Book List: Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen

May 13, 2019

In Book List, ordinary reader Linda McDonald, shares book reviews of her latest reads. She has read her entire life and is a writer, who wishes now she’d kept a list all her life of the books she’s read.

During my 16 years in Florida, I discovered journalist Carl Hiaasen, an insightful, practical and skilled writer. I also knew he’d authored books, but I hadn’t read them. Call it coincidence, or fate, I found his book, Skinny Dip, in late 2018.

Skinny Dip is a work of fiction, and outlandish fiction it is. For me, the outlandishness is what makes the book humorous and entertaining, although in a couple instances, Hiassen almost pushes too far. It all takes place in South Florida. If I learned nothing while I was in Florida, I did learn that South Florida is crazy land. Anything goes and people are cutthroat.

Early in Skinny Dip, we learn that a main character, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office detective wants to move home … back to Minneapolis. I recently moved to Minneapolis, which for a North Dakota native was almost like going home. Like Detective Rolvaag, I wanted to be closer to extended family. Hiaasen does an accurate job throughout the book to contrast the two areas of the country that are as different as, well, north and south.

The story is about a schmuck of a husband who takes his wife on a cruise for their two-year wedding anniversary. Sadly for her, he wants it to be their last anniversary and he tosses her overboard.

I’d like to think that what happens to her is pure fiction but knowing Hiaasen’s Florida journalism career and the whole “Florida man” phenomenon, it is possible a real story inspired Hiassen. The wife, Joey, survives because she was a successful college swimmer and she catches a lift on a floating bale of Jamaican pot.

The pot bale carries her to an ex-cop who lives with only his Doberman on an island. He nurses Joey to physical recovery, and then the hilarity and romance ensue. Along with the outlandishness.

For example, the schmuck, Chaz, – who by the way claims to hold a PhD in biology, specifically wetlands ecology – is an idiot. If not for his villainous side, I could see Jerry Lewis playing him in the movie. Chaz can’t seem to get the killing thing right and bumbles as clumsily as Jerry Lewis did in every film.

Naturally, Chaz has some bad friends, one with a lot of money who is used to everything going his way. Chaz believes he is smarter than them and continues his buffoonish struggles amid the spreading web of lies he creates.

The law enforcement side of the book may be a bit farfetched, but for this particular story, it works, I think. It adds another layer of subtle humor that I enjoyed. Detective Rolvaag’s Scandinavian roots show in his quiet, stoic and somewhat skeptical demeanor. Hiaasen also recognizes the ‘only in Florida crazy’ for what it is.

However, it rings true to Florida when the sheriff from the next county calls the Broward County sheriff after Rolvaag interviews Chaz’s rich friend. Friends in high places that help other friends with money out of jams is the norm in Florida.

Despite his ‘bereaved widower’ status, Chaz seeks romantic escapades as consolation. His guilty conscience proves to get the better of him on that front. Back on the island, Joey and her savior, Mick, try to determine Chaz’s motive and plot her revenge. Fortunately for them, Joey has truckloads of money thanks to a family inheritance. Her equally rich brother, joins them and contributes to the fun.

I enjoyed the romance, the silliness of the situations, along with Hiaasen’s rich use of vocabulary. He also shows his journalism roots as he briefly reports on the state of Florida’s Everglades, which has only worsened since 2004, when Skinny Dip published. As summer approaches, this would make a good beach read.

Book Details

  • Book:                    Skinny Dip
  • Author:                Carl Hiaasen
  • Published:           2004
  • Published:           Warner Books
  • ISBN:                     0-446-69556-4
  • Read:                    April 2019

Borderline respect

January 9, 2019

3statesRecently, I moved for the fourth time in 16 years. The moves took my family and me to three different states and four different cities. One was a move across town, which led to discoveries much like a move to a new city can bring.

We were able to do this – in this land of the free and home of the brave – because none of our states have enacted border walls. That does not mean we didn’t have to comply with new laws and requirements to legally live in our new state; we did. They’re different in all states.

Some of those regulations (especially in our last move) are expensive. They have time limits, that is, you must complete them within a pre-established period of time. For example, in my new state, I had to get a new driver license and license plates within 60 days. These are not extreme demands. If I want to embed in this new place, new home, I must do so lawfully. If I choose not to do so, it is the state’s right to take action against me.

Notice the parallels? If I wanted to move into the US from another country, I may or may not have the option to do so. This country, founded by only immigrants, has decided that we don’t have enough room for more. Those who are not like us are not welcome. Whatever “like us” means since Americans are already a diverse people.

I can tell you that when I moved from the north to south, I was significantly unlike the native southerners. We didn’t even talk the same thanks to different dialects, nor was our language exactly the same. Pop or soda? Pen or pin? La-fay-ETTE or Luh-FAY-et? Shopping cart or buggy?

They didn’t kick me out because I was different. They embraced me, and we exchanged stories about our different cultures and weather extremes.

Had I not complied with the requirements and cultural norms, my positive experience would have been short-lived. The greatest parallel I see is that if as a country we enforced the immigration laws of record, we could continue to be the “land of the free and home of the brave” with new, happy citizens here and ready to contribute to this creative country.

