Arthur wandered through the currents until he came upon a sushi bar. “Sushi” is the Japanese word for “fish”. “Bar” is the American word for “get drunk”. There were a number of fish bellied up to the bar getting drunk. No, that’s not quite true. It was kelp wine that was getting drunk. The fish were doing the drinking and they were getting very good at it. They’d had a lot of practice.

The Sushi Bar was halfway between the Republifish Oceanal Convention and the Fishiecrat Oceanal Convention. Arthur was beginning to run out of air and was feeling a bit lightheaded. While there was certainly a lot of hot air generated at the bar, it was not near the same amount as had been generated by the politicians at the Convention, nor was it of such high quality. It was much as if you had climbed to the top of Mount Everest, where the air is thin and weak because the strong air has escaped from the Earth into the freedom of space. It was enough to breathe, but it was not enough to be comfortable, and Arthur began to feel giddy. Giddy enough to walk into a bar even though he was still well underage.

Sushi do not have bouncers at their bars because it is very rare that a human child will sneak inside. Sushi do not care if their own children drink at the bar. The bartenders know to dilute the kelp drinks with water, and rather than call it “kelp beer”, they call it “green water”. As words are magic, that is what the kelp beer becomes, and it is indeed a fine and healthy drink for growing fish children. So much so that mothers will feed it to their children at breakfast, and schools serve it at lunch, and fish children rarely go into bars because they can drink their greenwater at home.

As a result, experts are predicting the death of the Sushi Bar within a generation. Regardless, Arthur entered the bar unopposed. “Unopposed” meant that no one beat him up and tossed him out on his head when he walked up to the bar and ordered a drink. A couple of the grunions on the other side of the bar were pointing at him and whispering. He hid behind a potted plant and drank his watered-down kelp beer.

Arthur was unnerved by the grunions, remembering his night of voyeurism on the beach. He was also not a little unnerved by the decor. The bar was decorated with potted plants. The furniture and walls were designed with a sixteenth-century caravel decor in mind. But the part that unnerved him were the hanging decorations. Hanging out of nowhere, for there was no ceiling in the bar, were a multitude of fish hooks.

As Arthur watched, one of the fish put down its drink, swam up to one of the hooks, and was yanked up out of the bar and out of sight. Arthur would have choked on his greenwater, but as he was underwater that made no sense, and he didn’t.

While Arthur stared, no one else gave it a second look. As he stared, one of the grunions swam up to Arthur’s table.

“Hello, sir!” it said, “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Brian Grunion of Carp, Bass, & Salmon. You’ve heard of us, of course.”

“No,” Arthur said, “I haven’t.”

“Oh… what television shows do you watch?”

“I watch no television. I live on the beach and sleep with shopping carts.”

“Interesting love life. Did you get that idea from Tidewatch?”

“I don’t think so. Who’s Tidewatch?”

“It’s a television show, of course.”

“I told you, I don’t watch television.”

This wasn’t strictly true. There was an electronics shop in the Belmont area. Arthur would watch the television screens as he walked past. He wondered how they fit such big people into such small boxes, but being on the beach he always had somewhere more interesting to go. Now he realized that they weren’t big people at all, they were just small fish.

Another fish jumped onto a fishhook.

“I thought that was a figure of speech,” replied Brian Grunion. “Everyone watches television.”

“I don’t. What’s a figure of speech?”

The Senator had used figures of speech quite often. Whenever the press started calling about something the Senator had said, it had always been a “figure of speech”. Arthur had gotten the idea that figures of speech were not things you talked about in public. He figured that they must have something to do with sex, because that’s the only thing people really get annoyed about.

“A figure of speech? It’s, ah, it’s something you say when you really mean something else. You know, like when you say Have a nice day, when you really mean, don’t answer, keep moving, go away.”

“Like, good morning isn’t a good morning at all. Everyone uses it just to say hi. Or when Ron Pollock said politicians ‘jump ship’, it wasn’t that they dive into the ocean, they do something else that makes more sense.”

“Exactly. That’s a figure of speech. Well, sort of a figure of speech. Never expect politicians to do things that make more sense. Are you a friend of Ron Pollock?”

“I just met him at the Republicrat… I mean, the Republifish convention. He said he’s going to switch sides so that people will vote for him.”

“Good for him. That third party shtick was getting old. It gets confusing when there are more than two parties. I can never figure out what’s going on. Usually we have our technicians cook the numbers so that the Fishiecrats and Republifish percentages add up to a hundred, and we don’t have to explain the missing votes.”

Arthur had no idea what a “percentage” was, or what the figure of speech “cook the numbers” meant. It sounded highly unappetizing. He was fairly sure he did not want to eat numbers, cooked or raw, so he changed the subject.

“What did you think I don’t watch television really meant?”

“Pardon me?”

“You said you thought it was a figure of speech. What did you think it really meant?”

“I don’t have any idea what you meant. But since everyone watches television, I knew it had to be a figure of speech.”

“It’s not. I don’t watch television.”

“What do you do when you need entertainment?”

“I play games with my friends.”

“What about when you want to find out what’s going to happen tomorrow?”

“I wait for the sun to come up in the morning. Then I know.”

“Eh… right. Anyway, the reason I came over here was to ask if we could do an interview of you on television. We don’t get too many humans down here.”

“I don’t have time to do an interview, I need to leave before the convention’s over with.”

“Oh, you don’t need to be here for the interview. We’ll just make up some questions and then get the right responses from you. We’ve got this great machine here, it’s called a tapesplicer, it does everything we want. For example:”

Brian Grunion held up a small black box and looked sternly at Arthur.

“How’s your love life?”

Arthur was about to get really embarrassed, when he heard himself reply:

“I sleep with Ron Pollock.”

Arthur felt at his throat. It wasn’t moving. He covered his mouth. He wasn’t speaking.

“No, no, you’re not saying it,” said Bryan. “I recorded our conversation.”

“But I never said that!”

“Of course you did. You just didn’t say it in that order.”

“But… then it isn’t true.”

“What is truth? You should say whatever you can to bring our ratings up. Then we wouldn’t have to resort to the tapesplicer. Besides, it doesn’t matter what you said, it matters what people think you said. What are you going to do, deny that you said it? It’s on television.”

“What if I call it a figure of speech?”

“Now you get the picture.”

Another fish jumped onto a fishhook and was whisked away.

They chose three in the morning because Arthur had heard that you are most likely to get into an accident if you are driving at three in the morning, and he had a strong suspicion that if they were to find the Earth at all, it would be by accident. — Jerry Stratton (The Shopping Cart Graveyard)