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The sun is down. The popcorn is made. The drinks are poured. The blankets and pillows are in place. The Discovery Channel is on and everyone is in their usual places on the couch. It’s time for the Thoma family to do what it does every year while on vacation in Florida. It’s time to re-establish and reinforce a healthy fear.

It’s time to watch Shark Week.

The problem this year is that Shark Week isn’t actually scheduled to premier until the middle of July, and here we are in the middle of June. No matter. We’ve downloaded episodes yet to be watched from a previous year, and with that, we’re all set to wipe our brows, clinch our teeth, and be reminded why none of us—no, not one—will ever go into the ocean.

The episode in particular that we’re watching right now is one that includes a particular South African gent named Dickie Chivell. He’s a marine naturalist in his mid-twenties, and he’s quite the character. I’d say he’s more so reminiscent of a stunt man than a budding scientist because he has the tendency to do some pretty risky things to get great white sharks to come in for a close up with the camera. In a previous episode, he fashioned what he considered would be, for the sharks, a nearly invisible dive box. It was comprised of panes of Plexiglass glued together.

Yes, glued.


In tonight’s episode, Dickie has climbed into a homemade, one-man device called the “Wasp.” It looks a little like an oversized garbage can made of bars and is designed to rest on the sea floor so that its top can be opened for photography opportunities while its bottom allows the operator to actually use his or her legs to move it around.

Watching Dickie being circled by six or seven massive great whites, my wife asks from across the way, “Would you ever get into something like that?”

“Sure,” I reply, “but only after they show me the buttons for the underwater rocket launchers. I’d need to be able to turn anything that decided to get too close into a swirling mass of chum in an instant.”

So in other words, no, I wouldn’t. And I’m glad the Discovery Channel is trying so hard to teach us that sharks aren’t as scary as the movies might suggest while my children watch Dickie being rammed and snapped at in his little contraption by huge creatures fully intent on eating him if they can knock him loose.

“Would you ever get into something like that, Maddy?” I ask, lobbing Jen’s question along to my eldest daughter.

“No way!” she says without breaking her stare from the television. “I’m never stepping foot into the ocean!” The other kids echo her sentiments.

Check and mate, sharks. And once again, thank you, Discovery Channel. You have succeeded in putting the right amount of terror into the right people. With that, I’m going to pour myself another dram, and then afterward, sleep very well knowing that my children will never purposely put themselves into the midsection of the food chain.

Tonight’s celebratory dram is the James E. Pepper 1776 Barrel Proof Straight Rye, which for its “midsection of the food chain” price, was relatively enjoyable and well worth the effort to smuggle it within a tiny vial in the suitcase.

With a nose of warmed toast and brown sugar, the 1776 presents itself as a kindlier whiskey. But with the first sip, it circles back around, picking up momentum. It opens up and takes hold with a sturdy grip of the rye, raspberries, spicy oak, and a smidgeon of caramel.

Its finish is longer than expected, being sure to nip at you with the barrel spice and hints of citrus.

In all, the 1776 is doing all of this for play, and not for predatory purposes. It invites a whiskey drinker into its waters, reminding the swimmer that the best things aren’t necessarily in the boat on the top shelf. There are other things down in the reef worth exploring, too… unless we’re talking about a real ocean where real sharks exist. Then it’s better to view them from the boat. In fact, because boats sink, it’s better to just stay on land. It’s even better to be sixty-eight miles from the ocean, on a coach, eating popcorn, and covered in blankets and pillows while watching Shark Week.

Although, one significant gasp while eating popcorn during a scene with a shark thrashing against Dickie’s cage and you could end up choking to death. Then I guess it really doesn’t matter.