This is staged.
If you’re ever in need a good laugh, just wander around the parking lot at your local gym. Now, maybe this is only applies to Midtown Athletic Club here in Rochester, NY, but I have no reason to think that Rochesterians are significantly dumber than Birminghamians or Salt Lake Citizens or anyone else, so I bet not. I bet this is a nationwide phenomenon.
Watch what people do when they arrive at the gym: they’ll circle the parking lot for minutes (plural!) looking for the space that’s closest to the entrance. Have these people forgotten why they came to the gym? Clearly they need—or at least appreciate—exercise. The 3.87 miles they’re about to run on the treadmill? That’s nothing! But an extra twelve steps to get to the door? That could be deadly!
Not that I mind. I’ll never turn down free entertainment, especially not during that long, boring walk from the back of the parking lot.
44 Sea Turtles Blvd, Old Port, Bahamas
T’ be cap’n be many a young ocean lover’s dream — t’ sail th’ seven seas with a breeze at me back, a treasure map in me pocket, an’ a patch over me eye. Th’ life I been livin’ be well suited t’ ready me for th’ task.
SKILLS AND STRENGTHS
- Leadership (firm, yet compassionate)
- Loot-Oriented Approach (over 47k doubloons)
- Riggin’ the sails (all weather conditions)
- Knot tyin’ (anchor hitch, bowline, etc.)
- Peg-leg repair (cedar, oak)
- Microsoft Excel (intermediate)
- Beard growin’ (red)
- Personal hygiene (abysmal)
First Mate, Blue Elizabeth — 2012–Present
- Orderin’ ’round that there good-for-nothing crew o’ ours.
- Maintainin’ good tidings with ye who fly th’ black flag.
- Tabulatin’ spoils of booty collection.
- Assumin’ th’ ransackin’ an’ pillagin’ responsibilities o’ th’ cap’n when he be temporarily incapacitated — that bein’ all th’ time. (There be lots o’ rum on board.)
Sailin’ Master, Th’ Meanderin’ Privateer — 2009–2011
- Indexin’ an’ categorizin’ charts an’ assorted navigatory doo-dads.
- Oh, and keepin’ those there maps dry. Aye, therein lie a tale….
Cabin Boy, Swift Galley — 2007–2008
- Swabbin’ th’ poop deck.
- Feedin’, carin’ for, an’ interpretin’ th’ parrot.
- Leadin’ th’ tenor section when th’ crew be singin’ ditties an’ other piratey tunes.
Greeter, Wal-Mart; St. Louis, MO — 2005–2006
- Sayin’ ahoy t’ more scalleywags than ye could fit on th’ Titanic.
- Assistin’ land lubbers in buyin’ toothpaste an’ umbrellas, or what have ye.
- Stockin’ th’ costume section for All Hallows’ Eve.
- Education: Kindergarten, Mrs. Nelson’s class (bottom 5%)
- Languages: Pirate (fluent), Parrot (working proficiency) English (basic competence).
AWARDS AN’ DECORATIONS
- Five outstanding arrest warrants ($50,000 reward).
- Winner, cannon firin’ accuracy competition (West Indies division).
- Second place, karaoke (“Yo ho, yo ho”).
Let me get something out of the way before I delve into two more oddities of the modern English language. I have no problem with people who make grammatical “mistakes” or usage “errors” in everyday speech, and neither should you. That’s not what we’re doing here. We’re not making fun of people who don’t use “proper” English. (And, yes, all these scare quotes are intentional.) We’re making fun of people who, in trying to sound more sophisticated, muck up some perfectly good sentences in the process. The people who replace short words with long words because they’re longer. Those people. I’m convinced those people would realize how dumb they sound if they just stopped to think about the words they’re saying for two seconds, so let’s think of these as some community service.
Mike Breen is my favorite play-by-play announcer in the NBA. He, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy make for extremely entertaining television, and I think they are, far and away, the best broadcasting team for any American professional sport. Breen never says anything that makes you question your sanity, he never gets tripped up on unnecessary verbiage, he never distracts you from the action, and he never fails to shift the spotlight off of himself and onto the glowing personalities of his colleagues in the broadcast booth. Which is why it pains me to pick on him before I pick on Jim Nantz or anybody else you’re forced to listen to on nationally televised sporting events — he really is the cream of the crop. Maybe this one thing sticks out it’s because Breen is so good at not sounding like a moron, but you know what they say: the loftier your high horse, the more rocks get thrown at your glass house.
A “second-chance opportunity” is what Breen and other play-by-play guys have started calling offensive rebounds. The second you see this written, your brain should burst out laughing at its ridiculous redundancy. ‘Opportunity’ is just a synonym for ‘chance,’ so what he’s actually saying is “second-chance chance.” Doesn’t that sound silly? Now, I do realize that there is some method to this madness. In basketball, when a team scores a basket after having already missed a shot and gotten an offensive rebound, that basket counts towards a team’s second-chance points, which is an officially recorded stat. Technically, an offensive rebound is a opportunity to get second-chance points, so I see where this expression is coming from. But come on. Just call it a “second chance” (since that’s what it is — a second chance at scoring a basket) or, better yet, an offensive rebound (since that’s what it actually is).
This one is the worst. This one is the absolute worst. It has left the land of public relations office-speak and entered mainstream English, leaving its friends “positive impact,” “task force,” and “synergy” in the dust. People are moving forward in interviews, emails, press releases, business meetings, and commercials. They’re moving forward all over the place. But here’s the real question: WHERE ELSE WOULD THEY GO?
People use “moving forward” to mean “in the future.” But from the context of the sentence, everybody should already know we’re talking about the future. It’s obvious. Let’s look at an example to see how unnecessary this expression can be:
“So, as you can see, this trend is going to continue. And moving forward, we need to be aware of it.”
Remove the “moving forward” and what do we have left? The exact same sentence. Who decided this was a good idea? What moron thought, You know what would sound great here? Moving forward?
