In the coastal Carolinas, where I live, there have been 11 shark attacks on our beaches. This is the most recorded in one year since they started keeping records of that kind of thing 80 years ago. It sounds bad, but it’s still five less than the number of Republicans running for president so far. So there’s that.
All this shark-bite business has created a bizarre summer in which I don’t so much venture into the ocean that is only seven miles from my house as observe it from a safe distance, which I like to describe as “the mall instead.”
It’s probably going to hurt our tourism industry because you can’t hardly turn on the national news without some poor sap telling Al Roker that the shark “sounded like a freight train.” No, wait. That’s a tornado. But, while I am sorry about the real victims, I have little patience for the fame-seekers who are whining to the TV cameras every time a big ol’ conch shell bumps them on the shin. (“Well it FELT like a shark.”)
I don’t personally feel threatened because, truth be told, I’m more of an “up to my knees just to cool off” kind of beachgoer. There are a couple of reasons for this. For example, everyone knows that you always have to wait 30 minutes after eating before you should go in the water and, let’s be honest, I’ve never spent more than 30 minutes without eating SOMETHING, so that’s kind of a deal breaker.
I grew up being told that it was “against the law” to go in the water right after eating, that you had to wait at least 30 minutes, preferably 45. The reason was that you might get some sort of PB&J-induced gut cramp that would, I guess, make you too sick to swim safely back to shore where everyone else was obediently biding their time and safely digesting.
But the bigger reason that I don’t go into the ocean beyond my knees is that I never learned how to swim.
Over the years, whenever I tell someone I can’t swim, it’s as if I’ve revealed that I spend my spare time writing serial killers in prison. Look, it’s embarrassing and a little weird not knowing how to swim, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. That’s Donald Trump, sillies!
Almost always the horror gives way fairly quickly to a look of exaggerated pity and an earnest offer to “teach you how; really, I would love to.” This is always said in a slow, calm tone that sounds suspiciously like baby talk. Because, now, in their eyes, you are actually kind of “challenged.”
I wait for the inevitable question: “So why did you never learn to swim?” and I answer them honestly by saying that I spent my summers learning Mandarin, inventing vaccines and writing harpsichord music.
The real truth? I have no idea why I never learned. And now, well, I’m old-ish. But unbitten.
CELIA RIVENBARK is a New York Times best-selling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.