Monday, August 13, 2018

Bad Shark Movies and Rumors of Bad Shark Movies

I went to see THE MEG on Saturday afternoon. The wife was out of town and I needed a break from work around the homestead, so mid-afternoon I showered up, put on a clean tee and headed north to Our Town Cinemas in Davidson for the $8 matinee showing. I had every reason to believe the movie was going to be stupid, but that was okay; Our Town has a wide selection of craft beers, the A/C works just fine and the pretzels are soft and salty. 

The movie was predictably bad, so much so that I’m not even going to attempt to review it. Instead, I’m going to take a trip down memory lane to the last time I purposely saw a bad shark movie in a theater (Sharknados on TV don’t count). It was the summer of 1983, my second summer working as a busboy at the Catawba Island Club. I was between colleges at the time, having left Ohio U the previous spring and enrolled at Bowling Green for the upcoming semester. My high school buddy Carl also worked at the club, so our schedules were often in synch and we tended to hang out together. Near the end of a leisurely afternoon lunch shift, we determined that we both had the evening off and decided to head over to the Sandusky Mall and take in a movie. Carl noted that Jaws 3-D was playing and he’d always wanted to see a movie in 3-D. The problem was, we were a little reluctant to go to the movies, just the two of us, because we thought, hilariously in hindsight, that it “gave the wrong impression.” A year earlier, we had, in fact, taken Carl’s older sister, Jo, with us to a memorable drive-in showing of the movie Ghost Story. Neither of us was the least bit gay, but in those days it didn’t take much to be labeled as such.     

Carl suggested we call a female friend of ours that we had hung out with in high school and occasionally still saw around town. For purposes of this story, let’s call her JC. The thing was, there was a backstory that Carl was either unaware or only marginally aware of. I had been infatuated with JC from literally the first time I had seen her, but for a variety of reasons had never acted on those feelings... until earlier that year. Returning home from school that spring, I had finally decided to ask JC out. She readily accepted and I was thrilled. However, when the day arrived, she called and said she had to work late and would take a “rain check.” I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but decided not to press the point any further and just move on. So, this was about to get a little awkward.

As it turned out, JC was available that evening and we made arrangements to pick her up. Another busboy, Ron, who was a few years younger but an okay guy, overheard our conversation, said that he wanted to see Jaws 3-D and asked if he could tag along. Having no particularly good reason to say no, we agreed. Ron then asked if he could bring “a friend.” Sensing a little apprehension on our part, he quickly added, “... not like a girlfriend or anything, just a girl I’ve known since grade school.”   

We picked up JC first, neither of us making any reference to the earlier cancelled date. We then collected Ron and he directed us to his “friend’s” house. Ron had said he’d known her since grade school, but honestly, she could have BEEN in grade school. Ron was only 16 or 17 himself, but c’mon; I’m pretty sure that girl was playing with her Barbies before we showed up. I seriously started to wonder whether Jaws 3-D was an R movie and if we counted as adult supervision. 

We piled in my old Chevy Malibu for the half-hour drive to the mall; me, JC and Carl in the front seat, and Ron and Lolita (not her real name, obviously) in back. We were halfway across the bay bridge, windows down, WIOT playing on the radio, talking about how our summers were going, basically living the life when I threw a casual glance at the rear view mirror. All I’ll say is Ron’s  definition of “just a friend” was slightly different than mine. 

“You okay back there?”

“MmmHmmm.”

“Not getting too much wind?”

“NnnnHmmm.”

“Well, just let us know.”

“MmmmHmm.”

When we got to the mall, Ron and Lolita suggested they would sit by themselves at the movie, if that was okay. Carl said he thought that would be a great idea and excused himself to go to the bathroom, leaving me and JC standing in the lobby holding Cokes and popcorn.

“So, I thought maybe you’d call to reschedule.”

“I didn’t know... I mean it was hard to tell what was up.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Well, I guess we got our ‘date’ anyway.”

“Uh-huh.”  

The movie was bad. Really, really bad. And 3-D technology back then was nothing like it is today. There was one slightly effective scene where a bloody severed arm was floating toward the audience, but other than that it was just kind of a muddled, grainy mess. The gist of the movie was that a new ocean theme park is opening and through some kind of mechanical malfunction a gate to the ocean is left open and a great white shark swims in. Bloody mayhem ensues and our heros, a young Dennis Quaid and a slumming Louis Gossett Jr., have to find a way to kill it and save the guests, who for reasons I can’t quite recall aren’t free to simply, you know, get in their cars and leave.

After the movie we went for ice cream, laughed at ourselves for having spent good money on such schlock, and silently wondered whether Lolita qualified for the free kiddie cone with adult purchase. I dropped off Lolita and Ron first, then JC. The order was not random. If I’d wanted some time alone with JC, I could have reversed the course and taken Carl home first, but somehow this felt like the appropriate, upbeat ending to a relationship that never was. As she headed up the sidewalk toward her house, she turned and said, “see you guys around.”     

That was the second to last time I ever saw her. A few years later, when I was working as a manager in a department store in Toledo she came in with her one-year-old daughter. We had both married accountants and settled in the suburbs. Ain’t that the way the story goes. 

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