example, the guy who let an alligator babysit his 3-year-old. I'm thinking that it seems like Floridians are doing their own part to cull their own herd.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

M: 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)

M: All of it really happened.

SAGAL: Why disturbing?

M: 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?

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: Oh, yeah.

M: 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)

M: You know.

SAGAL: Stop.

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

SAGAL: In what?

M: In a lake.

SAGAL: All right, in a lake.

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

SAGAL: Sure.

M: Because there's hills on golf courses.

SAGAL: And lakes.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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 just doesn't happen to anybody else.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: And I said, you've never sunk a golf cart? He said, I've been playing golf since I was 6 years old; I don't even know anybody who's sunk a golf cart.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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)

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

M: 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...

CARL KASELL, Host:

"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.

M: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: No, you know how you can tell?

SAGAL: How can you tell?

M: The color of the license tags change.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: 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?

M: 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; or C, injury predicting?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

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

M: Yeah. Because that sounds OK.

SAGAL: It sounds like fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, it was shovel racing.

M: Shovel racing?

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

M: Yeah.

SAGAL: To remove the snow.

M: All right.

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

M: OK, fine.

SAGAL: Fine.

M: Yeah, fine. Shovel racing?

SAGAL: Shovel racing.

M: Oh geez, all right.

SAGAL: There are other countries - next question - 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)

M: Oh, God.

M: That sounds too happy, right?

M: It does sound happy.

M: For Norway.

M: 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?

M: 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)

M: You're probably right.

M: Yeah.

M: What was the...

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

M: 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.

M: Yes, I like to fish, yeah.

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

M: Oh, yeah.

SAGAL: In Greenland, in the middle of winter.

M: Yeah, that's...

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

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

SAGAL: Ice-fishing.

M: Yeah. It just kills us, too.

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 dodgeball, the sport that nobody played more than once?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

SAGAL: Ice tennis.

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

SAGAL: New York Times actually mentioned this, yes.

M: The New York Times mentioned this.

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

SAGAL: Ice tennis?

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

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

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

M: Sorry.

M: I was right there with you. I was right there.

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

M: All right.

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

M: I think it has to be.

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

M: 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.

M: 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.

M: Thanks for having me.

SAGAL: For joining us.

M: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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

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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!