My kinship with sharks began in the 80’s, exactly how you would expect–the 1975 blockbuster, ‘Jaws.’ I loved watching the movie, but I was terrified of sharks.
I can recall being eight years-old and begging my mother to pay for swimming lessons at the Huntington Ave YMCA. (The first person who posts a video of themselves listening to the village people song ‘YMCA’ while acting out the letters on facebook, will be my hero! There will also be an infinitesimal cash prize!) She didn’t want to at first, but I was spoiled so mom eventually agreed to buy a monthly membership. Excitement filled me, on the first day of lessons; I was imagining myself being the next Michael Phelps. (I know he wasn’t around back then, but can you name a famous swimmer?) I can remember the day as if it were yesterday. I entered the dressing room and changed into my brand new cheetah-print Speedo. Wait, that’s definitely not what happened. Hold on while I …
OK! I changed into my baggy Boston Celtics basketball shorts; the quintessence of cool. Sorry, I should have wrote “fresh,” it was the 80’s! My mother sat on one of the poolside benches and watched, filled with pride; her little boy was about to become one of the greatest athletes in the history of aquatic sports. I stood at the water’s edge with supreme confidence.
“Today, I will tame you, great puddle of chlorine.” I said assertively.
The instructor announced the basic rules and displayed the proper swimming stroke. I mimicked his motion perfectly; I WAS A NATURAL!
“Ok, everyone get in.” He instructed.
I sat on the deck with my feet in the water; I would go no further. “Oh mighty pool of the Young Men’s Christian Association, You have proven yourself a worthy adversary. For today, I cower at your vastness.”
There was no way in Hell anyone would be able to convince me that there were no sharks in the water. I fought and cried, as if I were a two year-old, begging a parent for a candy at the supermarket counter. Noticeably, my mom was pissed! Hello money, have you met Mr. drain? Down you go! (In case you were wondering, I didn’t set foot back inside the YMCA until my freshman year at Boston Latin School, and that was to play basketball. I have no idea what the pool looks like!)
It would be another couple years before I gained the courage to enter a pool. Even then, I would always keep close to the walls because deep down inside, no matter how ridiculous it may have seemed, I knew there was a great white shark in there somewhere.
I can remember one instance, I was either fourteen or fifteen. I was at my grandparents house, where there is an in-ground pool in the backyard; I was the only grandchild there on that sizzling afternoon. GREAT…or so I thought.
There I was, having the time of my life, jumping off the diving board and racing to the waters edge for another leap. I even swam laps to the shallow end of the pool and back. Somehow, I forgot about sharks and simply seized the day. UNTIL…
The screen door slid open and my aunt appeared. She was well aware of my bizarre fear of sharks, but she assumed that I had gotten over the fear. Standing at the edge of the pool, she yelled, “watch out for the shark!”
My aunt laughed–I didn’t.
I swam as fast as I could to the waters edge. Words can be extremely powerful! I wanted to continue swimming, but I couldn’t muster the courage. She couldn’t believe it. “Are you crazy? You’re not going to swim because of sharks?”
In a word, “YES!”
I know it may seem insane, but until a person learns how to deal with a phobia, it will control his or her life. No matter how silly the fear may be. Although I have gained the ability to conquer my fear, it continues to exist. Every time I am in the center of a pool, I have the feeling that a shark will swim up and bite me, in the same manner that Jaws attacked the young lady at the beginning of the movie.
There is one aspect of the fear which boggles my mind. Whenever I swim in the ocean, where an actual shark can show up, I have zero fear. I am that crazy guy who is swimming so far out that you can barely see him; I can’t explain why the fear only occurs in pools. I even had a manatee swim by me while in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Florida coast. I saw the huge mammal passing, and didn’t even flinch. I also scuba-dived while in Cancun, but I wasn’t frightened. We jumped into small two-seater speedboats and raced towards the reef. I jumped in with no trepidation, completely trusting the instructor, who promised me “there will be no sharks.”
While on vacation in Jamaica, I even jumped off the booze-cruise and swam to shore. (I was drunk out of my mind and I honestly didn’t think I was going to complete the swim. Halfway there, I switched to hybrid mode, using the efficient and energy-saving backstroke. Always remember to GO-GREEN!) I also didn’t worry about sharks when I jumped off the cliff at Rick’s Café, landing in the ocean beneath. Longest fall of my life!
One might assume that my fear of sharks would make me hate the perfect, genetically engineered, killing machines but I don’t. In fact, I love sharks! One of my favorite experiences happened in Florida. (No, not with a stripper in Miami. Does your mind ever leave the gutter?) I’m referring to SEAWORLD in Orlando.
“Shamu?” You ask!
