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By fish or by Finn

Finished after September 10, 2023.

The time had come. That fishbootmonger was going to get a piece of my mind at last. I’ve had it up to here (my nipples) with his incessant dunning letters. His demanding missives were piling higher and higher around my palatial abode; they showed no sign of abating. With each passing day, another one arrived. Then two, then three, then a whole 717 at a time arrived. Entire postal trucks were being dedicated to delivering angry, fishy letters to my front door. And they didn’t stop there. They stuffed my mailbox to bursting. Then the mailman, seeing no other option, jammed them in my windows and under my doors. He even started making little paper airplanes out of them and tossing them up on my roof, whence the erstwhile Great Rotten Fishpile had come.

As for the ones that somehow slithered indoors, I tore them open, tore into them with my eye teeth, and tore them in twain. When I wore my teeth down to little nubs, I turned to my paper shredder. I shredded as many as I could. But my poor paper shredder couldn’t keep up with the volume. Two years ago, I had vowed to track down this piscine merchant and give him a piece of my mind. If I didn’t do so, very soon, not only would my paper shredder die of exhaustion (or obesity), but I would soon run out of pieces of mind to give!

And so on Monday, I set out for Finland. I initially planned to travel via that overinflated dirigible, the Lolo Ferrari, but she had become significantly underinflated as a result of a sciurine conflagration earlier this year. She was refloated and repairs were attempted, which went about as well as that dwarf-tossing contest that was held nearby at the time. (Dwarves don’t float and can’t swim.)

So, graceful and buxom airships were out of the question. No airplane would have me (something about stinking up the cabin), no ship would have me (something about stinking up the poop deck), and I have been wary to ever attempt another transatlantic voyage via cannon after that one time. So, I resigned myself to traveling the oldest of old-fashioned ways: On the back of a really, really big fish. It had worked before. It would work again.

Mike the Headless Chicken’s wild journey began 78 years ago today, when Colorado farmer Lloyd Olsen was hangry one night, wanted to eat a chicken or two, but couldn’t swing an axe to save his life. (And in doing so so poorly, saved Mike’s life. But not his head.) And now my wild journey across the Atlantic (on the back of a really, really big fish!) was just beginning.

My plan was simple. On Thursday, we (the fish and I) would arrive in Finland. (Becasue stayed home to paint her toenails and tend the cornrows.) I would locate the ungrulious merchant who claimed I owed him €717 (plus €9.95 for shipping & handling) for a pair of Finnish fish boots and give him a stern talking-to. I had little doubt that after my stern talking-to, the boot peddler would agree with me (wholeheartedly, of course) and drop his claim to 717 of my precious euros.

If that didn’t work, my backup plan was similarly simple. I brought with me a tattered grocery bag full of pennies (and a few pence, pesos, and pfennigs), which I would employ to do one of two simple things: Either simply pay the man… or create a complex diversion by swinging the bag wildly above my head, hooting like an overcaffeinated owl, and scattering the thousands of pennies (and pence, pesos, and pfennigs) everywhere—like a cupric geyser erupting. Upon creating such a surreally ludicrous scene, I would run away madly, flopping, derping, and twerking as I went (and hooting… much, much hooting). In the midst of all the chaos which would ensue, I would hop back on the back of that really, really big fish and together we would swim back to America, the land of the free (and the home of free fish boots).

And then I would rest, and vow to use less parentheticals in my future writings. (No, really.)

These plans were so simple, at least one of them would have to succeed. Failure was not an option. My nose hairs set in grim determination (and tied in a delightful little bow), I plodded stiffly down to the seaport, located the biggest fish I could find, wrestled it to shore, and saddled it. It really was a really, really big fish. And moments later, we were off—on our way to Finland.

Except for a shark attack, a snark attack, a colossal squid attack, a Japanese tentacle monster attack, a Cthulhu attack, and finally an attack by another colony of murderous tadpoles bent on destruction of all land-based life, the trip was uneventful. We didn’t get swallowed by any enormous whales or caught in any enormous fishing nets. We didn’t get kidnapped and ransomed by any pirates. We didn’t even get kidnapped by a band of horny mermaids, dragged down to their underwater city, and forced to spend the rest of our lives as their love slaves. (I had been really worried about the possibility of that one!)

I did develop a bad case of sunburn and swimmer’s nose, but encrusting myself in barnacles for the last leg of the journey protected my delicate skin against the evil depredations of the Sun (and my nose holes against those tentacle monsters).

After a brief stop at the Islets of Langerhans in the North Atlantic for refueling, we were on our way again. Apparently these really, really big fish use quite a bit of fuel—and I had a hangry, hangry hankerin’ for some glucagon which I could find nowhere else.

We sighted the Finnish coast on Thursday—right on time (other than being two years late). Emerging from the water at last, I bid my fishy friend adieu, scraped all the barnacles off my crusty corpse, and proceeded inland. Finland was strangely bereft of fins—not even their cars had any fins on them anymore!—although the nation-state was full of Finns. The port city in which I made landfall had so many dots in its name, rather than attempt proper pronunciation and tie my tongue into a bow tie rivaling my nose hairs’, I simply called it Borb.

