Day 229 2/9/14: Fonzie’s Finest (Half) Hour

I am working on a fascinating piece about JAWS and feminism, but it’s taking me a while to put together. In the meantime, here’s a clip from the 1977 “Happy Days” episode that now symbolizes the precise moment when anything crosses the line from cool to embarrassing. Even the shark seems a little humiliated to be part of it.

Thanks Connie & Gail!

Day 211 1/22/14: The White Shark in Literature Vol 1: Richard Wright

imagesI just discovered a great short story by Richard Wright (the last one he ever wrote) called “Big Black Good Man.” The main character is a white man named Olaf, a night porter in Copenhagen hotel. Olaf considers himself a broad-minded & fair sort of fellow until a sailor named Jim, “the biggest, strangest and blackest man” Olaf has ever seen, asks to rent a room.

I love literature that explores psychic states and attempts to imitate the impossible rhythms and trajectories of thought,  but I’ve never read a story that plunges straight into the fearful and obsessive nightmare of racism. Wright’s story has very little external action, but takes the reader on a twisted ride through Olaf’s paranoid imagination. After an extremely tense and bizarre encounter with Jim, Olaf curses and says, “I hope the ship he’s on sinks…I hope he drowns and the sharks eat ‘im.” That night Olaf lies awake in bed imagining that the freighter Jim is due to sail out on springs a leak:

“Ah, yes, the foamy surging waters would surprise that sleeping black bastard of a giant and he would drown, gasping and choking like a trapped rat, his tiny eyes bulging until they glittered red, the bitter water of the sea pounding his lungs until they ached and finally burst…The ship would sink slowly to the bottom of the cold, black, silent depths of these and a shark, a white one, would glide aimlessly about the shut  portholes until it found an open one and it would filter inside and nose about  until it found that swollen, rotten, stinking carcass of the black beast and it would then begin to nibble at the decomposing mass of tarlike flesh, eating the bones clean…Olaf always pictured the giant’s bones as being jet black and shining.

Once or twice, during these fantasies of cannibalistic revenge, Olaf felt a little guilty about all the many innocent people, women and children, all white and blonde who would have to go down into watery graves in order that that white shark could devour the evil giant’s black flesh…But, despite feelings of remorse, the fantasy lived persistently on, and when Olaf found himself alone, it would crowd and cloud his mind to the exclusion of all else, affording him the only revenge he knew.”

Wright’s italicizing of the word “white” makes the shark into an Aryan messenger of the deep, meting out the violent racial “justice” that the impotent Olaf cannot, and unfortunately killing a few innocent blondes in the process.  I’m sure some scholars find the anthropomorphism too extreme, but I like the shark-as-ethnic-cleanser metaphor. It’s original and eccentric, obvious and preachy at the same time. And do we know that “a white one” is actually a great white shark, or is it some super white albino style that is as white as Jim is black, the only creature capable of vanquishing this “mountain” of a man?

But however wild Olaf’s fantasies become,  Wright doesn’t really exaggerate the fear that drives them, and all the wild and furious ways that fear can metastasize. Thinking about racism led to thinking about speciesism and all the hate doled out to sharks in Australia, to the wolves of Idaho, all the creatures made “other” by human beings.  Alice Walker’s essay “Am I Blue?” is the first piece of lit I read that links racism and speciesism. Please check it out here.

Day 199 1/10/14: Peter Benchley’s Working Titles for JAWS

I am doing my homework, preparing for the February 22 benefit reading (JAWS: An Evening of Relentless Terror And Really Awkward Sex) and I stumbled on Peter Benchley’s early working titles for his novel.  Think how different all of our lives would be if JAWS had been called:

The Grinning Fish

Letter on Mundus

Leviathan Rising


The Coming



The Fish



Clam Bay


The Edge of Gloom





The Survivor

The Unexplained








What have we done?

Day 77 9/10/13: Five Nerdy “Jaws” Facts

The Creature from the Black Lagoon at the Witc...

The Creature from the Black Lagoon at the Witch’s Dungeon Wax Museum in Bristol, CT. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for an erudite classroom discussion on “Jaws”, I thought I’d share some of these  facts and fragments I gathered from Nigel Andrews’ wonderful JAWS guide.  

1. The teeth of the three mechanical sharks used in the film–all named Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer) were flossed regularly to rid them of seaweed.

2. Andrea Morton a Martha’s Vineyard waitress, starred as “Chrissie’s arm” (the severed appendage rising out of the crab and kelp littered sand hill that nearly makes Lt. Hendricks lose his lunch). Morton soaked her arm in a bucket of water for hours to capture the right shade of decomposed blue.

3. Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw’s mutual distaste for each other apparently began when Shaw poured himself a whiskey lamenting, “I would give anything just to be able to stop drinking.”  Dreyfuss reportedly said, “Okay” and promptly threw Shaw’s drink out a porthole. “He didn’t forgive me for that,” Dreyfuss recalled.

