When the movie JAWS hit movie theaters back in the summer of whenever the hell it was, it had a profound effect on people's perceived awareness of the dangers of sharks. It was a brilliant spectacle of frightful encounters with these beastly eating-machines of the sea. It was just a movie, but it made getting eaten by a shark seem terribly inconvenient and deadly. It took a little zip out of everyones' day at the beach.
People stayed out of the water because of a horror movie. Though presented as fiction, we are faced with nature's beauty, as it is torn to shreds and devoured along with more than a few cured cases of bravado.
It was a few summers after the Jaws Effect had first set in. I was about 18 years old, and had drifted past a pier that was stapled to the jagged coast of North Carolina. Specifically, it was Atlantic Beach, back in its hey-day. The beach actually looked like a slum beach at one point. I remember thinking how strange it was that a beach could sort of be avoided; not preferred. Well... it was a number of bad luck strikes. The only amusement park, with the roller-coaster, folded. Then the go-cart--gas powered demon buggies--were gone. The arcades died one by one, and the five or so big restaurants slipped away slowly. There was a greasy-looking hot dog stand type structure remaining only as the last vestige of indulgence. But it was actually a decent cure for the good old munchies. The place has since recovered, and is doing as poorly as the rest of us.
I was out there about 100 yards, just past the end of the Atlantic Beach fishing pier. I was on a 3 man inflatable raft of pretty good quality, and had one hand over the side, as I sunned in the rather roomy rubber boat. If I recall, that raft was about 100 bucks--a lot for back then. I was a happy splasher. "Shark?" Schmark! I wasn't looking for a shark. I DID sneak a few peeks but only for Dorsal Fins... which have been known to tow sharks around beneath them!
I had sort of thought about sharks, but I was a carefree young adult in the green water in the ocean, by a pier. I didn't really give much of a spit, piss, or wet sea-booger. Then I glanced down into the water at one point and was startled to see a barracuda, about the length, if not more so, than the raft i was in. Barracudas are also known to be a bit beastly, as far as fish go. Had my hand been in the water, it may have wound up being sampled by the scary fish. But then, i blinked, and it was gone! didn't see it flinch, and it took off like a nuclear sea-beast, or something. Although I have no particular phobia, since I have a little of all of them--having a hand eaten by a barracuda is one of my official creepy scary things. A personal "really could happen, almost did" kind of story.
Many stories that involve fish feature a fish that, amazingly, grows longer and larger each time it is retold, the story, i mean. But my barracuda can't grow, because the raft is the reference point for how long the fish was. that would about 4.5 feet. Okay, so maybe it grew about six inches.