Category: The Orchid Thief

When is a thief, not a thief? When he is the orchid thief.

The Orchid Thief Begins

… in which Mr. John tells the whole story of Adaptation’s “Fuck Fish” scene

One of the most asked questions about “the movie” is the “Fuck Fish” scene. It’s been a band name, a song, several memes, and it is a long-ass story and not the brief scene you get in the movie.

A Pattern Emerges

For many months after Hurricane Andrew and my divorce with Cindy, my life was a cesspool. I crawled out of homelessness, violence, and substance abuse, realizing that I needed to do “something” to recover a career and a life.

Contrary to popular belief, when I have a passion/career break or otherwise fail, I don’t throw it away lightly. If I can retool my knowledge, I will always prefer to do that over starting from nothing. Example: Collecting Fish > “Fuck Fish” > Pet Shop > Fish Import/Exporter/Breeder > Tanks to You. In another instance, Construction Summer Job > Partners with a Contractor Next Door > The HandyPeople.

It was no surprise then that I would seek to recycle my horticultural knowledge as I picked myself out of the wreckage that was my life.

What to do?

When I started my nursery businesses, it was with Cindy, and with my life’s work destroyed. I didn’t have the will to start my nurseries over again, especially on my own. Although, in hindsight, starting over was what I should have done. Instead, I kicked around a month or so and then responded to an advertisement placed in the newspaper classifieds. The ad was looking for a “nursery manager” for an upcoming project for the Seminole Indian Tribe.

The interview was more of a “checklist” of things they wanted and my affirmation that I could make them happen.

They don’t want much, do they?

“We have two tracts of land in Hollywood. We want a nursery on the first, both wholesale and retail. If this is successful, we want a second retail-only nursery on 441 (the main drag through the Hollywood reservation)”.

“We want tribe members trained to run the nurseries and care for the plants. You will be the General Manager.”

“We need some highly skilled labor to come out of this project. The knowledge that if they want, they can take what they have learned off-reservation and work anywhere.”

“We need to make money, not chump change but MONEY.”

“Finally, we have “special” medicinal plants as well as those that we use in our tribal rituals. These must be cultured and remain within the tribe.”

I responded slowly and with a measure of confidence and composure.

“I can do everything you want and more. I won’t tell you my full plans now, of course, because that would be stupid. You’ll need to buy into what I know.”

The response I got was that I was an arrogant and ignorant white man that thought that he could con the tribe.

I agreed that I was very arrogant (earned and well deserved), and explained that I deeply respected indigenous peoples all around the world. I gave him the cuff outline of what I could do.

The Sell

We could build a rotational tree farm on the large Reservation in the northern part of the Everglades; plant many highly desirable palm trees each year for 10-15 years. At the end of the cycle, you harvest, replant, and reap up to 20 million dollars annually, depending on the number and species grown.
I gave him a brief primer on micro-propagation and plant tissue culture, explaining that it was kind of like xeroxing plants. It required trained technical staffing, help to stock the nurseries, and help to deal with their “special” plants issue. I had a reasonably broad knowledge of ethnobotany. We spoke at length of Ayahuasca, Brugmansia, Amanita mushrooms, Ibogaine, Datura, Cannabis, Mitragyna (Kratom), Salvia Divinorum and Calea (Dream Herb) amongst others.

That Was Easy

I told them my salary expectations, they showed me my office, and the next day, I began my career as “The Crazy White Man” and “The Orchid Thief.”

Le Carnaval des Animaux’ (The Carnival of the Animals) : The Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns.

It was either this or “Under The Sea” which it too “Nemo”

Fuck Fish

… in which Mr. John tells the whole story of Adaptation’s “Fuck Fish” scene

One of the most asked questions about “the movie” is the “Fuck Fish” scene. It’s been a band name, a song, several memes, and it is a long-ass story and not the brief scene you get in the movie.

