The Rumpus Recommends Fringe Florida

Fringe Florida By Lynn Waddell   The Rumpus.netBOOKS

 

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.

 

 

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Bud Lee, Picturemaker, An Eye For The Fringe

Bud Lee picturemaker

Photo by Todd Bates

I’ve always been interested in eccentric people whether it’s those who are into strange things or those who fixate on the ordinary to the extent that it becomes strange – the Disney fan who lives in a faux Cinderella’s castle; the woman who has a hand towel collection that could fill a barn. It wasn’t until I worked with noted photographer Bud Lee at Tampa’s alt-weekly the Weekly Planet, now Creative Loafing, that I began to embrace this fascination. Bud’s talent for capturing these worlds far exceeded my own, but with his encouragement I began to take risks in my work and see beauty in the shadows.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about Bud since he died on June 11, 2015  He suffered a stroke in 2003, about a month after he shot my wedding photos. He was confined to a nursing home until his death. Since my tribute to him that ran in Creative Loafing, I discovered old proofs from some of our projects. I hadn’t realized how profoundly he impacted my book Fringe Florida. During my research I often wished that he was well enough to work on it with me. But I see now he was there, inspiring me to not only pursue the unusual, but to also to see the ordinary in the most bizarre.

Here are few images from our photo essay on people and their closets. You probably think, closets, how boring. But, take a look. Note: the original words I wrote for these are lost in the bowels of some long disposed computer.

Bud Lee picturemaker

My idea for the project was sparked by a Florida Trend staff Christmas party. The parties were legendary for the view they invited of the then publisher’s closet, which was always protected behind a velvet rope. She graciously allowed Bud to capture it.

 

Bud Lee picturemaker

With the idea being that closets tell much about a person, Bud offered that he knew a clown in nearby Gibsonton, a home to sideshow performers. On the way he took me to Giant’s Camp, a dive of a restaurant started by a sideshow giant and his wife, billed as “the half-woman” Later I explored Gibsonton for my book, but Bud’s introduction and images gave me a colorful insight to the quirky community.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

Bud knew just how to stage a shot.

 

We also worked on a photo essay about Tampa’s adult entertainment industry that upset a few advertisers and got the paper banned from Barnes & Noble. However, the ban was due to a quote I used, not his images. The contrast of the words and black and whites images expressed a duality of the subjects. In true Bud irony, his images captured the normal in those who worked outside the bounds of propriety.

Bud Lee picturemaker

Pictured is an Tampa area Madam, her boyfriend (a paralyzed former Navy seal) and their pet by the pool of their new new home.

.Bud Lee picturemaker

A male escort off-duty in his kitchen.

Without Bud’s influence, I’m sure that Fringe Florida would have been a different book. Maybe less sensitive, maybe more reserved. I don’t know. But I’m sure less interesting.

 

 

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Fringe Moments in Florida’s Gay Rights History

florida-rainbow

In Florida, the Supreme Court of the United States decision legalizing same-sex marriage punctuates a long, sorted history of anti-gay tactics. To fully appreciate Florida’s role in the national gay rights debate and how far it has been dragged, screaming and praying into the sunshine, let’s look back at four of its not-so-proud moments.

    • The Florida Legislature’s legendary report: Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida.  In the 1960s, Florida legislative investigative committee went on a gay hunt and more than 100 college professors, deans and public school teachers lost their jobs. The committee also put out a 50-page anti-gay report, “Reefer Madness”-style. Sprinkled with bondage and glory hole photos and a dictionary of sexual vernacular, the report is a cross between soft-porn and a Sunday morning sermon. The legislative authors considered homosexuality “a threat to the health and moral well-being of a sizable portion of our populations, particularly our youth.” Salute to the Miami New Times for pulling the report out of the closet and reminding us that Florida’s leadership has always been fringe-worthy.
    • The Anita Bryant years.  It only took a few minutes for Anita Bryant to clean the pie off her face, but it’s taken gay activists almost 40 years to remove her legacy of anti-gay laws. In 1977 Miss Florida OJ made the state ground zero in her fight against everything gay. Her Save the Children campaign succeeded in getting the city of Miami to overturn its gay-rights ordinance and in getting the Florida Legislature to pass laws against gay adoption and gay marriage. Although the ban on gays adopting children was overturned by a court ruling in 2010, it wasn’t until Spring 2015 that the Florida Legislature officially repealed law.

