August 21, 2004


Code Orange: Best-selling novelist and serial muckraker Carl Hiaasen is mad as hell about what they're doing to Florida. His revenge? Vicious mockery of Sunshine State sleazeballs and greedy eco-thugs. An equally pissed-off Bob Shacochis tags along for a day of fantasy bonefishing and literary whup-ass. (Bob Shacochis, August 2004, Outside Magazine)

FOR SERIOUS ANGLERS, reluctance is an unbecoming mood, vaguely sacrilegious, and yet here we are at eight in the morning piddling around. Carl Hiaasen, boffo mystery writer and Miami Herald columnist, is standing on the concrete skirt of the brand-new swimming pool at his house on Florida's Lower Matecumbe Key, staring grimly at the tentacles of the broken brand-new pool sweep, glowering at it as if this thing, this perfidious techno-object, had been crammed down his throat by the scoundrel-ridden government. Then, because I'm making cell-phone calls in my car and exhibiting an absolute lack of urgency, Hiaasen rearranges the garbage cans. Eventually we drag our feet down his dock and load gear onto the boat with icy fingers and half a warm heart between us. You get the picture.

We haven't seen each other in almost ten years, and here's our chance to get out on the water in pursuit of salvations wet and wild. But Carl knows it, and I know it, and the birds know it, too: This is a lousy day for bonefishing in the Florida Keys. It's crybaby cold, and a 20-knot spring wind is blowing straight out of the north, down the scrubby backbone of the archipelago, greatly diminishing any chance that we'll find schooling fish and a moment of glory to break like bread between us.

Hiaasen frowns behind the console of his 17-foot Hell's Bay flats skiff, the 90-horsepower Merc gargling as we push off from his dock. He's not sure how to handle this weather and, after a minute of pinched reflection, guesses we should head ocean-side and slams the throttle forward.

If we were anywhere near the U.S. Navy, they'd blow us out of the water. We resemble a pair of jihadists racing into Allah's arms, dressed in jackets bulky enough to conceal suicide belts. Hiaasen has on some sort of Al Qaeda–brand ski mask that hides everything under the bill of his cap except his nose and sunglasses, and water pours off my mullah's beard as we thunder toward the channel between two islands, the skiff bucking and yawing through the turquoise chop.

"Tarpon fishermen," Hiaasen shouts over the engine as we race past a small flotilla of anchored boats bobbing in our wake, a flick of contempt in his voice. A world-champion bonefisherman, Hiaasen has stalked these flats for decades, but these guys are just snoozing on their backsides, freelining live bait on floats.

We head offshore, speeding across deeper water, but another skiff off our starboard bow seems to have the same idea.

"Where's this moron going?" says Hiaasen, scowling, but the boat fades off to the south. It's worth noting that whatever faces of displeasure he makes have little effect on the sparkle of youth in his blue eyes: At 51, Carl looks like a tallish, lean, but graying college sophomore on summer break, driving an ice cream truck around the neighborhood.

But I appreciate his impulsive vitriol toward other boats; our mutual fantasy is selfish and mildly misanthropic and yet curative as well. We want the water, the Keys, the beaches, all of Florida all to ourselves, which is about as deep as you can get in the angry utopian eco-nostalgia that I seem to share with Hiaasen and I don't know how many other Americans. Maybe it's just a baby-boomer disease, but I doubt it.

My boat good, your boat bad? Yes, that's a boomer syndrome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2004 11:34 AM

Selfish Jerk is the techical term.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 21, 2004 4:17 PM