Go Forth and Kicketh Some Ass

Appeared in the Communigator, 1999

Carl Hiaasen has always said that if he isn’t pissing people off, he isn’t doing his job.

Give this man a raise.

There’s something in Hiaasen’s new book, Kick Ass, to offend just about everybody – particularly morally challenged greedheads raping Florida’s environment and destroying the fragile beauty of this magnificent and wacky state. And if you don’t fall into that category, Hiaasen, BA 1975,  will probably still make you pretty mad. He might get you so angry you’ll get out of your chair and do something to stop the ecological and ethical erosion of the Sunshine State.

Lots of people know Hiaasen the novelist.  His marvelous satirical books – Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Strip Tease and Lucky You among them – have sold truckloads of copies.

But a lot of his loyal fans don’t realize that despite his success, Hiaasen keeps his day job as a Miami Herald columnist. This probably saves him a lot of trouble. He doesn’t have to go looking for weirdness to put into his novels; all he has to do is page through the local section of his newspaper.

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So he holds onto the newspaper job as a sort of reality check – or, since this is Miami, a surreality check.

This is a book for Florida. Unlike his novels, it might not travel well. Hiaasen takes the “local columnist” thing seriously, and these pieces are specific to his beloved and vulnerable home state.

They are also well reported. Again, fans of his novels might not realize it, but Hiaasen was part of the Herald’s investigative team before he became a columnist in 1985. Unlike a lot of snoremonger columnists  — who read the work of real reporters, then ruminate and deign to tell us what it all means — Hiaasen still does his legwork. He doesn’t sit on his can and comment on things he’s only read about. This guy never stopped reporting.

His column isn’t syndicated much out of Florida and Hiaasen seems to have no interest in being a fixture of the Anytown Gazette, like his pal Dave Barry. To go for mass acceptance would mean watering down his message and betraying his audience. The book is dedicated to “all those who care about Florida,” and the profits will benefit the Carl A. Hiaasen Scholarship Fund in the college.

Of course, the columns share with the novels that uncanny ability of Hiaasen’s – to blend the comic and tragic, to horrify readers and make them laugh at the same time.

Kick Ass (the title is drawn from Hiaasen’s self-composed job description) is, among other things, a history of the last 15 years in South Florida, freckled with corrupt politicians (a redundancy in Hiaasenland), immoral developers and mouth-breathing geeks who, for example, ignore posted “no swimming” signs on the beaches when the waters are contaminated with feces. “You can almost hear Darwin’s ghost,” Hiaasen writes. “Surely these morons aren’t going swimming in THAT crap! Not with their kids! Not with a warning sign right in front of their face! Wrong, Charlie Baby.”

Hiaasen pokes fun at it all – the inane tourist slogans, the ineffective drug war, the unchecked growth and, of course, the madcap politicians. While watching Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar throw a fit during the 1985 World Series – he chased umpires, foamed at the mouth and destroyed a dugout toilet with a baseball bat, all on live TV – Hiaasen realized he might be the perfect candidate for mayor of Miami: “In no time Andujar would mop up the City Commission,” Hiaasen wrote. “Forget diplomacy – we’re talking a 93-mile-an-hour brushback pitch. It’s not such a bad idea, when you review this year’s crop of political hopefuls, a veritable slag-heap of mediocrity.”

Aw, don’t hold back, Carl. What do you really think of them?

Like Hiaasen’s novels, this book is filled with great one-liners. And, as always, he walks so well that terribly fine line between comedy and tragedy. He horrifies you with his stories of life’s insanities, but he makes you laugh about them too. But unlike his novels, where the weirdnesses are products of imagination, all of the stuff in Kick Ass actually happened. This is real; this is journalism. Truth can be stranger than fiction and that’s why fiction can be such a comfort.