April 18th, 2005

One of the biggest movie sensations of the early 70s was Jaws. It’s probably hard for today’s moviegoers to appreciate just how much of an impact that movie had on people. It scared the bejabbers out of us. I was living in Nebraska at the time, about as far from the ocean and great white sharks as one could get, but I still remember the terror I felt driving home after watching that movie. We were driving along a road that coursed alongside a reservoir. I couldn’t get over the nagging fear that somehow that shark would swim 700 miles up the Mississippi River, take a left turn into the Missouri river, swim another 500 miles up the Missouri River, take another left and swim another 100 miles up the Platte River, take a right turn and swim 10 miles up a secondary river, jump a 100 foot high dam into the reservoir, swim along the reservoir, jump out of the reservoir and onto our car and eat us. That’s how scary that movie was.

Humor is said to be rooted in our fears, and I managed to milk Jaws for many good jokes. The first really good one was at a party a year after the movie came out. The hostess was chit-chatting with me and mentioned the awful story about two campers in Michigan who had been mauled by a bear. My riposte leapt out of my mouth before I knew what I was saying: "Yes, I hear they’re going to make a movie about it; it’s called Claws."

My second opportunity came many years later. They had made the inevitable sequel to the original movie, giving it the imaginative title Jaws 2. Their ad line for the movie was "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water: Jaws 2!" I was in a meeting of the programming department at Atari. The department chairman announced that the decision had been made to begin work on a new DOS for the Atari 800. He wondered if there were any volunteers for the job. Sitting next to me was Rob Zdybel, a game designer who had just finished up a rather ugly project writing the operating software for an interface box for the 800. Throughout the entire project he had bemoaned his bad luck having been stuck with a lousy system software project while everybody else got to work on games. As the department chairman’s eyes roved the room looking for a volunteer, I could see Rob sinking deeper into his chair. I leaned over to him and whispered: "Just when you thought it was safe to come out of your office: DOS 2!"