Now, that’s not to say that you can’t come up with a legitimate way to use “moving forward.” You can using it in the same way as you “move on from” or “get over” something: I’m moving forward after the passing of my pet turtle. Or you can use it in the same way as you “proceed with” or “carry out” something: I’m moving forward with my plan to adopt a new pet turtle. These are acceptable uses of the phrase, although I’d contend that there are better alternatives.
In the acceptable sentences, you may have noticed that our formerly offensive phrase was used as part of the main verb phrase. These sentences tend to take the following form: [somebody] moves forward [from/with] [something]. “Moving forward” is an integral part of the sentences, and if it were removed, the sentences would fall apart. However, when “moving forward” is used as an adverbial phrase (sometimes called a “gerundive”), as it is in our example from YouTube, it’s totally worthless and adds absolutely nothing to a sentence. The “moving forward” bit is just floating around, not attached to anything. You could put it at the start of the sentence, put it at the end, put it in the middle, surround it with commas, precede it with a dash; you can do anything you want with it. You know what I would do?
Get rid of it.
Welcome to America’s favorite gameshow: The NBA’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate! It’s the show where you, the MVP voter, have come to find the MVP of your dreams! Without further ado, let’s meet the eligible candidates!
Candidate #1 has had one of the most memorable seasons of the past decade. He finished the year having scored 28.1 points per game, tops in the NBA. But after his superstar teammate went down with an injury in February, Candidate #1 really turned on the jets, averaging 31 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds per game over the last 28 games of the season, recording eight triple-doubles in the process. In fact, he finished the year with 11 triple doubles, the most since Jason Kidd in 2007-08.
Candidate #1 was, without a doubt, the most thrilling player to watch in the entire league. It seemed like he was on SportsCenter every night, flying coast-to-coast with a ridiculous dunk, or getting his head caved in and finishing the game anyway.
What that? You think the MVP should be have to play well enough to single-handedly carry his team to the playoffs? And you think his defense was terrible despite leading the league in steals per game? I suppose that’s a fair assessment. Better luck next year, Candidate #1. Please don’t be mad.
You say you like defense, huh? Well you’ve come to the right place! Candidate #2 leads the NBA in blocks by a substantial margin. But he’s no one-trick pony! Thanks to his improved shooting skills, the all-around stats of Candidate #2 are so good that his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) this season has only been matched by three players: Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Pretty good company, huh? Not to mention, Candidate #2 was so good that his team was able to surpass expectations and make it into the unbelievably competitive Western Conference playoffs!
Well, yeah, of course they were the eight seed. That’s still pretty good! No, nobody thinks his team is a legitimate contender for the title. I guess you’re right, that’s hardly any better than Candidate #1. I’m sorry, Candidate #2. You’ll have plenty of chances to woo voters in the future, I promise.
If you like good teams, you’re going to love Candidate #3. Candidate #3 has orchestrated the league’s third most efficient offense in the league since the All-Star Break. In fact, his team has only lost seven games since that point in the season. Candidate #3 does it all for his squad: he gets more assists than most point guards, more rebounds than most power forwards, and more points than all but two players in the entire NBA. This is nothing new for Candidate #3, since he’s been considered the best player on the planet since he came into the league in 2003 and has won the MVP award four times already.
You think he’s having a bad season? I suppose you might be on to something: this is the first season since 2008-09 during which Candidate #3 has shot under 50% from the field. And, yes, he did miss thirteen games. He is getting older, so maybe Candidate #3 has been saving his best work for the playoffs. It looks like your reign as king of the MVP is over, Candidate #3.
You want efficiency, huh? Well look no further! Candidate #4 might be the best shooter in the history of basketball. He’s led the league in made three-pointers, 50% of which were off the dribble — the highest such ratio in the league among players who made at least 1.5 three-pointers per game. He made 42.2% of those off-the-dribble three-point attempts, which is also best in the NBA. And the shooting stats just keep coming! Candidate #4 led all guards in true shooting percentage (which includes the value added by foul shots and three pointers) at 64%. The prolific shooting of Candidate #4 sometimes overshadows his excellent passing (he finished fourth in the league in assists) and much-improved defense (he led the league in steals). Thanks to the often mesmerizing talents of Candidate #4, his team has absolutely dominated the league’s most competitive conference, while ranking as the NBA’s second most efficient offense and leading the NBA in point differential, defensive efficiency, and, most importantly, wins.
Huh? You want to see what his stats were like two years ago? Why on earth… well, all righty then, if you insist. Here are the stats for Candidate #4 from this year and from two years ago:
Now that you mention it, they do look almost identical. Did he win the MVP two years ago? No, actually, he didn’t even make the All-Star Team. That’s a good point. I suppose it doesn’t make any sense to reward Candidate #4 for having such talented teammates, especially when it doesn’t seem like he’s improved at all.
Candidate #5 has not had nearly the same luxury of being able to rely on his teammates like our previous candidate could, and yet Candidate #5 led his team to the second best record in the entire NBA. Candidate #5 made the most out of his team’s depleted roster: of the four other starters on his squad, only one of them has stayed healthy the entire year. Candidate #5 is so important to his team’s success that they won 29 of 33 when Candidate #5 scored 30 or more points, and 24-22 when he didn’t. As a result, wound up leading the NBA in points scored, free throws made, minutes played, and total win shares.
Candidate #5 has shown remarkable consistency in his young career, improving his game little-by-little every year. Last season, while he made small strides strides in his shooting efficiency and his passing, Candidate #5 was ridiculed incessantly for his embarrassing lack of effort on defense. This year? No too shabby! In fact, he set a career high in steals and blocks.
Holy cow, you’re picky. You want your MVP to stand out in all areas of the game? “Not too shabby” isn’t going to cut it? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Candidate #5, it looks like you’re going home empty-handed.
I bet most of the viewers at home didn’t think we’d get this far, but here we are! Meet MVP Candidate #6, whose name rarely gets mentioned in these conversations. In fact, he’s not even listed among the favorites in the Las Vegas betting lines for the NBA MVP. But don’t let that fool you; he may truly be the most valuable player of all.
