June 25, 2008

In Which MORTAL DANGER Pre-Empts Things That Are True at the Beach (part 2)

Every morning, I get up before 6 to walk. This is a VAIN attempt (and you may take that “vain” to mean either fruitless or self-absorbed; both are probably TRAGICALLY accurate…) to UNDO some of the MASSIVE damage I am doing to my weight watchers by the NEAR CONSTANT consumption of delicious food stuffs.

DIGRESSION: Last night my sister-in-law made her Universe-wide famous chicken enchiladas. The universe has been expanding for 14 billion years, so I think it must be VERY VERY big indeed by now. Therefore it seems safe to assume it is MUCH bigger than, say, Horatio’s philosophy, and therefore, there ARE many more things in it than you or I have dreamed of, and I bet you that they ALL would LOVE these enchiladas.

I had to err on the side of safety and assume cheese-loving Overlizards from Planet Zerg were en route. I PRE-EMPTIVELY gobbled the enchiladas up, lest they cause pan-dimensional strife. YOU COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!!! Just to be EXTRA safe, I ate a metric ton of the superb Southern Living Corn and Black Bean Salsa that Julie also made. With chips. You are welcome!

DIGRESSION 2: Honestly, I should open up a professional JUSTIFICATION service. You come to me and tell me what awful thing you want to do, and I provide the reasons why you probably should. For an upcharge, I can tell you why you simply MUST. I would quickly become SO rich that I could easily afford the liposuction I need after last night’s sauce-y bacchanalia.

ANYWAY, my parents and I get up early and take a long sunrise walk. Every day, about a quarter mile down the beach, we see Mr. Nguyen fishing with four poles he has braced in the sand. He is a short, wiry guy, very fit but sun-beaten, so I have no idea how old he is. The first day, my father said to him in Vietnamese, “Hello, sir, how are you?” and his eyes widened. He said, “How do you know Vietnamese!” and my dad laughed and said, “I don’t know much Vietnamese! I was in Duc My in 1966.” Mr. Nguyen knows that area well, so now when we pass we chat for a minute.

The first few days of our visit, he was having very poor luck. He was after delicious pompano, but was catching only a few ladyfish. I asked him how it was going this morning. “I’m tired of soup!” he told me. Soup is about the only thing a ladyfish is good for.

We continued on up the beach for another half an hour, and when we got back to Mr. Nguyen’s spot, his luck had changed. He had something large. Something Very Large. He’d been fighting it for almost twenty minutes. A small crowd had gathered to watch.

“What is it?” I asked him.
“BIG ladyfish?” he said, and then grinned and shrugged as best he could with the pole in his hand.

The thing was SO big that he could not reel it in---it was stronger than even his cut, sinewy arms. He had to WALK BACKWARDS, dragging the pole and attached creature with the whole of his wiry strength. When he reached the dunes, he would RUN forward, winding up the line as he went, all the way down to the surf. Then he would start dragging it up toward the beach again. Every few cycles he would run farther, all the way down into the water to cool off.


We sat down on the dune behind him and watched. After another half hour, my dad got him a cigarette out of his bag and he rested, holding his ground with the fish while he puffed on it. “More than a hundred pounds, I think,” Mr. Nguyen said.

After another half hour, the thing was closer. It was tiring, but so was the man. By this time, a crowd had gathered---maybe ten or twelve people who sat down and stayed to see what happened. Mr. Nguyen leaned back, holding the fish with his weight as he stole a breather.

At the same time, the fish came wallowing to the surface to rest up before they re-engaged. We saw the matte brown of sandpaper skin and the upspike of a sleek tail, which was a shockingly far distance from the triangular dorsal fin.

Holy Crap.

Mr. Nguyen pointed. “Shark,” he said, but I think we all knew. "Big one." We knew that, too. “130 pounds, maybe 150.” Holy. Crap.

Daddy trotted back up the beach and came back with bottled water, coffee, and the children, and we settled in to watch with the rest of the still growing crowd---maybe twenty people by this time, and more stopped as they walked by and were told “Shark! He has a HUGE shark!” Mr. Nguyen battled the shark all the way up to the first drop off, about three feet from shore. He was sleek and bullet-headed and truly dreadful, longer and thicker than my broad-shouldered eleven year old son, an undulating tube of deeply angry muscle with a large toothy hole at the front and a blade sharp wicked fin at the other end.


None of us could imagine how Mr. Nguyen could LAND him, but we so WANTED him to. We wanted him to win. We wanted him to somehow yank the huge shark up onto the sand and kill it and take it home and throw out all his ladyfish soup stock and dine on thick cuts of meaty shark fillet.

