Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Random Tale?

Sure, why not. A couple of months back, I got to see Jaws at the Carolina theater—easily one of my all-time favorite films—and this has set me to occasionally ruminating on a particularly traumatic experience from back in the spring of 1975—the year Jaws was originally released. The main thing about the whole business is that I'm glad I saw Jaws after said trauma, not before, or I'd be shy an amusing little anecdote.

May, 1975. I was 16, and I'd gone with my church youth group on a beach trip to Garden City, SC, on a rickety old bus that didn't go any faster than 40 miles per hour. It was a long, hot trip from Martinsville, VA, and I recall driving a few of my compadres slightly batshit by repeatedly playing Godzilla soundtracks on the portable cassette player I'd brought with me (not that I was obnoxious, or anything). We stayed at the Garden City Motor Inn, which at the time was about the only commercial establishment on that stretch of beach. The inn still exists, but nowadways, it's all but smothered by the high-rise condos on either side of the property. Anyway, that first night, I recall watching Gargoyles, starring Cornell Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn, and Grayson Hall, on the network TV movie, and I was all kinds of excited about that (I recently picked up the DVD of this flick, as a matter of fact).

The next day, my buddy Raymond and I set out on our own down the nearly deserted beach. There were no lifeguards there in those days, and being the off-season, other tourists were few and far between. For reasons I've never quite fathomed, Raymond and I decided that we needed a long swim. A long swim. So, with little thought of personal safety or other such responsible things, we trucked on into the water and started paddling out beyond the breakers. I recall feeling quite exhilarated to be farther out in the ocean than I'd ever gone before. Yeah, I know. Dope. Well, we kept swimming, going farther and deeper, and after a while, I looked back toward the shore; lo and behold, the Motor Inn was this wee little boxy thing on the horizon, and I began to get the idea that returning to shallower water might be prudent. Raymond reluctantly agreed, and so we turned around to make our way back. Whoa. Wait. That's some current! We're swimming and swimming, and we're just not making any headway, and suddenly I'm not quite so exhilarated about my specific coordinates in time and space.

Now, about this time, I get a glimpse of Raymond's face, and it's whiter than a sheet, and his eyes are about to bug clean out of his head. I look in the direction he's looking, and...oh shit oh shit oh shit...there are fins popping up in the water, just about close enough to touch. I'm pretty sure my face is every bit as white as Raymond's, and that's when we start tearing through that water like a couple of scalded sea monkeys. Much to my relief, I see the Motor Inn gradually starting to loom a little larger on the shore. It's only now, halfway back, that I realize we had been surrounded by dolphins.

That's when it happens.

Something warm and prickly grabs my leg. Yes, that's me screaming my fool head off, and the next thing I know, I'm hauling ass up the beach, a pale white blur to anyone who might be around to witness all this. I don't know where Raymond is, I don't care, I'm just on solid ground, and I finally discover it was a mean old clump of seaweed that had grabbed me. After a while, Raymond's walking next to me, and when we get back to the Motor Inn, there's a game of touch football happening. Uncle Harry, one of our chaperones, asks us where we've been.

"Just taking a walk."

It was only a few days afterward that I saw Jaws for the first time, and I have to tell you, every heart-pounding moment of that movie took on a very deep, personal significance for me. To this day, the film's music, its dialogue, its atmosphere...all of it...takes me back to that way-too-deep water and the sheer panic of believing I was about to get et by a shark. It's not a sensation I particularly savor.

These days, I do still go in the ocean when I get the opportunity. I also respect it a hell of a lot more than I once did. One really ought to, you know.

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