Now, weird news has happened forever. We just didn’t have CNN, fark.com and Wonkette around to shoot video, take notes, and tell us about when Billy Bob the Caveman drank that fermented berry juice and tried to kill a sabre-toothed tiger with a spoon. Pour one out for Billy Bob.
Florida Man has always been when us, even before there was a Florida.
HOWEVER: Perhaps the greatest local news video of all time, when it comes to weird news, is the Exploding Whale.
I’ve written about this before. The reporter who covered the story wrote an entire book after the event.
All we could see, though, was grainy footage. Clear enough to witness the cray-cray, just not up to our standards.
Today, however, for the first time, we can view the build-up and the carnage in glorious high-definition, because the reporter found the original footage on this stuff called “film” and technical geniuses turned that film into digital goodness.
Here, watch and share, and raise your glass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what I believe should be a national holiday: The Day the Whale Exploded.
Usually, a headline beginning with the words “Florida Man” will end with mayhem. You know, “Florida Man goes on three-day meth spree, robs 7-Eleven with Klingon sword”–that sort of thing.
I do not come to bury Florida Man.
I come to praise him.
Because we have a feel-good Florida Man story, one so pure and joyous that THERE ARE NO WORDS.
As in, this video has no words. Our hero, Florida Man, doesn’t say a thing.
Check it out.
The ingredients to this warm, soft, viral news cookie are pure and delightful.
Our hero is a janitor with an impeccable goatee who’s good on camera.
His invention is something any of us could do, right now, by telling the Dog “you wanna go for a ride?” It wouldn’t take twenty minutes to hop in our large metal horses, which sleep and sleep unless the Dog sees me using my Pale Wizard magic to wake them, and take us places Very Fast, then buy a bucket and leaf blower.
And sure, you could even improve on this invention with a cushion inside the bucket, and maybe some bolts and duct tape to hold the umbrella. Except we didn’t think of the simple idea in the first place, right?
This man looked at the bucket he used every day, and the leaf blower, and he got those suckers married to an umbrella.
My favorite parts of this are (a) how he steers by wiggling, and moving the umbrella slightly, and (b) the speed this Blue Collar Limousine can go. It would have been funny if it moved at all, or went walking speed. Nope. This sucker flies.
Florida Man, we salute you, and look forward to seeing what you can do with a weed trimmer, handcart, and a box of garden staples.
Yeah, that’s not a typo. This real criminal genius thought it was a good idea to bring a Nerf toy to a gunfight.
And yes, police say he first pulled out a tire iron, then a small ax. However, what criminal in good standing thinks the natural progression goes like this?
“First, Imma snag this improvised, short-range weapon meant to loosen lug nuts. Then I’m going even shorter range with a hatchet. And now, for the grand finale, we’re doing full shock-and-awe on the po-po by whipping out this Nerf crossbow. They’ll never take me alive, Cletus–never.”
According to the KOMO story, based on police reports, the whole thing started with this man road-raging and/or stalking two teenage girls in an SUV while he was driving his pickup. Five bucks says that pickup features at least two of the following: (a) various shades of bondo, (b) Bud Light cans littering the bed, (c) a MAGA sticker, and maybe (d) one of those chrome pipes so this tough guy can roll coal.
The girls called 911 and the cops found both vehicles. Any criminal with working brain cells, at this point, would find another place to be or another illegal scheme to pursue. You know, drive off to cook some meth, rob a 7-Eleven while dressed as a trailer-park ninja (this has happened, numerous times), or tie a chain around an ATM and try to yank it out with your pickup truck.
This man didn’t stop. He drove on the wrong side of the road, rammed police cars, went through a chainlink fence. You know, all the things. Only then did he cap this string of Good Decisions by seeing armed police closing in and reaching for that Nerf crossbow.
My only journalistic question is this: What KIND of Nerf crossbow? For they are legion.
The only way to put a cherry on top of this story is to find out that last detail, and to pray to Florida Man that the specific brand of Nerf crossbow turns out to be this one.
If this story doesn’t make you feel something, go immediately to the ER for tests, because somehow, you’re still alive despite not missing a heart.
For years, Meena Kumar has run a pet sitting service, Pet Fairy.
