Sharks in Pools

For Christmas, my dad buys each of us a book pertaining to our current interest and/or hobby—or at least the ones he wants us to cultivate. About 10 years ago, he got my siblings, both writers, books about writing and getting published. Me? I tore open my present to discover a book titled “Three Minute Therapy.” Yes. It’s always nice to learn that your parents think your hobby should be getting sane. But, the best part about receiving the worst Christmas present ever was that when I finally cracked it open, there was a chapter titled “Sharks in Pools.” I nearly fell out of bed. I’d no idea there were other nuts out there who were also afraid of sharks in chlorinated pools.

My fear started with a James Bond obsession. One summer, I read a ton of Ian Fleming novels (a feat unto itself as I’m the slowest, highly educated reader this side of the Mississippi) and my newfound love fortuitously coincided with a Bond movie marathon. That’s when I saw THE scene that changed my life. Bond is leisurely swimming in a pool when suddenly his host taps a button that opens the underwater pool grate releasing minions of sharks to attack. Caught off guard, Bond is surrounded and almost overpowered. Only through his 007 prowess does he finally fight them off. Now, I’d never been a huge fan of pool grates, but this movie said to me, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Most people point out that sharks wouldn’t last two seconds in a chlorinated pool. Unfortunately, the Bond pool looked freaking cholorinated. Plus when Bond dove in he never said “Oh my, isn’t this a refreshing change! It’s saltwater.“ And let’s face it, any normal person diving into a normal pool (i.e., neon blue) only to discover it was saltwater would exclaim, “Oh wow, it’s saltwater!”

The other thing people ask is whether I’m afraid of sharks in their natural habitat. The answer is yes and no. No, when it’s murky and I’m ankle deep. Yes, when the water is clear blue like a pool and therefore, I am compelled to watch every angle at all times to ensure I don’t miss a shark charge from behind. For some reason, I never quite believed Walt McNamara—noted Cleveland attorney and essentially an uncle—that sharks cannot attack humans without playing the score to Jaws otherwise they risk being in violation of international water play law.

A little while after I’d opened my Christmas “present”, I met Aerin (name changed to protect her inner neurocies), and I learned over a plethora of margaritas that she too was afraid of sharks in pools. Naturally, we felt a unique kinship and became the best of friends. But, here’s the rub, the whole sharks in pools thing isn’t unique. Most intelligent people just don’t cop to it.

According to “Three Minute Therapy,” people like Aerin and me are simply your average, garden variety, control freaks. We’re often also afraid of flying (Guilty.) We are perhaps also the same people who in the middle of enjoying the view of the city and the river from the elevated portion of the N/R train simultaneously think about how to survive a train derailment into the river. For the record, only skinny people are making it out of the subway’s narrow pop-open windows.

So, how do we cope with these irrational fears? First, never swim alone and always scull near someone. This way if a shark does attack it lowers the probability that you’ll be the swimmer it chooses. Second, never swim in deepwater, chlorinated or un-chlorinated, because that’s like asking for a remake of the Jaws poster. As for flying, you need crazy rituals to ensure the plane’s safe arrival. I put the sign of the cross on the door of every plane I board before starting a prayer ritual that will likely one day include troll dolls.