Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I got Sharkey One at the New Orleans Aquarium. A miniature Great White shark, the perfect size to fit in my hand bag. I never thought that I would actually find a plushie shark that was an actual representation of a real shark. I had always seen plenty of caricatures, facsimiles of the watered-down cartoon shark from the latest kids movie. Or bean-bag sharks, with overly bright neon colored skins and impossibly gaping mouths. Sharkey was perfect. No-one could mistake his silhouette as anything but a Great White, and although his skin was soft to the touch it was the proper shades of grey and white.

I have been fascinated by sharks from my earliest childhood. There's a photograph of me at age two, taken outside of an aquarium. On the back, my father had written that I had wondered how the sharks brushed their teeth, as they had so very many. Later on I found out that dental hygiene is easy for sharks: they just constantly replace old teeth with newer ones. Their teeth are a part of their efficient whole, cruising the oceans silently, the perfect predators.

I've visited sharks all over the world. They are both beautiful, and terrifying. As they swim past the glass, with their cold eyes and powerful bodies, they awaken atavistic fears deep within me. That primitive part of me worms up among all the knowledge I have gathered, around the careful classification of teeth, jaws, gills, fins and behaviour and chokes me by the throat. All that separates me from being prey is some concrete and glass.

I have been in the water with a shark, which is why I no longer swim in the ocean. It was in the warm waters of Africa, and for what seemed like an eternity I was suspended in the ocean with a large shark. I thought I was a good swimmer, yet I felt that I wasn't moving at all. I was at the mercy of the tide, yet this creature was not. It was powerful enough to swim against the tide.

I made it to the beach, quite safe yet very shaken. The life guards cleared the water. I left, went to work, and life continued. Yet my faith in my swimming never returned. I've never been back in the ocean. I stick to swimming pools now.

Sharkey One, that I got in New Orleans, disappeared one day shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I like to think he returned to the wild. A friend bought me Sharkey Too, who lives in my handbag. Another friend bought me Hammurabi, a Hammerhead shark
who guards my back door. Finally, I have Sharkey Three, who is a full 3 foot long Great White, who lives on my bed.

Perhaps the primitive within me is trying to lay the fear of the great sharks by collecting totems. I'm not sure. All I know is that there is something about these Sharkeys that makes me happy, and I am never one to turn my back on happiness.

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