I watched the movie Jaws on cable this weekend. I grew up on the Gulf coast of Florida, and after I watched that movie I stopped swimming out to sandbars, swimming at night with my siblings and cousins (like anyone ever could again after that opening scene), and I STILL can’t get into the ocean again without thinking that there is a Great White lurking just below the surface. Truth is, there IS. Maybe not JUST below the surface and maybe not a Great White, but if you’re in the ocean, then you’re swimming with sharks. My mom tells me stories about swimming in Midnight Pass, an area on Siesta Key in Sarasota where she grew up which is particularly known for sharks (small ones, not Great Whites). According to Mom, although she and her siblings never stayed in the water when they spotted a shark, they didn’t freak out and have panic attacks either. As a young man, my granddad used to kill small sand sharks and sell their jaws to tourists. Until one day, as he told the story, a large wave turned him from predator into prey. He won the day and I’m certain that the story of his gallant shark wrestling was probably exaggerated through the years, but he never hunted sharks again after that incident. Good for the sharks, which really don’t mean us any harm. We go into their home, splash around like a bunch of seals au gratin with truffle butter, and then don’t understand when they take a bite out of us.
When I was in the 7th grade and lived on Longboat Key (also in Sarasota), a dead shark washed up on the shore by my house. It was about 3 feet long, and it slowly decomposed on the shore until there was nothing left of it but a pile of dried-out leathery skin and some bones. It was gross, but it was the kind of adolescent gross that is fascinating and gross at the same time. Like when the giant shark eats Captain Quint in the movie. But watching that shark decompose made me appreciate exactly what goes into a shark, which made me appreciate sharks and what complex and fascinating creatures they actually are. It made me understand sharks beyond being the monsters from the deep that were demonized in a 1970’s movie blockbuster, and I felt quite sorry for that little shark that had washed up on the shore next to my house. It was very existential moment in my life, in a 12-year-old sort of way.
I found a shark cookie cutter last week on the clearance rack of TJ Maxx, while wandering around the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, recovering from a particularly unpleasant dental appointment and waiting for my ride home to leave work. And when Jaws came on television over the weekend, I took it as a sign that I was meant to make shark cookies. Of course, I don’t really need an excuse to make cookies of any shape. But for justification, I packed a bunch of them up and sent them to a friend who is in the hospital recovering from knee surgery. A little homage to that shark of my adolescence, even if mine are made up of sugar, butter, eggs, and copious amounts of colored icing.