The brute had to measure 15 feet, because our boat was twenty. He was a huge Hammerhead, making a slow pass under the boat, every detail visible through the calm crystalline water. That hideous head, almost four-feet across, that top fin, slicing three feet above the water.
The water was 650 feet deep at this oil platform. The steel legs poked all to the way to the bottom, then pipes reached another two miles below, sucking out that bubbling crude…black Gold…Texas Tea. And I’ve got frontpage news for ya, Sting, and Jackson Browne and Leo Di Caprio: nature, that bumbler, has yet to design a reef even half as prolific as this steel monstrosity.
Three miles away the Gulf bottom drops again, to 3000 feet. Ten miles off the Louisiana coast you’re already on the "Continental Slope," right alongside the Continental "Shelf." So big sharks pop up all the time.
He swam along just under the surface, I watched him swagger past and naturally though of Greek Mythology. What else?
"There can be no covenant between lions and men," wrote Homer in the Iliad. That was paganism circa 800 B.C.
Current pagans are much stupider. "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" they try to convince us.
I’ll take Homer. His sounds like an ancient version of : "you can’t fool mother nature." And this shark seemed to say that the same applied for sharks. "This is my realm," he glowered at us as he swaggered past. "My hood.’ No trespassing. Violators will be chomped."
Homer was right, of course. Those adorable, cuddly Born Free lion cubs grew up to kill and eat men. It’s documented. But don’t look for it on Animal Planet. The real life Grizzly Adams was killed and partly devoured by his lovable pet. But don’t expect a movie about it. And though they keep trying for that covenant with sharks on TV, you’ll notice the men (and babes) usually stay in cages.
"Well!" Pelayo (my cousin) said while grabbing his speargun as the shark faded into the glare. "At least here we can see ‘em..right?…They won’t surprise us here."
"Okay," Artie blurted while snapping on his disco pants. "You go first."
Our guests from New Jersey, Tracy and Glenn (see More Louisiana Blood-Lust in archives) were wide-eyed and mum — totally freaked. And it started way before the shark popped up. First, the music:
"Ma-cho, ma-cho, man!" blared our boom-box. " I gotta be…a ma-cho man!"
The lyrics were perfect for this dive. They started suiting up in their fancy smancy "body-suits" while Pelayo, Artie, and I zipped up our polyester bell-bottoms and buttoned our synthetic shirts midway up, our kite-like collars flapping like wings. 20 years ago they poked our dance-mate in the ear while doing the Bump…ah yes…the memories: Now the smoke spilling onto the flashing floor, covering it to a depth of two feet, but barely reaching the top of our heels, and thus leaving the magnificent flares on our angel-flights unobscured, flapping gloriously in full view, fanning the smoke in great billows as we leaped and pranced….
Anyway, Tracy finally looked up at us, blinked hard three times, and leaned over whispering to Glenn. They both looked at us, speechless.
"The perfect wet suit." Pelayo snapped when he saw their faces. "Protects us from the coral and barnacles when a 60 pound Amberjack starts banging you around the pilings."
"Yes, of course." Glenn stammered.
"And the pants have plastic zippers." I added. "These synthetic stretch fibers are almost identical to those body suits you and Tracy are wearing. And a helluva lot cheaper. Just look way back in your closet."
Tracy looked down at her sleeve and nodded. She looked over with a bent smile.
"And best of all," Pelayo continued "The humongous bell-bottoms seem to aid in propulsion…the triggerfish do like to nibble on the collars though….
"I see." Glenn said with a nod. "And the music…haven’t heard that in a while."
"We feel it’s perfect for the occasion." snapped Pelayo, already swaying to the beat.
Tracy was starting to rock to the music herself, her hips shaking and her booties tapping time. By the time I strapped on my BC Pelayo was losing himself to the thumping beat. The Rig Stalker was giving way to the Disco King.
It was contagious. I found myself jerking to the driving back-beat irresistibly as the notes carried me back in time. My fins started flapping rhythm on the bow while my arms jerked out in cue to point my finger skyward.
Watching Tracy I knew she’d been no slouch under that flashing ball. It started slowly. A pulsing motion beginning at her hips and moving up to her shoulders. Soon her entire body undulated with a sinewy motion. None of us were immune. Every note carried a delightful memory. Every lyric sparked a flashback. Tracy’s head tilted back, she closed her yes and slowly opened her mouth: "Night Fever, Night Fe-ver" she cooed.
By the time Disco Inferno came on she was wailing in a ringing falsetto that all but drowned out the jam-box and most of the racket from the platform. Then we all joined in. Opening my eyes after a particularly heart-felt stanza I saw Pelayo extend his hand to Tracy while turning to Glenn. "Do you mind?"
"Go right ahead" said Glenn while bobbing uncontrollably to the spastic beat. He closed his eyes and pursed his lips as he joined the Gibb brothers on the harmony.
