Like I had some sort of freak magnetic energy circulating through my veins, that drew all the freaks of the universe to me.
I mean, I can't wear a watch for more than a few months before it inexplicably stops. I've had three trackpads replaced on my laptop because evidently, something about my touch causes them to go completely wonky and start having a mind of their own. The cursor, without me controlling it, opens up new windows, closes other ones, surfs the Internet for trackpad porn and is all, "Screw you. I'm piloting this laptop from here on end."
The smartest dude at my local Genius Bar can't figure it out. He and all the other 12-year-olds that work at Apple hover over my laptop in awed wonder over its demonic possession. My Genius guy has run every kind of test known to technology and he's come up with nothing.
On my third go-round, he looked at me with accusing geek eyes and said, "Maybe it's you."
I couldn't argue with him. There really is something about my aura, my spirit, my energy, whatever you want to call it.
Wild turkeys have been known to stampede towards me when I give them my best turkey call, so if wild turkeys can feel my magnetism, it's a given that the freaks of the universe would gravitate towards me.
And they do. Freaks are drawn to me like Lindsay Lohan to a tragic end.
I don't mind being a freak magnet, in fact, I'm kind of proud of it. I let my freak flag fly, apparently as high and loud as one of those South American tour guides at Disney World. (If you've been to Disney, you'll understand that one.)
But after reading my local paper's headlines today, I had this light bulb moment. Maybe it's not me after all. I haven't wanted to admit it, but perhaps it really is my town that's the freak magnet.
I live in Tampa.
Yes. That Tampa.
You wouldn't know it, but my town is full of good and lovely things.
There is, of course, our pride and joy:
Our glorious Gulf of Mexico.
And you might have heard of our annual Gasparilla pirate parade which is like a mini-version of Mardi Gras except with pirates and without as many boobs for beads.
I am proud to say we are home to one of the largest gay film festivals in the nation, The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
We are also a city drenched in Cuban culture—amazing food, music, festivals and our beautiful Ybor City where they still hand roll cigars in the cigar factories.
Our tropical soil produces magnificent oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, strawberries and all kinds of beautiful bounty of the land.
As for sports teams, we have the Bucs, the Rays and the Lightning. And the New York Yankees like us so much, we are their winter home.
Our MacDill Air Force Base is Central Command and Tampa International Airport is consistently ranked one of the best airports in the world.
And if you're into heavy crowds and long lines, we have Busch Gardens and just a stone's throw away where the real sweaty crowds happen, Walt Disney World.
If you like beefy men in spandex, body-slamming one another, we're home to the WWE.
And . . .
Okay, so we're also the Lap Dance capital of the world. Magic Mike filmed their strip scenes in Tampa, shining their hot neon stripper lights on our fair city for everyone to see.
But none of that matters to sensational news journalists and late night talk show hosts who already have us labeled as the Florida—The State Where Crazy Lives.
I think it probably all started with the Bush/Gore debacle, where everyone was all, "Hey Florida, why can't you tally the votes? Is it because you can't count without using your fingers? Can you Swamp
People even read? Do you have teeth? Rotted ones don't count, Billy Bob."
We can count. Without our fingers. Although some of us, as I pretend to study a hangnail, cannot do double digit addition without those fingers, but that has nothing to do with ballots.
The hanging chad controversy resulted in Florida changing to electronic ballots.
But then, we could not really get the dang hang of this pesky new-world electronica and so we had to go back to filling in the blank with our #2 pencils like we were all a state of third-graders.
It's no big thang.
So, we had a little trouble understanding the new-fangled technology of touch screens. Florida's just not a state of tech-savvy people. I can totally vouch for that. I have to allot a couple of hours and a tankful of gas when I commit to taking money out of the drive-thru ATM. Every car is the same—the driver leaning out of the window, peering at the screen with suspicious eyes, their hand nervously hovering over the machine as if they're about to hit the red button that will start the nuclear war to end life as we know it.
We might be technologically challenged, but that doesn't make us super-freaks, the kind you don't bring home to mother.
And yes, we might have had a little bit of trouble counting our votes again this time and we might have been the last state to report our results, long after the Facebookers had left their vitriolic political statuses behind and gone back to their crazy cat videos.
This is the South. We do everything slow down here. We talk slow. We work slow. We eat slow. And we certainly drive slow. On a daily basis, I have to navigate my way around the minefields of Blue-hairs, Canadian Snowbirds and combine tractors with their tobacco chewing drivers who clog up the roadways at top speeds of 20 mph.
