Death by Shark Bite
An Excerpt from Trust, but Verify
Not much can stop the imagination of a little boy. Particularly when his older brother is as adept at scaring the lights out of his bro as my brother was. I remember one particularly ‘effective’ moment when my brother contributed to my now balding scalp by scaring the daylights out of me.
Below is an excerpt from the upcoming book, Trust, but Verify.
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JAWS; Can you hear the music? Dun, dun, … dun, dun … dun, dun … It’s funny to watch the movie Jaws today as the shark is pretty fake looking. But many years ago it was a terrifying movie that left the world afraid to enter the water. And the music composed by John Williams is just brilliant! In my previous business I spent a lot of time on the Universal Studios backlot. I remember driving by the Jaws ‘pond’ late at night and having a chuckle over the story below.
This Story is Absolutely Real
The story is absolutely real, and no, the names have NOT been changed. There were no innocent people in this story.
I was 9 years old and my family was visiting relatives at Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. Martha’s Vineyard is a sleepy touristy / fishing / beach island. Ironically (for me) … the movie Jaws was filmed there a few years before our visit.
It was a sleepy afternoon and my brother had the brilliant idea that we watch the movie Jaws on TV. I remember asking him what Jaws was about. He told me it was about “An overprotective clown fish that must leave the safety of his reef and brave the open ocean to rescue his missing son, who is captive in a dentist’s aquarium” … ok, ok … In 1979 the movie Finding Nemo had not existed but trust me, my brother did his best work at painting a fun loving friendly fish ‘romp’ in the ocean. I envisioned a fantastic story, not unlike Flipper and was gung ho on spending the afternoon watching it with him.
Jaws, a family friendly, fun frolic!
It didn’t take long before I realized that my brother had upped the ante. And quite honestly, he should be proud of his accomplishment with this one. If there was an Academy Award presented for the “best scare by a big brother”, he definitely would have won that year.
I remember as the credits were rolling, he dropped the bomb … “Hey Randy, did you know that Jaws was filmed right here in Martha’s Vineyard?” He always had a way of carefully waiting for just the right moment to ‘educate’ me with his incredible knowledge. It was ALWAYS appreciated. (I hope you are detecting my use of sarcasm here!!)
Anyway, it was decided by unanimous decision that Randall would not be going in the ocean again on this trip or ever for that matter. In fact, I had no intention to get in a bathtub ever again after today. I’m not sure how a shark could ‘get me’ in a bathtub, but I remind you, the imagination of a 9 year old is a very powerful thing. Besides, Jaws was no ordinary shark!!
You can imagine how I felt later that same day over dinner when my dad announced the ‘fantastic’ news that we (my dad, my brother and myself) were going “on a little adventure tomorrow.” We were going to rent a catamaran and go out in the ocean on it.
Was My Brother Complicit?
To this day I still wonder if my brother had advance knowledge of our plans the next day. He claims it was all coincidence and if it was, he must’ve had the time of his life that evening. I do wonder though. Late that night, I recall staying up trying to come up with an excuse. The next day it was certain that I was going to experience Death by Shark Bite. I had to find a way out of it. I mean honestly, Death by Shark Bite … could there be a worse way to go???
I’m fairly certain that day I went through all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I remember getting in trouble ‘dragging my feet’ while getting ready. Grasping at straws, I thought maybe if I got in trouble they would leave me back at the house “grounded”, while they went to their most certain death.
As we walked up to the rental place, I remember trying desperately one last time to talk my dad out of going. “It looks crowded, maybe we should come back tomorrow”. “I think its’ too windy”. “Boy this is expensive, Dad … we don’t have to do this”. “I don’t know if there’s room enough for all three of us, I’ll wait on the dock”.
My Fate Was Sealed as We Departed on Our 3-Hour Tour …
I learned after we had departed from the dock as my dad was struggling with the sails that he had never actually piloted a sailboat, let alone a catamaran. As we drifted out to sea, this certainly was setting up for a Perfect Storm. Eventually he got the hang of it and we started moving with great speed through the water.
