A tribute for Ernest Hemingway’s birthday AND the 31st edition of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week

It’s the terrifyingly hand-drawn shark fins you really have to watch out for.

“You are all a lost generation. When I was your age, I already owned a house. I didn’t even know what an avocado was.” - Aunt Gertrude, on Facebook

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but Shark Week abideth forever… The Nielsen ratings also ariseth, and the ratings goeth down…but we shoveth celebrities into underwater cages, thither to be terrorized by sharks, and all who tune in shall return again.” - Discovery Channel

We could not fit together into my apartment, but the hot weather emptied the city of tourists. I arranged with Montoya to go to his vacant Airbnb. Before, Bill and I met in the café to drink in the waning afternoon.

“I’m a little tight,” Bill said.

“You’re drunk,” I said. “Stop trying to make ‘tight’ happen. Let’s go.”

We Uber’d together to Montoya’s. Montoya was glad to see us, and shook hands and led us to a good room with an eighty-six-inch LED screen. “Your friends will all fit here,” he said, handing me a craft microbrew.

“That’s fine,” I said. “Where are my friends now?”

“I think they went to the Trader Joe’s,” he said. “For snacks.” Montoya turned on the television.

“And how about the sharks?” I asked, and drank.

Montoya smiled. “Tonight,” he said, “Tonight at seven o’clock they show the great whites, and tomorrow come the hammerheads. Will you all watch?”

“Oh, yes. We bought matching shirts.”

Montoya put his hand on my shoulder.

“I’ll watch with you.”

He smiled again. He always smiled as though Shark Week were a very special secret, a rather shocking but deep secret swimming fast between us. To love Shark Week is to love staring into the razored mouth of death. It would not do to expose it to people who would not understand.

Brett returned with Mike and Robert. They brought Trader Joe’s Flaxseed Tortilla Chips and a mixed case of IPAs. Brett put down avocados for guacamole. She lounged on the Italian leather sectional and held her phone with its camera overhead. “What is it like?” she asked. She pointed at the television.

“It’s pretty good,” I said, drinking one of the bottles. “They let the celebrities into the cages one at a time, and they have sharks outside the cages, and the sharks tear at chunks of rotting fish and the celebrities swim around the cage in terror.”

“Do they ever bite the celebrities?”

“Sure. Sometimes they go right after them and kill them.”

“Can’t the celebrities do anything?”

“No. It’s in their contracts.”

“What do they have the celebrities for?”

“To get ratings for the sharks so that people pay attention to ocean conservation.”

“I wish they didn’t have the dead fish part,” Bill said.

“They’re not important,” Mike said. “After a while you never notice anything disgusting. Haven’t you seen Midsommar yet? Makes Shark Week look like…shh, it’s starting.”

A single diver was hitched to the boat and dragged to the gate in the water. The men on the boat lifted the gate with crowbars and shoved the diver into position. Around the cage two sharks swam, swaying their heads and chomping, watching the diver enter.

“Is that Shaq?” Mike asked.

“He doesn’t look happy,” Brett said.

The men on the boat leaned back and grabbed more divers. Rob Riggle, I thought. And maybe Joel McHale. Then they pushed down the door of the cage.

I leaned toward the television and tried to see into the cage. It was dark. Then the water seemed to explode. I saw round eyes and a shadow of fins, and then, with a clattering on the steel of the cage, a tiger shark charged and came halfway through the bars. The divers swam for the gate, shouts bubbling from their mouths as they slapped their hands against the cage.

“My God, aren’t they beautiful?” Brett said. She held up her phone and took a photograph. She captioned the photograph with #sharkweek. She added many mentions.

“Look how they use their teeth,” I said. “Actually, don’t look. McHale may lose a hand.” Brett was watching, fascinated. I got up to make the guacamole and poured another IPA in a pint glass, then poured one for Brett. Brett came and put her hand on my arm.

“Don’t get drunk, Jake,” she said. “You don’t have to.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Don’t,” she said. “You’ll be all right.”

“I’m not getting drunk,” I said. “I’m just drinking an IPA. Trader Joe’s makes a decent IPA. A good balance of hops and sweet malt.”

“Don’t get drunk,” she said. “Jake, don’t get drunk.”

“Want to watch some more sharks?” I said. “Montoya can stream any episode from any Shark Week ever.”

“Right,” Brett said. “I haven’t seen Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. I should see Megalodon.

“I’ll finish this,” I said.

On the couch it was hot and bright. The room was too small for an eighty-six-inch screen. I sat beside Brett. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the screen looked sharply white, the sun shining over a distant shark-filled sea.

“It’s fake,” I said. “It’s all fake. Megalodon, the race with the great white racing Michael Phelps, the cage with the celebrities getting chomped. It’s all bullshit. We’re watching fake sharks on someone else’s couch, and I don’t know how I’ll make rent next week.”

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said. “Don’t worry. I sent a pitch deck to Discovery Channel, Vineyard Vines, Airbnb, and other potential brand sponsors last week. They’ll all jump on the chance to align with the damned good time we’re having together.”

“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Audrey’s work can be read in McSweeney’s, Human Parts, The Belladonna, Slackjaw, Points in Case, and other places. Twitter: @audrey_burges; audreyburges.com.

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