A merciless eating machine patrols up and down the coast of Hilton Head, South Carolina.  A sleepless leviathan sporting a liver the size of a jet ski. It’s a great white shark tracked by scientists using a Global Positioning Satellite device previously inserted on its dorsal fin. I’m not quite sure what information the scientists are gathering other than this cruel fact: there have been eight shark attacks on these beaches in the past two years. But no attacks from “Hilton” the aptly named female great white shark.

Kayaks have been eaten. Limbs carried off to Davy Jones locker. From high above large bright inkblots paint the ocean surface. The precious blood of visitors previously informed how tracking sharks contribute to a better balance of life. For the sake of tourism, the singular became plural. There is no happy medium between green dollars and red death. However; locals feeding a family feel hysteria drives them to the poorhouse. All remain quiet.

In the backdrop of small-town scandal and senseless slaughter, I reconnect with my two young sons. The burning sands fry my tired skin but I respond with hydration and sit-ups. Ha. I’m proud to appear more than ready to play with my children while they are still at the age of gratitude. I started a healthy competition involving locating and collecting seashells. Soon my sons discovered the high tide delivers dozens of stunning shells on to the shiny beach. They consulted a tide chart and planned a strategy to be there at the very moment the tides crashed and deposited precious delicates from the deep sea.

We assembled a wide array of distinct hues and shapes. The haul was large enough to require a grading system to separate the perfect specimens from the damaged ones. The boys found it difficult to discard what they considered cracked sea cradles once holding life. But the prospect of mounting a permanent display of diverse shells was worth the hesitation.

In the middle of this fragile foray, I was mesmerized after finding a finger-length shark tooth. I shared it with the boys but none were prepared for the visual task of scanning tens of thousands of black broken shells for a few shark teeth. It was a time-consuming affair fraught with heat rash, sunburn and enough bend-downs to qualify for a gym membership. I piqued their interest the next day when revealing my solo morning beach visit netted thirty-six teeth of varying size and configuration. My back was sore but my ego took flight and I boasted how no one else could match this incredible feat. I’m a father and you’d think I know better but it was a moment where words hit the world before better judgment.

We were literally off to the races. The boys consulted Google for shark teeth charts, best practices on location and creative measures to dredge teeth from piles of surface beach shell debris. Empty Tic Tac containers served as safe teeth holders. They folded hand towels and tucked inside and outside bathing suit waistlines as an easy way to wipe their hands. Their competitive spirit moved into overdrive pledging to outdo their father.

Competition as a means to expedite interests isn’t always the healthiest but with boys sometimes it’s the only reliable method. They spent hours searching, sifting, digging, collecting, fighting, competing until my repeated reminders of athletic drinks and sun lotion sounded like a broken record.

A few hours ago my kids looked like glossy ads from Old Navy. Now they look like refugees from the Salvation Army. Slightly red. Mostly sandy. Both raw examples of running with an idea too long. All they kept repeating was “we need to process these teeth.” Not, Hi, Daddy. Not, Wow we did great today. Not, Thanks for bringing us to the beach. Just, “we need to process these teeth.”

Shark teeth laid out from one another on a paper towel provides a safe opportunity to clean off sand and grade according to size. This was the simple procedure the boys labelled “processing”, a dramatic term I accidentally gave them. Kids are like mini-recording devices absorbing every whim, quirk and unconscious mumbling you utter. I need to be more cautious.

The irony of shark teeth is while in the midst of menacing sharks chomping down on swimmers and fishermen we strengthened our family five-fold through connection and communication.  The boys gathered over eighty prime specimens to justify their techniques and time expenditures. We said a prayer for the fallen, realizing neither town nor the tourist was going to halt attendance. And my children were not going into that ocean. Let it bring its fragile treasures to us safely waiting on the shore.


About the Author:

Mark Antony Rossi is a poet, playwright and author of the recent science humor/factbook “Robots Don’t Respect Sundays” published by Soma Publishing.

Eva’s Comments:

Isn’t this 1975 art print by Roger Kastel for ‘Jaws‘ just the best image to accompany Rossi’s rumination — The Irony of Shark Teeth? We love this piece for its honest recording of how a family bonded over collecting fossils. Reading Rossi’s work made me think of watching ‘Jaws‘ as a child, of how the film became for the longest time a deterrent to going swimming in the sea. Words have the power to trigger memories and they also have the power to create imagery. For this piece, the imagery of the shark teeth brought back Spielberg’s famous film. 

Talking about films, Little R came home beaming after a movie with friends on Saturday evening. They had gone to watch “The Meg” directed by Jon Turteltaub. Over a pizza dinner at a restaurant by the quay, she regaled us with tales of what the movie was about [spoiler alert] and what her friends did during sessions of scare-jumps/jump-scares [apparently, it’s Millennial-speak  for jumping when you’re spooked by something; she’s too young to be a Millennial but it’s the lingo these days, along with ‘ugly-cry’.] E threw the whole box of sharing popcorn all over herself; S yelped, triggered by the sudden suspense; R kicked the seat in front of him in shock [“The poor fella in front,” empathized Little R.] Movies have a way to make us engage with reality by suspending our sense of disbelief. Is there a giant shark out there that will devour surfers, bellies on their surfboards, arms and legs wading, waiting for the next wave because the wading surfer resembles a turtle? Would a swimmer (naked, it would seem from Kastel’s poster for ‘Jaws’) doing her morning laps in the sea be that prime cut for a ravenous shark? Little R is thrilled by the special effects that this American-Chinese film collaboration has included. We laughed over jump-scares/scare-jumps and we bonded over her father’s and my memories of watching ‘Jaws‘ in the mid-70s. How time has passed but how movies are still being made with the same storyline but with better special effects due to technological progress.

Me – I have yet to see “The Meg”. It’s apparently a loose adaptation of a famous Sci-Fi book : Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. I have an inkling of what adaptations require. My recent children’s book: Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure was an adaptation of a film, produced in Singapore by Brainchild Pictures. While the book was in its final editing phase, I had the opportunity to work with the illustrator, Liz Lim, for the cover. She came up with ideas for the cover and the publisher, together with me, looked over her proposals before we made the final decision on the design that buyers and readers see today. It’s the cover that sells because a picture speaks a thousand words.

I’ve talked about how reading different genres is important in the nurturing of young readers’ love for books. I’m hoping that watching this movie will encourage Little R to want to read Sci-Fi fiction. I live in hope.

On Posters:

One of the earliest forms of advertising was done with the Poster. Its life began in the 19th century when visual communication was at its height. The Poster developed along with mass entertainment and it influenced the development and use of typography that was made for viewing from a distance. Hence, its size and the material used to create it. The larger type for the poster was made from wood rather than metal. (Think books and printing in smaller type.)

It is recognised globally these days that posters were also created for propaganda, for example, the posters created during Mao’s China, depicting the Chairman in various ways, and those developed in the United States to recruit soldiers for Uncle SAM; many will recognise the bearded man in a top hat saying “I Want You for the U.S. Army” with his index finger.

Apart from propaganda, posters were created to advertise products before the invention of digital media. These posters are collectables today, for example, posters made in Shanghai in the 1930s to advertise cigarettes. In these posters, Chinese girls depicting the “modern woman” were painted holding cigarettes. The style of these posters was influenced by Art Deco and Art Nouveau which were Western inventions. Feminist art historians have critiqued pre-war posters churned in China during the 30s for sexualising the Chinese female. The subject looks back at the viewer enticingly with coquettish charm, not unlike many of the digitalised advertisements we are subjected to today. I guess not much has changed in how women are represented and portrayed in the 21st century, unfortunately. Sex sells, so does feminine charm!

The poster for the 1975 film, ‘Jaws’, by Steven Spielberg, also depicts a sexualised female: the naked swimmer who is the inadvertent shark bait. I question the usefulness and the validity of her nakedness even as I see the purpose for such a depiction: a naked female will attract as much attention as the shark swimming up to bite her. A poster’s raison d’être is to capture its viewer’s attention, after all. So, whatever it takes is the name of the game here. If Chinese or Oriental (as the Chinese were known as in those days) women in tight-fitting cheongsam holding cigarettes and puffing away elegantly was what it took, then it was what was needed to be produced. The Shanghai poster girls were, after all, the epitome of the modern girl and a role model for many young women living in this cosmopolitan city, as it is still so today.

For more information about the Poster, click here.

Image Credit: Mondo, Kastel, Roger Jaws, Art Print Edition, 24 x 36 inch.


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