TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- You know you're living in a weird state when there's a Festivus pole made out of beer cans displayed in the Capitol, a man offers to trade a live alligator for a 12-pack of beer, and a homeowners association has to create a no-swimming-as-a-mermaid rule.
Florida is the kind of state where lawmakers found it necessary to pass a law that bans using food stamps in strip bars. It's a state where dogs are trained to sniff out giant African land snails. It's where three Miami-area mayors were arrested on separate corruption charges in a single month and an officer got in trouble for giving Miami Heat star LeBron James a police escort to a Justin Timberlake/Jay Z concert.
It was, once again, a weird year in Florida.
"The rules are different here and people come down here thinking they can do anything," said Craig Pittman, a Tampa Bay Times reporter who tweets about odd Florida news and blogged about the state's penchant for oddness for Slate.com.
When you mix millions of tourists, transplanted residents from around the world, a culture that's often based on greed and strange wildlife, bizarre things are going to happen, Pittman said. People come here to party, people come here to hide and people come to make a quick buck.
"Why would you want to live someplace boring like Nebraska compared to here, where every day when you open the paper you're going to see something astonishing?" Pittman said. "Weird stuff happens in other places, but not nearly as much and not nearly as often."
And Floridians love guns. Sometimes a little too much. At least six people were struck by bullets falling from the sky during celebratory gunfire for New Year's Eve, the Miami Heat's championship and the Fourth of July.
A Hillsborough County deputy left a loaded pistol inside a bathroom stall at a movie theater, where a 9-year-old boy found it. A Walt Disney World visitor on a ride with her grandson found a loaded gun.
Even when Floridians try to use guns for good, they can get in trouble, like a shopper at an Orange City Wal-Mart who helped a store security guard capture a shoplifter by firing four shots at the suspect's car. Then there was the Deerfield Beach Wal-Mart employee who police said shot out a co-worker's car window because he was jealous she was named employee of the month.
A Broward County man was charged with pistol-whipping a Dunkin' Donuts employee for getting his coffee order wrong. A bullet fired at a Winter Garden gas station clerk was stopped by a cellphone in his pocket.
Cellphones weren't so lucky for two criminals. A man was charged with murder in Broward County after he pocket-dialed 911 and an operator heard him planning the crime, and an Orange City tow truck driver also pocket-dialed 911 and was overheard talking about drugs. He was tracked down and arrested.
Then there were simply odd calls to 911, like the man arrested in Pinellas County that drunk-dialed 911 complaining his drug dealer was mad at him. A St. Petersburg man was arrested after authorities said he dialed 911 about 80 times and asked for Kool-Aid, burgers and weed to be delivered.
Drivers in Miami called 911 after a truck driver stopped to pick up the dead body that fell out of the passenger door. Driving in Miami may be a little less weird now that a Miami-Dade officer is behind bars. He was pulling over female drivers and having suggestive conversations, asking one woman if he could see the scars from her breast enhancement surgery.
There were other law enforcement officers who got in trouble, like a Boca Raton police officer who resigned when his wife was charged with running a prostitution ring. A Lee County deputy and his girlfriend were charged with growing marijuana in their home. Two Tampa undercover police officers were fired for spending several hours drinking at a strip club while on duty.
Florida's strip clubs were in the news often. In four separate incidents, men were charged with child neglect while leaving children between the ages of 4 months and 7 years in cars while visiting strip clubs. One was a former NFL football player.
Another former NFL star made news. Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson was found in contempt of court when he slapped his lawyer on the butt in celebration after resolving a domestic violence charge.
An 18-year-old Miami woman created a stir on YouTube after she flipped off a judge. She later explained she was under the influence of Xanax and alcohol.
A Jacksonville corrections officer was convicted of filing false tax returns with identities he allegedly stole from inmates. A bailiff in Marion County resigned after love letters he sent to a female prisoner were discovered.
In other stories of love gone wrong, A Palm Coast man was accused of threatening to kill his wife during an argument about cleaning the kitty litter and Palm Bay police arrested a man who bit his girlfriend's thumb off while driving her to work at a Taco Bell.
