Skink for Governor!

Now, more than ever, Florida needs Skink back in the governor’s mansion.

Yes, he was last there in the 1970s when rapacious greed, astounding hypocrisy, gleeful corruption and contempt for the environment compelled him to flee into hiding. Only his trusted friend, former Florida Highway Patrol trooper Jim Tile, likely can find him today.

Please, Mr. Tile, find Skink and bring him back. Florida needs him. 

More than ever. 

The contrasts between Skink and the current governor and his predecessor are stark and depressing. 

As an avid reader I like that Skink for a time was a University of Florida English professor. As a sports fan I like that he was an outstanding college football player. His resume includes military service in Vietnam and although now in his 70s is still considered, by the few who have seen him, as Hollywood handsome with startlingly white teeth.

He is compassionate and well-read and a lover of the outdoors with a deep knowledge of Florida history. His real name isn’t Skink, but Clinton Tyree, a good name for a linebacker or politician or bluesman,

Of course, negative people, veritable trolls, might point out a detail that might not make Skink a viable gubernatorial candidate.

He is fictional, a creation of author Carl Hiaasen.

Don’t bother me with such trifles.

Who would you rather have?

Skink or Death-Santis?

Skink or Skelator?

The choice is obvious, even if Skink exists only on paper. But to readers of Mr. Hiaasen’s eight novels in which Skink is a character the make-believe 6-foot-6 former governor is more real than the Nowhere Men who have sullied the office in recent years.

I read Mr. Hiaasen’s most recent novel, “Squeeze Me,” this week. I started it while waiting in my 2003 Camry at a bank drive-thru lane and read a good chunk of the novel while waiting for that same ancient Camry to be serviced Thursday morning.

As I sat at at an outdoor picnic table at the dealership Thursday morning I couldn’t help but notice I was the only person reading an actual book.

But that is an aside, a useless observation from a hopeless bibliophile. As I read “Squeeze Me” I jotted a few Skink notes into a steno pad on a pleasant May morning.

He doesn’t show up until Page 233 of the 369-page novel. At first the names Skink or Clinton Tyree are not used but Hiaasen fans know he is about to burst on the scene and deliver righteous wrath on the bad guys.

From Page 234:

“He lived alone on a small tree island, surrounded by shimmering Everglades marsh. His camp couldn’t be seen from the air or water.”

Since Skink’s first appearance in “Double Whammy” in 1987 he’s been of my favorite literary creations.

Who wouldn’t want to be like Skink?

Tough?

Honorable?

Incorruptible?

Well-read?

Resourceful?

Brave?

Handsome?

Athletic?

But I do draw the line at one thing – his appreciation for for the dining delights of roadkill.
That’s where Skink and I part ways.

But we connected again Thursday morning as I sat at that picnic table within earshot of the bleats of car horns and wheezing of truck brakes near the intersection of Colonial and Fowler in the middle of Lee County’s urban sprawl.

The Florida that Skink loves is nothing like that intersection with its cacophony of jarring sounds.

Here is a good summation of Skink from Page 248:

“Angie hadn’t yet been born when Clinton Tyree fled the governor’s mansion in a fever of despair, later re-launching himself as a vagabond saboteur, striking out at everything he believed was going wrong in Florida,. … Nothing had been heard of him for so long that those who remembered his unglued heyday assumed he must have died of old age, or heartache.”

Even now, 34 years since his his literary birth, Skink is a force.

From Page 265: “For someone his age he displayed a freakish vitality. The soothing cave-deep voice and movie-star smile, which were part of the legend, failed to offset the thrumming, unsettled force of his presence.’

Skink and clearly Hiaasen share a sensibility and decency lacking in the now former president who is referred to in the novel by a Secret Service code name of “Mastodon.”

“The sitting president of the United States was a soulless imbecile who hated the outdoors,” wrote Hiaasen, who loves the outdoors.

Skink is clearly disturbed that such an unfit gibbering, amoral nitwit could somehow become president of the United States.

As he says on Page 234 to his friend Jim: “The country we both fought for is getting ass-raped by a paranoid, draft-dodging, whore-hopping -“

On the next page is more information about Skink that would mystify the ahistorical, semi-literate former president. Hiaasen writes about Skink’s moveable feast of a library, both fiction and nonfiction.

Skink’s book collection includes biographies of Lincoln, Churchill, Huey Long, Teddy Roosevelt, Joe McCarthy, “most of Caro’s LBJ series,” Reagan, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons and Obama.
The fiction includes Dickens, Rushdie and multiple editions of “every John D. MacDonald novel.”

There were more books. …

What a contrast to the former president who couldn’t pass an eighth-grade civics test. Skink could teach that as well as English and history on a graduate-school level.

Late in the novel at a storage facility Skink encounters a typical nitwit and asks the man if he is a reader. The man says no. Then Skink asks if he votes and the man’s clever retort is “Huh?”
Skink’s reply: 

“It’s the bare minimum, assuming you believe in democracy. Voting, reading, paying attention – those would be the fundamentals.”

Skink has my vote.

We need Skink.

Now more than ever.