Hot Damn!: Alligators in the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History, and Other Dispatches from Paradise

Hot Damn!: Alligators in the Casino, Nude Women in the Grass, How Seashells Changed the Course of History, and Other Dispatches from Paradise

by James W. Hall

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James W. Hall is the critically acclaimed author of eleven crime novels, including Body Language and Blackwater Sound. He's also published four books of poetry. And several of his short stories have appeared in magazines like the Georgia Review and Kenyon Review.

Now, writing in the spirit of Dave Barry and Garrison Keillor, Hall wins a new kind of reader with this collection of essays that run from insightful to opinionated, funny to wise.

Hall ponders subjects as diverse as his own love affair with Florida which began on a trip after college from which he never returned, to his equally passionate romance with books. He ponders the nature of summer heat, the writing of Hemingway and James Dickey, television, teaching, politics, fatherhood and much more. In the vibrant and elegant prose which characterize his fiction and poetry, Hall now proves himself a master of the essay as well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312316150
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/16/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 248
Sales rank: 1,196,586
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

JAMES W. HALL is an Edgar and Shamus Award-winning "master of suspense" (The New York Times) whose books have been translated into a dozen languages. His novels include the Thorn Mysteries (which begin with Under Cover of Daylight and include Blackwater Sound, Hell's Bay, and The Big Finish) . He divides his time between South Florida and North Carolina.

Read an Excerpt


Every time I see that bumper sticker—Florida Native—a ripple of envy and irritation flutters in my chest. It’s a rare and exotic club to which I will never belong because I’m one of those thousands-a-week folks who have been flooding into Florida for the last few decades. Although they tell us that the tide has slackened to 591 new residents a day, Florida natives are still as scarce and outlandish as manatees. How unfair it seems that even though I’ve lived in the state for well over thirty years (surely longer than plenty of the younger natives), I should still feel like an interloper.

In 1965 on a south Florida winter day much like this one, I stepped off the train at the Hollywood station to attend Riverside Military Academy It had been an incredibly romantic journey, a long rumbling train ride through the brown scraggly fields of Tennessee and Georgia, then into the expanse of green nothingness that was north and central Florida, until finally the palm trees began to thicken, the greens grew lush, and the windows in the train slowly lowered. Suddenly I was standing beside the tracks looking at a sky dense with extravagant birds, white and huge with lazy wings, long orange legs trailing.

I remember taking my first breath of rich subtropical air. There was something sweet and spicy in the breeze—that warm macaroon aroma with an intoxicating undertone of cinnamon that seems to waft directly from some secret Caribbean island. That afternoon I breathed in a lungful of air I have yet to release.

Though I didn’t have the words for it then, I knew the light was different too. Softer than the harsh and unglamorous Kentucky daylight I was used to. It had an almost romantic, twilight rosiness, a quiet light, yet at the same time far more vivid and precise than any I’d known before. A painterly January light. And while I had been on the platform of the Hollywood train station for less than a minute, I knew with utter certainty that I had taken a mortal wound.

Some time later that winter, I dropped the bombshell on my parents. I informed them that I had decided to turn down the Air Force Academy appointment my father and I had labored so hard to secure. I wanted to attend college in this newly discovered Shangri-la, Florida. While the shock of my passing up a free four years of college must have been incredibly difficult for them to absorb, to their everlasting credit my parents let me win that argument.

I never told them that the institution of higher learning I had chosen, Florida Presbyterian College, had caught my eye because the catalog I’d devoured in my boys’ school guidance office had numerous photographs of coeds wearing Bermuda shorts in classrooms. Ah, sweet Florida, what a sensuous and libertine land.

I did four glorious years of college in the charming and soporific Saint Petersburg of the sixties. On holidays I explored the west coast, the Keys, camping at starkly primitive Bahia Honda, building bonfires on midnight beaches, discovering out-of-the-way taverns that served cheap pitchers of beer and spectacular cheeseburgers, bays where fish jumped happily into frying pans, and unair-conditioned piano bars in Key West where writers huddled in the corners and talked the secret talk. I had never felt so at home.

Then I graduated, and after serving a bleak exile in snowy latitudes to collect two more degrees, it was finally time to find a job. I was so determined to return to Florida that I didn’t even bother applying for teaching jobs in any other state. It was a cavalier decision bordering on lunacy, for that was a time in the early seventies when teaching jobs were scarce and terminal degrees plentiful. Every taxi driver had one. When no job offer was forthcoming, I moved back to Florida anyway and put my new Ph.D. to use digging holes and planting azaleas, palm trees, and a host of other landscape plants around the bases of high-rise condominiums. Better to do manual labor in the relentless sun of Florida than to find myself in some university office staring out the window at the desolate tundra of Anyplace Else.

The phone call finally came. A new state university in Miami. The ground floor. A dream job. And then, little by little, all these years happened. But even after all this time, the light is still new and surreal and the air still drenched with spices they haven’t yet named, and the sky is chock-full of the most impossible birds. Parrots squawk across my backyard sky every morning at seven. Garish flowers big as Stetsons bloom in December. Some evenings the breeze is so luxurious I feel like weeping.

I kidnapped a boy from Kentucky and transplanted him in paradise, and he grew up to write books that sing the praises and mock the dizzy and perilous follies of this gaudy corner of the nation. I love this place. I have loved it from the start and have learned to love it more with every passing year—all its quirkiness, its stresses, this simmering melting pot where no one wants to blend.

I have decided we need a bumper sticker of our own—those of us who had the misfortune of being born somewhere else but who made the difficult choices, overcame the fears and complications and the psychic traumas of abandoning the safety of one home for the uncertainty of another. There are 591 stories a day about how we arrived here, and sure, not all of us were as swept away by the sensory treasures of this place as that eighteen-year-old kid on the train platform. Some of us came simply for jobs or to play golf in February or to soothe our arthritic joints, and there are many who find nothing to rhapsodize about in the sumptuous air or rosy light, the awkward, delicious grace of a heron rising into flight. There are many of those 591 who simply ignore or endure what the rest of us cherish. Well, let them get their own license plate. But as for the rest of us, ours should say, Home at Last.

HOT DAMN! Copyright © 2002 by James W Hall. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue. New York, N.Y 10010.

Table of Contents

Home at Last1
The Names of Things5
Florida Trifecta11
Nude Woman in the Grass17
Back to School23
Winning Me Over29
Dream House35
Two Homes41
The Hardy Boys47
It's not the Heat, It's the Stupidity53
Spring Rites59
"Nobody Knows Anything"69
After-Dinner Conversation75
Fresh Starts93
Car Wars99
Disney Virus105
Dry Tortugas111
The Smallest Christmas Tree117
Wooden Tennis Rackets127
Dripping Clocks133
Tubular Addiction139
April is the Cruelest Month145
Close Encounter151
Hot Damn155
Letter to My Father161
A Moving Experience171
A Walk on the Beach185
Faithless in South Florida197
Camping Out201
I'd Like to Thank You All for Coming207
Poet Sinks to Crime225

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"His new collection of 40 brisk, witty essays proves that poet and crime novelist James W. Hall (Blackwater Sound) is one of the region's biggest and most thoughtful boosters."—Publishers Weekly "Laid-back and quite competent ... to be enjoyed in the shade with the sound of the surf not far away."—Kirkus Reviews "Highly recommended."—Library Journal

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