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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!”