Tracy reached out for Pelayo’s hand and they cut loose. Move over John Travolta. Eat your heart out Donna Summer. Glenn, Artie and I took up the chorus to Disco Inferno, "Burn Baby Burn…Burn Baby Burn," as Pelayo and Tracy executed a perfect pirouette. Only the strobe lights were missing.
Tracy spun like a top, even with her booties on. Pelayo’s hips, knees, and shoulders moved as if hinged with ball-bearings. Tracy matched him move for move. They were a veritable blur of Disco motion — the Prince of Fat City and the Dancing Queen. What a scene.
Then looking up I noticed that six of the Platform workers were executing a flawless Hustle. Those steel-toed boots kicking up in perfect time as they sashayed back and forth on the steel grating. Eventually we suited up and jumped in while waving to an ovation from the rig workers.
Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls the shark "the most frightening animal on earth."
Wiley Beevers of New Orleans probably agrees.
In the early 80s, Wiley’s part-time job was donning scuba gear and feeding the fish in a 135,000 gallon aquarium featured at a Disco in suburban New Orleans named Sharkey’s Reef. The tank contained assorted Gulf fish and a six foot Tiger Shark. Every time Wiley entered the tank, the resident DJ made it a point to play Hall & Oates’ "Maneater."
We’d all turn in mid-boogie, point at the tank and sing-along, "Whoa-a here she comes…watch out boy she’ll chew you up," as the Shark swaggered by, yards away, with that menacing, tooth-bristling grin and those cruel hooded cat-eyes. Wiley always raised his arms and shook his head in mock fright as he passed. Great fun, this Sharkey’s Reef. And the covenant seemed to be holding.
One night Wiley wasn’t "watching out" like Hall and Oats and we advised — so the toothy brute broke the covenant. He blind-sided him with gaping jaws, then dragged him around the tank in a billowing red cloud, shaking his head, jerking Wiley around like a dummy. The girls stopped in mid-spin, tottered on their heels and shrieked in horror. The guys whooped and cackled (tequilla shot night), our collars flapping like kites.
Yep, we finally got what we came for. Jose Ortega y Gasset knew. "Blood has an unequaled orgiastic power," he admits in Meditations On Hunting. Gotta hand it to the cranky old reactionary. He told it like it is — or was. My favorite passage from his Revolt of the Masses — "What we need, is world without sanctimony. "
That would of course be a world without Liberals. But back to his Meditations on Hunting: "Blood," he continues. "The liquid that carries and symbolizes life, is meant to flow occultly, secretly, through the interior of the body. When it is spilled …a reaction of terror is produced in all nature — yet after this bitter first impression, if it flows abundantly, it ends by producing the opposite effect: it intoxicates, excites, maddens both man and beast…the Romans went to the Coliseum as they did to a tavern, and the bullfight public does the same…blood operates as a stupefying drug."
Sharkey’s Reef shoulda charged a cover charge that night. Wiley required 150 stitches.
Think I’ll scream(!) if I see one(!) more sentimental TV special, or one(!) more magazine article on the "gentle," "noble" shark and how "misunderstood" he is. They’re replacing the whale and dolphin in eco-sentimentology.
Shark attacks have become unchic, like lion and leopard attacks in Africa. You’d never know it in this age of the Discovery Channel and eco-tourism and photo safaris, but lions and leopards kill and eat a Hell of a lot of Africans every year.
Peter Benchley’s recent article in National Geographic about Great Whites was a typical example of the nauseating sanctimony that pervades any commentary on nature nowadays. He called the fishing for Great Whites, largely inspired by his Jaws, a "moral travesty."
Mercifully this was an article. He spared us — as far as I know — the snuffling and blubbering with Baba Wawa, Ed Bradley, or Katie Couric. A close up, the red swollen eyes, a tear trickling down. "P-p-please f-f-forgive me. I realize it was my book that started th-th-th-this awful, terrible tragedy. I-I-I-just can’t…These p — p-p-poor-poor creatures, these gentle, caring nurturing creatures are so m-m-misunderstood."
What a sap. Reminded me of Robert McNamara blubbering about his role in the Vietnam War. Nothing wrong with contrition now. But was that really what McNamara was expressing?
Are people like him really capable of humility and repentance, except in the abstract sense? And as a play to the media gallery? Slick Willie apologizing to Africans for slavery was a perfect example….I dunno…I gotta wonder?
And I sure didn’t hear any sympathy for the Catholic Indochinese massacred and piled into mass graves at Hue by Uncle Ho’s finest.
Look eco-weenies, the only thing we "misunderstood" about sharks here in Louisiana was their flavor; "More like sirloin steak than fish," according to my chum Artie Bourgeois (Booje-Wah). " Man, I just steak em, marinade them in fajita marinade, and trow em on the grill…invite the neighbors…. lotsa cold beer…lotsa chilled white wine for the wives…."
Yeah you rite, Artie!
And…Oh, we ended up tangling with that Hammerhead. Read about it in The Helldiver’s Rodeo, where you’ll also see us modeling Louisiana’s contribution to dive fashion — the Disco Dive Suit.