"Board Stiff" is my May Dead-End Job mystery. This time private eyes Helen Hawthorne and her husband, Phil Sagemont, are hired by Sunny Jim’s Stand-Up Paddleboard Rental in mythical Riggs Beach, Florida.
When a customer dies in what looks like an accident, Sunny Jim insists she was murdered. Helen and Phil, along with dozens of others, saw her tumble off her paddleboard. Now they have to solve a murder with no witnesses and no weapon.
The setting is a cheerful beachfront town in South Florida, but I didn’t sit on the sand sipping margaritas to research my twelfth Dead-End Job mystery. I suffered for my art. I had to visit beach souvenir shops and check out the T-shirts. You won’t believe what’s on those shelves.
Florida may be the capitol of tacky, but visitors made us that way. I don’t know a single Floridian who would wear this T-shirt: PARTY WITH SLUTS – even if they did. But it sells on the beach.
I’ve never seen this snarky shirt on locals: I’VE STOPPED LISTENING – WHY HAVEN’T YOU STOPPED TALKING? But tourists buy it.
Tourist season ends here after Easter and Passover, but this weekend we’re packed with vacationers. The beach highway is plastered with these signs: "Caution. State Law – Must Stop for Pedestrians." Tourists are a protected species. We’re not allowed to kill them, in season or out of it. Visitors make it difficult for locals by staggering out into A1A with a beer in each hand. Nobody has 20-20 vision with beer goggles.
Along with the booze, the subtropical sun seems to soften tourist brains. Why else would someone buy these shirts?
I can’t imagine anyone in St. Louis wearing a shirt with a cartoon chef leering TONY’S ITALIAN – IF YOU LIKE MY MEATBALLS YOU’LL LOVE MY SAUSAGE around my hometown.
Wearing this shirt could be a public service: I PEE IN POOLS. But I suspect you’ll swim alone.
Somebody must buy these shirts, or they wouldn’t take up expensive display space. Locals rarely shop in beachside souvenir stores. Tourists must feel their vacation isn’t complete without a tacky T-shirt.
Do people really wear those once they get back home? Or are these shirts simply twenty bucks worth of temporary insanity?
Florida has its own brand of craziness. I saw this handmade sign on a souvenir shop in Lauderdale by the Sea: "No food, pets, wet feet. We Have Camera Surveillance!!"
Can a camera see if people’s feet are wet?
That shop had stacks of shirts that said: PLEASE TELL YOUR TITS TO STOP STARING AT MY EYES. I can’t imagine any woman desperate enough to date a dude wearing that. REEFER MADNESS was the only shirt I liked, and it featured coral reefs, not reefer.
My stomach turned when I saw Florida Gator Poop on sale. In a souvenir shop, it might be the real thing. I sidled closer and was relieved it was chocolate-nut candy. "Chocolate Lore," the package said. "To reduce calories, store your candy on top of the refrigerator. Calories are afraid of heights and will jump out of the candy to save themselves."
This research will make "Board Stiff" feel like a real day at the beach. I also noticed that the beer dives liked to cozy up to the sleazy T-shirt shops.
Which led me to devise the Viets Beach Law: The sleazier the bars, the slimier the T-shirt shops.http://tinyurl.com/c8qlkq6