◊ Installment 1 ◊
It started with a cat. My daughter brought it home from school one day while I was still at work and when I get home, there’s this vile, flea-ridden cat in my living room.
“Excuse me,” I said. “What is this cat doing here?” I was still all grimy and sweaty from a long, hot day in the vineyards, so I couldn’t just march in and remove it myself. (I have a strict policy about no muddy boots in the living room, even when the person wearing the boots is me.) So I had to stand there, shouting for help.
You would think that when a man gets home after a hard day of working to support his family, the aforementioned family would flock to the door when he arrives, bringing him chilled wine, and possibly a cheese plate. But the only person around was my son. He was sitting in the window seat, gazing dreamily out at the olive trees, and he glanced up as if he had only just become aware of my presence.
“Cat?” says my son, scratching his head.
“Yes,” I snapped. “A cat. Right there in the living room. On my favorite chair.”
“Oh yeah,” said my son. “I hadn’t noticed it.”
“How could you not have noticed it?” I demanded. “It’s two feet away from you. It’s meowing.”
There are times when I’m concerned about my son’s IQ. He’s never been the brightest. He’s always moseying around the house mumbling to himself, and his mother says he’s writing poetry, but I haven’t seen anything resembling poetry come out of him so far. What I think is that he’s just about as nutty as his barmy great-grandfather, Methusaleh, but I try not to mention this because it upsets my wife. She says he’s a genius. Genius, my foot. The genius gets up off the window seat and examines the beast on the recliner.
“You’re right,” he confirms. “It’s a cat.”
“No kidding,” I tell him sarcastically, “I’m not having a problem identifying it. I’m having a problem removing it. Now, pick it up and dump it out the window.”
“But Dad,” says my son. “It’s so cute.”
I glare at him. What you have to understand about me is that I hate animals. Hate them. There are some people out there who say, “what, you don’t like dogs? You must be a terrible person.” Well, guess what: I don’t like dogs! Mangy, flea-bitten, confounding creatures, always wanting to go in and out, in and out. (Why can’t they make up their minds??) Guess that makes me a bad person then. Too bad, so sad; I must have some other redeeming qualities though, or I wouldn’t be the one telling this story in the first place, would I? The dog isn’t even the worst of it. Muskrats; they get to me. And the parakeet! I just can’t stand the parakeet. So this whole situation was ironic from the beginning.
I’m standing there in my living room, trying to decide if it will be faster to try to hammer some logic into my son’s brain, or go upstairs, change my boots, wash the mud off my hands, come downstairs and remove the cat myself (and frankly I’m leaning toward the second option) when my daughter comes in.
“Hey Dad,” she says, flopping down on the sofa. “What’s new?”
“Well,” I say, “I can’t help noticing that there’s a cat on my armchair, which was not previously there.”
“I know,” she beams. “I adopted it.”
“It’s my new pet.”
I close my eyes.
“Zarabetha,” I tell her, “you do not need a pet. We live on a farm, for crying out loud. If you want something to cuddle with, we have a perfectly good camel, two donkeys, and an entire flock of lambs.”
“We don’t have the lambs anymore, Dad,” argues my daughter.
“What are you talking about, we don’t have lambs? Of course we have lambs! A whole flock of them, out there in the field, eating me out of house and home!”
“Not anymore, Dad. You slaughtered them.”
I rang for my steward. He confirmed that we slaughtered the lambs.
Even I don’t recommend cuddling with a dead lamb (they carry a variety of diseases), so I was beginning to lose the argument, and I was beginning to feel miffed and frustrated, when my wife walked in. Right away, I see an opportunity to get out of the situation without coming off as the bad guy. Emzara is allergic to animals. I mean horribly allergic. We’re talking red eyes, stuffy nose, appalling facial rash. I took her to a camel auction in Ararat once, and she came out looking like I just picked her up from the nearest leper colony. I smile at my offspring.
“Alright kids,” I say, in my most indulgent tone. “I don’t mind keeping the cat, but as you know, I don’t have Final Say in this household. It’s up to your mother.”
“Keeping the what?” says Emzarah. She follows our collective gaze to the varmint on my recliner. Emzarah blinks. She takes a few, disbelieving steps toward the creature. She bends down. She examines it. She sneezes.
