For him, it’s always the summer of the shark

Photo courtesy Scott Saalman

Guest Columnist

I watched “Jaws.”


It’s my summer tradition; every summer is my summer of the shark.

This maneater masterpiece, set during the Fourth of July timeframe, remains my favorite film. No movie has ever come close to yanking it from my official top spot and pulling it down into the depths since I first saw it in 1975.

Most people look forward to fireworks in early July. Not me. I look forward to a 25-foot, three-ton shark that indulges in a smorgasbord of swimmers and fisherman off the coast of Amity island.

“Martin, it's all psychological. You yell, ‘barracuda,’ everybody says, ‘huh? what?’ You yell ‘shark,’ we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.’” Mayor Vaughn speaks this to Sheriff Brody near the movie’s start. I speak it too, right along with the mayor.

I can’t help but be a dialogue duettist during “Jaws.” I know most lines. Other examples:

“Well, this is not a boat accident. And it wasn’t any propeller; and it wasn’t any coral reef; and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper. It was a shark.”

“Bad fish. Not like going down to the pond chasing bluegills and tommy-cods. This shark, swallow you whole. A little shakin’, a little tenderizin’, down you go.”

“You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. Been countin’ money all your life.”

And, of course, the crème de la crème of movie lines: “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

I partake in a feeding frenzy of movie quote recitations. I chew the words like chum bait. My wife, Brynne, doesn’t mind. She’s watched “Jaws” with me a few times now. She’s used to her husband strutting his “Jaws” stuff. Besides, I put up with her when she recites nearly every quote in “Airplane.” Surely, I prefer “Airplane” when Brynne joins the cast of crazies (“ . . . and don’t call me Shirley.”)

Sometimes, Brynne joins in on the “Jaws” speak. When that preppy guy throws a stick into the ocean for his black lab, Pippet, to retrieve, and the dog ultimately disappears, Brynne will cry out with me, “Pippet. Pippet. Pippet. C’mon, Pippet. Come’on, Pippet. Pippet.” It’s like music to my ears. The other day, when I heard her imitate Quint, “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women,” I almost proposed all over again.

Lately, we have been saying another “Jaws” line to each other, “Give us a kiss.” It’s what Brody tells his toddler son during a kitchen table scene. “Why?” his son asks. “Because I need it,” says Brody.

I have watched “Jaws” as many times — if not more — as the age of the movie itself. “Jaws” turned 45 last month.

My first viewing was at the Swiss Theater in Tell City. I was 10. Afterwards, as a lonely rural route boy, I whiled away the summer doing solo reenactments of “Jaws” in my parents’ backyard. The wooden picnic table doubled as the doomed Orca fishing boat. A plastic toy shark, one of the many movie merchandise tie-ins, played the role of Jaws (despite being 24 feet shorter than the real shark). I took on the roles of Brody, Hooper and Quint; to this day, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw remain a triumvirate of movie casting perfection. I tilted the picnic table end-to-end to represent the Orca’s sinking, and I spat Heinz ketchup from my mouth to replicate Quint’s bloody death scene. To re-enact his gripping U.S.S. Indianapolis story, I coaxed my toy shark to attack my G.I. Joes, popping off their plastic heads (aka, Ben Gardner).

In the mid-1970s, I became obsessed with sharks. I purchased shark-related magazines. I listened over and over to the very cheesy “Mr. Jaws,” a 45rpm novelty record by Dickie Goodman that parodied the movie. I was ecstatic when MAD, Cracked and Saturday Night Live parodied “Jaws.” Matt Hooper’s black sock cap, gray sweatshirt and faded blue jeans became my trademark look. I gazed intently at the Ohio River, hoping to spot a dorsal fin.

I owned “The Jaws Log,” an insider’s account of the movie’s filming. I nervously bobbed for paragraphs from my grandmother’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books collection featuring an abridged “Jaws,” cautious not to get caught with my face inside a “grownup” book. I read the Bantam paperback soon after. FYI, the movie and book differ greatly.

The movie turned me into a movie fanatic. The novel made me a voracious reader. Both made me want to become a writer — perhaps the next Peter Benchley. At 12, I actually wrote a novella, “Oceanarium,” in a red spiral notebook. The plot entailed an explosion that resulted in Florida vacationers being trapped inside an oceanarium where they were attacked by hammerheads, great whites, Moray eels, killer squids and other denizens of the deep. I lost the notebook.

Last week, on July 4, Brynne and I decided to read the novel together (her first time, my third). I had two copies handy. “It will be like our own little book club,” she said. She sounded excited about us being synchronized readers. “Give us a kiss,” I said, fortunate to have someone with which to share yet another summer of the shark. Together, we began to read: “The great fish moved silently through the night water . . .” Fireworks.

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