4. Spielberg filmed the scene in which Hooper (Dreyfuss) discovers Ben Gardner’s head in the wrecked hull of a boat in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool, adding Carnation milk and little pieces of tin foil to the pool water to create murk and silt.

5. The death cry of the sinking, dying shark is actually archive audio from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

Day 66: 8/30/13: Walking Sharks & Dolphin Saviors

Fascinating stories about everyone’s favorite marine predators:

1. Is Shark fin soup losing popularity in China?

2. Meet the Walking Shark of Indonesia

3. Dolphins Rescue Surfer from Great White

4. 8 Cool and Bizarre Shark Stories from Treehugger

5. Man’s shark attack story is the most boring thing about him

Day 62: 8/26/13: Yum-Yum Yellow

Swimfin Art Installation 99

Swimfin Art Installation 99 (Photo credit: Blue Genie Art)

If  I’m ever going to do something useful like count sharks for Project Aware, I’m going to have to get advanced diver certification.

Considering my innate spazziness with all things sport, this could take a while. But I invested in my future today by purchasing a pair of amazing swim fins from my dive teacher Greg Tash, at Aqua Adventures.

They’re split fins which means you can swim super fast without a lot of effort.

“What color do you want?” my dive teacher asked.

“Not pink,”  I said. “Not–”

“No yum-yum yellow?” he quipped.

Greg had read my mind as easily as he’d measured my foot.

I hadn’t heard “yum-yum yellow” since the 70s, when a popular theory proposed that sharks like brightly colored bathing suits, rafts, etc. This color-coded wisdom burned itself into my consciousness as did the following commandments:

Don’t swim at dusk or dawn

Don’t swim when menstruating

Don’t urinate in the water

Don’t swim near a sewage run-off (that one was pretty easy to manage)

Don’t swim alone

And if you do swim with a friend remember: You don’t have to swim faster than the shark, just faster than your buddy.

Check out Greg’s white shark cage diving video here.

Day 47: 08/11/13: 12 Random Shark Facts

Thanks to for these fascinating fragments:

1.  Even though almost equal numbers of men and women spend time in the ocean, no one knows why sharks seem to prefer to attack men. In fact, nearly 90% of shark attacks have happened to men.

2. Hammerhead sharks’ heads are soft at birth so they won’t jam the mothers’ birth canals.

3. The first pup to hatch inside the sand tiger shark mother devours its brothers and sisters until there are only two pups left, one on each side of the womb. This form of cannibalism is called oophagy.

4. Sharks belong to a group of fish known as the elasmobranchs, or cartilaginous fishes. Rays and skates, which may have evolved from sharks, also belong to this group.

5. Recent research indicates that when a shark plies surface waters (when the dorsal fin cuts through the sea’s surface), it could be detecting pressure waves associated with a struggling animal nearby.

6. In 1977, Happy Days’ Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli jumped over a penned-in shark while on water skis, giving birth to the expression “jumping the shark” to describe a desperate dramatic measure by a TV show.

7. For every human killed by a shark, humans kill two million sharks.

8. Solomon Islanders believed that when people died, their ghosts inhabited the bodies of sharks.

9. The second-most dangerous shark in the world, the tiger shark, is sometimes called the “garbage can of the sea” because it will eat anything, including animal carcasses, tin cans, car tires, and other garbage. One was even found having a chicken coop with the remains of bones and feathers inside its stomach.

10. When a shark eats food that it can’t digest (like a turtle shell or tin can), it can vomit by thrusting its stomach out its mouth then pulling it back in.

11. The first written account of a shark attack is found in Herodotus’ (c. 484–425 B.C.) description of hordes of “monsters” devouring the shipwrecked sailors of the Persian fleet.

12. Dreaming has been observed in bony fish, but not yet in sharks.

Until I read that last fact, I never considered the title of this blog from the perspective of dreaming sharks.

And so, in yet another effort to overcome this innate self-centeredness, I joined The San Diego Shark Protectorate, a meetup group devoted to shark conservation.

Day 28: 7/23/2013: Sharks: Feel The Poetry

Today I bought some shark educational materials for the Fall semester. I wanted to memorize which shark belongs to which family. Instead of studying, I became swept up in the beauty of names–all these sharks I’d never heard of:

the blind shark, the tasselled wobbegong, the false, the graceful, the grinning, ghost, honeycomb and lollipop cat sharks

and among the requiems: the blackspot, the dagger nose, the milk shark, the nervous shark, the night shark, the pondicherry, the hardnose, the big nose, the spinner

not to mention the sawback, hidden, ornate and angular angelsharks or the unforgettable dusky, sharpnose, sharp fin, whiskery, western spotted gummy, the flapnose, and humpback hound sharks

Did you know the smallest shark is the dwarf lantern (6.7 inches)?

Or that hound sharks hunt in packs or

that a school of hammerheads is also called a shoal or a shiver?

Wobbegongs are excellent ambushers

and once someone found

a doll inside a tiger shark