That’s cool. Not crazy uncommon or anything, but cool.
Here’s the twist: Meena was adopted, herself, so getting senior dogs adopted is a passion of hers, except she couldn’t volunteer at the shelter until she was 17, and she started doing this when she was 12.
What were you and I doing when we were 12? Yeah. Not this kinda thing.
And now she’s raised $14,000 to get that done. Is not a typo. We’re not talking four hundred, or fourteen hundred. Fourteen grand is enough to buy one Chevrolet Spark or ten classic Yugos plus a couple extra transmissions, because you’re gonna need those. Yugos tend not to go.
For her hard work, Meena is getting national press: Today.com, CNN, and now this blog, and it’s a miracle I’m writing about her, because there are Florida Man stories out the wazoo this week, like the people trapped in an elevator. Mechanical problems? No. Methed up idiot threatening people? No. An alligator was waiting to ambush them. Maybe the alligator figured out that this was a magic metal machine. Sit here, wait for the ding, and boom, like a fridge, fresh meat appears.
Get on with your bad self, Brainy Alligator.
So on this random Thursday, when we typically celebrate weird news, it’s nice to spotlight hard work and kindness.
Thank you, Meena–because this is the kind of story we need during the insanity that is 2020.
As a former journalist, I still love the news. If you cut me, I bleed newsprint.
Weird news is always interesting to read, with human beings and animals constantly finding new and unique ways of getting global attention. Usually for plumbing the depths of stupidity.
Nothing illustrates the why and how of weird news like Florida Man stories, named after newspaper headlines that start with “Florida man” and end with stuff like “snorts meth and robs 7-Eleven wearing nothing but My Little Pony T-shirt,” then in the story you find out after he ran off from the gas station, he hid from the cops in a nearby pond and was eaten by a one-eyed alligator who lost the eye in a famous battle with a drunken stripper back in 1985.
You think I’m exaggerating and mixing in plot elements from Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen novels. But I’m not. Go ahead, google “Florida Man” and read a few.
So it’s always fun when my medium-sized, square state tries to compete with Florida Man.
Doesn’t happen often. Florida Man is powerful, and my state is a great place to live.
That’s one take on the story, a good, straight headline.
Here’s why I like it, and also why it doesn’t quite meet Florida Man standards.
You only need a single element for a story to be news. In this case, a man burglarized a home.
That’s it. There’s conflict there, some kind of backstory–is he stealing things for drug money or is that home a specific target? There’s also suspense about the outcome–will the cops catch him?
The second element is the thank you note, which lets this story go viral. Who leaves a thank-you note? Was it done out of kindness, or did the burglar know the victim? Are we talking a 40-year-old professional criminal starting to feel remorse or a 9-year-old budding psychopath who’s watched too many episodes of HANNIBAL?
Our story’s third element adds value. He doesn’t run from the cops, or drive off to start a car chase. He tries to out-swim the cops. Funny to picture and if there’s video footage, that’ll go viral, too.
But it’s missing a fourth element, the special sauce of Florida Man stories: gonzo nuttery.
How would this story end if it happened in Florida?
That’s the fun part. He would have jumped into that canal and been eaten by an alligator, sucked into a bottomless sinkhole, or swim all the way to the Cayman Islands.
That fourth element can’t do all the work. It needs a character in conflict, a mystery about motives, and a head-scratching gesture. You need those three foundations for your final Florida Man Cherry on the Top of this Ice Cream Sundae of Madness.
You have the typical ingredients–(a) Florida and (b) police–with a new twist: (c) an unusual wild animal instead of a criminal idiot. Yet I don’t see the same fervor for stories like this today.
Instead, what seems to go more viral are stories like this one.
This is my theory: when times are good, we seek the opposite when it comes to news and entertainment.
The economy is roaring? Give us all kinds of zombie movies and Mad Max apocalyptic stuff.
Whenever times are bad–and they’re truly bad right now with the COVID pandemic and economic crash–I believe people seek feel-good stories like the piano player. Because we don’t have to search hard for weird and wacky news. You can turn on CNN or fire up Twitter and have your mind blown by the hourly nuttiness, often coming straight from the White House from the tweeting fingers of the man who possesses the codes to Earth’s largest nuclear arsenal.