Let’s start with his defense. Candidate #6 has ranked in the top ten in steals per game every single year he’s been in the league, finishing first in that category six times. This year, he got fifth place. That’s pretty good. Yes, I know, calm down, I realize that Candidates #1 and #4 both have him beat in that category, and that Candidate #5 is right behind him. But getting steals is only one aspect of playing defense. Many steals come from jumping into passing lanes, an aggressive move in which you abandon your own man to try to intercept a pass. This is a major risk, the downside of which is not captured by the “steals” statistic, so strictly looking at steals is a severely incomplete measure of a player’s impact on defense. But other than blocks, typical box score stats have no way of telling us how well a player does at other important aspects of defense.
That’s why we have to look at more advanced statistics. According to a study by a bunch of nerds at Harvard, Candidate #6 was the best defensive point guard in all of basketball in 2013-14 at preventing his assignment from scoring. They used SportsVU player tracking data to calculate how often a defender’s assignment attempted a shot, and how often that attempt went in, compared to how that player normally shoots. When they’re guarded by Candidate #6, players take fewer shots than they normally do and makes a worse percentage of those shots. I’d say that pretty well sums up what you’re supposed to do on defense, right? Candidate #6 stops his man from scoring better than any player at his position.
How about his offense, you ask? Well, the box score does a much better job of describing offense than it does defense, so we’ll take a look at some traditional stats.
Traditional Stats: points per game (PTS), rebounds per game (REB), assists per game (AST), turnovers per game (TOV), steals per game (STL), blocks per game (BLK), field goal percentage (FG%), three point percentage (3P%), free throw percentage (FT%)
So Candidate #6 doesn’t stand out in points, but makes it up with his assists. What? Oh, is that so? You think he sounds like the typical ball-dominating point guard. You think he gets all the assists because he never lets anybody else touch the ball until there’s two seconds left in the shot clock. Well, just cool your jets for a minute while I explain something. Being ‘ball-dominant’ is a criticism because bad things happen one player has the ball in his hands for too long. Those bad things usually take the form of turnovers, forced shot attempts, and/or generally inefficient offense. If those bad things don’t happen, there’s nothing wrong with having the ball in your hands more than your teammates’ hands. Now just sit back and relax while I demonstrate that these bad things don’t happen when Candidate #6 dominates the ball.
Candidate #6 just don’t turn the ball over. Period. He led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (AST/TO) this year for the third year in a row, and the fifth time in the last six seasons. He’s never finished outside the top three in any of his ten seasons in the NBA. In fact, Candidate #6 might be the best point guard in the history of basketball according to this measure. Among the players ahead of him on all-time assists leaderboard, the closest anybody comes to approaching Candidate #6’s career AST/TO is John Stockton at 3.72. This year, Candidate #6 is even stingier than usual with his turnovers, coming in with a AST/TO of 4.41. Just compare his turnover totals to the other MVP candidates. Candidate #6 blows them out of the water?
As for the notion that dominating the ball leads to bad shots, let’s take a look at Candidate #6’s shooting numbers compared to our already-eliminated MVP candidates.
Shooting Stats: Makes, attempts, and percentages from various distances from basket
|<5 ft.||5-9 ft.||10-14 ft.||15-19 ft.||20-24 ft.||25-29 ft.|
|RW||4.6-8.6 (53.3)||0.6-1.3 (41.1)||1.2-2.7 (42.4)||1.7-4.4 (37.5)||0.8-2.8 (29.7)||0.6-2.0 (28.7)|
|AD||5.1-7.2 (70.4)||0.8-2.0 (39.6)||1.0-2.2 (46.3)||2.2-5.3 (42.3)||0.3-0.8 (35.7)||0.0-0.0 (33.3)|
|LJ||4.8-6.9 (69.2)||0.7-1.6 (40.7)||0.6-1.7 (31.9)||0.9-2.3 (40.1)||1.1-2.7 (41.4)||1.0-3.1 (32.5)|
|SC||2.5-3.9 (65.6)||0.4-0.9 (40.3)||0.6-1.1 (52.9)||0.7-1.7 (43.9)||1.6-3.6 (44.1)||2.4-5.5 (43.0)|
|JH||3.8-6.7 (56.3)||0.3-0.9 (31.0)||0.4-1.0 (41.8)||0.8-2.1 (36.0)||1.4-3.6 (38.6)||1.4-3.8 (36.0)|
|#6||1.1-1.9 (59.9)||0.5-1.0(49.4)||1.3-2.4 (52.8)||2.1-4.2 (50.1)||1.0-2.2 (43.7)||1.0-2.5 (37.8)|
Overall, I’d say Candidate #6 stacks up pretty well. He excels at the mid range shots, beating out the others by a large margin from 5-9 and 15-19 feet, and finishing just a fraction of a percent behind Candidate #4 from 10-14 ft. From all the other distances, Candidate #6 more than holds his own.
So we’ve established that when he’s got the ball in his hands, Candidate #6 doesn’t turn the ball over, and he doesn’t take bad shots. What about his teammates? How well do they do when Candidate #6 gives them the ball? You mean the league leading assists isn’t proof enough that Candidate #6 does a good job of setting up his teammates? Fine.
Remember how I mentioned that Candidate #4 plays for the team with the second most efficient offense in the NBA? Well Candidate #6’s team is the most efficient: they score almost 1.1 points per possession, best in the league. Could that be a result of having better teammates? Let me ask you this: who’s the better offensive player, J.J. Redick or Klay Thompson? Klay. Matt Barnes or Harrison Barnes? Harrison. Blake Griffin or Draymond Green? Griffin, but not by a lot. DeAndre Jordan or Andrew Bogut? Bogut, by a lot. So the Warriors’ starting lineup, minus its MVP candidate, is probably superior on offense to that of the Clippers.
What about the bench? OK, Jamal Crawford or Andre Iguodala? Toss up, I’d say. Spencer Hawes or David Lee? Lee, duh. Glen “Big Baby” Davis or Marreese Speights? Speights. Austin Rivers or Shaun Livingston? Livingston. Hedo Turkoglu or Leandro Barbosa? Neither, really, but anybody is better than Turk.
