Under Toad - Garp


“The Garp family spent their summers at Dogs Head Harbor in New Hampshire, writes John Irving in The World According to Garp. From their first days at the harbor, both Garp and his wife, Helen, had told their youngest son, Walt, to watch out for the undertow. During Walt’s fourth summer at the beach, Garp and Helen observed him intently watching the sea. “He stood ankle-deep in the foam from the surf and peered into the waves, without taking a step, for the longest time. The family went down to the water’s edge to have a word with him. ‘What are you doing, Walt?’ Helen asked…’I’m trying to see the Under Toad,’ Walt said. ‘The what? said Garp.’ ‘The Under Toad,’ Walt said, ‘I’m trying to see it. How big is it?’ And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.” – Shorelines, Edwin Lynn

The ‘Under Toad’ is a great example of a ‘Fear Bubble’ about which my Dad writes in the ‘Adversity’ section of Shorelines. I have written a number of pieces about ‘Dream Bubbles’ where fantasies of upside can burst with shattering realisations. But, the same sort of bubbles also arise in the downside direction. Fears, panics, witch-hunts, hysterias. With devices like ‘stock shorting’ and ‘low balling’, savvy opportunists can mastermind just as widespread theft of value through Fear Bubbles as they can through Greed Bubbles.

Another prominent example of the ‘Under Toad’ fear bubble is this past summer’s ‘Debt Ceiling Crisis’. The ‘America Defaulting on Debt’ was never going to happen and any one with any sense knew that. It did not stop a week of 24-news channels from covering the debate with all of the anticipation of a cliff-hanging thriller. But while the fear of an August default is a misplaced fear (the imagined ‘under toad’), the fear of an erosion of living standards and government provisions is very real and very hazardous like the true ‘Under Tow’ which Walt had been warned of, as Shorelines describes…

“The real undertow has more substance than the imaginary Under Toad, but is not as mysterious a force as is often dreaded by swimmers at the beach. Water does rush back to the ocean along the surface of the sand after a wave breaks, and we can feel its pull, but except in the most unusual circumstances, it has little real force. Most people confuse the undertow with rip tides, which are formed by waves breaking in shallow water, often on a sand bar, and returning with a strong force to the sea through a narrow trough in the bar. When caught in a rip tide, swimmers usually panic, perhaps feeling like the Under Toad is pulling them out to sea. They exhaust themselves fighting a powerful demon current when the best response is to swim parallel to the beach, sometimes for just a few feet, out of the rip tide’s pull, allowing an easy return to land. An undertow and its more dangerous rip tide are real; the Under Toad is imaginary.“

Seth MacFarlane described the whole sense of confusion and consternation that one feels facing an ‘Under Toad’ in his Tweet on the crisis…

Seth MacFarlane debt ceiling meteor