Saturday, May 17, 2008

Alive With Fish, Dying Inside

Last week, Veronica of Toddled Dredge wrote a succinct list of things that creep her out and then asked that I do the same. O, would that it could be a succinct list! So here is the first part in a series I like to call The Top Ten Very Specific Embarrassing Things That Give Me The Serious Creeps, Thanks For Asking (Although Only One Of You Asked, And The Rest Must Suffer.)

First up: swimming in the open ocean, or more specifically, swimming above all the stuff in the open ocean. Lucky for you and my future psychotherapists, I can pinpoint the exact origin of this fear and, like so many things in my childhood, it came from a book.

yowza

The book, an illustrated nature book for children, contains a certain page, a page I pored over a thousand times, a page I studied until I had goosebumps and chills and shortness of breath. This is the page:

The Ocean

Go ahead. Click to enlarge. I dare you. And please be sure to enjoy this single paragraph of copy:

At Home in The Deep

I suppose the phrase "alive with fish" should have intrigued me, piqued my interest, filled me with childlike wonderment, et cetera, et cetera, but it only filled me with primal, white-hot, fishy-scented terror. Perhaps if the fish in question had been, say, beautiful, colorful tropical fish, or fish with friendly little fish faces, or basically anything but this:

Holy Viper Fish

Or this:

Giant Swallower

Or sweet mother of mercy this:

Gulper Eel

I'm no marine biologist, but do some of these fish even exist? (If I Google "giant swallower" I only get Native American mythology and porn.) Are these De-Bunked Mythical Fish of The Seventies or something?

And surely you've noticed the serious scale issues with this illustration. Check out the size of those prawns vis-a-vis the giant squid. And doesn't it look like all that stuff is just right there, like five feet from the beach? As far as I could tell, swimming out into the ocean a few yards was going to go something like this:

Fish Bait

A murky, teeming mess of teeth, tentacles, scales, and stingers mere inches from my tender, pasty toes? Sharks and hatchet fish and gulper eel and viper fish and something called the freaking giant swallower? Count me out, suckers.

And the saddest part is this: my encounters with the actual ocean were limited to the very occasional family trip to California or Hawaii. Living in land-locked Idaho, I really should have spent my spare time worrying about mountain lions, white supremacists, and Larry Craig. Still, we did go to the lake every summer and don't fool yourself, lakes have their own set of problems.

Nessie

At any rate, please don't let this put a damper on any of your upcoming vacation plans, OK? I don't want you to think about this story or that illustration or any of my rambling nonsense when you wade into the (briny, dark, vast, unknowable) sea.

But don't take it from me, take it from Ol' Squiddy here:

Squiddy

42 comments:

Liz said...

You and me both, sister. I'm headed to the beach this weekend and will be staying nice and dry on the sand.

stu said...

I love the picture with the baby.

I watched Jaws as a kid and it freaked me out in lakes, where there are no sharks...

I'm off to Google "giant swallower"...

-Stu

J. said...

You forgot to include illustrations of white supremacists and Larry Craig in that picture with the innocent baby. They're out there, lurking just beneath the surface.

MamaBird said...

Wow, were you also scared to let your leg dangle off the bed? What was under *there*??

Jenn said...

WOW , glad to hear I'm not the only one that doesn't want to ever go in the ocean, even though I grew up near it . All those reasons are the same as mine, even lakes freak me out you never know about snakes and big fish and leeches and good lord a body could come loose from the tree it was snagged on and float up by me ! See you are not alone haha !

Veronica Mitchell said...

Exactly.

bluemountainsmary said...

I'm fine with oceans.

Lakes are the the freaky things.

foolery said...

Eh, water is no big deal. It's the SAND that gets me . . . sand fleas -- HELLOOOOO, I could get FLEAS at the beach?! And quicksand, and sandpipers (what's that about?) and probably tons of other stuff, shudder.

We're just not safe ANYWHERE!

(You make me laugh -- thank you)

Sherri E. said...

My eyes went directly to the Gulper Eel. Yikes.

We never, ever went to the ocean when I was growing up. So for a while it was this mysterious and desirable destination.

Now that I have kids, though? It terrifies me. I have said before that I used to think the ocean was this lovely peaceful metaphor just waiting for me to contemplate it. Now it is a hungry monster that wants to swallow my babies.

Sherri E. said...

Oh, and I'm anticipating with great eagerness the toilet post.

Melanie said...

Please note all you smarty-pants, nonchalant ocean-swimmers: I HAVE DEEP CHILDHOOD SCARS. Also, GULPER EEL.

Also note: Despite my fears, I will go in the ocean, but it must be clear and pristine and shallow. And I must carry a harpoon.

Stacy (mama-om) said...

Wonderfully done, but what I want to know is why do you still have this book? And do you let your children read it?

LOL!

Loralee Choate said...

I freak out in lakes and oceans.

Besides the freaky aquatic life, I start thinking about all the people they have never found. :S

Rima said...

I am right there with you, sistah. I was always vaguely aware that fish lived in the ocean, and then I went snorkeling in Bermuda on my honeymoon AND I SAW THEM. I have not been able to set foot inside the water since.

Magpie said...

I hate fresh water. It feels all strange in the nose and eyes. Give me the ocean any day.

BipolarLawyerCook said...

I agree with you on the squid-- scary bastards that they are. But Nessie? She'll just tickle your feet, as they dangle in the bonnie warm water of the loch. I'd tell you more, but I promised Scotland Yard I'd keep it general.