It requires bravery to move to a new state – or country – thousands of miles from your family, friends and familiar surroundings. My goal was not to leave corruption, violence and danger behind, which is the goal of so many immigrants. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on them and me to follow the new laws.

No wall necessary. No additional taxpayer dollars necessary. Social service groups and nonprofits can still assist immigrants as they assimilate and hey, could even help fund the costs of legal immigration for them. From there, we will continue to be the ‘melting pot of the world.’


Love. Dance. Be kind.

February 17, 2018

Love. Dance. Be kind. That sums up, for me, Ellen DeGeneres. Years ago, I loved her sitcom. Maybe it was my age then, late 20s, that made me not pick up on the big deal her coming out was. I was young, sheltered and naïve. I also was young with a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. I realized later how much that cost her in her career, yet still it didn’t have a direct impact on my personally.

We are close to the same age. I’m two years younger, so we grew up in the same era. But in vastly different places – she in Louisiana, I in North Dakota – and with distinct experiences.

Fifteen years or so ago, she launched her talk show. I freelanced then so in my home office, I could turn on my TV at 4 p.m. and close out my work day with Ellen entertainment in the background.

She is funny! I mean ROFLMAO-funny! In the silliest of ways. That is what I loved most right away. I’m not naturally funny, which is in part why it attracts me when I see it in others. I have one friend who I think is as funny as Ellen. Interestingly, their birthdays are one day apart (he is five years older than her).

Early in her show, she wrapped up her opening monologues in a dance with the audience. She pulls off dorky dancing to make it look cool. But unlike the popular kids back in high school (or still today), she never made me feel intimidated or untalented. To see her dance is to feel joy. To think, “Carpe Diem” – Seize the Day.

Soon, I also began to see her kindness and generosity, to both people and animals. Oh, how she loves animals. She reminds me of my daughter in that. Their love of creatures represents the depth, and the fragility, of their hearts.

They love so deeply and hurt as deeply when they see injustices. Their hearts crack whenever they feel hurt or when they see others (human or animal) hurt.

Ellen recognizes the position she eventually attained in her career that enables her to be generous to others. Her acts are heartwarming and as I watched her show, I saw on her face how genuine she is in her compassion.

Her sense of humor, I suppose, also makes her a prankster. Since I was a dork when I grew up, I’m not so keen on the pranks … but she does make them funny to watch. And I know, none of us should take ourselves too seriously.

She loves her momma. As I understand it, her momma stood by her through all her ups and downs. Loved – and liked – her for who she is, even if it’s different than momma. I try to be that momma for my daughter, and it is not the momma I have.

Love. Kindness. Laugh at yourself. Dance. Enjoy the cute babies and the funny animals. Give what you can to help others – a smile may be enough.

I think she cannot make me funny but I sure wanted to go be part of her writing team. Still do. Funny and creative beget funny and creative. I must surround myself with those kinds of influences to help myself achieve all I can and should achieve.

Thank you, Ellen. You are one of the role models America needs. I believe you try to see people from the inside out – to who they really are – which is what I also try to do.

© Linda McDonald 2018


American pride

September 26, 2017

AmericanFlagFor more of my life so far than not, I was never a sports fan. Then nearly 21 years ago, I married an avid sports fan and lifelong athlete. About 12 years ago, my husband’s love of sports and the rise of Tim Tebow (University of Florida) as a hometown celebrity in the Jacksonville area where we lived then, brought me to sports.

Before that, however, the one thing I did love about sports events was the roar of the crowd as our United States’ national anthem ended. That enthusiasm – yes, for both the musician/signer and the game’s start – is unmatched by any other venue.

Given recent national events (thank you very much #POTUS – read, sarcasm font), my fear is now that in typical American extremism fashion, we’ll move to no more national anthem performances or military jet flyovers at these events. That would break my heart.

America is not perfect. We are apparently slow learners when you look at our ongoing racial tension. In the greatest country on Earth, we have children and families who go to bed hungry each night. Gun violence is out of control and crime rates should embarrass and concern us all. Each one of us, should be better than that.

Right now, what I see and hear, is pouting and juvenile behavior on both sides. I don’t believe this tantrum will not result in positive change on any serious issues in our country. Kneel if you like, stay in the locker room, stand with your hand on your heart because, thank God, other Americans have been and continue to be willing to fight for our freedom to express our views.

For angry fans, I ask you to think about games you’ve attended and how many in the crowd also ‘disrespected’ America because they were buying a beer, chatting with their friends or otherwise also ignoring the national anthem. My guess is that most of us truly have no right to cast stones at the individuals now who choose to take other actions during the anthem.

I like this opinion piece statement from Martin E. Dempsey, retired Army general, Duke University Rubenstein Fellow and chairman of the J. NBA Leadership Council. “For those who don’t like standing because they disagree with what America has done, stand and pay it forward for what you think America should do. Then, as the last echoes of the anthem fade away, go back to arguing for change from that foundation of promise that is the national anthem.”

