Personal Narrative - Catapulting Fish

Personal Narrative - Catapulting Fish

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Catapulting Fish

I saw fish. We all did. Little silver fish the size of my palm were all lying sideways on the surface of the water. There were just a few at first, but they kept appearing. I saw a little boy point to a fish and ask his father about it. The boy knew the difference between the fake shark and the real dead fish.

I entered Amityville from the employee entrance. Just past the break room there is a 7-foot-tall light blue wooden gate door. Even from there, I could smell it. I made my way up the stairs to the crows’ nest, wearing my uniform and nametag, and opened another blue door. There inside was an old couch, stained and saturated with lagoon water and the skippers’ sweat through the years. I swiped in on the time clock and went back down the stairs to the unload dock to learn which rotation I had been placed in, and with whom. In the closet, on the west end of the unload dock there was a dry erase board with the assigned positions for the skippers during their shifts. I do not remember which rotation I had that day, but I do remember how hard it was to breathe.

When I bumped into my first rotation of the day, I discovered a little more about the disaster that accompanied the sharp chlorine-like stench. From the front of the boat, I could see months of accumulated hydraulic fluid floating in metallic and neon colored swirls at the surface of the murky brown lagoon water. The water had been murky for as long as I had worked at JAWS, but that day all of the reasons for its usual questionable color and odor rose to the surface.

The boat rounded the corner between the unload and load docks, and arrived at the loading dock, where another skipper at a different stage in his rotation counted the passengers and closed the gate of my boat.

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I began my spiel.

It was much harder to immerse myself in the chipper tour guide character when I knew that there was something strange about the lagoon water and that the passengers knew that, too. They were uninterested in my script, and I became quickly exasperated by their lack of attention. The ride is nothing without the skipper. That is why I always felt that my job was an important one. The thirty-two foot rubber sharks, the sinking boat prop, the mortars that shoot water into the boat periodically, and the line of fire that rises in the fire scene make no sense to the audience without the skipper’s performance to fill in all the gaps and make the experience believable. They disregarded me, making an awkward experience worse.

Once we passed the jetty, and the sinking boat scene along with it, the boat turned toward the boathouse, as it does every five minutes. Just before entering the boathouse scene, I fired an unsuccessful grenade shot at Jaws, which is supposed to cause a back splash from the mortar in the water to come into the front of the boat. I pushed the green button on the back of the fake gun and the sound of a shot played through the speakers of my boat, but no water splashed—management had turned off the mortar to keep from catapulting fish at people. My act was falling apart; no one would believe my gun was real if it did not make a splash when I shot at the water.

The boathouse scene passed. Thankfully, the lack of light in the boathouse made it difficult to see the dead fish. We entered the fire scene. In this scene, I stopped my boat by the gas dock, and Jaws attacked from the starboard side. I shot and missed again; this time, the shot caused the gas tanks to explode and a fire ran across my boat’s path. I had to go through the flames. There was no other way to get back to shore, and Jaws was still following after us.

Once we were in the kill-shark scene, I saved the day as much as I could under the circumstances by looking meanly at Jaws as I fired my first successful shot into his mouth. I only said, “Eat this!” as I delivered the staged fatal blow to the animatronic Great White. At that point, the little children are usually thankful for my heroic deed and the adults begin to clap and/or cheer. We were all too disturbed by the ninety-nine little fish that gave their lives in the production. The passengers walked to the next attraction. I doubt if they wanted to look back.

The image of artifice in the stage of Universal Studios was broken by the accidental death of a school of fish. People pay hundreds of dollars to bring their family into the theme park so that they may indulge their imaginations in a created world. That is why the chlorine shocking of the water the night before was catastrophic for those guests that chose the JAWS ride on the day of the dead fish. There is little in life that is sadder than being faced with the reality of death, even the death of the infamous lagoon fish.

I heard some fellow skippers laughing about the incident. I also overheard someone say that a skipper had become sick to his stomach from the chlorine fumes. Another conjectured that the fish eggs must have come to the lagoon through a bird’s poop. No one expected there to be fish in the lagoon when they shocked the water with a large amount of chlorine to clean it… but it put a damper on the work the following day. It was really only amusing in hindsight. There is something about catapulting dead fish that is inherently funny.
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