So Candidate #6 has worse teammates, and yet his team’s offense is more efficient. Is it all because of Candidate #6? I’m glad you asked. If you could be so kind as to take a look at the offensive win shares stat as listed in the table below, that would be wonderful.
Advanced Stats: player efficiency rating (PER), games missed (DNP), offensive win shares (OWS), defensive win shares (DWS), total win shares (WS), win shares per 48 minutes played (WS/48), true shooting percentage (TS%), wins above replacement (WAR)
You’ll notice that Candidate #6 has more offensive win shares than any other player in the NBA, which means that, according to this measure, he has contributed more to his team’s offensive success than anybody else has for their team. In other words, Candidate #6 the most valuable offensive player in the league. And, hey, wait a minute, didn’t we already establish that he’s the best defensive player at his position? So he’s the best at defense and at offense? Toss in the fact that he’s the only one of our MVP candidates that didn’t miss a single game this entire season, and, well–
What’s that? You’ve made your choice? I’m glad to hear it. Ladies and gentlemen, this years’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate is…
No, no, not you, Cliff.
That’s right! Chris Paul! Well, that’s all for our show. We’ll see you next time on The NBA’s Most Eligible MVP Candidate!
It’s tough to tell sometimes whether the English language itself is dumb, or if it’s just the people using it who are dumb, but either way, dumb things are said all the time that apparently go totally unnoticed by everyone but me. This is going to be a regularly recurring column because these kinds of things pop into my head with some frequency. Perhaps it would be better suited for Twitter or some other medium, but whatever. It’s going to live here for now.
Attorneys at Law
You’ve seen this phrase on ads printed on the backs giant phone books and on even gianter billboards, but I bet none of you have ever stopped to think about how dumb it is. Look at it again: “attorneys at law.” It seems pretty innocuous. But hidden below its friendly exterior is a raging redundancy monster. Don’t see it yet? Have you ever heard of an attorney who wasn’t at law? How about an attorney at medicine? Or an attorney at construction? There’s no such thing. You can’t be an attorney if you’re not at law.
This is a verb, apparently. Bill Macatee, the esteemed golf broadcaster, whipped out his thesaurus in preparation for the Masters last week and found this word, which he decided to use every single time he wanted to describe a path taken by a golf ball. Golf, of course, is far too sophisticated for such lowly verbs as “roll” (e.g., The ball rolled off the green.) or even “go” (e.g., The ball went in the hole.), and Bill took it upon himself to spruce up the telecast. I don’t think it worked. “Trundle” sounds to me like something Santa’s sleigh would do, and a golf ball kind of looks like a snow ball, and all of a sudden I’m thinking about how awesome that snow fort was that I built at Justin’s house in fourth grade and how his little sister made us look really stupid by just running around the yard to attack us from the unprotected side of the fort which doesn’t seem fair at all even though it was two against one and what were we talking about again?
I thought about writing two posts. I thought about writing one post about how dumb it is that Lego Movie and David Oyelowo didn’t get the Oscar nominations they deserved, and another about how dumb it is that Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds will never be voted into the Hall of Fame. I was going to detail how these two systems are flawed and how they should be fixed. I was going to talk about how the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) is out of touch with the modern game, how it’s absurd to limit voters to ten players, how the treatment of cheating is inconsistent, and how releasing the ballots to the public might fix a lot of these issues. I was going to talk about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“The Academy”) is out of touch with the general viewing audience, how absurd it is to limit the Best Animated Feature category to voters who are animators, how the treatment of historical accuracy is inconsistent, and how releasing the ballots to the public might fix a lot of these issues. Instead, I’m going to kill two dead birds with one stone.
The Oscars are a lot like the Baseball Hall of Fame: people give them a lot more credit than they deserve. Winning an Academy Award at the Oscars and being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown are two accomplishments that are universally seen as career-defining moments. But they shouldn’t be.
When people refer to Jack Nicholson as “three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson,” they’re implying that the Oscars are the only things that validate his career. When Hank Aaron is referred to as “Hall of Famer Hank Aaron,” it’s as if his 755 home runs would mean nothing if not for his Cooperstown induction. Leonardo DiCaprio might go down as the best actor never to win an Oscar, just like Pete Rose is thought of as the best hitter not in the Hall of Fame. That humiliation has pushed Rose to several misinformed publicity campaigns, and DiCaprio always seems to be going after that one role that’ll win him his Oscar.
That’s not fair to them. It’s not fair that their legacies should be defined by these broken systems. And, yes, they’re broken. Roger Clemens is, by pretty much any legitimate statistical measure (I’m a big fan of JAWS), one of the three best pitchers ever, and yet the BBWAA has decided that since he might have been using performance-enhancing drugs (OK, he was almost certainly using performance-enhancing drugs) he doesn’t deserve the honor of being inducted. Lego Movie is, by pretty much any legitimate statistical measure (I’m a big fan of Rotten Tomatoes), one of the three best animated movies of 2014, and yet the The Academy has decided that since it was made by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the guys behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the new 21 Jump Street) and not one of the usual studios, it doesn’t deserve the honor of being nominated.
So let’s stop calling it an honor, shall we? Let’s remember that the Oscars and the Hall of Fame are just a couple of stupid awards voted on by a bunch of people whose opinions I don’t care about and neither should you. Stop treating these awards like they’re special. They’re not.
Facebook has new feature called “Stickers,” which allows users to convey messages to one another using sets of pre-drawn images. One of the sets of stickers features a character called “Business Fish” expressing various emotions. Yesterday my good friend, Matt H, sent several of these Business Fish stickers from which immediately sprung a coherent story, despite the stickers having been sent somewhat randomly, almost like a stream of consciousness. This is that story.
Business Fish was not your average man. He rode the subway to his 9-5 desk job just like your average man, he enjoyed watching the big game at the sports bar just like your average man, and he liked building things in his workshop just like your average man. But Business Fish was not your average man. He was a fish.
It didn’t really bother Business Fish that he was a fish. You get used to it after a while, I suppose. When you see a fish staring back at you in the mirror every day for 34 years, you eventually come to grips with the fact that you’re a fish.
But you see, everybody else in the world doesn’t see a fish in the mirror every day. They’re not used to it. Even though most people are polite and don’t say anything, there were still these little things that got under his scales. The little things start to add up.
Especially with the ladies, although it wouldn’t seem that way at first glance. When Business Fish was younger, he often got complimented on his appearance He had a date lined up almost every weekend. He went to the gym every morning and maintained a tip-top physique. Even when he grew out his whiskers for No-Shave November, Business Fish was always a handsome fish. But for whatever reason, Business Fish never made it past the first date. Maybe it was the idea of sucking face with a cold, slimy pair of lips that scared them all off, I don’t know. But no matter how well that first date went, Business Fish found saw his follow-up phone calls go unanswered, and he texts unreturned.
The older Business Fish got, the more he settled into his job, the less often we went to the gym, the less tidy he trimmed his dorsal fins, and the less he asked girls out on dates. He became more one-track minded: go to work, make money, get a bigger house, save for retirement, etc. Those little things added up over the years and weighed him down. He was deflated, defeated, lifeless. But more than that, Business Fish felt out of place. Like a fish out of water.
That all changed one fall morning. Business Fish was walking down 48th Street to his usual Starbucks to get his usual espresso macchiato when he thought he saw a familiar face.
Sarah! There she was, walking up the other side of the street. Even across four lanes of traffic, Business Fish could tell that she was even more beautiful than she had been in high school. How could he have forgotten about Sarah? She was a quiet kid, not one to hang out with one of the popular guys like Business Fish. He had always been rather intrigued by Sarah, even though his friends seemed to overlook her.
When he saw her, Business Fish was immediately reminded of that one time in junior year when he had been wrongly accused of bullying Jimmy Kim. Sarah spoke up and told the principal that it was, in fact, Jimmy who had started the fight. It seemed out of character for Sarah, who rarely said a word in class. Business Fish never saw Sarah do anything like that for anyone else, and from that moment on he suspected that she was just as intrigued by him as he was by her.
What is she doing here in the City? Business Fish thought to himself as he watched her stroll on into the distance. Maybe she moved back?
As soon as he returned to his desk at work, Business Fish popped open a new tab and searched for “Sarah Jameson” on Facebook. Sure enough, there she was. She and Business Fish were still virtual friends despite not having spoken to one another in over a decade.
Sales manager at Macy’s. Studied art at Queens College. Lives in New York, NY. Hmm, I wonder if… Relationshi––
Business Fish nearly jumped out of his seat.
“Yes, Mr. Norris?”
“Meet me in my office in 5 minutes! I’ve got some new product distribution networks I want to you look at.”
Business Fish had to push Sarah to the back of his mind for the moment while he refreshed his memory of the product distriwhatevters so that he wouldn’t look like a total idiot in front of the boss. He got through the rest of the day just as he got through any other day, but he never went more that a couple minutes without thinking about Sarah again. The shock of seeing her had awoken a sort of feeling inside Business Fish that he had not felt in a long time. It was as if he’d completely forgotten that he even had a dorsal fin, and now, all of a sudden, he could swim twice as fast.
Back at his apartment, Business Fish couldn’t sleep. Frustrated and preoccupied, he got up out of bed and walked toward the closet. Maybe some exercise will help. He dug out a pair of dumbbells and did nine pushups before falling over. That was pathetic. Before trying again, Business Fish decided he’d better rest for a minute. It’s been a while.
He hopped back in bed and fiddled with his smartphone while he waited. He scrolled through Sarah’s profile, looking for anything he might have missed on the first read-through.
Photos from her new apartment, “Yay, first day at work!!!,” very nice. Oh, hey, wait a minute. November 18th? It’s that tomorrow?
It was. Sarah’s birthday was the very next day. [Author's note: Hey, you've got to take some liberties when you're writing a story based on 14 stupid pictures. And besides, it's about a fish-man. If you've gotten this far, I think you can handle some absurd plot-driving coincidences, OK?]
I should do something! Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll get her a cake and surprise her and work and tell I love her! Man oh man, where do I come up with this stuff? That’s genius.
Business Fish spend the rest of the night reading Yelp reviews of bakeries before he drifted off into the most pleasant sleep he’d had in a while.
Business Fish was absolutely giddy. He couldn’t sit still and he hadn’t even had his espresso yet.
He wandered around the office telling anyone and everyone about Sarah and his big plans. When he ran out of people to tell his story to, he just stood there, staring out the window in the conference room, smiling. Smiling about as creepily as you can imagine a fish smiling.
“Mm? What what what? Sorry, I was––”
“What are you doing? You’ve got work to do! I need you to revise the multimedia content inter-dimensional transmogrification management system!”
“Ha ha ha ha! I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Norris. Ha ha ha!”
Business Fish kept laughing as he walked right past Mr. Norris and out the door.
Business Fish left the office sometime around when he normally heads to Starbucks for his coffee break. Only today he skipped the espresso so he could go pick up a birthday cake for Sarah. His research on Yelp led him to a small bakery all the way across town that specialized in decorated cakes. The bakery had received nothing but five-star reviews, except for one, which said simply, “No bacon.”
Undeterred by the one negative review, Business Fish ran down the tunnel into the subway station. Whistling his favorite song, “Under the Sea,” he passed his metro card through the scanner and walked through the turnstiles.
“It’s funny,” Business Fish said to the man behind him in line, “I was half expecting that gate to shut suddenly in front of me or something. Weird, huh?”
Business Fish was swing open the door to the bakery when he noticed a particularly disturbing sign pasted on the door right in front of his nose.
NO SMOKING. No pets. no rollerblades. no fish.
He was flabbergasted. Never before in his life hd he seen something that so blatantly and so viciously attacked who Business Fish was as a man and, more importantly, who he was as a fish. Growing up in an affluent neighborhood, Business Fish had rarely been exposed to discrimination against his kind. Rarely, but not never. It was the little things, like the one time he wasn’t invited to Kevin’s birthday party at the roller rink because Kevin’s mom didn’t want him associating with a fish, or when he couldn’t rent skis on the class trip to Moose Mountain because they didn’t have any helmets that fit.
“Hey mister, yir lettin’ all the cold air in, come inside, would ya?”
“I’m–I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
Business Fish walked sheepishly through the doorway.
“What can I do for yuuuuhhhhhaaaaaiiiii’m going to go get my manager real quick, now you stay right there.”
Business Fish watched as the lady behind the cash register — whose eyes had just tried to jump out of her head — ran into the back room. Quickly she reemerged with a large man with a mustache. Picture a giant version of Mario.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I–I–I’d like to buy a cake… please?”
“Let me see some identification.”
“To buy cake?”
“Hand it over, pal!”
Business Fish turned all his pockets inside out and dumped the contents of his briefcase all over the floor, but his wallet was nowhere to be found.
“I must have left it at home or something, I never do this I swear, but I really don’t understand what the big deal is, I mean I just want so buy some––”
“Uh huh, and how exactly do you expect us to believe you’re not a fish if you don’t have your ID?”
“Well… I mean… I am a fish.”
“So you admit it!”
“Well yeah. I thought that seemed pretty obvious.”
“Get out of here, get out of my bakery! We don’t serve your kind in this establishment!”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes! Get out! Go!”
Business Fish, still stunned and, frankly, confused, turned to walk out the door. But as he started to comprehend the gravity of the situation — if he couldn’t get the cake, how would he tell Sarah he loved her? — those emotions that had been ignored and repressed suddenly welled up and came bursting out of him like a deep sea shark erupting towards the surface to catch a lounging bather.
“Now wait a minute, let me say something. There is nothing wrong with being a fish; in fact, some great people in our history have been fishes. They say that Albert Einstein might have been a fish, and I’m pretty convinced Jim Carey is a fish in disguise, I mean have you seen that weird laugh he does? That looks just like me when I’m eating. So, what I’m trying to say is that this is a totally unfair policy and I’m not going to stand for it.”
“We can chose to sell our cakes to whomever we want. So goodbye, Mr. Fish.”
“I will not stand for this! And how did you know my name?”
The cashier lady decided it was her turn to chime in.
“Go away, ya weirdo!”
Business Fish lunged over the counter and dove towards the huge rack of cakes on the wall. He took the first cake that he could get his hands on before fat baker Mario man came charging after him. Unfortunately for his profit margins, the baker tripped over the cashier lady and went tumbling into the cake rack, spilling them all over the floor, while Business Fish slipped out of the bakers hands like a freshly-caught, still-squirming catfish.
Business Fish’s cellphone rang.
“No, Mr. Norris, I don’t ha–
“I can’t, Mr. Norris, I have to get ‘Happy Birthday Sarah’ written on the cake and get to Macy’s before it closes.
“Fired? What do you mean?
“That’s outrageous, I can’t believe you wou–
“Yeah, well up yours!”
Business Fish was standing there waiting for the bakers to finish decorating his cake, which, by some miracle, was still intact. He had nothing to do for several minutes, so he decided to check Facebook on his phone.
Oops. I must have left it on the floor of that other bakery when I was looking for my ID.
Left to its own devices, the mind of Business Fish began dart from topic, like seal that was dropped in the penguin exhibit at Sea World and can’t decide which penguin to eat first.
I wonder if she likes chocolate. Should I get a vanilla one just in case? What if Macy’s closes before I get there? I hate the Macy’s Day Parade, why does everyone always watch that worthless TV show? I could use some turkey right now. Mmm, and some pumpkin pie. Should I get pie instead of cake? No, let’s stick with cake, no turning back now. But what if she doesn’t like cake? What if it’s not actually her birthday? What if she didn’t actually like me back in high school? What if she doesn’t even remember who I am? This is a really bad idea, maybe I should jus––
“Excuse me, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Wait a minute, what do you ask?”
“Well, you were were sort of shaking almost like you were having a seizure, and you skin looks all cold and slimy.”
“The ‘cold and slimy’ thing is pretty common for guys like me who are, you know, fish.”
A man with Einstein hair and three-inch think glasses turned around as soon as he heard Business Fish say, “fish.”
“Fish?! You might have pescian flu!”
“I might have what?”
“Here, take this mask, put it on.”
Business Fish, not wanting to anger the crazy guy, put on the mask as instructed.
Having overcome his fears, Business Fish finally arrived at Macy’s. The store was more overwhelming than he had remembered, so the “finding Sarah” step of the process turned out to be a little more complicated than he had anticipated. He walked up to the first employee he saw.
“Where is Sarah?”
“Sarah, you know, the… um… the… uh…”
“How about a last name?”
“Oh, right. Jameson. Jameson’s her name.”
The employee had to call her boss, who didn’t know who Sarah was and couldn’t just look her up in a directory or something, but he said he could talk to Janice who might know where she was, although Janice might not have come to work today because her niece had pescian flue or whatever. By this point, Business Fish had lost his patience.
“You know what? That’s OK, I’ll just find her on my own, I think my cake is getting cold. Er… warm. Or something.”
Business Fish wandered around the store looking for Sarah. He found her almost immediately. She was manning the cash register in the kids’ clothing department, which seemed unusually crowded. The line at her register had to be at least five people long. Business Fish decided that the best course of action would be to get in line, and to give the cake to Sarah when he got to the front.
In front of him was a mother and two kids: a boy who appeared to be around seven years old, and girl who might have been three. The little girl sat in the cart facing Business Fish while her mom scolded the brother for not helping unload the cart. Business Fish noticed that the girl was looking at him as he walked up to get in line, so he smiled as he tried to peek over people’s heads for a better glimpse of Sarah. Business Fish realized that he hadn’t decided exactly what he would say to Sarah, but the line was long enough so he didn’t have to worry about it for a couple minutes. More pressing at the moment was the fear that people would ask him what he was doing in line with a birthday cake, since Macy’s doesn’t sell cake [I assume]. His solution? Business Fish yanked off shoes and placed them sneakily on the conveyor belt.
Meanwhile, that little girl was still staring at him, like a shark locked in on its target. He smiled at her again, but Business Fish had never been a big fan of kids.
What’s your problem, you little brat? Huh? What are you looking at me for? Do I look weird to you? Yeah, I’m a fish, deal with it. Stop staring, all right? Hasn’t your mom taught you that it’s rude to stare? What’s wrong with you? Seriously, stop it, it’s creeping me out.
Eventually, Business Fish lost his cool.
“Uh, Miss? Would you tell your kid to stop looking at me?”
“Are you serious? You can’t handle a three year old looking at you?”
“Just make her stare at someone else or something.”
“Well, you are the only… uh…”
“The only what? Just say it already. The only what?”
“YEAH THAT’S RIGHT! I’M A FISH! I’M A MONSTER, OK? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANTED TO SAY?”
Everyone in the entire store froze. The silence was unbearable. Thankfully, it was Sarah who finally said something.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store.”
“Wait, what? No, Sarah, please, I––”
“How do you know my name?”
“It’s me, Business Fish, from high school!”
“Business Fish? The name sounds familiar, but I just can’t place the face. I’m sorry, I’m going to have to call security.”
“Wait, no, no, no, no––”
“Yes, we have an unruly customer on here on the first floor, checkout line number four––”
“But I brought you this cake!”
Sarah stop talking, puzzled, and slowly put down the phone.
“I wanted to say congratulations!”
“No, wait, I mean, happy birthday!”
“Aw, that’s really––”
“Is this the guy?”
Two security guards seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.
“Yes, but he was just––”
Before Sarah could finish her thought one of the security guards had given Business Fish an impossibly swift kick straight in the gut, almost like an electric eel darting out of its tunnel in the reef to strike an unsuspecting pray. Business Fish doubled over in pain.
Business Fish grabbed his shoes, slipped them back on, and ran as fast as he could in an arbitrary direction. He saw no possible escape route other than the “Employees Only” door straight ahead. He directed that was his only choice, so he went for it. Business Fish crashed through the doors, nearly killed an old man carrying so many shoe boxes that they were stacked several feet above his head, and burst into what appeared to be the break room.
“Who are you?”
Business Fish bided time as he tried to catch his breath and come up with semi-plausible story.
“I’m… I’m… I’m… I’m from corporate. Did Janice tell you I was coming today?”
“Huh. I made it very clear to Janice that my visit should be kept a secret from the on-floor staff, but that she should warn the rest of you so that the necessary documentation would be ready for inspection.”
“I’m sorry, what is it you’re doing?”
Business Fish tried to remember all the nonsense Mr. Morris used to say. Luckily his memory is better than that of a goldfish.
“Well, you see, Mr. Morrissssssson, Morrison, yes, Mr. Morrison down in D.C., he sent me to do a pseudo-surprise inspection of the product distribution networks within the tristate area and the sales data management system being implemented here. In order best evaluate the sales process, I feign the typical consumer experience by making a purchase under the guise of an ordinary customer. Unfortunately, due to severe miscommunication, the purchase process when horribly wrong and the store security tried to have me removed from the premises while I was in the checkout line. In short, I’ll need to dispatch one my colleagues at a later date to return to this story and reattempt the evaluation.”
The security guards finally ambled into the break room. Picture a couple of characters in the spirit of Chief Wiggum and Paul Blart.
“Ayuhh, you guys seen a snazzy looking fellow come in here? He had an interesting look to him, like he had some sort of weird skin condition. Oh hey, wouldya look at that! You’re dead meat, like a rainbow trout swimming upstream in grizzly bear territory. You’re coming with us, bub.”
One of the other employees spoke up.
“It’s OK, Rodge, we got things under control.”
“You sure? We can get rid of him no problem.”
“No, no, it’s all right, really. He works for corporate.”
The guards left the room, but not before a quick detour to the box of donuts sitting on the coffee table.
Having wriggled out of that situation like a bass flopping out of a fisherman’s net, Business Fish needed to modify his plan to tell Sarah that he loved her.
I need to modify my plan to tell Sarah I love her. Hmm. Well, it is still her birthday. Ohh!! I know what I forgot!
“Yes, you. Do you want a promotion?”
“Good. Go get me my cake. It should still be somewhere around the checkout line four on the first floor.”
“OK, sure, whatever you say, boss.”
As the nerdy-looking Macy’s employee scrambled out the door, Business Fish turned to another employee at random.
Business Fish realized that the ringing he was hearing was not the fire alarm. It was his bedside alarm, and the stupid thing tried desperately to make sure Business Fish didn’t sleep through work.
What happened? Where’s Sarah? What’s going on?
Business Fish, feeling completely lost, wandered aimlessly around his room and tried to get a grip on the present situation, like a beta fish dropped in a new tank. But you, astute reader, have already figured out that I just used the oldest trick in the book. THE WHOLE THING WAS A DREAM. The only question remaining is when the dream started.
Business Fish saw the weights lying on the floor, left out after he’d tried to do pushups the night before. He turned on his phone to find that it was still showing him reviews of local bakeries on Yelp.
Disaster averted, I guess?
A notification popped up on the screen: an email from Mr. Morris.
Fish make sure your not late 2day we have alot to discuss on demographic optimization ___________________________________________________________ Michael Morris Regional Manager, Doxanomics Documents email@example.com 201-555-4421
By 9:08 Business Fish was in a meeting with Mr. Morris, even though he felt like a zombie. The rest of the morning went by in a blur, and Business Fish didn’t really snap out of his stupor until he sat down at Starbucks with his espresso –– a double one, this time –– and tried to make sense of his ridiculous dream.
What does it all mean? I stole a cake, got fired, screamed at a three year old and her mother, and for what? It was all a total disaster.
Business Fish checked his watch: it was about time to get back to the office. He decided he should just proceed like nothing had happened. Go with the water flow, follow the school, etc.
“That’s the most ridiculous dream I’ve ever heard.”
At their usual sports bar, Business Fish and his pal, Steve, were in their usual seats, which had the best view of the big TV. They weren’t paying any attention to the game.
“You know, this could be good for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying, you haven’t really been yourself lately.”
