Howard Troxler's first column appeared in the Times on May 8, 1991. His last one will run in a few days. I'm proud to have known Howard for 20 years and marveled as he distilled a complicated issue to its essence in 550 words time after time after time. He doesn't just assert. He persuades. He never called people names, but he was happy to name names and call people out when they deserved it. He likes democracy and common sense. He doesn't like bullies or blowhards. Here is an excerpt from an early essay and, on Page 4P, more samples of his career's worth of columns. You'll see what I mean.
Jim Verhulst, Perspective editor
June 19, 1992
Let us compare the Florida Senate to the typical mugger.
The mugger is honest and straight- forward about his work.
He accosts you with his weapon. He demands your money.
You both know where you stand. There is no mistake about the nature of the transaction.
The mugger rarely feels the urge to deliver to you a pious, offensive speech to justify his action.
And then, mercifully, he runs away and is never seen again.
Not one of those things can be said on behalf of the Florida Senate.
Feb. 24, 1994
On disrespect in modern politics
I felt the same way about every president, even when I disagreed with his policies. George Bush campaigned here in 1992 and my Democratic friends made fun of me because I wrote what a thrill it was to see him …
Do people have a right to call Clinton a jerk? Sure they do, under the First Amendment. They have a right to burn the flag, too. I will fight for their right to do both. But not in my house. In my house, if somebody says, "To the president," I expect you to raise your glass.
Jan. 27, 1995
For the second year in a row, the Florida Legislature is wrestling with the question of exactly where it is legal for you to be naked.
You might think this is one thing you have got figured out. In my opinion, most people have a pretty good handle on where to be naked without much guidance from the Florida Legislature.
My own theory is that all of us have a little guy deep in our consciences in charge of suppressing the childhood urge to take off one's clothes and run around, yelling, "I AM NEKKID!!!"
If you could translate the running commentary he feeds to your brain, it might sound something like:
"Supermarket checkout line, no … public parking lot, nope … getting into car, nope … driving down interstate, hmm, better not … living room, not in front of the picture window … bedroom, okay, NOW."
April 5, 1995
Insult aside, the real accomplishment of talk radio and talk TV in American life has been to accelerate the divorce of opinion from fact. It is no longer necessary … if, in truth, it ever was … to base opinion on some smattering of fact. We have become a nation of 250 million know-it-alls, knowing more than the universities, more than scientists, more than judges and juries, more than, above all else, the president of the United States, who is incessantly wrong, and not only wrong, but foolish, and not only foolish, but actively evil, a man to be reviled, to be mocked, of whom not one good thing can be said … a president who, between smoking marijuana, screwing bimbos, sneaking out of the White House to commit murder and conspiring with his shrewish wife to destroy the moral values of America, in his spare time commands the Marines to wear lace panties, and aids Them Mexicans in stealing our good 'Murcan jobs, a man who takes the wrong side of every issue, and who has compiled an astounding record of wrongheadedness. It is a miracle the Republic survives.
Feb. 17, 1996
From New Hampshire
Iowa was not as bad as this. Iowa had the grace to be embarrassed. Iowans kept asking: Do you like us? Do you really like us? Do you mind that we're having this vote? Say, you aren't making fun of us behind our back, are you?
New Hampshire is a parody of itself. It is a lovely state gone insane. New Hampshire is Bette Davis with a crazy glint in her eye, holding a terrified Joan Crawford hostage in the attic. The candidates take turns playing Joan Crawford. They are terrified.
Jan. 26, 1998
"Say 'go' or 'no go,' " a stern voice says, and goes down the list of unintelligible departments. STM? "Go.'' SRB? "Go.'' MPS? "Go.'' Range weather? "Go.'' And so forth. All go. Actually, they do it twice.
"At this time, we have no constraints for launch,'' a voice reports. Then, more informally, to the listening crew: "We'll try to get you out of town tonight.''
The clock starts again.
By the dozens, we move past the grandstand, into the field, down past the countdown clock. Up close, you hear it humming, not ticking. Down to the shoreline. Silhouettes only, shadows moving in the darkness, whispering. The loudspeaker in the distance: Five minutes. Two minutes. One minute. We stand in silence. Ten. Nine. Eight.
"Main engine start.''
Dec. 1, 2000
It has come to this. A rental truck full of chad rumbles up the Florida highways to the capital city, while the Legislature convenes to hold its own election for president, and 10,000 lawyers sue each other while waiting to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court stomps on the whole thing like Godzilla.
The Ryder truck is perfect for Florida. No, wait. It would be perfect if the driver had his turn signal blinking the whole way. If the guy ran out of change at the tollbooth. If he got stuck for hours behind somebody from Michigan driving 45 mph in the left lane. If he got robbed at a rest stop. If he opened the back door and little Elian popped out.
Aug. 22, 2001
It is a good thing that back in Luther's day they didn't have Designated Protest Areas.
Modern spin doctors would have fenced off Luther out of sight, several blocks away, where he wouldn't bother decent people. There would have been no nailing of anything on the church door, nosiree.