The clip from Adaptation

“Done with Fish”

The whole story

When I was 21ish and at the tail end of “The Rough Patch” (more about that later). I was looking for something wholesome to fill my hours, after bouncing around a few things that didn’t work out, I landed on marine fish collecting. Why? Well, my love of all things aquatic started in my childhood, and living on the coast in South Florida, I spent a ton of my youth enjoying the beach, fishing, boating, and the sea. My folks had a great love of aquariums and passed that on to me. It seemed a perfect fit.

The library saves the day

Way back then, we didn’t have the luxury of the interwebs, so I spent my time in the Library studying and learning. I stumbled across this book (see below), which turned out to be perfect. This man, Bob Straughan, outlined everything needed to start a fish collecting venture. Still, flush with cash from “The Rough Patch,” I bought everything I needed and, pockets lighter, I went out to one of the spots mentioned in the book, netted up some fish, and had a grand old-time.

An obsession begins

The Marine Collectors Guide
The Marine Collectors Guide

Armed with a few buckets of fish, I dropped into one of the local pet shops and walked out with about a hundred bucks and the promise that they would buy anything I brought them. I had found my thing. Clean, wholesome, adventurous, and decent money to boot. That I was getting carved and golden brown was a nice bonus too.

I spent months diving. Always alone and with nothing but a mask, fins, and snorkel. Yes, it was dangerous, but to me, that was a large part of the attraction. I was hurt regularly. Waves crashing me into barnacle-covered rocks, and if something could sting me, it would. You haven’t lived until you’ve sat on Fire Coral. One day while collecting Sea Horses, I stepped on a stingray. I still carry the scar that took 20 stitches to close. Generally, though, if I saw something like a shark or barracuda, I would leave it be, and it would return the favor.

As my “career” continued, I bought a fish tank after a fish tank to store my stock, and business was booming. Things were great.

Darkness falls. Bad things happen

Patch Reef in the early ’80s

Success breeds arrogance

With each victory, I took more and more risks. Someone told me of a plateau about fifty feet wide that was covered with stunning patch reefs, caves, and meadows of Seagrass. To reach it, though. I had to swim out about a quarter of a mile into the Ocean. I just had to go. When I reached the spot, below me, about twenty feet down, there was the plateau as mind-blowingly beautiful as I’d expected. Beyond it was an abyss that dropped, for all I knew, forever. There were so many fish I didn’t know where to start. By this time, I could hold my breath like 5 or 6 minutes. Usually, this was plenty of time to swim down, snag a few fish, swim back to the surface, and deposit the critters in the oversized life ring I had equipped with a diving flag and nets.

Nurse Shark Cruising and Chilling

Collecting Tropical Fish Today

Presently, what I did would not be possible. To conserve our amazing Florida coral reefs, nearly everywhere I hunted, the National Park has protected fish. This watery wonderland will be preserved for future generations (well until climate change kills the reef and drowns most of Florida). Fishing and Lobstering are permitted, but the collection of ornamental fish is strongly regulated. If you get to South Florida, carve some time out for a visit.

When I went out, I usually scouted about to make sure things were safe and look for prey. I had noticed a couple of Nurse Sharks cruising around, but they are typically harmless unless you mess with them, so I had no concerns. You will see in the photo there is an overhang/cave of sorts next to the nurse shark. I had looked into a few of these and found a gold mine of Jackknife Fish. At the time, each Jackknife Fish was a 20-dollar bill, and there was at least 50 swimming upside down in a six-by-five overhang. There was nothing else in the small cave. It was perfect.

With great excitement, I rose to the surface, gathered enough breath for a big dive, and shot back down. My gear consisted of a weight belt, a sharpened “poke stick” made of a lead pipe, my net, a mesh bag for the fish, and my wetsuit.

Gleefully, I started scooping up the fish. I knelt on the sand and instantly knew I was fucked.

Sand doesn’t move.

Jackknife Fish

What happened next was so fast and yet seemed to take an eternity. At first, I felt this incredibly painful crushing on my leg, and when I looked down, I saw a five-ish foot Nurse Shark gnawing with raspy teeth through my wet suit into my flesh. Sharks tend to spin when they are trying to kill their prey (or protect themselves), and this one was no different. It began twisting its body, alternately slamming me into the rock on the roof and the sand on the floor. I knew this was where I would die. As the cave filled with my blood and all the air I was holding in my lungs, I started beating it about the head and eyes;

Amazingly, it just let go. I had just enough peace of mind left to un-clip my weight belt and push-off the seafloor to the surface. Somehow I made it to my dive ring, paddled to the shore without a “real shark,” smelling the blood, and drove myself to the hospital. My leg looked like raw hamburger. I was battered and bruised.

Apparently, it is easy being green

Yes, it’s called a Slippery Dick. Stop giggling.
Molly Miller, the clown of the aquarium

I took several months off to heal and re-energize myself, bought all new equipment, and decided to give diving another go. Picking a particularly safe area where the worst thing that could happen is a scrape or an odd cut, I headed back out. The water was crystal clear and only five feet deep. I was after two, easy to catch, fish, the Slippery Dick and the Molly Miller, (who names these fish?!) each worth only a dollar, but money wasn’t the motive, getting my “sea balls” back was.

I poked around some (with a new and improved poke stick), caught a few fish, and then noticed a slightly larger hole and thought I could “go for it” and look about for a “real” fish.

Well, fuck me if this asshole didn’t pop out of the hole. The Green Moray can grow to six feet and weigh as much as 50 pounds. Human attacks are very uncommon, but when they happen, they can be severe.

Hi, my name is Asshole. I am a Moray Eel.

We stared each other down. I thought it was just an exciting encounter for a moment, and we would go our different ways. However, as usual, Darkness falls, etc. and it shot out of the hole, snatched my mask off, and cut the fuck out of my face. It then promptly retreated into its dastardly lair. Fucker.

Here it comes.

At this point, I hauled my ass out of the water streaming obscenities, ripped off all my gear, left it where it fell, and said: “Fuck this. Fuck the ocean. Fuck Fish. I am never diving, swimming, or anything to do with the sea.”

One of my favorite memes

For 35 or so years, I never set foot in the ocean. Well, I have gone in twice, but that is another story. I rarely eat fish. Fuck Fish.

Now, this isn’t the end of “fish” in my life; the tale will continue with “The Day I Met God,” however, that’s for another day.

Le Carnaval des Animaux’ (The Carnival of the Animals) : The Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns.

It was either this or “Under the Sea” which it too “Nemo”

Don’t Damn Me

… in which Mr. John wrestles with credibility issues

Throughout my life, I have had some issues with credibility. With my lifestyle and the crazy situations, I found/find myself in my stories are so fantastic, so random, so unlikely that some people have difficulty believing me.

Stories like The Pink Shirt are OK if a person has a few such incidents during a lifetime. When there are one hundred or more? The “Stink Eye” often makes an appearance.

Let’s Hear From A Couple of our Main Cast

If I didn’t witness half of them for myself, I would think most of your stories were bullshit.

Will Laroche

Near the entrance to the Seminole reservation in Hollywood, Florida, there is a large wooden sculpture of a Seminole man wrestling a bowlegged, bucktoothed alligator. Laroche told me once that his father had been the model for the Seminole wrestler. I found this improbable since the Laroche’s have no Indian blood at all, but Laroche explained that the sculptor had been a friend of his father’s and had asked him to pose because he thought the elder Laroche possessed a quintessential Seminole build. I still found the story improbable, so I asked Laroche about it several other times, including once when we were on the phone and I knew his father was in the room with him. I had counted on his father to act as a sort of lie detector, but instead, the two of them launched into a discussion of whether the carved Seminole was life-size or larger than life-size, and whether it had a penis, and what the scale of the penis implied about Laroche’s father’s penis. This was not what I was hoping would happen, so I dropped the topic and never brought it up again.

Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

Susan had the “Stink Eye.”

The Original Crazy White Man

When Will Laroche came to Florida in the late ’50s, a sculptor approached him. The man needed a tall model with a decent bod and large hands to pose with a plaster alligator. Money for just standing around was too much of a temptation for an ex Northeastern Crabber/Fisherman learning the ropes of High rise Construction. All he needed to persuade him was the promise that his face would be changed. Immortality, of sorts, would be his.

