Day 103 10/6/13: Certified and Certifiable

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...

David Foster Wallace  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“That’s great! That’s just great! You’re certifiable! Do you know that, Quint?” Brody (Roy Scheider) hollers after Quint (Robert Shaw) smashes the boat’s radio (no more calling in for a bigger one) with a baseball bat.

I replayed that “Jaws” scene endlessly in my head on the way back from Catalina as my dive teacher filled out my diver certification card. I am by no means “good” at diving, but I am no longer afraid of bleeding ears or the large sharks attracted by the ribbons of blood pulsing from my exploding lungs.

The ocean is beautiful—heart-rendingly so. But I don’t want to disturb its inhabitants. I don’t want to shine flashlights in crevices to see lobster, or play with sea cucumbers. Even as I thrilled at the glimpse of a retiring purple octopus curled up in a rock hole, I felt a rush of feeling for the little guy. I know that octopus LIKE to be left alone. And lobsters seem to value their privacy as well.

I felt glad that I would be  teaching David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” in the morning.

The essential question is this:

How do I commune with animals, while not interfering with their nature, their ways of being? 

It’s not that animal rights guilt precludes my enjoyment of the natural world, but thoughts about animal consciousness increasingly shape my experiences.

I grew up riding horses and still love doing it (as a way of seeing the countryside), but even that activity is fraught with complications: bits, and crops and heels into ribs. I recently discovered this observation (given in sign language) from the always candid Koko the Gorilla:

Koko looks at a picture of a horse with a bit in his mouth:

K: horse sad.

CD: Why?


(Check out more of Koko’s insights in this fascinating argument for the personhood of gorillas).

More on this idea of displacement & communion soon. The sea hath ignited in my mind the power and glory of language while it seemed to have sapped the very marrow from my bones.

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 76 9/9/13: Mourning, Millennials & Melodrama in “Jaws”

I had to remind myself to take a deep cleansing breath when I noticed a few of my students texting during “Jaws” today. Later, one of the guilty boys confessed the movie was “just too scary” and with the acute senses of a predatory fish (or a fellow neurotic), I detected residual fear in the shuffling way he gathered his books and hid his eyes behind a lank of  dark hair.

Several people laughed when the bereaved Mrs. Kintner slaps Chief Brody in the face for keeping the beaches open and letting her son Alex get chomped. Is this a kitschy moment? Perhaps. But I always found the scene too odd or mysterious to be pure melodrama. The black-veiled Mrs. Kintner is accompanied by a silent old man who might be her father or grandfather and the two of them progress in some odd inversion of a  wedding march toward Brody.

As Antonia Quirke noted in her BFI essay on “Jaws”: “She’s much older than the other mothers at the waterfront. This child was her last chance” (35). Quirke also notes that a slap in the movies normally stands in for sex, but “[t]o be slapped by Mrs. Kintner in mourning is like being kissed by a skeleton, it has that disquieting taboo mixed in” (36).

The book store ran out of my shark texts which may have explained this group’s lack of enthusiasm for uterine cannibalism or the ampullae of Lorenzini. So other than typing up a quick shark biology quiz, I’ve been checking in with the STOP OCEARCH activists. Sad to hear that the New Yorker did a story about OCEARCH (thanks for the tip, Connie), but pleased to know that a film exposing these charlatans (Price of Existence) and other marine exploitation is in the works. I’ll try to do what I can to help with the fundraising/consciousness raising for this project.

Day 44: 08/08/13: Cranky Quint & The Horror of Gill Nets

Here is a rather candid remembrance of Robert Shaw from Jeffrey Vorhees, who played “the doomed Alex Kintner” (a.k.a. boy on the raft) in “Jaws”:

“Everyone filming it here was really nice, except for one guy, the old drunk, Robert Shaw. He ignored the island kids. They would have baseball games and cookouts for all the extras and kids on the island—-all the actors would show up, except for Shaw. He wanted nothing to do  with “The Island People,” as he called us. As a little kid, I would go over and talk to him, “Hi! How are you today?” He would just glare and say, “Just go away.” He was always drunk, just a mess….”   From “Just When You Thought it Was Safe: A Jaws Companion.”

Hopefully a small donation I made to ban gill nets made the ocean a little safer for sharks. Here’s the deal:

Each year, California drift gillnets kill more than 3,500 thresher, mako, and blue sharks as they fish for swordfish. The bycatch rate of sharks – as well as ocean sunfish, marine mammals and sea turtles – in California’s drift gillnets is the highest of any fishery along the US Pacific Coast.

Day 26: July 21, 2013: Dirty, Sexy “Jaws”

famous poster

I’m writing a blog entry for Sharksavers about the Jaws charity event.

My original copy of “Jaws” is so old and well-loved, the spine is nearly demolished. I keep trying to locate key moments like Alex Kintner being yanked off his raft, but the ravaged paperback, as if possessed by an X-rated daemon flips open to a lurid sex passage.

On page 104, Benchley gives a description of Ellen Brody’s nipple-revealing “diaphanous nightgown” and tells us that her husband (Roy Scheider in the movie) returns from the bathroom “tumescent.” Ellen, however has taken a sleeping pill. She drifts off as Brody grumbles “I’m not very big on screwing corpses.” The rather poetic “tumescence” (the “tomb” sound underscoring Brody’s doomed chances) becomes a frank and embarrassing “dwindling erection.”

When I read this book as a pre-adolescent kid, (at least a dozen times between 1975 and 1976)  the sex scenes were as disturbing to me as the shark attacks.  Sometimes as with Brody’s “screwing corpses” comment, the two themes merged.  A memorable and lengthy description of Brody urinating recalled the shark “spewing foam and blood and phosphorescence in a gaudy shower,” as he chomped on poor Chrissie in the opening chapter.

Castro saw “Jaws” as a critique of capitalism, but maybe the novel with all its adultery and frustration, is an even better allegory for all-consuming desire, and the awkwardness of bodily love, gross fluids and all.

Day 9 7/4/2013: Shopping for Sharks


Why is it that I’m riveted by the carnage inflicted by a shark attack, but wrench the radio dial as soon as NPR divulges details of a hot dog eating contest?

Maybe next year I’ll do a year of daily action for pigs.

Anyway, since I can’t face dealing with the Fourth of July beach traffic, I am postponing my seaside trash cleanup. Like any sane American, I decided to reflect on the meaning of freedom by purchasing something.

I wanted to see what I could do for sharks using just the random change around my house. All the forgotten dimes and pennies I rescued from the cushions of the couch, crumpled cash in the recesses of the desk, the dull copper squirreled away in canisters or lost in the shadowy depths of my bag came to a whopping $40.87

Continue reading

Day 5 6/30/13: Sharks in the Classroom & Beyond


Today I started thinking about the most effective curriculum for my Fall shark-themed English class at Glendale College. In my pre-coffee haze, I assembled a jumble of potential texts and materials:

1. Opening chapter of the novel “Jaws”: as gateway to talking about shark attacks and shark biology.
2. “Sharkwater” documentary: so they can see what shark finning is
3. Selected readings on prehistoric sharks, all the extinctions they’ve survived
4. Info on the current extinction event that sharks might not survive
5. “Air Jaws” clips
6. “Jaws”: The Movie
7. Shark Gods of the Pacific Mythology & Ritual/Environmentalism essays (Derrick Jensen, etc.)

Continue reading