I’m sure if I hadn’t had the pleasure of watching Steven Spielberg’s epic shark movie the day before, I probably would have been really enjoying the moment. Given the circumstance though, I was terrified.
I remember constantly looking back. I was expecting to see a shark fin raise out of the water behind us. Every bump of the water on the canvas of the Catamaran, I was certain it was a shark reaching with his jaws to devour me.
Ironically I finally started to calm down, convincing myself that as long as I didn’t hear the music, the shark would never come. I know this sounds crazy. But again, as I mentioned earlier, the imagination of a little boy can be very compelling.
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Up, Up and Away …
As I sat and waited for the music to start, the catamaran started tipping up, up, up. Unfortunately I didn’t know that this is how the Cats work and started to feel very panicky. Unfortunately, the boat continued to tip and ultimately completely tipped over. I remember the moment so vividly as I slid across the canvas into the depths of the ocean. Coming up for air, I looked for the boat and saw it about 50 yards away moving very quickly in the away from me. Even tipped completely on its’ side, the wind and current were still pushing it along the water at a fast clip. My brother had fallen into the water as well. My dad was hurriedly trying to flip the capsized boat right side up.
I was terrified! If the shark hadn’t gotten me while above water, I was now easy prey for his awaiting jaws. I knew that my minutes were numbered …
I remember seeing my dad look at me, seeing the panic in his eyes, trying to control a situation that was out of control. Now as a father, I can only imagine the horror he must have been feeling. Being in the ocean, watching his youngest son drifting further and further away, his oldest son drifting in an opposite direction on a boat that was sinking.
Initially I desperately tried to get back to the boat but I quickly realized that it was a futile effort. The current was just too strong and I needed to take a different approach. As I saw my father get further and further away, I learned a valuable lesson that day.
My Dad, My Rock … Was Unable to Get to Me
The man that I always relied on for safety couldn’t reach me. I had to step up and take care of myself in that moment. In hindsight, I’m actually quite impressed at how that little 9 year old boy took charge of the situation.
Ultimately my father ditched the boat, dove in the water and started swimming toward me. He got to my brother and called out to me to swim toward a deserted island that was reasonably close, which I did. We swam and swam and swam for what seemed like hours (it wasn’t). Eventually we made it to the island and were reunited. The catamaran was gone, but we were alive. Amazingly Jaws, who was apparently asleep, missed his prime opportunity to have some tender morsels for lunch.
Having my father so close, but at the same time completely out of reach created an eerie moment. There was an irony to his close proximity. So close, yet he might as well had been over a thousand miles away. This one terrifying moment showed me how ultimately it is you and only you that can protect yourself. Relying on others, even if in this case it was my superhero dad, proved to be a futile effort. I learned at that moment that ONLY YOU CAN PROTECT YOURSELF.
Only You Can Protect Yourself
This lesson has carried forward through my years where I know ultimately at the end of the day that I am not only in charge of my destiny but that I am the only one that can keep myself out of a real mess in life. In investing, no one will ever feel the pain of your financial loss as much as you will. An advisor that doesn’t protect you properly, steering your investments incorrectly, ultimately causing a loss in your portfolio is not affected by the loss that you feel. I’m sure they won’t like the situation, but I’m also certain they won’t lose sleep that night even though they did not protect you.
Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Performance
In fact, statements like “Past performance does not guarantee future performance” are boiler plate comments that your advisor will tell you or have in the agreement that you sign to try and help soften the blow when and if the above happens.
Ultimately your advisor may have the best intentions, but it is YOU that needs to make certain that all is kosher in his suggested investment mix. If you are going to feel the pain when things go wrong, then you need to verify the decisions that he is making on your behalf are prudent.
No longer can we assume that this person has your best interest at stake. You need to “Trust, but Verify”, because ultimately when things go terribly wrong it is you that will be alone, all by yourself, treading water deep in the ocean with nothing but a life preserver to keep you alive. Only you can protect yourself.
Surrounding yourself with financial advisors and experts in all forms of your professional life makes sense but taking a few precautionary measures along the way, verifying, confirming for yourself that this person is putting you in the proper environment is necessary.