On January 4, 1958 Lloyd Bridges, father of Beau and Jeff, starred in premier of the syndicated television series Sea Hunt. I’d learned to swim in the ponds and rivers of Indiana, and our trips to Miami Beach on the weekends gave me the excitement of diving into the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Sea Hunt now opened a whole new world for me. On our first trip to the beach with my new face mask, snorkel and fins, I spent more time underwater than on the surface, which proved to be problematic for my poor mother. Ignoring her admonition to stay in shallow water, I dove deeper and deeper surfacing only for fresh air. That particular day there was a slight cross current running along the crowded beach and when I finally decided to come out of the water, I had no idea where my Mom was.
Looking south and then north I recognized one of the landmark hotels and realized it was a long way up the beach to where Mom and the family laid down the blankets, so I started walking through the wet sand. I wasn’t lost, but I was anxiously scanning the crowd looking for Mom or Dad. About ten minutes along my trek, I spied her at the water’s edge screaming out at the surf. She was crying and nearly hysterical. I ran toward her and when I got within ear shot I yelled, “Mom, what’s wrong?”
The scene that followed was a twisted arm jerking muddle of hugs, tears, slaps and screaming admonition, more hugs and general lunacy. After Mac and my older brother Bill came out of the surf it multiplied and then finally subsided. They’d all thought I’d drowned. In the end I lost my mask, snorkel and fins for the rest of the day and was stuck at the edge of the surf with my little brother Rick. As we left the beach and walked over the warm sand to the car, Dad chuckled and said, “Jim you got to take it easy with your Mom. She just lost her mother and she’s been through hell with her surgery. Try not to get her upset.”
I could understand that, but I was still pissed about my mask and fins. It took awhile but eventually Mom accepted the fact that I was never going to drown.
Jumping the Shark:
In the spring of ’58 Elvis Presley got drafted and The King Of Rock & Roll became U.S. Army Private #53310761, The Bridge on the River Kwai won 7 Academy Awards, and Nikita Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union. Mac got a chuckle bellowing the theme to the Bridge with his lyric, “Bullshit, that’s what we sing all day…”
By summer the space race was sort of a tie with six satellites in orbit, three American and three Russian, Alaska and Hawaii became states, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was published in the US and the nuclear powered USS Nautilus was the first submarine to cross the North Pole under water. Dad was looking at another transfer and we drove to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a week long camp out with the Savitch clan.
Brother Bill got a deep sea fishing rig for his birthday present and while we explored the Mangroves, he spent hours casting live bait as far as he could into the transparent blue surf to hook a fish big enough to justify his new equipment. On the second or third day, he made a long cast, stuck the handle of the rod deep in the sand and joined us at the BBQ pit for hamburgers and hot dogs. We were all talking and laughing when we heard the drag whine as the line spun off the reel. The rod bent and as the handle slipped free from the wet sand, Bill scrambled into the surf to retrieve his rig. He was waist deep about sixty feet from the beach when he finally came up with his rod and reel. It was covered with seaweed and after he stripped that away the thick rod bent nearly double as he began to reel in the line. Whatever was on the hook was pretty big because Bill was straining at the reel as he walked backwards toward the beach. He was knee deep about twenty feet away when the dorsal fin broke the surface with a twist and splash of its tail the monster revealed itself – it was a shark!!!
Bill threw his rod into the air, let out a whoop of terror and ran to shore. Mac and Charlie were laughing and sent him back out to get his rod and reel. Bill snorted and stormed back out into the surf. The mayhem that followed was filled with testosterone and laughter and though it put up a good fight the poor shark never had a chance. It was a nurse shark about three feet long and just when the catch was imminent; it flipped free from the net, slipped off the hook and disappeared in a splash and flash of white foam.
Bill, Charlie, Mac and Butch suffered the loss with a chorus of joking recrimination and we were all delighted and excited with the spectacle. It wis a memory shared by all to this day.
Mac’s Stand Off with the Bully Boy:
Every neighborhood, schoolyard, work environment and human institution suffers a bully. I hadn’t yet met mine, but my brother Bill had to deal with his in Hialeah. Bill never weighed more than 165 pound in his life and at fifteen he was pushing six feet tall so he could best be described as wiry. The Bully lived a block away on another street and he could best be described as an ugly hulk. He was as nasty as he looked and for some reason he went after Bill one afternoon. Bill ran into the house with a black eye, a bloody nose and most importantly a knife cut on his forearm. Outside the bully stood in the street taunting my brother with obscene insults, and that was the situation when Mac came home from work. He parked the car , stepped out and in his drill sergeant’s booming voice that we all knew from whenever we screwed up he shouted at the bully, “What in the hell is your fuckin’ problem, asshole?”
My Dad only stood around five nine but he weighed over two hundred pounds and he still had his Indiana farm boy musculature. His arms were as thick as my waist and he could lift the wheel of a car off the ground unassisted. The bully was taken aback, and the drama that followed was worthy of a scene in a Hollywood western. When the Bully waved his knife and threatened Mac, he ripped his shirt off, rolled it over his left hand and forearm and shouted, “Do you really want to end up in jail or are you just stupid?”
That’s the way it played out as Mac faced him down and walked him down the street. Every threat brought a response that framed the consequences of the situation within a question and an insult. Without raising a hand, or taking a swing, Mac destroyed the bully with simple questions about his situation and his intelligence. At the end of the block, Mac had the kid trembling in tears and with a steely stare he dismissed him, “Just as I thought you’re just a scared kid with shit for brains. Go home.”
The bully hesitated and opened his mouth to reply but Mac cut him off with single word, “Now!”
The bully turned and ran. We never saw him on our street again. By the end of the year, Typhoon Ida killed over 1,200 people on the main island of HonshÅ«, Japan, Pan Am Airline flew the first Boeing 707 across the Atlantic, Pope John XXIII succeeded Pius XII, right-wing nut Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society, Ernesto “Che” Guevara invaded Santa Clara, Cuba, the Bully Boy Dictator Fulgencio Batista resigned and fled Havana for Miami on New Year’s Eve, and the Mahaffey clan departed Miami for the Lone Star State.
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