I began my meandering wander around Borb. Doing my best impression of an obnoxious American tourist came naturally to me, but this had the unfortunate effect of causing every Finn to avoid me (like the plague but worse). I darted to and fro but they darted away faster. The first words that fell from my mouth, to the first Finn who—at last!—failed to avoid making eye contact, were as succinct as they were inscrutable: “Woo-hoo-hey!” (Surreality seemed like a good idea at the time.)

The man replied, in perfect English: “Didn’t you vow to use less parentheticals?”

I yerked and ran off.

Wandering aimlessly about the streets of whatever godforsaken, Ä-ridden city I had mishapped into, I slowly developed the creeping suspicion that my best-laid plans were not, in fact, very well-laid at all. It was becoming apparent that I didn’t know where to find that Finnish fishbootmonger. I didn’t know where to even begin looking. I didn’t know how to speak Finnish. I didn’t even have any fins of my own. (I left mine with my fish.) Finland was a lot bigger than I had reckoned.

I thought of my freezer drawer back home stuffed to the brim with lutefisk. Should I have brought some of that gelatinous delicacy with me, to lure the locals into dealing with me? I thought about my gluefish. Should I have brought some of them? A man never knows when adhesive fish will come in handy. I thought about Becasue’s goatskin sandals. Should I have brought some of those with me—and the feet which fit into them? And the big little redheaded huzzey-muffet to which those were attached?

I moaned in finless frustration. What was a Pnårp to do? More importantly, what was this Pnårp to do? I continued meandering and moaning. And then, there in front of my eyes, plastered upon an otherwise nondescript wall, was a poster that filled me with dread—horror, terror, and even a bit of murpor. Upon this poster was written Pois pakkoruotsi! but this finful moonspeak wasn’t what consterned me so uproariously. Above the slogan was a simplistic drawing of a man, the letter Å moments before in his grasp, but now being tossed, like so much idle garbage, into a trashcan.

“But! But! But…!! That’s my letter!” I shrieked. I clawed at my face and pawed at the air. How dare a person throw my letter and its little spingly-bongle into a trash can, like it was worth nothing more than a tattered grocery bag full of corroded pennies? Or the hundreds of crumpled fast-food wrappers and empty soda bottles milling about the sidewalk as I gawked? Passers-by stopped and stared. I pawed at my face and clawed at the poster. More passers-by transformed into stoppers-by and starers-by. I sure was making a scene. I turned to the nearest man, whose name was probably Mään or something like that. I panicked at him—shrieking and babbling in the most American manner I could muster. He ran off. I turned to another Mään, who did the same. The third Mään yerked and ran off. Everyone else started panicking and yerking, then ran off. I realized there was only one thing left to do.

I yerked and ran off.

Wandering aimlessly about the streets of the same godforsaken, Ä-ridden city, my mind (and all its agglomerated pieces) were now made up: Truly my best-laid plans had, in fact, been quite awfully laid. They were so poorly laid down they were probably hanging from some Finn’s ceiling instead!

If that Finnish fishbootmonger even existed outside of my overactive imagination, he was sure doing a fine job of staying well-hidden in this country of 5.6 million. I had waylaid at least 157 finicky Finns by sundown; not a single one would admit he was he. These Finns might be finite, but at the rate I was going, it would take more than sixteen years to work through all of them. What to do, what to do? (What to do?!) Stay the course—and stay in Finland for the next sixteen years? Or resign myself to failure and slink home (on the back of that really, really big fish).

Resigning myself to failure is, alas, one of my most finely-honed skills—only surpassed by my ability to not even try to do anything at all, for fear that gnomes will wheedle me to death or clowns will eat me. (Although, Bozo the Clown is still dead.) But earlier I declared, quite decisively, that failure was not an option here. So, what to do, what to do? (What to do!?) Fail at keeping failure at bay, and in so doing, succeed at failing—my finest skill? It was almost enough to drive a Pnårp mad.

Despairing and wallowing in self-pity, I turned the corner and came upon a large heap of muldersome, turgid geoducks, heaped into a pile shaped like a mermaid. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “Woo-hoo-hey?”

The geoducks didn’t respond. Clams rarely do—and when they do, it’s a sure sign to lay off the shrooms for a while. I wandered on. Then I wandered off. Then I wandered in and then I wandered out. I wandered all about. I wondered how much wandering I could fit into a day, considering this one already ended a few minutes ago. Then I slept in a mesothelial drainage ditch. Then the Sun came up again and it was another day.

Again I wandered aimlessly, doing my best impression of my own writing. I rounded another corner (there are so many!) and there in front of me was a man. I looked him up and down. He looked me down and up. He was wearing boots. He was wearing scaly boots. He was wearing fishy, scaly boots! He was also wearing a cravat—but this was Finland, not Croatia. Perhaps his choice of neckwear was a clever distraction from his footwear? But it didn’t work on me. Here was a man in fish boots in Finland. Lady Luck had finally smiled on me (rather than pee on me).