Mr. Nguyen handed the rod to a tall, strong looking boy of about 18 or 19, and then he walked STRAIGHT DOWN INTO THE WATER. WITH THE SHARK. He was trying to catch it by the ALIVE TAIL and DRAG it up onto the shore. It probably outweighed him.

“Oh I wish he wouldn’t do that. There is nothing that could make me do that,” said the woman beside us.
My sister-in-law said, “I would do it if he had one of my kids. No other reason.”
I nodded. “If he had one of my kids I would. But I am not sure I will do it if he had, say, someone else. Like if he had, say, Mr. Nguyen.”

The kid holding the pole let the line slip. The shark went out a few more feet. Mr. Nguyen followed. The line slipped again. The shark scythed out still farther. Mr. Nguyen followed again, up to his shoulders now with the animal whiplashing side to side. The line snapped with an audible harp-string sound, and Mr. Nguyen made one last grab for the tail. With a single lithe shudder of powerful muscle, the shark was gone. Out into sea. Out into the sea where my children swim each day.


When Mr. Nguyen lowered his hands, he was smiling. I found myself rising to my feet and clapping as hard as I could, and the whole crowd joined me. We stood and slammed our hands together again and again as he waded up. He shook his head, rueful but grinning, a good sport, and he made a modest little bow.

“Next time,” he called to all of us. “Next time.”

I tell you what though…we’ve spent the whole of this bright beach-perfect day at the stinkin’ pool.

Posted by joshilyn at June 25, 2008 6:06 PM

Great story.

Also a great way to ruin the beach.

Bravo, Mr. Nguyen AND Bravo, Pool.

Posted by: Roxanne at June 25, 2008 7:14 PM

What the heck kind of hook was he using??? Or bait? He should have held on and sent the young man in the water to wrestle the shark....

What excitement to begin your day......*S*

btw.....let me know when you start that justification service....i'll be one of your best customers.

Posted by: Sequana at June 25, 2008 8:08 PM

Please tell me you had a really good telephoto lens and THAT's how you got the picture of the fearsome monster shark...because he is one big bad boy(shudder)

Posted by: Lisa at June 25, 2008 8:45 PM

I WOULD, TOO!!! In fact, we used to LIVE at the beach, and after reading a book of my dad's about a famous WWII battle where manyMany shipwrecked soldiers were eaten by sharks...after that I would only let the waves LAP over my feet and if I could not SEE my feet? I WAS SO OUTTA THEAH.
I wish I could say I was now a strong courageous person, but I have to cover my eyes just to watch ER.
But! I got my PRIZES today!!! And now my lips smell of lemongrass in a way that makes me want to run into Surin West and order the coconut shrimp soup. And I have a READING COPY of gods, not just my sacredly signed hardback that remains worshipfully wrapped in its' Alabama Booksmith bag of sacred worshipfulness (I have about broken myself of genuflecting but still must put fresh flowers before the bookshelf daily...hehehe)

Posted by: Elena at June 25, 2008 8:51 PM

I hate to be the one to defend the shark, but as a zoologist I have to say that I am an itty bit glad that he got away.

I am especially enamored of sharks after reading Susan Casey's book 'The Devil's Teeth,' an amazing bit-o-writing that makes me wish that 1. I had written it, and 2. that I had been there doing the research she wrote so beautifully about. Also, Joshilyn, as a fledgling science writer, I am jealous of your description of the shark--it is beautiful. --especially the "undulating tube of deeply angry muscle"--genius!

Lastly, I am especially, mostly jealous that you got to see it in person...and despite the other responses, I would have been out in the water with Mr. Nguyen.

One last question, though, do you know what species it was, by chance? I can't tell from the picture (though it looks like a nurse shark, and they aren't generally aggressive to humans.)

Posted by: Kate at June 25, 2008 9:17 PM

I am REASONABLY certain it was a Bull Shark--- my dad, a veteran diver, thinks so, as did a coupla fishermen standing around watching. They are common here, and they are a little "eaty" as far as people go :)Certainly eatier than Nurse sharks -- I have petted Nurse Sharks before.

AND YES... shark was lovely and sleek and purpiseful, I admit. And if it was ME and I had killed it I would have felt AWFUL as it would have been purposeless...but in this case,Mr. Nguyen fishes for his family's dinner every day. This would nothave been a trophy for him, but a freezer filler. And things eat other things. he shark knows this better than any of us.

Posted by: Joshilyn at June 25, 2008 9:37 PM

Holy crap, indeed.

We have no sharks in our pool. Warts, sure. But no sharks.

Posted by: Mir at June 25, 2008 9:57 PM

Yo whoodie, good story.

And I turned you out (that sounds so naughty!) in a few San Fran bookstores today.