Emzarah looks up at the rest of us.
“Oh,” she says, with red patches around her eyes, swollen lymph nodes, and tears running down her face. “It’s so fuzzy.”
I’m sulking out in the vineyard later that evening when the Second Bad Thing happens. The cat was only the first straw, but I don’t know that yet. So I’m still really worked up about the cat situation. I’m sitting there in the darkness, brooding over the ingratitude of my offspring. (Did they check with me before releasing a lethal, possibly diseased beast onto my favorite chair? No. Did anyone even offer to move it to the davenport? Once again, negative)– when a Voice addresses me from the gloom.
“Noah,” says the Voice, “this is God.”
“Come off it,” I say, squinting into the darkness, “who is that really? Adriel?”
Adriel is my steward and he’s not bad, considering the level of integrity available among the hired help these days, but he always gets a little puerile when he samples too many of the grape juice leavings.
“This is not Adriel,” says the Voice. “This is God: the Divine Creator of the Universe.”
“Uh huh,” I say, rolling my eyes. “And I’m Lady Godiva.”
“No,” says the Voice. “You’re not.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” I snap sarcastically. “What I’m not aware of is who you are, or how you came to be on my property. If you’re not Adriel you’re trespassing, and it would be within my rights to have you prosecuted.”
“When an Infinite Being, present in the sun and the stars, the Universe, and the very molecules of the air you breathe, is present upon the ground as well, it does not count as trespassing,” says the Voice, in a whiny tone. “He can’t help it.”
“Okay, fine,” I snap, rolling my eyes. “You’re God. And pigs can fly! And monkeys have wings!” (By now I was being deliberately provoking, but I really wasn’t in the mood for practical jokes. Partly because of the cat, and partly because I never am.) “And lightning shoots out of the sky and strikes the same spot twice!”
Two twin bolts of lightning shot out of the sky, streaking like meteorites through the dark night, and incinerating most of my vineyard.
“This is God,” said God. “And I have a task for you.”
By now I was lying flat on my back on the ground, trembling and shaking, and feeling slightly singed. I guess you could say that He’d caught my attention.
“Okay,” I muttered. “I’m listening.”
You won’t believe what He asked me to do next.
You know the story. You’ve read it in that Book, you’ve seen it in Sunday School pageants, and you know how it ends. The point isn’t to tell you what happened; the point is to tell you how I felt as events unfolded, and most of the time the answer to that question is: Not Good. When my daughter brought home the cat, that was the first straw. And when God stuck me in a floating ark with a recalcitrant weasel, an eight-ton elephant and the rest of a freaking zoo, well, that was the second straw. ♦
◊ Installment 2 ◊
He didn’t tell me all at once. Oh no, that would have been too simple. (Also, I probably would have said no.) God’s a devious character. If He had come right out and said, “Noah, I want you to give up viniculture and devote the next significant portion of your life to building a floating zoo, so you can get laughed at, also eventually trapped in it with a mastodon and a pair of buffaloes,” I almost definitely would have opted to die in the flood instead.
What He said instead was, “Noah, I have a task for you, but we don’t have to get into it right now. It’s late; you’ve had a long day, you just narrowly missed getting hit by lightning twice, etc, etc. Why don’t you go home and get a good night’s rest, and we’ll chat in the morning?” He said He’d buy me a drink, and we’d discuss.
Well that was ironic, because the conversation took place in my own vineyard (the part that wasn’t incinerated) so the “drink” He “bought” me was actually a bottle of my own, best wine, unpaid for, and since I’m a teetotaler and He’s a deity, we ended up just pouring some of it in a glass and looking at it, so there you have one wasted bottle. But God pointed out later that all wine everywhere was about to be diluted beyond recognition, so it didn’t really matter in the long run.
As we sat there, staring at the wine, I began to grow apprehensive. I could tell God was about to ask me for some kind of really enormous favor, because He kept coughing nervously into his left hand (which caused a minor typhoon to sweep over the left half of my farm, narrowly avoiding knocking down all the trees) and He wasn’t making eye contact. (Actually He wasn’t making any kind of contact; so far, I hadn’t seen Him.)
I geared myself up to say No, but I knew it was going to difficult. I have trouble avoiding obligations. It’s been a life long problem of mine. Basically, I’m the kind of person who does things only because there’s no one else in the whole howling universe to step up and take responsibility. People say, oh, there’s no one to sort out the famine problem, or plan a new citywide sewage system? Never mind, Noah will do it. And I end up doing it! I try not to. I try to hold back. I tell myself, now Noah, this is a rotten job, and it is NOT your duty to do it, because you did the last ten rotten jobs in a row, without even stopping for a cold drink in between, and somebody else is going to have to take care of things this time. Then I end up doing it again. It’s a psychological compulsion, like some kind of tic.
I also would like it acknowledged that at the point in my life, I was six hundred years old. Now granted, people lived longer in those days (that is to say, people who weren’t suddenly wiped out by unexpected deluges of water from angry deities) but still, six hundred is getting up there. I was just getting ready to retire and start developing a keener interest in my grandkids, and maybe take up whist, when God came up with the idea for this whole Flood thing. ♦
◊ Installment 3 ◊
“Noah,” says God, after we’ve been sitting there for a while, and the silence is getting just too awkward. “The people have been sinning.”
“Yes,” I agreed, not realizing that this had anything to do with me or my retirement plans. “So I’ve observed.” It wasn’t exactly what I’d call an insightful observation. At the time, there were about eleven casinos for every church, and enough brothels to employ all the young men and women who looked even remotely attractive in dim lighting, for the next six hundred years or so. People started drinking around one o’clock in the afternoon, and they didn’t stop until about noon the following day, which was great for those of us in the wine industry who didn’t drink up everything we produced (that is to say, me.) It was an economic boom time. You do the math. God, I wish I had taken out flood insurance.
“I intend to destroy them,” God says. Well, that caught my attention.
“By ‘them,’” I said cautiously, “do you mean just the people who’ve been sinning, or all the people?”
“All the people,” says God. “From one end of the earth to the other, from top to bottom, and from every continent. Also all the animals, and plants.”
Well, that seemed a little unfair. Yes, there was a lot of immorality in the world, but surely the plants weren’t to blame. I mentioned this.
“Have you ever heard of the opium poppy?” said God. “Or the cannabis bush? Or the coca-”
“Yes,” I said hastily. “Good point. Very astute observation.” (You don’t want to encourage God when He gets started listing things, because it can take a while. He invented everything in the Universe, after all, so He knows all their names, and the lists can get LONG. Let the plants fend for themselves, was my feeling.)
There was one thing that was concerning me, however, so I brought it up.
“Going back to those people who HAVEN’T been sinning-” I began, but here God interrupted.
“There aren’t any who haven’t been sinning,” said God. “Only you.”
I blinked. I won’t say the notion had never occurred to me. But it comes as kind of a shock to have it confirmed by the Supreme Creator of the Universe, and in the end, it’s actually kind of a lonesome feeling. You start to wonder what it’s like for all those Sinners, hanging out and partying together, and then you realize that if you threw a party for all the Non-Sinners, you would be the only one there, and then you just start to feel a bit dismal.
“They have been lusting and coveting and fornicating,” God continues. “All of them.”
“Well, surely you don’t mean all,” I said. “Because my wife-”
“All,” God repeated.
“I have prepared a disaster to wipe them out,” God mentions casually. “However, you and your wife shall be spared.”
(Here I thought God was being just slightly hasty. I felt He ought to go into a bit more detail on just HOW, exactly, my wife had been sinning, and answer one or two questions I had about the precise definition of “fornicating,” and then we could discuss who should and should not be saved. But the next thing God said distracted me from mentioning it.)
“You and your wife shall be spared,” God repeated, “and together, you shall repopulate the Earth.”
“What, all of it?” I said.