An Orlando area prostitute was charged with attempted murder after nearly biting off a man's penis. A 19-year-old Bradenton woman was charged with biting her boyfriend's penis when he refused to have sex with her.
The Hernando County school district's chief financial officer resigned after reports she posted sexually explicit material to her blog during work and from school board meetings. A 60-year-old Thonotosassa elementary school secretary received dozens of calls and texts from men looking for sex when her number was mistakenly placed in an escort service ad.
In other odd school news, a jar containing a fetus was found in a Lee County classroom, a Deltona substitute teacher was ordered to leave after she heard imaginary voices yelling curses, a Santa Rosa Beach elementary school called in a bomb squad when a second-grader brought a grenade for show-and-tell and a Miami teacher was fired after she posted photos on Facebook showing her posing with students while holding bottles of booze.
Social media did add to Florida's weird year. A Tampa woman was arrested and charged with child neglect after posting a picture on Instagram showing her dangling her baby over a balcony. A Coral Springs high school student became a Twitter sensation after tweeting a photo of himself grinning while standing in front of his pregnant teacher as she went into labor. She went to the hospital but didn't have the baby until two days later.
Four north Florida men were charged by wildlife officials after they found a Facebook post showing them posing with wild turkeys and a dead alligator. One of them explained the alligator was roadkill he picked up, took home and ate.
Then there was the Miami man who walked into a convenience store and offered a live 4-foot alligator in exchange for a 12-pack of beer.
A man running from police in Pinellas County was attacked by an alligator while hiding at a water treatment plant. A 6-foot alligator walked up to the entrance of an Apopka Wal-Mart and stayed there as the automatic doors repeatedly opened and closed.
A Deltona woman turned her 45-year-old son in to authorities for keeping a baby alligator in their bathtub and a Palm Beach County man turned in his son after he sent a text message bragging about killing an alligator with a machete.
Among other animals in the news was a 200-pound kangaroo on the loose in Lacoochee. Hillsborough County deputies executing an eviction notice found 22 dead cats in the home's two freezers. Florida wildlife officials broke up a black-market monkey sales ring in Miami.
A Cantonment man died after being run over by his dog, which jumped in the running vehicle and hit the accelerator. A man who stopped on Interstate 75 to help a turtle cross the road was bit by a rattlesnake. Three thieves stole $8,000 worth of snakes from a Bradenton pet store by hiding them in their hoodies.
A Monroe County deputy who found a Key deer wandering around with a Doritos bag stuck on its head. And a potbellied pig born with fused, unusable hind legs became an Internet hit after a veterinarian had a tiny wheelchair built for the piglet, named Chris P. Bacon.
Leon County deputies used a stun gun to tame a 6-foot-tall escaped llama and also arrested a man they said tried to rob a convenience store with a cattle prod.
Among strange items found floating off Florida beaches: A purse containing $13,087.88, a burlap bag with $700,000 worth of cocaine, a diamond ring in a plastic bag and a brass urn containing ashes.
A Sarasota mall was evacuated and shut down for two hours after a man sprinkled some of his fiancée's ashes outside a store. Firefighters in St. Petersburg arrived at a home and the man inside wouldn't let them in to fight the fire. They broke down the door and found about 100 marijuana plants about to go up in smoke.
Among weird items found in people's bodies: A $5,000 diamond an 80-year-old Tampa woman swallowed during a charity event and had removed during a colonoscopy two day later and two necklaces a Pinellas County thief swallowed before his arrest and later detected by a jail security X-ray.
Among odd body parts found: pieces of a human skull and teeth in a carry-on bag at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and a human skull near the ninth hole of a Margate golf course.
A Miami man woke up to find a naked intruder choking his dog. A woman in Gainesville woke to find a strange man in her bedroom wearing nothing but a skull cap and running shoes. Police said it was the city's assistant attorney.
An 18-year-old man was charged with battery after giving people wedgies outside a Bradenton movie theater.
A Tampa-area woman was banned from swimming in her community pool in her blue, silicone mermaid tail.
A woman running for North Miami mayor claimed in campaign literature that she was endorsed by Jesus Christ.
And a celebration of Jesus with a nativity scene at the Capitol opened the doors to displays by others who don't believe in him, including a 6-foot-tall Festivus pole made out of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans.