I live in California, and my family’s condo is about a mile from the beach. When my son was a baby, he really hated the feeling of sand being stuck to his feet, so going to the beach meant a lot of sitting on a towel under an umbrella and frowning, and eventually we just gave up on it and went to the park instead.
Later, as we passed through a dinosaur-obsession phase, my son picked up a book about sharks. The book had enormous color pictures and ranked sharks on a scale of one to five jaws: one jaw for a shark’s indifference to humans/lack of teeth (whale shark, wobbegong), up to five jaws for an aggressive shark with lots of teeth (bull shark, great white). And because I can’t seem to read a book out loud to a child without adding a whole lot of nuance and perspective and commentary, I may have mentioned this one movie about a shark that was menacing a town one summer . . .
My point, of course, was to reassure my son that shark attacks were extremely rare and that the beach was fun! But I ended up teaching him an entirely different lesson.
Once upon a time there was a little town called Amity. “Amity” sounds like it means friendship in Latin, and Latin is a dead language, and Amity was a friendly town on the East Coast, on the Atlantic ocean, which is different from our ocean, which is the Pacific.
Jackson: I am so bored right now. Tell me about your friend who swam with the nurse sharks again.
Me: NO, this is a good story. So this town got very busy in the summer time, lots of people would come from other towns to go to the beach, and it would get very crowded and all the people who owned shops by the beach were happy because they sold a lot of ice cream and sunscreen and flip-flops and whatever.
Me: Yes! Hats, and salt-water taffy.
Jackson: That sounds gross.
Me: No, they don’t use ocean water, it’s really good. Haven’t you ever had taffy? I’ll get you some. So, the shopkeepers would make a bunch of money in the summer and then when the tourists left in the fall the shopkeepers would just kind of scrape by all winter eating carrots and trying to stay warm until the tourists came back the next summer.
Jackson: That doesn’t make any sense.
Me: Well, I wouldn’t want to do it either, but that’s what works for them. ANYWAY, so all of a sudden, there’s a new sheriff in Amity, Chief Brody.
Mayor: “I’m the mayor of this friendly town and if word gets out that a shark is eating swimmers, no one will want to come here and buy taffy and sunscreen and all our taffy-and-sunscreen shops will go out of business.”
Brody: “What’s more important, selling salty taffy or saving lives?”
Mayor: “It’s not salty! We need to save our town’s jobs, even if everyone’s dead from sharks and there’s no one to either buy or sell taffy. That’s just common sense.”
Brody: “How can you be a pro-business politician who’s also pro-shark bite?”
Mayor: “You Hollywood lefties think you’re so smart.”
Jackson: Wait, is the shark biting the people or is it eating them?
Me: People don’t actually taste that good to sharks, so a shark will swim by and say, “Hmm, is that a seal?” because people in wet suits sort of look like seals if the water is murky. So the shark will be all, *CHOMP* “Hey, that tastes terrible! I’m out of here.” So people get bitten, but not eaten. Usually. I’m just making things worse, aren’t I?
Jackson: Kind of.
Brody: “I don’t want any more shark attacks, I’m closing the beach.”
Mayor: “You can’t! It’s the fourth of July weekend! If our shopkeepers can’t sell a curious mix of cotton candy, shells, and novelty t-shirts this weekend, their livelihoods will be ruined and no one will vote for me next year.”
Brody: “The mother of the newest victim just put up a bounty for whoever kills the shark that killed her son.”
Mayor: “Who are you?”
Quint: “I’m an old salt who knows a thing or two about sharks.”
Mayor: “Your price is too high. I’ll give you $20 and a free tube of sunscreen.”
Quint: “Good luck to you, sir.”
So then a bunch of fishermen from all over New England come in and start looking for sharks to kill so they could get the bounty money from the dead kid’s mom. One of them finds a tiger shark, and it’s pretty big so they haul it up onto the dock and everyone’s happy because they think this is the shark that’s been . . . biting people.
Hooper: “I’m from the Oceanographic Institute, and that body that washed up on the beach wasn’t hit by a boat propeller. This kind of damage could only be done by one thing: a great white shark.”
Me: So some people in the town are scared, but some people think it’s funny. Like, one kid makes a fake shark fin and ties it to his back and goes out swimming and everyone freaks out! And then the kid brings his head out of the water to take a breath and he raises his face and a policeman is pointing a gun right at him.
Jackson: The policeman was going to kill him for doing a prank?
Me: Yes. NEVER DO PRANKS. Then one day the Chief’s son goes out in a boat and sees the shark and has to go to the hospital because he’s in shock.
Jackson: What’s shock?
Me: Shock is when your body reacts to a stressful event. You get really cold and clammy and you have a weak pulse, so it’s good if you can see a doctor to help you feel better. So the Chief is all, “It’s personal now,” and the mayor is all, “Oh, God, I was wrong,” and Chief Brody gets the old sea captain, Quint, and the scientist guy, Hooper, and they all go out on Quint’s boat to find the shark and punish him for scaring the Chief’s son.
Jackson: How do they punish the shark?
Me: You’ll see.
Quint: “Farewell and adieu to ye fair Spanish ladies . . . ”
Hooper: “Quit singing sea chanties and lower me down in this shark cage so I can do some science.”
Quint: “You want to be human chum, that’s alright with me.”
Hooper: “I think you don’t respect me. Look at all these scars I have from fish bites and stuff.”
Quint: “My ship went down after a submarine attack in World War II and watched all my shipmates be eaten by sharks.”
Hooper: “You win.”
Quint: “I’m going to attach some lines to these big barrels, then shoot the lines into the shark’s back. Dragging this barrels around will wear out the shark and then we’ll kill him.”
Me: The end!
Jackson: That can’t be the end.
Jackson: You’re just trying to distract me.
Me: Look, it gets pretty bloody at the end. They try to wear out the shark by making it drag around all those barrels, but it doesn’t work, the shark is just too mean to die. It eats Quint, destroys the boat, Hooper goes missing, and then the chief finally kills it by shoving a scuba-diver’s air tank into his mouth and shooting it, which makes the shark’s head explode.
Jackson: Go to Google and type in “youtube+jaws+death.”
Me: That’s a great idea!
Jackson: And now I am scarred for life. Again. Thanks, mom.
Me: That’s what I’m here for.