Jozet at Halushki said...

"If I Google "giant swallower" I only get Native American mythology and porn."

LOL!!!

And yeah, I had a book with drawings of Viper Fish and Anglers and no shoot, those things are the stuff of Stephen King nightmares.

Mrs. G. said...

I'm with Stu. I don't like any natural bodies of water. If I can't see my feet, there is no proof, in my mind, that there isn't bad shit lurking just waiting to bite me. And my anxiety level has skyrocketed now that I know it is possible to be swallowed.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

The book was made in the 70s, yes?

Obviously, the illustrator had partaken of too much LSD. My husband was a marine biology major (back in the day), and he's never heard of most of those frightening creatures.

Bet you'll jump right next time you're seaside now. Right?

Mike Golch said...

most of thosre fish live in deep oceans and or far from shore.That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Tossing confetti and flaming walnut shells.your way and mine.

Nora Bee said...

Seriously. I'm more of a swimming pool type myself, germs and pee and sloughed off skin and all.

dkuroiwa said...

Yes..."Jaws" totally messed with me too....swimming in ponds, lakes, ocean..hell even the outdoor baths here...I get that music in my head...doo dun doo dun doodoodoodooo...!!!
In August, if you like swimming with a challenge, the jelly fish are out....and some of those mothers are HUGE!!! "Swimmin' with the jellies!!" :-D
We saw on TV one of those 7 foot squid that live 'somewhere' in the waters around Japan....YIKES!! No...I will observe from the shore or a boat...a big BIG boat!!!

hippyhappyhay said...

Well, that is a bother! What terribly un-child-friendly illustrations those are. I must NEVER let Madison read this post. Never. Here she is....

standing still said...

What amazes me is that you not only still have the book, but you can still look at it. Shudder....

Anonymous said...

This is worse than the illustration!

www.forteantimes.com/strangedays
/cryptozoology/846
/the_great_swallower_strikes_again.html

Memarie Lane said...

I am so with you on this. I will not put a single toe into any body of water unless it's had so many chemicals dumped into it that it bleaches my hair and pickles my body for burial. I don't even like to walk on the beach because of the sand crabs. BLARGH!

Professor J said...

Wow. Now I am scared of swimming in the ocean, too.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Hey, you got your act together!

I'm a southern California girl--not even Jaws could keep me out of the water when I was younger. Now? fear of wearing a bathing suit without a wrap will do the trick!

stephanie said...

I just want to say "Holy Shit" and "AMEN." Perhaps you would enjoy my panic attack post from last summer when Stu tried to help me find the fun of kayaking in Hawaii.

I don't even want to go take a shower now...

Tootsie Farklepants said...

Whenever I watch something about deadly sea and land creatures it seems they always reside in Australia. I'll probably never go there.

Dr. Cason said...

Holy Crap that does look scary! The baby especially!

I'm not scared of the fish. It's the riptides that'll kill you!

Sweet Pepita said...

Yes! I totally understand this fear. As a teenager, one of those fish that feed off of whatever it is that grows on sharks attached itself to my thigh. Man, that was so, so gross and creepy (and did terrible things to my self image).

Architeuthis Dux said...

I'm pretty sure that this is my favorite post of yers. Yep...I think so. Better than crouton-lung which is just mean spirited and very anti-salad toppings. This post is quie close to my heart.

Jennifer H said...

Oh my god, me too. My fear didn't develop until I was older and started to think about what's in there.

I love the picture of the angler fish in front of the gulper eel. I'm pretty sure it's saying "Oh, sh*t."

I'll keep my toes dry, thank you very much.

Sojourner said...

You are a freakin' hoot! I am laughing so hard I could just about pee my pants. Furthermore- your writing is exquisite. Really!

I have only begun to be squeamish about "things that live in the deep". I grew up on the East Coast and never thought about such things until the advent of "Jaws" and other frightening crap about the oceans. I love the ocean, and I hate that I have been frightened out of swimming in it.

Anonymous said...

I had this book and remember that page well... Could be something to do with the fact I'm now a marine biologist all of 25 years on from it.

Anonymous said...

I have that book, and the rest of the collection. Luckily I got to it when I was older, after I had already gone to the ocean plenty of time to know it was fun :).

David said...

Unfortunately if you search for "Giant swallower." you'll find nothing...switch to black swallower however... To the woman who'd said her husband was a marine biologist... Ermm...I'm a goofy kid who's been to the ocean about 3 times, and I've seen video of most, or all of these things. National geographic is a great place to find info about them. Also please note that the swallower is called such because it can swallow fish larger than itself, it's also generally not terribly large either. Most of these deep sea fish live so far down that light cannot reach, meaning that you'll never see one unless you have very specialized equipment, or a local aquarium has a few dead specimens on display. I'm personally far more nervous about the poisonous crustaceans that live in the sand close to the beach and can stop someone's heart in a few minutes. Not sure, they may only live on Australias shores, considering the ozzies are known to have lots of poisonous species that wouldn't surprise me, then again, species do travel...

LaLa said...

i had the same book as a child and that was my favorite page! i used to stare at it and wonder how i would ever get to see all those fish lol. must be why i love scuba diving. i've even been searching for submarine tours that go thousands of feet deep, but there are none offered that go deep enough to see half of these fish. i guess youve gotta be an engineer or marine biologist for that haha

The Cheap Chick said...

Dude! This book scared the BEJEEBUS out of me, too! I had an actual NIGHTMARE about it! So, yeah. You're not alone.

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