No, I’m not into whales. (Literally or figuratively!)
Seaworld has an attraction called Terrors of the Deep. It’s probably the largest fish tank in the world. (I didn’t research this fact because I would be crushed to discover there is a larger tank, in some location that I have yet to visit.) The massive tank is filled with all sorts of dangerous marine species. For me, the stars of the show were the many great white sharks. The best feature of the tank is the slow-moving walkway, which is located in a tunnel at the bottom. Being able to watch great white sharks swim over my head and alongside me was an experience that I will never forget. (Yeah, I like sharks!)
I guess I like all marine life—sharks are just my favorite! This is most likely the reason I love eating fish so much. The experience at Seaworld has always remained with me, which is why I keep fish as pets. My roommates and I now have two large aquariums, and you guessed it…THERE ARE SHARKS! Well, not exactly! In the industry, they are called iridescent sharks, but they’re really just catfish which look like sharks. We wanted to get piranhas, but they are illegal in Massachusetts, so we settled on a red-tail catfish. (Don’t tell PETA, but I love watching fish feed. I wrote settled on a red-tail catfish, but they are probably more ferocious than piranhas. **YouTube: ‘red tail catfish eats fuzzy mouse,’ you won’t be disappointed.**)
We regularly fed our fish the flakes, until the discovery of “feeder-fish,” which are tiny goldfish. The procedure is to buy many feeder-fish, then release them into the tank. The larger fish will eat the “feeders” whenever they get hungry. (It makes for a great show. **This is merely survival of the fittest!**)
We have a large tank, full of different species, and we once released thirty-two feeders. Several entertaining days later, there were only three feeder-fish remaining. I can concur with Darwin because the three feeders survived and grew to adulthood, before dying. The autopsy report from the veterinarian claimed the cause of death was AIDS, but he wasn’t completely certain!
**Kids say the darndest things** I spend a good amount of time with Amari, my nephew, and I remember one day sitting in the kitchen, in front of the fish tank. I was eating fish, obviously. (If you’re ever in the Boston area, I recommend Nos Casa Café, located on Dudley St.) He turned to the tank, then turned to my plate and said, “Don’t you feel bad?”
“Why?” I replied.
“Because you’re eating fish in front of the fish. That’s just wrong!” He reasoned.
“They don’t care!” (That was my reply, but deep down inside, we all know that they do care. **I shed one tear!**)
One day I will swim with great white sharks, in a cage of course; I like sharks, but I’m not crazy! I also want to own the world’s largest in-home aquarium. Most people can picture their dream home—I imagine my dream fish tank, with a house surrounding it. My connection to the movie Jaws is everlasting. Anyone who has ever witnessed me give a toast will recall the famous line, “Here’s to swimming with bowlegged women!”
Sadness grabbed hold of me upon my return from a trip to Miami a few years ago; I discovered that my two sharks were dead. I cared for those fish for over two years, and they grew to be a part of the family. I was so distraught that two years elapsed before I could purchase new fish. During my youth, I remember watching an episode of the Cosby Show, and Rudy was inconsolable because her pet fish, Lamont, died; I thought the burial ceremony was ridiculous. My how little the ignorant know—losing a pet fish is one of the most heartbreaking moments in a person’s life. To Rudy Huxtable, I say, “I’m sorry!”
The largest of the three sharks, has been with me more than three years, and we have made it through some tough times; I almost lost him last summer. An incident transpired with a stingray, late one cursed night. Before leaving for work, I noticed the stingray in the corner of the tank. I stepped closer, to get a better look, and determined that he was dead. Upon further inspection, I could see that his tail was completely torn off. “What the Hell happened?” I thought. I knew there would be no answers, but I had many questions.
“Who would harm an innocent stingray?”
“Was this the act of some sick human being?”
”Why did this have to happen in our tank?”
The shark was almost motionless at the other end of the tank, and he had a laceration on the right side of his face.
“How’d that happen?”
I determined that there were enough clues to solve the mysterious incident. It is my expert opinion that my shark was involved in a regrettable altercation with the stingray. I concluded that the stingray hit the shark in the face with his stinger, causing the shark to retaliate. He delivered a death-blow, ripping the stinger off, but he didn’t escape without paying the price. The Ray’s sting caused the shark to go into a state of shock, which lasted almost three days; I thought he was a goner. Eventually, order was restored. The remaining fish no longer questioned whether or not they were living with a killer, and the shark’s face healed; he is now known as Scarface.
So, when people ask me, “do you like sharks?”
I pause for a moment before replying derisively, “Yeah, lil’ bit!”
“Farewell and adieu, to you fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain.”
*THIS ENTRY WAS WRITTEN IN MEMORY OF LAMONT THE GOLDFISH*