When the Editor asked for a piece in honor of “Shark Week,” I blanked. I’ve never seen Jaws, haven’t eaten any fin delicacies, never had an unfortunate encounter on a beach – and sharks don’t scare me, because they seem so removed from my reality, like serial killers, or men’s rights activists. I know they’re out there, but because I don’t see them, I feel like they don’t exist – not really.
But then I remembered. I have met these creatures. They are blonde, nine years old, and adore the pool game Sharks and Minnows.
Every girl in my neighborhood was an impeccable swimmer. On a swim team. Had a personal record for butterfly stroke. Flawlessly jackknifed off the diving board. These mermaids spent all day, every day of summer in one-piece swimsuits, gliding around the pool, and, in all likelihood, developing yeast infections.
I was not one of these athletic superstars. I was slow. When I swam I grew tired, quickly. One time, during a swimming competition at camp, my counselor had to pull me out at the end of a lap because she was worried I was drowning. Unique among my “friends,” I preferred underwear rather than an itchy spandex number that pinched my privates and made pooping nearly impossible.
Yet, because I was around, I was often forced to play stupid Sharks and Minnows.
The game is simple. One kid stands guard in the middle of the pool. She is the “shark.” She is, traditionally, the best swimmer of the group. She is also, typically, kind of a bitch.
Everyone else, “the minnows,” line up on one side of the pool. The minnows try to swim past the “shark” without getting caught. If tapped by the shark, the minnow joins the shark. The game continues until everyone but one is caught. The last minnow standing becomes the new shark, and earns eternal glory. It is terrific fun – if you like swimming.
So this one time, we’re playing Sharks and Minnows, and I am chosen as initial shark. Not because I won a previous round but because these girls are nine year old assholes, and they know I will be easy to out-swim.
This summer, a new rule has been created. Sharks must keep their eyes closed. It is a deranged version of Marco Polo, and I would rather die than play.
You can probably imagine what happened next. Every single player out-swam me on the first round. I thrashed around, virtually blind, and these silent Michael Phelps types swam past, over me, under me. I tried to quit, but they insisted we keep playing.
So I peeked through my goggles, as every child has done during Marco Polo, throughout the history of time. I smacked the legs of the female fishes as they dodged past. Proclaimed loudly, when inevitably accused, “of course I didn’t cheat, I heard you in the water!”
It is basically impossible to prove someone’s eyes are open underwater, especially when wearing goggles. This is why you must always provide your children with goggles. If unathletic, the child will have a cheating apparatus, and will be able to end these hazing rituals much more quickly.
Somehow or other, the girls knew what I had done and I wasn’t invited to play again. Whatever. They can have Sharks and Minnows. I’ll be fine over here in my underwear, sans yeast infection.
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