So yes, give us a chimp helping a human.
And show us a bird who has different dances for each ringtone.
People need this sort of thing right now, a bit of humor or a dose of kindness.
I’m happy to see more of this style of weird news get attention and traction. It’s a good switch. We’ve had enough Florida Man nuttiness to last us decades.
Usually, a great weird news story takes a number of delicious ingredients that work together.
First, you need a person, typically a man, often from Florida.
Second, there’s usually some substance abuse: alcohol, meth, cocaine, LSD, magic mushrooms–or, if you’re in West Virginia, wasp spray. Yeah, I’m not making that up. Vodka and crank? Old and busted. Wasp spray is the new hotness, though it might make you may curl up and die like a foamy yellowjacket.
Third, your average, intoxicated Florida Man has a hard time crafting his own weird news masterpiece without other actors on the stage. You need a dangerous wild animal, explosives, firearms, motor vehicles, illegal fireworks or a silly crime, like trailer park residents dressing up like ninjas to rob 7-Elevens.
All this builds up to a crescendo of cray-crazy, with our anti-hero giving Mayhem a flirty look in a dive bar before buying her cheap tequila shots, making out in the parking lot and winding up half-naked in the dumpster, which happens to be on fire.
Finally, the typical weird news story ends with a 911 call with the police and paramedics arriving to (a) clean up the mess and (b) document the insanity. Mug shots!
Rarely do you get a great weird news story with a single ingredient so amazing that it stands alone, creating a supernova of stupidity and wonder, a blast of white-hot insanity so pure that it needs no help whatsoever from either the great state of Florida or the most powerful intoxicants on planet Earth.
This is one of those cases.
I’ve heard of headless chickens walking around after farmer’s lopped off their noggins. Seems half-mythical, half-believable, and I only believe because a family member saw it growing up and has refused to eat chicken ever since.
HOWEVER: here’s video proof that chickens have zombie powers. This freshly slaughtered chicken breast tries to fly off the restaurant table.
Here’s video proof. And yes, this is the best version of the video, with some decent science paired with silly muzak.
Undead tree stump
Here’s a bonus: there’s another zombie story in the news today, and this one is actually more important than entertaining.
Why should we care, aside from the fact that this sounds like the first three minutes of a B horror movie?
The tree stump is only alive because its roots are interconnected with other trees, all to share water and nutrients. Scientists say if this is a common practice, they need to rethink how they see forests. Instead of individual plants and trees, they may be more like a community, helping each other out and protecting against drought and erosion.
See? The headline is completely accurate, sourced to the police, and the police report adds even more weird news goodness:
He was throwing things at passing motorists
He told police he hadn’t slept for a week
He also told police that his heart was not beating
If I made this all up, and put it in a short story or novel, you’d laugh me out of the room.
But if I said this took place in Florida, you’d nod your head and add it to the long list of Florida Man headlines. So maybe the weirdest thing about this weird story is it happened in Kentucky, instead.
Here’s to you, Kentucky Man–you may be a pioneer, one of the first to truly challenge Florida Man, but I hope you’re not the last.
Odd creatures aren’t just a staple of weird news stories.
They’re a huge box-office draw. Name a blockbuster or billion-dollar movie and it’s almost a sure bet that they feature fantasy or alien creatures.
Think about it: AVATAR, STAR WARS, the Harry Potter series and the lame Harry Potter prequel series, STAR TREK, MEN IN BLACK, any of the 5,832 Marvel movies, LORD OF THE RINGS and the lame Hobbit prequel series that should have been one flipping movie.
Yeah, there are cute fluffy creatures sometimes. Yet just about every giant hit has a zoo’s worth of Ewok’s, orcs, space elves or cybernetic raccoons with a gun fetish.
So what gives a creepy sea creature, man-eating forest monster or elephant-sized wild hog such power to fascinate us?
Let’s break it down.
WILL THIS MONSTER SEE ME AS A SNACK?
That’s the most visceral attraction, a caveman instinct we can’t get rid of: paying close attention to obvious threats.
And yes, a healthy chunk of weird creatures–whether they live in the sea, the mountains or your local forest–tend to be predators with humans possibly on the menu.
IS IT FASCINATINGLY DISGUSTING?
