FRINGE FLORIDA BY LYNN WADDELL
REVIEWED BY KENNY SQUIRES
October 1st, 2013
Ever get the feeling that you just don’t belong? After the neighbors spotted you in the yard engaging in some harmless pony play, someone forgot to invite you to the next subdivision picnic. Then the neighborhood kids stopped coming around after you showed off your Burmese python. Even the mailman skips your house now, after he looked in the front-room window to see you and yours during a cuddling/cosplay session on the couch wearing Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes. It’s time to pack up and leave, but where will you go? Florida, that’s where. Lynn Waddell’s new book, Fringe Florida: Travels among Mud Boggers, Furries, Ufologists, Nudists, and Other Lovers of Unconventional Lifestyles, explores some of The Sunshine State’s unique subcultures, suggesting that those who’ve worn out their welcome everywhere else still have a place to call home.
First, leave the dog and cat behind. This move to Florida is liberating to your innermost, outlandish self, and Fluffy and Fido just can’t keep up. To start a new life, you need new pets: a savannah monitor, a black mamba, or—why not—a mountain lion. Don’t worry. Where you’re headed, they’re used to this kind of thing:
Florida is one big menagerie. I’m speaking not only of the thousands of exotic animals but also of the Floridians who do almost anything to make them part of their family. They are a human subspecies, a distinct mutation; I call them Fla-zoons, my play on the scientific term ‘neozoon,’ meaning introduced species. They range from a mall clerk who saves up for a sugar glider, to a neo-menagerist who trades in his life insurance policy for a white lion cub, to the hundreds of volunteers who shovel poop and clean cages just to get close to beasts that could bite off their face.”
Now that you’ve got that pet situation handled, it’s time to meet people and get plugged in to the right social circuit. Trivia nights, volleyball, and karaoke don’t do it for you. You like to lead people around by reins and a bridle, have them jump small hurdles, and watch them shake their manes as they whinny. Lucky you—Waddell says that Florida has the most human ponies per capita of any state. Floridians take horsing around to the next level:
Turns out pony play involves even more than modified horse tack and an abundant imagination. Learning how to center, trot, and respond to the reins and bit takes practice. Even tougher is forgetting that you are a human who is pretending to be a horse. I am not being facetious. The pinnacle of ponydom is mental transference, a horse-autopilot, which they call ‘pony space.’
There’s a perfect spot for your pony play trophies right next to your black mamba’s cage, but what about your penchant for cosplay? Wouldn’t it be great if Mickey and Minnie could get together with the whole Disney gang? Are you kidding? Consider yourself part of Magic Kingdom! But being a “furry” doesn’t always include funny business:
Before you beat up Mickey Mouse for posing for a photo with your child, it’s important to note that not everyone who enjoys dressing up like a team mascot gets sexually aroused by it. Fur fans are so for a variety of reasons; sometimes sex is a component, sometimes not. Though odd in any context, the world of furry fandom is quite complex. Most simply, ‘furry’ is an umbrella term for people who have an extreme passion for anthropomorphic characters. For some, furridom is merely a geeky pastime that they play online.
After all that pony play and wearing big, furry suits, it might be a good idea to air out your birthday suit. If you take a liking to it, then you’re in the right place to join a nudist colony—full- or part-time. There’s no shame in your game after you relocate to Florida:
Residents and guests alike do everything in the buff, and I mean everything. Even things that would seem infinitely more comfortable with a little cloth support here and there. They play tennis wearing only sneakers, run 5k races in nothing more than jogging shoes. They pull weeds from their flowerbeds donning only gloves and a hat, ride bicycles with just a small towel separating them from their vinyl seats. Their only consistent covering is sunscreen.
Let Fringe Florida be your guide as you embrace the lifestyle you’ve always wanted in a sub-tropical or tropical climate. Waddell’s research and reportage makes for a fascinating, mind-opening read. Though she openly describes herself as a foreigner on her journey through the fringe, the subjects of each chapter are treated with due respect. In another writer’s hands, this book might sink to poking fun or caricaturizing the people it profiles, but there’s a sincere effort here to understand the appeal of living each of these unique lives. So load up your boxes and toss a copy of Fringe Florida on the dash. There’s nothing to stop you.
Kenny Squires lives and writes fiction in St. Louis, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri.