Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

Days after my high school graduation, a new movie was released. Jaws was an instant sensation, but I was too scared to go see it. Every night this week we have real life Jaws brought to our living rooms courtesy of the Discovery Channel. We’re going to need a bigger wide-screen.

Other than commercials for erectile disfunction, you don’t see a lot of baby boomers out there catching waves: partly, because we don’t want to break a hip trying to wrestle the surfboard out of the Jeep, but also because we were emotionally scarred by a movie that couldn’t even get it’s mechanical shark (Bruce) working until well into filming.

When I was 32 (and had not yet seen Jaws), I decided to conquer my fear once and for all. I went out snorkeling in the coral reefs off the Florida Keys. I was holding my breath as a dangled one flipper into the water, like a gunfight where the cowboy holds his hat out to see if it gets shot out of his hand. Once I was confident that nothing was going to eat my foot off, I slipped into the shark infested waters, which by definition is “anywhere in the ocean.”

I tried to imagine WWJCD (What would Jacques Cousteau do?) as I gathered the courage to put my face in the water. This was, after all, my face: what I use to smell, and see, and eat toasted coconut donuts. It is just one of many parts of my anatomy that I would rather keep intact. I’m not sure to this day if Jacques came to no harm all those years because the sea is relatively safe, or because sharks don’t like the taste of stringy old French men.

Once afloat, I was relieved to see no sinister shadows under me. What I didn’t know was that with my limited field of vision, I wouldn’t have seen a shark if he was chewing on my outstretched arm. This is just one of many juicy tidbits I’ve learned from watching shark week.

More and more, actual shark attacks are being captured on film. I’m sorry, but if I wanted to see exposed muscle and dangling flesh, I’d watch Freddy Kruger or Saw. Frankly, I have more chance of having my skin flayed stepping into a dogfight (done), but becoming part of the food chain is not my choice of ways to leave this world.

Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to get back in the water, but I’d feel better if I were old and French.