By Dom Cioffi
At the age of 7 or 8, I boarded my first commercial airline flight. It was February and I was headed to Florida with my mother to spend two weeks at my grandparents’ villa. “Villa” sounds fancy, but in reality it was nothing more than an old, one-story dorm from a once-operational army base.
While small and unassuming, the villas were conveniently positioned right next to the ocean. Open the back door in the morning and you could have your feet in the water in less than a minute.
My grandparents had been going to these same villas for many, many years. They would leave around Christmas and spend the better part of the winter down there, finally coming home at the beginning of March.
Throughout my childhood, I would accompany my mother on her trip south to visit, coordinating it around my winter break so I didn’t miss much school. Other kids from various parts of the country also made the trip to see their grandparents so I could always find a playmate to hang out with. But if there were no kids around, I never had to worry since the ocean provided ample entertainment.
This particular slice of coastline (located on the gulf side) was a haven for shelling enthusiasts. No sooner would the sun rise than a slew of searcher would be scanning the beach to see what the tide brought in overnight. Many times the seashells would be chipped or heavily damaged, but occasionally you would find a specimen in pristine condition.
A perfect seashell was a genuine prize and something to be shared with others. After a good storm – when the ocean floor was really churned up – you might even find a gigantic version of something special. In that case, the treasure would be displayed in such a place that all the other inhabitants of the villas could peer with envy.
I loved searching for seashells. In a way it was like playing a slot machine. You kept at it and at it, hoping that the next pile of sand you turned over would reveal an epic prize. I spent countless hours scouring the beach for my big prize, even convincing my mom to buy me a special hand-held sand sifter than made the searching easier.
But while I loved the seashells and their countless shapes and colors, it was the sharks’ teeth that really intrigued me. I never confirmed this, but one of the old men who used to spend a lot of time searching the beach told me that the area just off from where the villas were located was a shark burial ground – one of only two in the world.
Again, I’m not sure this was an accurate statement, but there was no denying that sharks’ teeth were in grand abundance in this area. The question wasn’t whether you would find a sharks’ tooth, it was how many you would find.
Because sharks’ teeth were so plentiful in this area, any casual beach stroller could find a handful during a short walk. So, it wasn’t so much the quantity that mattered, but the size. Anyone could find a shark’s tooth, but could you find one as big as a half dollar, or one the size of your palm?
You knew these monster teeth existed because you’d see them displayed in various businesses in the town. I would stare in awe when we’d see one and instantly imagine how big the shark must have been that it came from.
I was always on a quest to find the biggest shark’s tooth, so much so that I didn’t bother with the regular sized ones. My mother and grandmother picked up every nice tooth they found and would eventually glue them onto wood shapes in interesting patterns (some of these shark tooth art pieces are still hanging in my mom’s house today).
Once I got older and was more involved with sports, my trips to Florida ended. But the allure of those walks in search of treasure has never faded from my memory.
In fact, this week’s feature, “The Meg,” brought me right back to those days of yesteryear. It also had me thankful that in all my time in the ocean, I never had a run in with a shark.
Starring Jason Stratham, “The Meg” showcases a group of scientists who are trapped in an underwater research facility. Stratham is a rescue diver who is tasked with getting the group out alive. But while he thinks he’s dealing with a straightforward rescue mission, he soon realizes that a previously unknown predator is part of the mix.
What would summer be without a shark movie? “The Meg” takes this common plotline and blows it out of proportion – way out of proportion.
If you’re up for some crazy thrills and over-the-top effects, give this one a try. It’s fun for what it is, but unfortunately it never creates the kind of tension that would have made it a true winner.
A biting “C” for “The Meg.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]