My cousin Ben

A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.
– Woody Allen, Annie Hall (1977)

Visiting my cousin Ben for his wedding brings back to mind all kinds of fond memories of him through the years. Ben is the kind of person who can build anything, inventing as he goes along, with whatever materials are at hand. Back when Ben and I shared an apartment together in Manhattan, every year at Halloween he would make his own costume.

One year Ben outdid himself. He decided to go to a costume party as Jaws. Starting in the morning, he built a big armature out of wire coat hangers, covered that with oaktag, and then stretched gray plastic hefty bags over it. He drew hundreds of little black magic marker dots onto the plastic so it would look textured like sharkskin. By the evening, the costume was finished, and Ben slipped it over his head: A giant shark – just about seven feet tall – complete with a big foamcore fin in the back, and another piece of foamcore in front making a faceplate in the shape of the famous Jaws teeth, with an opening just big enough for Ben to look through.

To top the costume off, he mounted one of those little plastic swimmer toys, the kind you wind up. It was really cute – when he wound up the little plastic toy, it would look like it was trying frantically to swim away from the killer shark.

We had some trouble getting to the party. The only way to fit Ben – now in full costume – into the cab was lengthwise, kind of lying him down on the back seat, while I sat up in the front. The cab driver didn’t even blink. The was New York after all, and I’m sure he’d seen much stranger things. But we gave him an extra tip anyway.

When we got to the party Ben in his shark outfit was an absolute hit. People loved it! The only problem was that it was kind of difficult for him to get around. He’d sort of have to sidle slowly to get from one room to another. It was a little difficult, but Ben didn’t mind. He was enjoying the glow of his success. That is, until she showed up.

She was a woman who just decided that Ben in his shark outfit was the cutest thing. He wasn’t really into her, but she didn’t seem to care. Ben wasn’t very mobile, so he couldn’t easily excuse himself from the conversation. She started winding up his little plastic swimmer, going on about how adorable it was, and playfully pouring drinks down into his costume, like she was feeding the Jaws monster.

Finally Ben had had enough. He looked the woman square in the eye, from inside the mouth of his costume, and said to her “A shark is like a relationship. I has to keep moving, or it dies.” And then, shuffling around in a circle until he had done a full 180, my cousin slowly and regally moved off in his shark outfit.

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