“Well, I mean, when was the last time you had a date?”
“Oh come on.”
“No, I’m serious! You used to be the man, man!”
“All right, whatever, but you gotta admit, it’s probably time to shake things up a bit, you know?”
“I don’t know. I think you gotta figure that one out.”
Feeling that that topic of conversation had run its course, Business Fish glanced up at the TV, checked the score of the UNC–Duke game, and mentioned something about coach Roy Williams being underrated. Conversation turned to the usual, harmless, sports discussions that seem to exist for the sole purpose of being a distraction from more important things. The dream did not come up again, ignored, but still looming over their thoughts: a manatee in the room.
When the game was over, they got up out of their seats and walked toward the exit. As they grabbed their coats off the hooks, Steve stopped and looked over Business Fish’s shoulder.
“Is that her?”
Business Fish turned around and, sure enough, there she was. Sarah was seated with three friends at one of those tall tables with those chairs that make you feel like you could tip over at any moment.
“You know you have to go talk to her.”
Apparently what Steve had said to Business Fish earlier in the evening had actually made a difference.
“Excuse me, do I know you from somewhere?”
“I, uh… Business Fish?”
“You’re Sarah, right? From high school?”
“Yeah! You didn’t beat up Jimmy Kim again, did you?”
“Oh yeah, you see that guy passed out over there? I did that. Anyway, listen, can I buy you a drink or something? I’d love to chat with you and catch up on… well, life, I guess.”
“Great, there’s a couple of seats right over here at the bar. Let’s go, come on!”
Let me get this straight. You just paid like a billion dollars for a ticket to the Australian Open. There you are the Men’s Finals. As soon as the stadium goes silent when Novak Djokovic is ready to serve, you scream at the top of your lungs, “LET’S GO NOVAK!”
I’m sorry, what is wrong with you? Did you pay all that money to watch tennis, or to hear yourself speak? Better question: did EVERYBODY ELSE pay hundreds of dollar to watch tennis, or to hear you speak? Did I turn on the TV to watch tennis, or to hear you speak? Just shut up, you idiot. Cheer when the points are over, and then sit there quietly like a reasonable human being. God.
Bill Belichick is probably lying. Tom Brady is probably lying. But here’s the thing: they know it doesn’t matter. They know there’s no way to prove who deflated the footballs, so there’s no way to blame any one person individually. The blame gets dissipated over the entire organization, and then, because no one person did it, it’s almost as if nobody did it. The footballs were systematically and consistently altered to match the previously-stated preference of their star quarterback, and therefore to impart a competitive advantage. It was the perfect crime, and the league can’t pinpoint the criminal even though the proof is sitting right in front of them.
Which, of course, is ridiculous. Why is the league even bothering to figure out who did it? That would be like Al Queda asking Barack Obama which soldier killed bin Laden. No, they’d want to punish the entire country. They’d want revenge on the citizens who put the man in power who deployed the troops who were controlled by generals who lead a mission to kill bin Laden. Why look for the peon who executed the master plan of Bill Belichick?
Does it matter if Belichick knew about it? No. He’s responsible for his organization. Does it matter if deflating the footballs was in his master plan? No. Does he even have a master plan? Yes. It’s called, “Win at All Costs.” Making the footballs easier to throw and catch seems like a logical extension of everything the Belichick Patriots have ever done. All’s fair in love and war, and football is war, so if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.
As Richard Sherman so astutely put it, the New England Patriots played the risk-reward perfectly. Like many of the things that come out of Sherman’s mouth, this was genius. Let’s take a look at how his quotation explains both sides of things: the risk, and the reward.
The only risk that the Patriots took by deflating the footballs is that they would get caught and punished. Clearly they didn’t think there was too great a chance of getting caught, since apparently they’d been doing this at least since Week 7, the last time they played the Colts. If that’s the case, the blame falls on the NFL for not doing a better job of enforcing that rule.
The Patriots also didn’t think the punishment would be severe enough to outweigh the reward. It’s not like the NFL is going to kick them out of the Super Bowl, so whatever punishment, short of the forfeiture of a playoff game, is insufficient. The blame, once again, falls on the NFL for not putting in sufficiently deterrent punishments.
Another risk you might throw in there is the public perception of the team, but it’s clear they don’t care about that. For reference, see Spygate, Aaron Hernandez, the trick plays against the Ravens, or any Bill Belichick press conference ever.
Now here’s where the Richard Sherman explanation really shines. There has to be a reward that outweighs the risk. We established that the risk wasn’t really all that risky, but it’s not nothing. So the reward must be greater than… not nothing. If there were no reward, i.e., competitive advantage, they wouldn’t have taken the risk. The fact that the Patriots deflated the footballs proves, with one hundred percent certainty, that they believed that there was a significant advantage to be gained from doing so.
Update: I THINK WE FOUND THE REWARD.
The big picture
Here we are getting caught up in the details of this stupid story, interviewing Bill Nye the Science Guy, voluntarily listening to Bill Belichick speak, and the NFL absolutely loves it. Ben Collins at SBNation summed it up nicely:
Yes, the problem with the NFL is deflated footballs. That’s the one. It’s not the complicated stuff we have chosen to forget because we ran out of energy as the league stalled and stalled until the clock ran out. It’s not the commissioner who ignored a domestic violence crisis, then hired the same company that negotiated the league’s latest TV deal to conduct an “independent investigation” to absolve the NFL and commissioner of any wrongdoing. It’s not the concussion problem, either, or the Pro Bowler on trial for allegedly murdering three people over two seasons.
Everybody’s got ESPN on the TV 24-7, waiting with baited breath from the latest update from Chris Mortensen or Adam Schefter, listening to Tom Brady joyfully lie through his teeth, and watching Bill Belichick make such a mockery of the whole thing that you can’t help but imagine him bursting into laughter the minute he walks off that stage. If the NFL really cared to stop this from ever happening in the future, they would punish the entire Patriots organization by putting the Colts in the Super Bowl. Instead, they’re searching for the soldier who committed a crime that will go unpunished, when, in reality, the entire country is to blame.