It was the summer of 1975. I had recently talked my father into letting me to see Jaws. The film went on to become the first summer blockbuster buoyed by the boom in mall-based movie theaters. My elementary school buddies were all abuzz about this film. We were all worried about shark attacks.
Chief Brody, Capt. Quint and Hooper replaced Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Zeus, Minister of Science of the Ape National Assembly.
The nation was witnessing the final sad chapter of the Vietnam War, the government was wallowing in scandal, high unemployment and general unrest. The American dream appeared to be waning.
Despite the hardships, it was a fun time for kids — there were 8-tracks, mood rings, a toy called the Magic 8-Ball, the Rubik’s Cube, disco and lots of roller skating. Movies were edgy and the anti-hero enjoyed popularity. In fashion, there were bell bottoms, stab collars, tube socks, big hair and leisure suits.
Along the coast lifeguards had an easy job — because very few people were swimming.
My family excited for our annual beach trip felt slightly apprehensive about splashing in the waves. The surf had a green hue, and it was so clear that clusters of seaweed were clearly visible rolling carelessly across a sandy bottom. The air was hot and thick like the ladies on Soul Train.
North Carolina’s most tenacious predator, the coastal mosquito, stalking the sun-burnt flesh of tourists as they marched across the dunes at Topsail Beach.
I was an 8-year-old playing in the surf. I loved the ocean. I loved fishing, bodysurfing and watching the waves break. Even as a kid, I admired the ocean’s beauty and cruelty.
On the first day, my parents noticed a variation in my pattern of bounding straight into the surf for a swim. Their ocean-loving son was swimming in a distinct pattern around three rather husky ladies with rubber flowers on their bathing caps. My parents took note as I swam in a tightening circular pattern around the buoyant women. The ladies were largely unaware of the skinny kid using their very presence as a decoy to trick a more sinister creature that surely lurked in the briny waves.
As I emerged from my swim my parents asked me a question that unveiled a fear, I thought I had cleverly hidden.
“Why were you swimming around those ladies, Marshall?” asked my mom.
I answered her with the best logic I could muster. “It was for safety mom. I am worried about sharks. Those ladies would surely catch a Great White’s attention more than a skinny kid, right? I thought a shark would eat them first and allow me time to escape,” I replied.
It is hard to believe that this film is 46 years old this summer.
It still holds up. The sinister tuba notes, Quint’s speech about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, poor Ben Gardner’s head bobbing out of a boat wreck and all the tasty chunks of dark humor within this magical ribbon of nightmarish dreams.
As a kid I looked up to Quint for short time — I admired his salty swagger. He was a fisherman and World War II veteran like the men I looked up to as a kid. He was not soft, scared or whiny. He told great stories, cracked great one-liners, drank beer and advocated for the working man. He even died bravely with a spiteful spray of blood as the shark bit him in half.
As a life-long fisherman, I also now realize Quint was perhaps the worst charter boat captain.
Think about it. His clients (Brody and Hooper) brought zero fish home for the grill. He died … in fact he was eaten. He hated life vests, smashed the radio, blew up the engine, insulted his customers and his boat sank. He was consumed by revenge on sharks … literally. Quint was frequently drunk, hated rich college-lads (like Hooper) and most of his techniques failed to land Jaws. His client, Chief Brody, had to shoot an air tank out of a moving shark’s mouth to save his own life — that is a tough shot by any standard.
I really do not think Quint deserved a tip. Brody was right, he did “need a bigger boat.”
Sadly, Jaws 2 (or the revenge of mommy shark) fizzled. No number of hippies being eaten alive, or the return of Roy Scheider could make me like it. The pain continued with Jaws 3D and became terminal with Jaws: The Revenge. Both of those films stunk worse than a bucket of week-old chum.
Remember, no skinny dipping after midnight and always get out of the water if you hear a tuba.