Posted by: Karen Abbott at June 25, 2008 10:24 PM

Oh my, what a fabulous story! Like Kate, we're a bit glad the shark got away, but we understand completely fishing for necessity, and that shark was definitely a worthy opponent!


Thank you.

Posted by: Fran at June 25, 2008 11:56 PM

Just please answer me this one thing: are you at the Gulf or the Ocean? Because I need to know which opposite way to go on my beach vacation.

Posted by: Kalynne Pudner at June 26, 2008 1:48 AM

That is the coolest story! And I bet the sheer excitement of watching boosted your metabolism for the rest of the day, helping you burn off all those enchilada calories.

Posted by: Brigitte at June 26, 2008 5:22 AM

MUCH better story than Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. And I'm SO with you on the pool.

Posted by: Pattie at June 26, 2008 8:27 AM

I am SO coming to you the next time I need justification. I am even willing to pay the upcharge.

Holy crap that's a big shark. So glad I've already been to the beach this summer!

Posted by: Leandra at June 26, 2008 8:50 AM

Wow, you can tell a story. If we were sitting around a campfire right now, you would see that my jaw is sitting upon my keds.

Also, if that shark was a smart shark, he would not be anywhere near the beach where your children swim ever ever again. Perhaps he was another species of storyteller and he is holding other sharks captive with his harrowing tale. It will become shark legend and never shall another shark of any kind be seen anywhere near the places where sweet precious little offspring toes frolic.

Posted by: Em at June 26, 2008 9:26 AM

>I nodded. “If he had one of my kids I would. But >I am not sure I will do it if he had, say, >someone else. Like if he had, say, Mr. Nguyen.”

I love starting my day out with your blog!

Hope Mr. Nguyen has better luck today.

Posted by: cathy at June 26, 2008 10:12 AM

Aieeeeeeeeeeeee! That is a LOT of SHARK! And if it WAS a bull shark? Double aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! They are eaty with people and aggressive, or so I understand. Eek!

Great story, though.

Posted by: Aimee at June 26, 2008 10:52 AM

I'm with Em - I'll bet that shark won't show his face again and is telling all his sharky friends. Still, I'd be at the pool, at least until the story has a chance to spread. That thing was HUGE!

Posted by: Deborah P at June 26, 2008 11:10 AM


Posted by: Nik at June 26, 2008 12:50 PM

Wow! Great story.

I'm here to say "Thank You!" I've receieved my book and my lip balm as well -- I love the way it smells. (On rereading, I thought I should clarify I meant the lip balm, but the books smells good too)

I was going to keep the book as my seekrit book, but now I think I have to display it in a prominent place so all can know I am your BFF. :)

Oh, and don't worry about the enchiladas. I believe the corn and black bean salsa is a "Fiberific" food, which we WW vets know erase points and thus would cancel out the enchilada points.

Posted by: JulieB at June 26, 2008 2:24 PM

Just feeling the need to defend sharks again...bull sharks are known to be aggressive, however, only when you are looking a bit like their preferred food, or they are starving. This dud musta been hungry, but if you kids don't go out to dangerous depths and don't look like what was on the end of that hook, you are okay.
I am guessing other readers must have figured out by now that I am a bit crazy, so I feel okay saying I have no problem swimming with sharks (now if there were clowns swimming around below the surface we'd be having an entirely different conversation). I do get the eating for food, that's fine, and I understand the concerned parents, but I feel it's my job to reassure you that shark attacks are quite rare (I often stick up for the wildlife).
I'm off the soapbox now.

Posted by: Kate at June 26, 2008 2:28 PM

That's all, just....Wow!!!

Posted by: DebR at June 26, 2008 6:04 PM

I am at the beach, too- Destin, FL. They're have been a fair amount of shark sightings and catchings around here, too. Beautiful weather...and nice pool. : )

Posted by: Jill W at June 26, 2008 10:21 PM

OMG!! one one that was just AWESOME!! :D

I'm still smiling! Big smiling!


Posted by: KlintD at June 26, 2008 10:47 PM

Great story, as always. Nice pics, too.

And now your big shark friend has 43 days to swim up nawth to my beach (where the only pools are the tidepools). Unless it stays cold up there, hmmm, which is worse, freezing cold water, or sharks?

Posted by: Patti at June 27, 2008 11:37 PM

What a joyous story.

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Posted by: btlnf tkspodgm at July 1, 2008 12:47 PM

WOW! I hate to admit that I'm a little glad Mr. Nguyen didn't get the shark -- there's a lot of mercury in those top predators. Not good when you're fishing to feed your family. At the same time, I'll keep my fingers crossed for pompano!

spectacular photos and story!

Posted by: Beth at July 4, 2008 2:25 PM