Florida: "Don't look at me!"

The Sunshine State gets self-conscious as the eyes of the nation scrutinize its counting skills.

By Chris Colin

Published November 8, 2000 10:30PM (EST)

Florida, the shy, skinny state that has become the focal point for the country over the past 15 hours, reports that it does not like all the attention, and is feeling both embarrassed and defensive.

The state is rushing to provide a definitive ballot count -- the number will determine the next U.S. president -- and return to its comfortable obscurity.

"Please stop looking at me," Florida said this morning. "I'm counting as fast as I can. How can I count accurately when you're watching?"

Dark bags were visible under the state's eyes as it recounted the 5 million-plus ballots, and its hair was frizzy and unattended, like Spanish moss. It hadn't even changed out of the clothes it wore Tuesday, according to one witness. The former home of "Miami Vice" spent the morning hunched over tiny pieces of paper, punching frantically at a calculator.

"Why is the 'equals' button so small on this thing?" the normally sunny state was heard muttering.

Anxious citizens milled around outside, kicking at gravel and talking among themselves. Speculation as to the outcome of the recount was briefly interrupted by a Jeep full of college students, who thought it was spring break. Older residents, who have grown accustomed and even vaguely fond of the perennial partyers in recent years, only rolled their eyes this time. The Jeep drove on, turning its music up in humiliation.

"When, um, do you think you'll be done?" one observer asked Florida, cocking her head to the side casually, in an attempt to not appear impatient.

The state sighed and pretended to look out the window, even though nothing was out there.

Then it turned, abruptly: "Why not stare at Texas? Or North Dakota? Nobody ever looks at North Dakota."

"I'm sorry," it added after a minute of awkward silence. "It's been a long night, and this is all so ... new. I didn't mean to bark at you."

Indeed, the state has gone from its standard lowbrow mellowness to an unfamiliar and highly visible self-conscious irritability since the polls closed yesterday. Witnesses heard it curse when it couldn't find its flip-flops late last night, and some have suggested that today's 5 p.m. happy hour would be limited to a single near beer.

In other parts of the country, Democrats and Republicans alike experienced uncomfortable feelings about their older relatives living in the contested state. One New Jersey man, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed that he'd momentarily wondered if "the fucking state is crazy." The man, whose mother and stepfather live in Palm Beach, immediately regretted the impetuous thought.

Others reported that calls to family and friends in the state weren't going through.

"Did we take our phone off the hook?" Florida asked with an obviously sarcastic look on its face. "Doy."

Gore has assured the state that, despite the mix-up, nobody thinks it's "backwards" or "stupid and unsophisticated" or "a pus-filled nodule on the heel of this otherwise fine nation." And in a fax this morning, President Clinton offered his sympathy: "I feel your pain," he wrote. "And as you recount the ballots -- carefully, this time -- we stand completely behind you."

The president added that he almost visited SeaWorld in 1986, which he's heard is very nice.

Meanwhile, the state is hunkering down and doing its best to ignore the mounting pressure. Albert Grimley, a longtime friend, reports that encouragement is what's needed.

"We all think Florida is very capable," Grimley said, loud enough that Florida could hear. "Right? Don't we think Florida is very capable? Yes we do. Wonderful ... really."

Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

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