And that is on the highway.
Slowness does not a freak make.
One of our most recent odd headlines to hit the national news was the one about the woman who decided to ride a manatee.
And for those of you who don't understand how beloved our manatees are to us, this beast, (I'm talking the woman, not the manatee), could have eaten her own children while clubbing baby seals and we wouldn't have been more outraged.
Who sees a giant sea cow in the water and says, "Hey, I'm gonna ride that bad boy like it's a bucking bronco."
I don't think it should even have to be said, but if you come to visit us in Florida, never, ever ride a manatee.
Save a manatee, ride a redneck.
We have plenty of those. Just head on over to the closest Cracker Barrel or any of our municipal beaches. Which really aren't beaches at all, but just strips of dirty sand on the side of the roadway, overlooking Tampa Bay. BUT you can bring your dogs, horses and/or fireworks to those "beaches" which means at any time of the day or night, you can find yourself a Redneck Convention right on the side of the road.
And then, of course, there's the Hulk Hogan sex tape which scarred America's collective corneas by showing us the Hulk's wide-awake peen.
Hulk Hogan's erection sits right above Octomom on the pole,
on my list of things in life I never, ever, EVER wanted to see. (By the way, her pole dancing, was in—you guessed it—Florida.
Which brings me to our latest big-time newsmaker:
Jill Kelly, professional Wannabe, Narcissist and All-Around Asshole—the catalyst behind this house of cards that has fallen down around General Petraeus.
I'm not going to say much about this ridiculous, vacuous woman. I'm too discreet, Internet, to tell you exactly how I feel about this obnoxious name and fake-title dropper with her ludicrous 15-year-old girl head-tilt pose and insatiable need to be the center of attention, add to that, her delusional, inflated sense of self importance, her incredible lack of common sense and judgement, not to mention the bogus charity she ran in the name of cancer and the fact, that she and her husband lived well beyond their means, completely disregarding their debt as they continued to live a flashy lifestyle. Honorary Consul General, my ass. Stop wasting my taxpayer money on ridiculous 911 calls, you desperate, abhorrent, old-man groupie.
So . . .
I'll just be nice and say, Jill Kelley does not represent my Tampa.
Personally, I've had my fair share of weirdness in my home city.
There was the time the youngish alligator trapper who routinely trapped the gators in my lake, died.
You see, gators are a protected species.
(That statement does not in any way represent my opinions on gators. I believe that gators are prehistoric killers who eat people and dogs on a regular basis down here in the tropics. And they're good for nothing but purses, shoes and belts. And sometimes luggage. Sorry Gator Huggers, but I think you should find yourself a more noble cause like protecting aardvarks, if you're inclined to ugly creatures. Because if you think the gators appreciate your diligence on their behalf, I am here to tell you, they do not. Don't believe me? Just wade on into my lake and dangle your leg in front of a gator, proclaiming you are their protector. Unfortunately, you'll see I speak the truth.)
Anyway, whenever the gators become a danger and crawl out onto the bank of the lake, we are allowed to call the gator trapper to come take them away. When a Big Daddy gator came a-calling a few years ago, we called our trapper only to be informed by his wife that he had perished. Not by the snapping jaws of a gator, mind you. But by a helicopter that lost control and fell out of the sky, landing on top of him. Now, what are the chances you trap alligators for a living and you die from a helicopter falling on top of you? True story, right here.
And even with all this nonsense going on around me, day-in and day-out, I still thought it was me who collected the freaks like some people collect fine art.
Even after last night.
I was checking out at the grocery store, my cart piled high with enough food to feed my tiny daughters with their lumberjack appetites. I exchanged greetings with my cashier, a friendly teenage kid who has rung me up before.
When I asked him how he was doing, he shook his head sadly as he rung up my produce and said,
"Not great. I had to get my dog neutered today."
I was all, "Oh, sorry?"
I didn't realize pet sterilization was a tragic thing like he'd just put down his dog. For eternity.
He said, "I didn't want to do it. My mom made me. I feel like I castrated my dog today, you know?"
He then held up my avocado and said, "Do people really eat these?"
And I was all, "Uhhhh, yeah? I like to add them to my quesadillas."
Because I didn't know what to say. About the castration.
And then, as if that wasn't awkward enough, the bag boy, with the most unfortunate bowl cut I've ever seen said, "You think that's bad. I'm a Jehovah Witness. I can't celebrate my birthday or Christmas."
I was all, "I, uh, also like my avocados in a salad." Because, What. The. Hell.