“Are those… fish boots?” I inquired timidly. The last dying glimmer of hope in my voice caused me to sound not unlike a mouse ninety percent of the way down a snake’s throat and only one, final gulp away from being consumed entirely. Lithe porcupines slithered down my veins. The butterflies danced in my stomach. And green, green-eyed potatoes set my hair on edge.

The man answered in the affirmative.

This man had fish boots. But… “Do you sell fish boots?”

The man answered in the positive.

At longest last I had found a fishbootmonger! But was he my fishbootmonger? I picked my words carefully: “And does a certain… let us say, goat-headed and doofus-shaped man, who lives far away in America, owe you €717 (plus €9.95 for shipping & handling) for a pair of fish boots?” I even said the ampersand aloud.

The man answered in the positively affirmative.

“And are those fish boots on your head?”

The man’s brow furrowed. He began to answer—

“And do you use only the finest Carpathian leather to make your fish boots? Or: Do you eat flobcumber casserole and spare ribs for breakfast each Monday, Wednesday, and Gongsday? Oh, I know—I know your type!—you probably guzzle a greasy gallon of goose gasoline every Gongsday and call it glupper! Then you retire to your fishy-booty workshop to fillet your fish and flay your fish and drunkenly make another pair of overpriced fish boots to hawk to poor, stupid, unsuspecting Americans and…” I trailed off, my mewling protestations devolving into literal, fish-like meowing.

The man finally jammed a word in edge-wise and then, seizing the opportunity to widen the hole, began jamming whole sentences through. You look like a goat-headed and doofus-shaped man who resides in America. Yes, indeed you do. You owe me €717 (plus €9.95 for shipping & handling) for those fish boots!” He also said the ampersand aloud. This piscatorial purveyor of fishy footwear would prove to be a formidable foe. And I now regretted wearing my doofus costume and goat-head hat on this trip.

“But! But! But…‼ I don’t have €717!” I whined. “Would you take 717¢ instead?”

The man was adamantly opposed to taking any of my cents. So much for my bag of pennies (and pence, pesos, and pfennigs).

I pressed on: “Instead, perhaps would you accept $0.717?” I fingered the tattered and torn dollar bill in my pocket. “Or perchance ¥717?” My encounter with that tentacle monster had not been a total loss.

The monger of fish boots was still adamant—resolute in his refusal, positively obdurate and immovable. He folded his arms to display his adamancy. I folded my nose hairs.

“Well, if I had £717 or even ₤717, I would give you those!” I improvised—bafflement with bullshit was a tried-and-true tactic for Americans, so what did I have to lose? “Or even ₣ 717 or ₧ 717,000… if I had some! But I don’t!”

The man harrumphed grumpily—still unbending and unshakable. My nose quivered nervously. I tried not to grinsp visibly.

“Oh! I do have ¤717! Would you kindly accept ¤717, kind fishbootmonger sir?”

He paused—one second, then two. No harrumph was forthcoming. Having exhausted all attempts at stercoreous mystification, would my turn to trite and fatuous flattery work? At last the piscatory merchant nodded curtly. He would accept ¤717. Satisfaction washed over me. (But not satiation—those geoducks weren’t very filling!) I rifled in my pockets for those ¤717. After nearly as many seconds, I finally found them all—right in the pocket where I had put them.

“Wellll… ’ere you go!” I pulled 717 live beetles from my left breast pocket and threw them at the fishbootmonger. He yerked in surprise and total, utter bafflement. The beetles swarmed all over him, buzzing and wriggling, lithe and sleek, and began to devour the man—eyeballs first. In moments he was reduced to nothing more than a pair of empty fish boots sitting on the sidewalk in front of me. I saw my chance—my opportunity to yerk and run off again.

I yerked and ran off.


I wasn’t sure if the scullious little thing was pronounced “gootchie” or “gucky,” but either way it was amusingly unattractive. It was also full of barnacles and turgid geoducks. I decided to stick with my tattered grocery bag as a handbag.

It was Sunday morning and I was now on my way home. Those scarab beetles I had picked up on the Islets of Langerhans had sure come in handy. The Sun was rising and I was wandering, quite aimfully now, down to the docks to catch my really, really big fish and ride back to Bouillabaisse Boulevard.

It was then that I learned… whereas dwarves can’t swim… gnomes can. And they can fly. And they did fly—all the way from Westphalia. To get me. The shoreline was covered in them. They wheedled. They needled. They whirred. And they murped and kerplunked. Thousands upon thousands of pointy little red fezzes and even pointier little white beards, as far as the eye could see, all the way up and down the coastline. My really, really big fish hadn’t docked yet, but there was no time to lose. I was only moments away from being gnomed to death!

I yerked and ran off the end of the dock.