Seminole Indian Village
Defunct Indian Village With Offending Statue

The result rested in all its bizarre glory at the Indian Village for years. Every damn time we drove past it, I would hear the story — Every. Damn. Time. They even made a postcard out of the damn thing.

The statue was his “15 minutes” and in the eyes of a child, “a giant man kicking an alligators ass” was what a Dad should be.

When interviewing for The Orchid Thief, Susan would often give me “that look.” I was sure it was code for; “This guy is so full of shit,” which is what we shall call “The Stink Eye.” Frankly, I was amused. In this particular instance, I saw that she had dug her heels in, convinced that it was a manufactured story and brought it up several times, in an effort, I presume, to trip me up and prove the “lie.”

Hard Rock
This abomination of nature stands at the site of the original Indian Village

Chatting with the old man one day, I mentioned that Susan thought the statue story was bullshit, which pissed him off to no end. It was apparently “OK” for her to call me a liar, but to question him, that was unforgivable. I, honestly, begged him not to go on Orlean.

“Just let it go Pop.”

Letting go was not a real thing in my house, and the old guy gave me that “hold my beer” look and launched into it. I played color to his commentary, and the conversation ended as written by Orlean. In case of anyone wondering, we estimated the statue’s penis at some 15 inches.

The Orchid Thief Published

My old man had his penis in a book. Virtually, but still, it was his dick.

At first, he wasn’t amused. Throwing gas on the fire, I suggested that he send Susan a Polaroid of the actual member. Looking back on it, I think I might have invented the “Dick Pic.” (Sorry.) In the end, he came around and during a recital of the tale, ended it with pride that his dick was in a bestselling novel.

Years later, as he was dying, we talked about my life and what I had done and seen and reminiscing, he reminded me that there was something he had accomplished that I never had; Yep, someone wrote about his penis in a bestselling novel.


The point is that this is all true. Everything happened.

Old Axl and friends pretty much sum up what I feel when folks doubt or hate on my stories. Furthermore, they are spot on here:

I know you don’t want to hear me crying An I know you don’t want to hear me deny That your satisfaction lies in your illusions But your delusions are yours an not mine We take for granted that we know the whole story We judge a book by it’s cover and read what we want Between selected lines.


‘Cause silence isn’t golden When I’m holding it inside ‘Cause I’ve been where I have been An I’ve seen what I have seen I put the pen to the paper ‘Cause it’s all a part of me


There are so many things about my life that I hate, that disgust me, and when out of context, make me look like some Hellspawn. This said I wouldn’t change a single moment of my life because every tragedy and every triumph I have had in my life has brought me to now. I have the best wife a man could imagine and two brilliant children who have the brains and intelligence to change the world if they choose.

Listen, Learn, Make a Choice.

I realize I am a dinosaur, and my relevance to a 21st Century born is minimal. The world of most of these stories is dead and gone (which for the most part is a good thing).

As you read these posts, I hope they make you think and perhaps see things from a different perspective. See what I have done to cope with a life many are not blessed (or cursed) to have. I hope my choices help steer you in how you deal with tragedy or triumph. My way wasn’t always the right way; it’s just what happened. A mistake isn’t a mistake if you learn from it.

Guns N’ Roses – Don’t Damn Me

Don’t damn me when I speak a piece of my mind

A Quick One

… in which Mr. John is left speechless

Kerry and I got together shortly before Adaptation started shooting. We shared a comfortable, if not microscopic, flat in Boston. It was perfect.

The phone rings.

Me: “What?” (as I was apt to answer the phone at the time)

Father: “John! John! You will never guess what happened!” My father gushed.

Me: “Hi Dad”

Father: “You won’t believe it!

Me: “Are you OK? (there was a short pause)

Father: “You won’t believe it!”


Me: Oh. Neat! (another pause)

Me: Well, Pop did you get the question right? (an uncomfortably long pause)

Father: Umm . . .

Me: Dad!!!!

Such is my life. I had no idea how to respond to that except say “I love you Pop,” hang up and bust out laughing.

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