Sand In My Shoes: Keep the Great White away

Shark Tank Pitch: Dirty Water




Okay, now I’m rooting for dirty water.

Dump your toxic waste into the waters of Coopers Beach, just ranked in the nation’s Top 10. Discharge chemical waste into Sag Harbor. Let the melting ice caps raise the water level until they meet the septic tanks overflowing with the waste of overpopulation of the East End and let the rust tide algae bloom. Sail the Exxon Valdez II toward Montauk Point and let it run aground on Shagwong Reef, spilling an oil slick across the entire East End like a dark black moat. Let the mosquito sprayers napalm the coastline with methoprene larvicide and let the rains wash the weed killers and lawn chemicals into the waters of Lake Montauk, Block Island Sound, and the Atlantic coast.

Flush all your plastics.

Bring back scandal-polluted Scott Pruitt to finish the task of poisoning our blue waters as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, officially renaming the Potomac as Trump Swamp.

Send up a million balloons from Hot Dog Beach.

When news came last week that a 20-foot great white shark was tracked off Montauk, I was transported back to 1974 when I first read a popular novel called “Jaws” by Peter Benchley that remained on The New York Times bestseller list for 44 weeks. The book was so frightening that I promised myself I would never again swim in the ocean.

I grew up watching monster movies about Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Godzilla, Rodan, the Fly, and King Kong. As kids, we collected bubble gum cards with all these monsters from the Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi and Roger Corman and Japanese C-movie catalogue. But even as kids, you knew they were fantasy monsters that you would never run across in real life.

But “Jaws” bit readers a different way.

Sharks were real-life monsters that in real life could devour you like a hors d’oeuvre at a beach party. Down in Coney Island, the Poor Man’s Paradise of Brooklyn, the waters were so dirty with sewage, sludge, oil slicks, illegal dumping, medical waste, syringes, dirty diapers, and the waste of humans too lazy to walk to a rest room that most self-respecting germs wouldn’t swim there, never mind a noble school of fish that would attract a big shark.

One of the last decent things Richard Nixon had done as the dirtiest president in U.S. history — until Trump claimed the title — was sign legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency. My theory is that if he was going to be sent up the river, Nixon wanted it to be a clean one when his kids came to visit.

The first novel after the Hardy Boys that my big brother Pete gave me to read as a kid was “The Mugger” by Ed McBain, a scary crime thriller which I read on a bus to Camp Sebago which was part of the Fresh Air Fund that sent poor city kids to the sticks for two weeks to see cows and horses and verdant forest and mirror-topped lakes. But I’d soon learn that muggers are not as scary as sharks. I learned how to swim in summer camp in gorgeous Lake Sebago. When I came home, I showed off my aquatic skills to the other tenement kids out in the rolling filthy waves off Coney Island.

Then my brother gave me “The Old Man and the Sea” as a 13th birthday gift. The chapters where the sharks attack, tearing away great hunks of Santiago’s prized giant marlin catch lashed to his old fishing skiff, gave me the willies. I would then only go into the Coney surf up to my waist, so I could run for shore if I saw a dorsal fin.

I never saw one.

The waters of Coney were too dirty.

But after reading “Jaws,” I swore off all ocean swimming.

Then came the movie version of “Jaws,” made by a skinny, 26-year-old director named Steven Spielberg, and that has remained, for me, the scariest monster movie ever made. I watched it in a darkened theater with screaming adults who jumped from their seats at the shock editing so effective it won a Best Editing Oscar. The lingering images of Robert Shaw being masticated by a great white shark made me fearful of taking a bath. It did for swimming what “Psycho” had done for taking showers.

I have not dipped a toe in the ocean since. I have never been on an ocean cruise. If I won one, I’d give it away to someone I don’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to look out at the ocean. I love the mystery, majesty, and might of the sea. But the ocean is unforgiving and filled with monsters with big giant teeth, the better to eat you with, called sharks. Like the sharks that devoured Santiago’s final great catch and that terrorized the little fictional coastal town of Amity in “Jaws,” which is so similar to the beach towns of the East End.

The sea belongs to the creatures that inhabit it. I have nothing against sharks. They wouldn’t eat us if we didn’t invade their home. I am a proud landlubber who takes the advice Humphrey Bogart’s Rick gives a Nazi officer in “Casablanca.” “There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”

There are certain sections of planet Earth I don’t invade. Starting with the seven seas. But I have kids and grandkids much braver than I who love to swim in the ocean. I watch from the blanket, always scanning for a dorsal fin.

And now that there is a great white shark dun-dun-dun-dunning off the coast of Montauk, the experts tell us it has come our way because the waters are cleaner. Following other creatures lured by clean water upon which the sharks feed.

Not long before one of those creatures has two legs and two arms instead of gills and tails.

So, I’m rooting for sludge, oil spills, nitrogen, and enterococcus. I want waters so polluted that bilge rats will think they’re skeevy and upon which mosquitoes will perish on contact. I want waters that only corporate America could love. Polluted waters that sea life and my loved ones will avoid, sending great white sharks back to deep water where they belong.

We don’t need a bigger boat.

We need dirtier water.

 

denishamill@gmail.com