The salmon who swam downstream

by: Paul E. Hughes

December 15, 2004

There once was a salmon named Jim. He and his constant companion since childhood, a female salmon named Little Shrimp, were contrarians. In some fish cultures, the name “Little Shrimp” would be redundant. While instinct drove all the other salmon upstream to spawn, Jim and Little Shrimp would swim downstream. It really didn’t matter as Jim and Little Shrimp had a purely platonic relationship. Both were college graduates. Little Shrimp was from a “well-to-do” family and had gone to medical school and became a sturgeon. But neither Jim nor Little Shrimp were ready to settle down and have a career. They just wanted to swim around and steal fishermen’s bait just as they had been doing since grade school. They had always been adventuresome. Little Shrimp reminded Jim that they had not been on a real vacation for a long time. She asked, “can’t we go somewhere exciting?” Jim thought for a moment — only a moment — then he had a great idea. “Let’s work our way down the Potomac and stop by Congress and visit some of those large mouth bass(es). (Pronounced basses). Then we can work our way down the James River to Newport News and spend a week or so off the beach. We can just swim around and read the newspapers.” Little Shrimp replied, “Darlin’ you’re such a Jim.” So they “dog paddled” down to Newport News. Jim mentioned that they had to be careful when they reached salt water because it was very cold. “How do you know?” asked Little Shrimp. He said, “because the fish are blue. Anytime you see bluefish you know the water is cold”. Jim and Little Shrimp frolicked and swam around Newport News for a few days and then visited his relatives at Portsmouth. They were small mouth bass(es). After the visit, they worked their way over to Hampton Beach to see and hear Lionel play the vibraphone. They had a wonderful time — but the water was very cold.

Jim, being the restless salmon that he was, wanted to move on. He said, “Hey”!! “Hey” was his favorite word. “Hey”, I have a couple of tickets to a Miami Dolphins game. Let’s mosey on down to Miami”. Little Shrimp was thrilled at the prospect of a Miami Dolphins game but she wasn’t going to mosey anywhere until she got warm. She said, “Jim you’re one trout, I mean stout, son-of-a-gun, but I’m to cold to travel”. Jim said, “Here, take my American University School jacket — it will keep you warm”. But Little Shrimp said, “I did my undergraduate work at the University of Maryland. I don’t want other fish to see me wearing a jacket with American University written across the front”. “No problem”, says Jim. “You put the jacket on backwards and I’ll zip it up from behind. That way, other fish won’t know that it says”. Little Shrimp replied, “okay”. So she put the jacket on backwards and Jim zipped it up. Then they set out for Miami singing dolphin songs so that people on the beaches would think they were “communicating” with them. They performed figure eights and loop-to-loops all the way to Cape Hatteras. Then suddenly, they were confronted by the largest shark in the Atlantic Ocean. His name was “Big Harold”. He had a huge craving for salmon. In fact, he had already made reservations for one at a seaside restaurant called Cape Haddock. Now Jim, who was from a tough salmon family, was undaunted by “Big Harold’s” size and threats. Jim said, “Big Harold you better not mess with us. You may think that you’re bad and thick-skinned, but I’ll make a suit out of you. In fact, I’ll make 152 sharkskin suits out of you”. Jim was confident he had the shark treading water in fear — until “Big Harold” broke water leaping 53 feet into the air singing “I love champagne and salmon”. Before “Big Harold” touched water again, Jim and Little Shrimp were swimming toward Cape Hatteras with all the might and speed they could muster. It is reported that they were found on the beach by two oceanographers who were barbecuing ribs. Jim was reported to have been weak, cold, exhausted, dehydrated and near death. He was immediately rushed to an emergency room in a nearby local aquarium. The oceanographers reported that Little Shrimp, who was wearing the American University School jacket, appeared to be okay — until they turned her head around!!!

After spending two weeks in the aquarium recuperating, Jim learned of the demise of Little Shrimp. He was very “shad”. “Woe is me”, he moaned. “What will I do with myself?” The oceanographers had an idea. “Let us tag you for the government. If you live long enough, you can draw a pension”. “WOW”, said Jim. So, the oceanographers “tagged” Jim and he started to work his way north toward a place near Arlington, Virginia. Along the way, he attended several different “school of fish”. In so doing, he acquired the necessary skills to become a Hearings and Appeals Analyst. After a brief “herring”, Jim was selected as an analyst and went to work for the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Rumor has it that Jim met and fell in love with a cute female salmon. They married, had children, and Jim stayed “tagged” by the government for more than 30 years. At last account, Jim had retired and he and his wife were working their way upstream toward Delaware.

This story has no moral — but if you need one — here it is: “It may be harder to swim up stream, but there ain’t no jobs downstream”.