Happytown 

This week we contemplated cruel and unusual punishment. Would it be death by firing squad, electric chair or a blood-spitting whip at the Holy Land Experience with Lizz Winstead? We'd prefer the comedic Jesus option, frankly.

click to enlarge BILLY MANES
  • Billy Manes

Is the fall here yet? If it is, forgive us. We’re still feeling a little stuffy, given the preponderance of body heat, hot tempers, the heat of passion and other heat-generating metaphors. But since we cover populist outrage extensively in the following pages, we’re going make room here for a different breed of frustrated outburst and violent thought. We turn to state Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, who, on Oct. 11, filed HB 325, which would eliminate lethal injection as a method of execution, replacing it with – get ready – a firing squad. “There shouldn’t be anything controversial about a .45-caliber bullet,” Drake told the Florida Current. “If it were up to me we would just throw them off the Sunshine Skyway bridge and be done with it.” (The second remark doesn’t reflect reality: Though the 431-foot-tall Tampa Bay bridge has allowed most of the 100-plus suicides to go according to plan, at least a half-dozen jumpers have survived their falls.)

According to the Current, Drake got the firing squad idea from a constituent at a Waffle House in DeFuniak Springs who was apparently exasperated at what he saw as the kid-glove handling of convicted cop- killer Manuel Valle. The death row inmate’s lawyers were able to delay his execution for nearly two months because of fears that pentobarbital, a new drug used to render prisoners unconscious for executions, may not actually work reliably. In addition, the manufacturer of the drug, Danish drug company Lundbeck, issued a letter of protest to Gov. Rick Scott. “The use of pentobarbital outside of the approved labeling has not been established,” the company’s president, Staffan Schuberg, wrote. “As such Lundbeck cannot assure the safety and efficacy profiles in such instances.” Yet on Sept. 28, Valle received a dose of pentobarbital anyway, and shortly thereafter, two other chemicals that paralyzed him and stopped his heart. Drake couldn’t care less. “I am so tired of being humane to inhumane people,” Drake told the Current. “In the words of Humphrey Bogart [sic], ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”

Drake’s plan would eliminate lethal injection as the default mode of execution, replacing it with the electric chair. What about the firing squad? As it turns out, in Drake’s plan, a death row inmate would have to make a special request in writing to be able to stand blindfolded and wait for the bullets – otherwise, it’ll be a seat in “Old Sparky.” The use of electrocution as a killing option was never eliminated in Florida – ever since lethal injection was introduced in January 2000, the chair has been retained as a second option, which we imagine was in deference to those who get squeamish around needles. Yet according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff, none of the 26 people that the state of Florida has executed since then have requested to be fried with 2,300 volts of electricity. It’s hard to blame them – in both 1990 and 1997, electrocuted inmates treated viewers to a morbid show, with flames reportedly erupting from their heads. After the 1997 fireworks – provided above the horizon of convicted killer Pedro Medina’s scalp – then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth commented darkly: “People who wish to commit murder, they’d better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with the electric chair.”

Even after the new chair was installed in 1999, “the apparatus that administers the electric current to the condemned inmate was not changed,” brags the Department of Corrections website. (The new chair, naturally, was constructed by inmates. If you’re in the mood for other examples of the sadism of Florida prisons, look up “air conditioning” on the Department of Corrections website.)

In Drake’s Dystopia, the chair would be front and center again, and perhaps, in this cash-strapped state, Drake will put forth a bill allowing spectators – his constituents, we imagine – to watch the squirming for a modest fee. That is, if someone can keep him away from the Waffle House.

Speaking of senseless displays of public injustice, we had the rather distinct pleasure of accompanying comedy queen (and The Daily Show co-founder) Lizz Winstead down a blood-stained irony slide into a theme-park crucifixion on Friday. Winstead, whom we hastily befriended last week (see “The land of abstinence and unicorns,” Oct. 13) popped into town as part of her “Planned Parenthood, I’m Here for You!” fundraising tour, but wasn’t about to miss the chance to point and laugh at the shalom shambles of the Holy Land Experience and its current combover proprietors, Jan and Paul Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. So exactly one thin red belt and two matching red shoes later (blood!), we found ourselves cavorting with the plastic wildlife at the Garden of Eden outside the park’s entrance and wondering just how horrible we would have to be to get cast out of the park by Jesus himself. Turns out we’re not quite horrible enough. The park, on the other hand …

Of greatest concern was the daily scheduled Passion of Jesus Christ show, because who doesn’t like the flogging of a fictional martyr right around lunchtime? Before that could happen, though, we dragged Winstead through a series of horrible events: a talking fish in a cave that was supposed to represent the belly of a whale in which “Jonah” was animatronically suspended, a gift shop, an almost unbearably sad funereal karaoke situation (or one old man singing), a diorama-esque replication of Jerusalem, another gift shop, numerous life-size cardboard standees of Jan Crouch cotton-candy crying and, well, a gift shop. We totally occupied Jesus.

“You should come back around 5,” a creepy holy-staffer told us with an uncomfortable giggle. “That’s when we follow the crucifixion of Christ by tossing Satan into the pit.”

Astute readers of this publication will know that the only real pit in this untaxed fallout shelter is, well, all of it. The Crouches are a pink hairball of controversy with a big gay wink attached, and the Holy Land Experience – even before the Crouches’ 2007 takeover – had an odor of tackiness (and garlic) that can best be equated with whatever fungus lives inside of your grandmother’s purse. Regardless, we were there for an event, so an event had to happen.

“I need a corndog,” Winstead demurred. “I need to announce that I’m running for president.”

What followed was an act of concession contrition that would eventually lead Winstead to both fellate a giant turkey leg and stuff a corndog into her sizable grandmother purse. The real announcement would have to wait, see, because Jesus was dying. Nobody upstages Jesus! On our rush to get over to Calvary’s Garden Tomb in time for the horror, we found ourselves behind a bearded man in a black cape who we swore had to be Jesus (or a guy who collects swords while not working at Best Buy) until we figured out that it was Fabio-Satan. If all of this sounds like an LSD liquor lunch – we swear to God that the nearly hour-long passion play was the gayest, scariest, oddest thing we’ve ever seen involving a whip that magically produces fake blood – that’s because it probably was. Or at least it feels like it now.

Post Jesus-beating, we made our way over to the Scriptorium (an overlong biblical history lesson that … oh, fuck it) only to have a woman in a pink headdress look us up and down and ask, “Are you guys in the fashion industry?”

“Nope, just naturally gorgeous,” we replied before running for the exit.

Outside, Winstead pulled out her Bachmann corndog and went for the gusto. “I’m really running, you guys,” she said as our iPhone clicked in close proximity to a plastic baby Jesus that Winstead swore was Justin Timberlake. This is how dreams are made. Or myths. Or politics. Also, who needs firing squads when you can just hang somebody on a cross? Amen.

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