  • Hillsborough County (Tampa) anti-gay pride ordinance. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms, a rattlesnake of morality, led an attack on the county’s recognition of Gay Pride month after a few library patrons complained about a display on gay authors. The ban and following protest launched Florida into the national spotlight of shame once again. It also drove Tampa Strip Club King Joe Redner to admit he was gay, for the moment anyway. True to form, he sued in attempt to overturn the ordinance. (more in Fringe Florida)
  • The Modern Day Anita. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi of Katrina-dog infamy fought again and again to uphold Florida’s gay marriage ban as the sands of support disappeared beneath her. She even argued against allowing gays to divorce in Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court decision squashes her most recent appeal. Despite her relentless attempts to keep gay marriage illegal, Bondi has said repeatedly that she’s not anti-gay.pam bondi
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Farewell, Dusty Rhodes

07_dustyrhodes_milestone_02-1132994868 World Wrestling Entertainment fans called him “the American Dream,” but Florida embraced him as one of its own. Dusty Rhodes, whose real name is Virgil Runnels, died Thursday after a fall at his Orlando home. He was 69.

The hair, the voice, the swagger, Rhodes was more than just a wrestler; he was an entertainer. In the 1970s he helped popularize the WWE form of wrestling with kooky antics and hyperbolic bravado. Although a native Texan, he found his groove in where else, but Florida. Tampa, to be exact.

Thanks, Dusty Rhodes, for making Florida even more interesting.


Image: WWE

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Florida Author to Rappel High-Rise

Florida Author to Rappel High-Rise

Push me over the edge – j.mp/lynnjumps

Rappelling a St. Petersburg high-rise isn’t my idea of fun. It’s not so much a fear heights, more a fear of looking like the klutz and out-of-shape weakling that I am. But I’m going to do it, and do it in fringe-style (costume and all) if you’ll help me fund a match with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay.

Please contribute here today.

This weekend only – April 17-19 – donate $75 and you’ll get a FREE copy ofFringe Florida.” All money goes to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay and is tax deductible! (Must donate through my BBBS campaign page.)

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay is an organization close to my heart as my husband and I have been a Big Couple for seven years. But it takes more than just people to volunteer their time as Bigs to keep the organization working. It takes donations from caring people like you to help cover staffing, background checks, events and more.

With your help another child will gain a mentor and I’ll carry the fringe flag over the edge of One Progress Plaza on May 2.

Thanks for your support.

James, our Little Bro Brad, and I at an annual Big Brothers Big Sisters celebration

James, our Little Bro Brad, and I at an annual Big Brothers Big Sisters celebration

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida Capitol Goes to Hell for Christmas

satanic templeAfter being shut out last year for being “grossly offensive.” the Satanic Temple got a spot among holidays displays at Florida’s state capitol just in time to be destroyed by a Christian. A woman wearing a “Catholic Warrior” tee ripped into the diorama, saying she couldn’t take it anymore. The other holiday displays including a Festivus pole of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster remained unscathed.

The Satanic Temple group based in New York pushed for a display on principle for religious equality. Of course, others argue that it’s a fitting locale for an homage to the Prince of Darkness.

As a reminder that Florida doesn’t have a lock on weird or the minions of Mephistopheles, the Huffington Post notes the devil also gets props in Michigan’s statehouse.

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A glimpse into Miami’s diverse and quirky glory and drug lore glitz

A glimpse into Miami’s diverse and quirky glory and drug lore glitz

Many of my experiences researching Fringe Florida didn’t make it into the final manuscript. One chapter, the pursuit of Miami drug lore glitz, landed at the bottom of a screwdriver in Mac’s Club Deuce in South Beach.

Here’s a piece about it that ran in the Miami Herald and is archived with HistoryMiami, a Smithsonian affiliate.

And always, there is more to the story…

I’ve visited Miami often over the past 20 years, sleeping on friends’ couches, perusing thrift stores, gorging on ceviche, watching the ever-changing crowd along Ocean Drive. But it wasn’t until 2009, when I stepped outside all comfort zones to research my book Fringe Florida, that I got an inside glimpse into the diverse and quirky glory that defines Miami.

My research trip was a whirlwind of interactions with everyone from python owners to nightclub promoters. I kicked it off with a day at a swinger’s convention at a hotel downtown, where waiters in guayaberas served drinks to randy nude couples.

Fringe Florida is a book about the state’s unusual and sometimes illicit subcultures. In Miami, you don’t have to dig too deep to find Middle Earth…

Read more here:

 

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Pasco Nudists Reality TV Bait, Again

kendra-on-top Word is that Pasco County — “nudist capital of America” or “world,” depending on who you ask — is coming under the spotlight of reality TV once again. The blog 2paragraphs reports that in the latest episode of We TV’s Kendra on Top, star Kendra Wilkinson of Playboy fame tracks down her real father in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. where he apparently lives in a nudist community. Show airs Friday, October 31 at 9 pm eastern.

