...a lot less in the ocean, or so it seemed to me, beginning with this day in 1975. I know for certain that I and many of my friends, though many would not admit it back then, were more afraid of swimming in the ocean than they ever had been in their lives before this day, or shortly after this day, back in 75.
The day, June 20, 1975, dawned as did any other day before it and there was not even a hint in the air that on that day a new and strong fear of the deep and what lies beneath it would be forever instilled in the hearts of millions of people like never before. You see, it was on that day and in the following weeks and months of the long hot summer of 75, that hundreds of thousands of folks, maybe even millions, sat back to relax and enjoy themselves for what would amount to just over 2 hours of entertainment in the form of that summer's newest, and biggest blockbuster, movie. Little did they realize that by the time they would have left the theater they would have had a fear, a strong fear, a lasting fear, of ever swimming in the ocean again. The movie was Jaws.
Some of the scenes in that movie mad people laugh, some got then interested in sharks and marine biology, some in WWII history, but the scenes that made the most lasting impression were those that put fear deep into your heart a fear with as powerful a grip as that of the bite of a Great White Shark. They could not have timed the release of that movie any better to have assured people would wind up afraid of the ocean and its inhabitants. At least, had it come out in the fall or early winter, I and others would have had months to get over it before going to the beach. As it worked out the season just helped build the fear even more. I got an impression from that movie that has been with me ever since, probably sunk deeply into me, like a set of shark's teeth into the swimmer, in the opening scene of the movie.
That fear remains even though I was at the beach and in the water within a few days of first seeing it. Heck, I was 19 years old going on 20 when I saw it, I had girls and friends to impress. So I made it look as if I did not have a care in the world and I sauntered down to the water's edge, somewhere in the 120's in the Rockaways, and I walked out several feet and then dove right in. I was one of the first of all my friends to do so, like I had something to prove, and maybe I did but it sure wasn't that I was not afraid. When I first stepped foot in that water and then dove under the breaking wave that was coming at me I was pretty darned scared, I heard that deep, almost rumbling, thum-thum-thum-thum music from the movie playing in my head. When I came up for air, I was still able to stand and bring my head above water and I did so and gave a rallying call and a wave to all those wussies who were still up on the sand. A couple had already joined me but most were watching, making believe they were testing to see how warm or cold was the water but it never had mattered to us before, we always had just jumped right in sometimes even in April despite the cold or because of it. This time all of them seemed apprehensive. I continued calling, waving and calling them names trying to get them in there with me, Lord knows I did not want to be out there alone or with just two other guys and then it happened. Something hit me in the calf and it had hit me pretty hard. I winced, heck I jumped, and I was just about walking on water to get out of here. Then something slammed into me again, I just about screamed but could not, probably because I was using all my energy instead to walk on water and try to see what was down there. It wasn't any of my friends, no one was near to me not even a stranger. I was scared - real scared - and I was out of there in a flash - so were were my friends when they saw me leaving. Turns out it had probably been a bluefish or two that bumped me or a baitfish fleeing from them. A school of blues had been seen in the water, by lifeguards, just beyond the breakers where I had been standing.
I was never a regular beach goer but I used to go at least a few to several times a summer with my friends back then and with my family too - that was all before Jaws. When I did go pre-Jaws, I was in the water at least as much as I was on the beach, probably more - I loved swimming. Since the day I got bumped by those fish, heck that was just a couple or three weeks at most under 35 years ago, I have hardly gone back during the summer months and I had been bumped by fish before then so what was the diffefrence? The difference was that damned movie, it had put a fear deep inside of me. Yeah, I still went to the beach sometimes but it had somehow lost its allure. When I did go, I went in the water now and then too, but never again as much as I used to enjoy it before I saw Jaws that summer day long ago. Whenever I had been hit in the leg by a fish, a piece of debris, or whatever, before I saw the movie Jaws, it may have scared me for the moment but would never have left a lasting fear. After seeing that movie though, the fear had already been set deep in my psyche and it was triggered that day, when I was in the water, by nothing I should have been afraid of. Once was enough, I never again want to imagine that I am about to be eaten by a shark like I thought that day.
It may be a silly notion, a senseless fear, even kind of ridiculous since it was instilled in me mostly because of a movie but it is one I have not been able to shake. Its not like I think about it or avoid the beach only because of it. I mostly avoid the beach because I have a bigger fear of skin cancer and sunburn with my really fair skin. I burn like a lobster is not just a saying when it comes to me and sunburn, it is the truth unless I am very careful. Same thing happens to my son. My wife and daughter take the sun much better than either of us guys. I have not even gone to outdoor pools a whole lot because of that even though I really love being in the water.
Yet, I do go to the beach now and again but the thing is I saty out of the water most of those times.I don't even go to the beach in the summer most times but in the winter or spring or fall for a walk - and i think I go then so as not to be able to swim I I was tempted to do so. Why, because I still have that fear ever since I saw jaws the first time; I am sure of it. I know that as of maybe about 6 or 7 years ago, the fear was still inside me pretty strong. I took Brendan and a friend of his and the friend's younger brother to Jone's Beach on Long Island. I kept an eye mostly on the younger guy but on the older ones too. I kept watcvhing the water for fins all around the older guys who were well beyond the breakers. Then, I was out in water, with the younger brother, about a foot or so over my waist and I kept thinking man, this is perfect shark attack depth. As the waves came in, then the undertow washed things back out to sea, each shell or piece of debris that hit my legs was something to be feared at least until I realized a shark had not gotten hold of me. It was not a terrifying fear, nothing that made me get out of the water right away but one that I am sure got me out of the water much sooner than I would have had I not been afraid. I was apprehensive, no even truly scared, about being in the water, at least in the ocean that day and in some rivers near the ocean at other times. That day with the kids, I stayed out there as long as i could and tried to have fun despite the apprehension, the fear; heck I didn't want to scare the kids nor look like a wimp to them but I admit I was scared. There is not one iota of doubt in my mind that the movie Jaws put those fears and that apprehension into me where it had never been before and where it has been there ever since. It is almost 35 years since I saw it in the first week or two after it was released. That was one heck of a powerful movie and it has made one heck of a lasting impression and planted one very scary fear inside of me.
None of that stops me from watching the movie though. In fact, I think I'll watch it tonight - I am pretty sure it will have to be on one of the FIOS channels. It was on a few nights ago and fell asleep watching it then. The fear is not so much the movie itself but what the movie put inside my head about what is in the ocean itself. Maybe next weekend, I'll go to the beach for a swim - certainly sometime of another this summer, that is if I can overcome my apprehension about it. It is easy to talk about, easy to write about, easy to view in a movie, but when it comes to actually getting in the water - it is all real apprehension. Wish me luck both with my fears and with the sharks that are often just past the surf off of the Long Island beaches at this time of year.
All the best,
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