"Hey, look at me!'' I can hear poor Luther shouting, his voice echoing across the empty cobblestones. "Look, I have some Theses!'' Everybody would figure he was a nut. All the big scribes would be blocks away over at the university. At most, Luther would get a tiny, it-takes-all-kinds photo back on page 7B of the Wittenberg Daily Bugle ("Lone Protester Fails To Spoil Leo X's Day.'')
July 5, 2002
By making fun of visioning I doubtless am guilty of failing to think outside the box. It is understood in our modern business and consultant culture that one must not think inside the box. The box is a bad place to think. It is not clear what activities are permissible inside the box, but thinking certainly is not one of them …
One might well ask: How big, exactly, is this box? Why is it not big enough? Do different people have individual boxes, or are we are all inside the same box? If one person has a really spacious box, then could that person be thinking inside the box and yet still be doing better thinking than a person thinking outside a considerably smaller box?
Oct. 14, 2004
Here is how it needs to work.
A parent calls the Pinellas County schools and says: "You're making my kid cross several lanes of traffic to get to and from the bus stop."
An alarm goes off or something. A big red light starts flashing in the school bus office. The school bus person says: "That is an emergency! It will be fixed RIGHT NOW."
And then they fix it …
Yes, they all have important meetings to attend, and they all have important memos to write. But maybe the idea of not getting kids killed might be, you know, more important.
April 1, 2005
As for her private legacy, as for the lives she changed and the pain of those now left behind — may it fade now from the television screens and the newspaper pages, may their suffering be made gentle with time, may each of them find what peace there is to find in this world. May they make the rest of their journey in the way that all of us should make it, not in denial of an inevitable and universal fate, but with joy and gratitude and awe that we have lived at all.
Oct. 20, 2005
When politicians in ancient Rome wanted to look good, they asked their priests to consult the gods.
By an amazing coincidence, the gods always approved of whatever it was the rulers were doing.
Here in modern Florida, we have the same set-up. We have an outfit called the "Florida Commission on Ethics."
This "Ethics Commission" is in charge of saying that unethical conduct in the government is okay.
Feb. 14, 2006
On Pinellas County's plans to develop Fort De Soto Park
Maybe you are thinking: "Hey, this is great! I want Fort De Soto to be more like a commercial beach, because we don't have enough.
"I want restaurant traffic, even on Sunday morning, and alcohol sales to boaters," you might be thinking. "And while I am taking a hike, I want an ice-cream cart coming around. Heck, I even hope it plays one of those little tunes."
Me, I am not thinking that.
I am thinking that the county has lost its freaking mind.
Jan. 23, 2007
Oh, sure, that's the kind of place I want my city to be — a city where, when kind-hearted people donate tents to the homeless, the city stages a raid and cuts them up.
May 15, 2008
Here is what I would do if I were the governor. I would march down to the office of my secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and start kicking him square in the butt.
"Ow, governor!" DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole would exclaim, trying to protect the region in question from my gubernatorial brogans. "Why are you kicking me in the butt? Please stop!"
But I would just kick him in the pants again and say, "Not until you fix this toxic chemical plume in my hometown of St. Petersburg! Your department has been dillydallying about it like a bunch of $#%$%s forever!"
Feb. 1, 2009
The police chief of St. Petersburg is good at math. Every time somebody gets shot, he can prove with statistics that it probably didn't happen.
April 28, 2009
On a proposed crucifixion license tag
Jesus is to be mass-produced, imprinted on metal, given a reflective coat and sold for money. His crown of thorns will lie just beneath the "FLORIDA" across the top of the plate; his outstretched arms will be truncated to the left and right by the tag numbers, so that one does not actually see the cross, the nails, the wounds — no, we would not have that! The words "SUNSHINE STATE" will be stamped across his unscathed, unlashed torso.
Sept. 22, 2009
It took the St. Petersburg City Council exactly one meeting in early 2008 to decide to chase a $450 million baseball stadium.
But for something really important— whether street vendors such as Joy McGhee can sell hot dogs downtown after 9 p.m. — that decision is taking month after month.
Jan. 19, 2010
Now and then the Legislature does something you agree with. This is always a pleasant bonus, like finding old money in a jacket pocket.
March 10, 2011
On a proposal to build golf courses in state parks
At this point, words fail.
Parody is now dead in Florida. Irony is dead.
What good are parody and irony? What good are words?
What good are alligators?
What good is sawgrass?
What good are spoonbills, black bear, panthers, eagles, gopher tortoises, manatees?
None of it matters. The state is dying.
March 29, 2011
There is no state, no nation, no planet, and no universe where it should be legal to pay off a Legislature directly.
There is no government in which a sworn lawmaker should be able to take unlimited payoffs from those seeking favorable treatment.
And yet this is now precisely the law of Florida.
April 21, 2011
I have decided it does not matter as much what one does in life, as whether one does it well, and continues to find satisfaction in it. The Emperor Diocletian, having ruled the entire Roman world, decided to chuck it all so he could tend to his garden, which I hope he did very well.
As for me, in the place we are going, I think I will learn to make jam, walk Louie the Dog every morning, try to be a good person and a good citizen. I can assure you that it will be far beyond the reach of the Florida Legislature.