Florida is where reality TV often bares its tabloid heart and it’s not the first time Pasco County nudists have been featured because, hey, the promise of naked bodies is sure to draw viewers.  In 2013 the TLC’s “Buying Naked” featured Pasco’s clothing-optional communities and lots of fuzzed out body parts. Pasco nudists would like to forget Paris Hilton’s “Simple Life” foray at Caliente Resorts Tampa, or at least her later comments about it.

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Author Talks of UFOs and Florida Ghosts

hoaxmobile 1Fringe Florida author Lynn Waddell shares tales from her research on the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings and the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp on Hallow’s Eve, Oct. 30, 2014. Held in the funky bohemian town of Gulfport the Halloween event will feature weird Florida images and outtakes from the author’s popular book. Don’t be late. The show sponsored by Circle of Friends of Gulfport Library and the Florida Humanities Council begins at 7 pm at the Catherine Hickman Theater.

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The Battle to Go Bare Continues

Bob's Burgers Gets Florida

Bob’s Burgers Gets Florida

The ongoing battle over an ordinance to outlaw public nudity in Clay County highlights just how bi-polar Florida is when it comes to community standards. While Pasco County near Tampa is America’s nudist capital, Clay County, securely in north Florida’s Bible Belt, is preparing to shield its “wholesome character” from potential libertines.

Though building the fortress is not going smoothly. Following public outcry at Tuesday night’s commission meeting, commissioners kicked a decision on a trio of decency ordinances ahead six months.

Ostensibly aimed at regulating adult businesses, which don’t currently exist in Clay County, the proposed ordinance would make public nudity illegal. Perhaps realizing that could make a doctor’s exam particularly awkward, the county included a list of places where nudity would be allowed:

…single sex public restroom, an enclosed single sex functional shower, a single sex locker and/or dressing room facility, an enclosed motel room and hotel room designed and intended for sleeping accommodations, a doctor’s office, any portion of a hospital, the yard areas of a private residence

Watch out, low-riding pants wearers. This is also one of the rare occasions where you’ll find “anal cleft,” and “anal cleavage” explicitly prohibited in a proposed county ordinance. Squatting to pick up a quarter may cost you many more. The misdemeanor would carry up to a $500 fine.

Nudists/Naturists are naturally outraged by the proposal. The Young Naturists of America, for one, is rallying members to voice opposition. Not only would the ordinance limit their ability to hang out together in the buff, but it also associates nudism with prostitution, violence, and venereal disease.

…the Board believes that public nudity and sexual conduct begets undesirable behavior, and that adverse secondary effects such as, but not limited to, prostitution, attempted sexual battery, sexual battery, assault and the spread of social communicable and sexually transmittable diseases and may occur and have the potential for occurring where nude and sexual conduct is permitted;

200px-Map_of_Florida_highlighting_Clay_County.svg

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AMC’s Freakshow Comes to Ground Zero Weird: Gibsonton, Florida

 

AMC’s realtiy show “Freakshow” finally comes to Gibsonton where real freaks still live and many more haunt the memories of the remaining sideshow greats. Tonight’s Episode 5 at 10 pm Eastern features legendary showman Ward Hall, his partner Chris Crist, the world record-holding sword swallower Red Stuart along with other World of Wonders cast.

Gibsonton, or “Gibtown,” as locals call it, was once home to about 100 sideshow performers – the Monkey Girl, the Half-Woman, Alligator Man and more.

Ward Hall and Chris Crist continue to operate one of the only remaining 10-in-One sideshows, that’s 10 acts for one price at the door.  Their World of Wonders cast teamed up with the reality show crew last November for the filming of tonight’s episode.

Be sure to stick around for the following episode featuring Grady Stiles III who still lives under the shadow of the sensational 1992 murder of his father, “Lobster Boy,” Grady Stiles, Jr. Grady Stiles, III suffers the same congenital deformity, ectrodactyly, as his father which gives his appendages the shape of lobster claws.

Be sure to follow up your viewing with a copy of Fringe Florida to learn more about Gibtown and the freaks who still call it home.

 

"Freakshow" Cast pose by monument honoring Al and Jeanie Tomaini, billed "the world's strangest couple." Al was a giant, and Jeanie, "the half girl."

“Freakshow” Cast pose by monument honoring Al and Jeanie Tomaini, billed “the world’s strangest couple.” Al was a giant, and Jeanie, “the half girl.”

 

 

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