The cashier turned to his wingman and said, "Dude, what does neutering my dog have to do with you being a Jehovah Witness?"
And the guy said, "You had one bad day. You and your dog'll get over it. I have to live this way until I'm 18. And the minute I turn 18, I'm having a birthday cake and then I'm getting out of this religion which means my family will shun me."
And that's when a flash of brilliance hit me. Always the optimist, I tried to turn this conversation around to bright and sparkly with, "Hey, you know Prince is a Jehovah Witness. That's a nice thing about your religion."
Because really? What the hell else do they have? No birthday cake? And they have to spend their spare time knocking on people's doors to inform them that being bombarded by cheap pamphlets is the only way to heaven, only to be met by derision and threats of rabid dogs. Er, at least that's what happens when the Jehovahs come a-knockin' at my house.
It's almost like God gave them Prince as a consolation prize for the rest of their dreary religion.
The lovely conversation came to a crashing halt when my cashier said, "Prince who?"
My recyclable bags were packed and so I scurried away to let these boys hash out their unique troubles.
And still, I didn't get that it might not be me, but it might just be the quirky cast of fun folks who make up my state.
But then this morning, I sat down to read the news.
Yes, we still get a newspaper. We also communicate through our trusty fax machine and we are hoping that someday a man will walk on the moon.
And this is what one of the headlines of my paper read:
DEPUTIES STAY BUSY AT MOBILE HOME
Underneath it, was a picture of a woman, who I'm sorry to say kind of looked like a meth-head, sitting on her trailer's steps holding a child clad in dirty socks. Next to her was a sign that read, UR-A-HEIRO. THANK YOU?
It took me two read-throughs to understand the story.
Evidently, there was this man in her trailer park who hated cats. We'll call him Bud of the Trailer Park.
But his roommate had two adult cats who had spawned a plethora of kittens, thereby creating the phenomenon known as Trailer Park Feral Cat Colonies.* Bud of the Trailer Park had grown to be somewhat of a softie, since these cats were his roommate's feral pets. And he was known to feed them from time to time.
Now, follow closely.
Bud of the Trailer Park's roommate had gone to jail this past weekend. He had been charged with allegedly shooting two people who lived in the trailer park across the street. I hear trailer park rivalry is a real and dangerous thing, these days. Those with the wheels still attached are totally jealous of those who've had their wheels replaced with decorative trim. Things get ugly, man, over decorative trim.**
Also, Bud of the Trailer Park's son, who had moved in with his dad a few months before, had disappeared over the weekend. Word on the Trailer Park Street was he may or may not have been involved in the jealous decor shooting.
After the shooting, Bud of the Trailer Park "just wasn't hisself. Everything was edgy due to the shooting and all."*** According to the heiro, who turns out to be Bud of the Trailer Park's friend and next-door neighbor.
So, the heiro, being a mite worried about her friend, paid him a visit the other night. Bud of the Trailer Park started talking about the shooting and how worried he was about his son. He was so upset, he asked the heiro to get him a beer out of his freezer.
The heiro opened up his chest freezer and heard the unmistakable mews of kittens. Amongst the beers, she spotted four kittens. Sadly, one of them was dead, but the other three were yowling, I'm sure in cat language, "Get me the hell out of here!"
Our heiro recognized them as the feral kittens her dirty-socked toddler played with. She started to rescue them, but that's when Bud of the Trailer Park shoved her and told her to get the hell out his trailer.
She ran home and called 911 to report cats in a freezer and that's when she became a heiro with a question mark.
The deputies arrested Bud of the Trailer Park, rescued the feral kittens and were also successful in snagging Bud's son who'd shown up, hoping the trailer park decor shooting had blown over and perhaps looking for a beer and a chilly kitten.
And that. That moment, right there, my friends, is when I realized it's not me after all, that my little corner of the world is, just as they all mock us, a certifiable freak zone.
I also forgot to mention, we are also home to the biggest nudist colonies in the country. And, in fact, one time my hubs had an appointment at one of those colonies. It seems that even naked people need benefits. It's quite a story, but the best part of it? He purposefully neglected to tell his partner that their appointment was in fact, at a nudist colony. Such good times.
So, in closing, I'd like to say, come on down to Tampa. We'll show you how it's done the freaky way.
Just, whatever you do, don't ride a manatee.
*Trailer Park Feral Cat Colonies Phenomenon is a phenomenon I invented, just this second.
**I have used my editorial license with some or most of this news article. Meaning, I made some shit up.