There’s some crossover here. Many of the things that can totally go nom-nom-nom on us–like leeches, lampreys, giant squids and alligators–can’t be called cute.
A bunch of non-threatening weird animals are only interesting because they’re so bizarre and repellent, like the blob fish.
THIS CAN’T BE REAL
Other strange creatures get our attention because we can’t believe they’re not CGI.
How do Christmas Tree Worms really eat? Do lampreys have eyes or are they just a wormy eel thing with giant teeth?
THE FLORIDA MAN TEST
Weird news stories typically involve people in groups (usually men) late at night plus alcohol or drugs and the following optional ingredients: firearms, dangerous wild animals, explosives, 7-Elevens, the police. Oh, and the state of Florida, a state that generates so many weird news stories that headlines starting with “Florida Man” and ending with bizarre mayhem are truly a thing.
So whether or not an odd creature gets featured in a weird news story may hinge upon it passing the Florida Man Test, as in: can a Florida Man use this creature to generate a headline?
Two great examples: alligators, pythons and sharks.
Florida Man has robbed a 7-Eleven late at night, hid from the cops in a pond and been eaten by a gator. An entirely different Florida Man carried a live gator into a gas station and used it to steal beer or money, or beer and money (I forget, wasn’t there, sorry).
Pythons have overtaken the Everglades, and may be impossible to eradicate. They’re devouring local animals and even trying to eat the gators.
Sharks are another common element in weird news, with Florida Man getting arrested for dragging a shark behind a boat.
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy called Oregon, the local Empire decided to used tons of explosives to blow up a whale on their beach. It did not go well. But it was a prophecy, foretelling the explosion of weird news we see today.
Why is the exploding whale footage such a harbinger of things to come?
Maybe I just like to use the words harbinger and prophecy in nearby sentences.
Maybe I’m a trained journalist who loves to collect, analyze and dissect weird news stories.
And maybe, just maybe, I have a theory that explains the whole glorious Florida Man-style mess.
A Grand Unified Theory of Weird News
First: Weird news is omnipresent.
You’ll find it on an Oregon beach, in the middle of Alaska or on every acre of this land I call Florida.
There are strange people and bizarre bits of mayhem anyplace you look.
While my wife was in law school, I worked in this small-town paper in a place you can’t pronounce.
And listen, you would not believe the amount of mayhem I witnessed and wrote about, and not because the little town was a war zone.
Massive floods, with houses floating down the river. At least two serial killers. Political scandals. A man who died when a mobile home fell on him as he installed it. A sniper who shot at me (and everybody in sight) until the county sheriff deputies rolled up in a tank.
But if you look, there are always crazy stories happening locally.
Second: Weird news is not related to the crime rate.
This seems counter-intuitive. Criminals and criminally idiotic people make up the majority of weird news.
Take away petty crime and Florida Man stories would wither and die.
Yet the numbers are nuts, when you look at them. Crime is down and has been going down for years.
Things were actually wilder and crazier before today’s explosion of weird news. I mean, the late ’70s and early ’80s were Animal House.
You just didn’t know about every single thing that happens like you do today. Why is that?
Third: Weird news lives on the interwebs
Without the speed and reach of the Series of Tubes, you’d never hear about 99.9 percent of weird news.
Before, the only real way crazy news would spread was by newspapers, so feeding your need for Florida Man stories would require serious resources. Because your local paper would not devote a full page to random wire stories about crazytown happening far away.
There are entire sites devoted to the daily collection and curation of funny and bizarre stories.
Fourth: Weird news is intensely visual
This is the most essential ingredient. As a writer, it’s hard to fully describe the insanity of what you see.
Video is better. There is no substitute.
This is why Russian dash cam footage goes so viral. It’s raw, it’s real and the cameras are on all the time, so they capture all kinds of crashes and cray-cray.
Fifth: Smart phones, smart phones and more smart phones
Now that everybody has iPhones or Samsungs in their pockets, weird news is constantly being not only captured, but shared with the world.
All day and night. Everywhere.
You don’t need to have a TV crew on site, or watch the broadcast at 11 p.m.
So get out there and keep your phone handy. Florida Man doesn’t just hang out in Florida–he’s everywhere you look.