So, drop it and move on, please. If you are in a position with money and a celebrity-level platform, use it to effect real and positive change that continue to make our country great and greater. If you don’t have those resources, effect change from where you are in the ways you are able. Together, in our diversity when we remain civil and courteous, we are great.


Follow the rules

September 5, 2017

As a 5th generation American, I accept and firmly believe that this country – this United States of America – was built on a foundation of immigration. Then, as now, if you want to live here, you must follow the rules, please.

My great-great grandparents immigrated, as did so many others back then. They followed the rules and took the necessary steps to do it legally. Similarly, when they homesteaded in harsh North Dakota weather extremes, they followed the rules to do what law required so they could be thriving citizens.

It seems to me, as long as any person has to hide because they haven’t followed the laws, they are not and cannot be thriving citizens. That resulting lack of freedom leaves them short of full participation. Mostly, it hurts them far more than it hurts the rest of the country.

Does it cost money to follow the rules? You bet it does. A couple of weeks ago, it cost me nearly $60 to renew my driver license. Something that I remember being free not too long ago. I had to manage my income and spending so I had the $60 for that renewal that allows me to keep lawfully driving. Driving allows me to get to my job to continue to legally earn money to support my needs and my family needs.

That’s how it works. I don’t have a $9,000 (exaggeration intentional) cell phone because I know I need my money for other expenses, too. Maybe if I immigrated here from another country, I would buy a cheap phone, eat ‘rice and beans’ as financial counselor Dave Ramsey likes to say, and whatever else it took to have the money necessary to attain legal US citizenship.

Easy? No. Who ever said it would be? If I moved to another country where I wanted to live, I would expect them to make it a bit hard – to earn it. That country would also expect me to follow their laws and rules.

Being a free country built by brave immigrants a couple hundred years ago does not negate the necessity of rules, laws and structure. All I ask is that you just follow the rules if you want to live here.


Today is eclipse day!

August 21, 2017

Be careful out there. Today, Aug. 21, 2017, is a big day – the first total solar eclipse visible in the US since 1979.

I’ve heard several say, “It’s a once in a lifetime event.”

Well, not exactly for many of us. For example, on Feb. 26, 1979, when the last one occurred in the US, I was 18 years old. I was probably in class so sadly, I don’t remember that one.

The next one will be April 8, 2024. Now, I realize no one knows what the future holds. My driver license expires in 2025 so I expect I’ll be here for that one, too. At least I hope so …

I heard an ‘eclipse chaser’ over the weekend tell a reporter, “It’s a life-changing event.”

Ummm, I don’t quite get that. Who knows? Maybe it was the eclipse of 1979 that began the trajectory of the next 38 years of my life. Somehow, I doubt that.

All that aside, today is an exciting day. I’ll be in work; however, I do plan to step outside to check on it.

Without looking at the sun. Never look at the sun, especially during an eclipse.

If like me, you don’t have the proper protective glasses, please do not look at the sun. It stinks, I know. I’m annoyed with my lack of planning that’s resulted in no special glasses. Sunglasses don’t cut it.

I plan to use the old school, low tech simple card projector. Ultimately, it is the only approach I feel confident with in lieu of the proper glasses.

All the major networks will track it and NASA offers live streaming, as does the Weather Channel on its mobile app.

Here are a couple of helpful and reliable resources, in case your planning just started.

Finally, just for a quick smile, check out today’s Google doodle in the spirit of eclipse day.

Have fun, stay safe and in awe, admire the grand power of nature in this impressive show.


Red roads lead to home

July 30, 2017

With family and deep family roots in North Dakota, I spent much of my life in central and western North Dakota. My paternal grandparents farmed in a small western ND town, Golva, just a few miles from the Montana state line.

Golva is less than 200 miles from the state capital of Bismarck. Across those miles, the geography transforms. The same is true when you head east toward the Minnesota line. The artistry of the glaciers is quite amazing, if you stop to think about it.

This website explains in easy-to-understand terms how glaciation did what it did to the Northern Plains. My most favorite part of the state is “The Little Missouri Badlands.” Since I’ve not yet seen the Grand Canyon (can you say, “bucket list?”), I describe The Badlands as a small Grand Canyon.

So, when this weekend my husband’s sister-in-law posted a picture from Montana where their little family attended a wedding, I returned to my past.

Her photo comment about scoria roads took me back to the drive to my grandparents’ farm. The drive was always for my siblings and me, both torturous and thrilling. It seemed to take forever with many, “Are we there yet?” moments.

Yet, when we hit the red rock road, a.k.a., scoria, our excitement heightened because we knew we were close. I always loved the scoria roads and the scoria all around in the rock wall formations of the glaciers.

Funny how you can forget, and then in an instant, memories pop to the surface. Several years ago, the county (I believe) paved the road to Grandma’s. For ND winter maintenance, I’m sure it was a wise decision. Easier to plow and easier to drive.

Yet, it covers an element of western ND charm – scoria. I understand it’s still there and is west of there. In the southeast, where I live now, some areas have red clay. Still, it’s not the same as the red rock and doesn’t have the sentimental value for me that scoria has. Silly, I guess, that red rock can make me smile.

Schmeling Farm Yard-2 5-2002