“Yes,” said God. “All.” The Guy can be very solemn about these things. Um, did I mention that I’m 600 years old? And my wife is no spring chicken either. Also, even if you’re Good yourself, there’s no guarantee that your offspring are going to be Good. It’s a lot of work trying to bring them up properly, and of course we had my wife’s (apparently sinful genes) to contend with. So that right there is a tremendous amount of responsibility, and this, you understand, is before He even mentioned building an Ark. ♦
◊ Installment 4 ◊
Well, the next day God stopped by was a Sunday, and I was just getting ready for church. Going to church in those days was kind of a drag, because almost no one attended. There weren’t enough members to have a decent choir, or deacons, or acolytes, or actually much of a congregation at all really. In fact, it was pretty much just me and my family, and sometimes the priest didn’t show up either. But I always insisted on going because it’s the Right thing to do; also, I always felt a little bit better when I could glance down our pew at my sons, all lined up in their Sunday best looking like decent citizens for once, and when they couldn’t give the game away, by speaking.
“Noah,” God says to me, “today I’m going to tell you the rest of the Plan.”
I screamed, because I was in the shower at the time, and you try keeping soap out of your eyes when an invisible Deity suddenly addresses you out of nowhere, while you’re at your most vulnerable.
“God,” I snapped, “do you think maybe I could get a LITTLE bit of privacy?”
God watched, interested, as I grabbed for a towel.
“Noah,” He pointed out, “I can see into your mind and your heart, and the innermost depths of your very soul. Why does it bother you if I can also see you naked?”
“I don’t know, it just does,” I snapped. “I think it’s something you have to be human to understand.”
“Perhaps one day I will be,” God said, thoughtfully.
“Anyway, what do you want?” I demanded. “I’m late for church.”
“Tell me, Noah,” said God, in that grandiloquent tone He always gets when He’s about to launch into a lecture. “What is church?”
“I don’t know,” I groaned, “it’s the House of God, or something. That’s what they used to tell us in Sunday School, before our teacher was arrested for her sideline career in the porn industry and the class was cancelled. It’s the House where God is.”
“And where are we now?”
“In my house.”
“And who am I?”
“This, then,” God concluded triumphantly, “is temporarily the House where God is. Therefore you’re already in church.”
Well, my jaw dropped because it was a real stunner. The logic of the thing was all on His side, and I couldn’t think of a decent counterargument, so instead I just gulped and reached for another towel, because I’m not used to being naked in church.
“Noah,” God repeated, “today I’m going to tell you the rest of the Plan.”
“What plan is this now?” I mumbled.
“This is My Plan to Wipe out all Mankind except for You and your Wife,” God explained patiently.
“Oh,” I groaned, “that plan. I thought maybe you had reconsidered. I mean, maybe we could focus on something easier for now, like inventing a new planet, or designing some new kind of animal or something.”
“It would be pointless to design a new kind of animal at this time,” said God. “Because it would only get wiped out in the Flood.”
I said: “Flood?”
You can tell when He does that even if you can’t see Him, because the air seems to ripple and sparkle, and the world becomes suddenly brighter, even if you’re in a place where there’s no explicable source of sunlight, such as a bathroom.
◊ Installment 5 ◊
“My plan,” said God, “is to blot out all mankind, by causing many waters to sweep over the face of the earth. But you and your wife will be spared, for you will build an ark of cypress wood, three hundred cubits long and fifty cubits wide.”
“Now hang on just one second,” I said, “how many cubits?”
But God ignored me. “You will be able to take your sons,” He continued, “and the wives of your sons, and the children of your sons and of their wives.”
“Why do you always have to list things out the long way like that?” I complained. “Why can’t you just say ‘grandkids?’”
But of course, He didn’t pay any attention.
“I think that basically sums things up,” said God. “Do you have any questions?”
I said, “Can I take my daughter?”
God said that I could take my daughter.
I said, “Would it be possible for me to leave one of my sons behind?”
God said that it probably would not be possible, but to explain to Him what the problem was.
“Well,” I began, “Japheth has always been difficult, ever since he was born. I try to get him to work on the farm or in the vineyard, but he always develops a headache or a backache, or something. His mother says he’s a poet, but I don’t see anything poetic about him. You should see him trying to muck out the hay barn; now that’s poetry.”
God said that unfortunately, I would have to take Japheth.
“Fine,” I sighed. “Will I also be able to take some livestock along, and some of our chickens, or are we going to have to resort to cannibalism?”
“You will be able to bring along your livestock and your chickens,” God agreed. “Also, your daughter’s cat.”
And this is where Events got particularly Upsetting.
“You will take two of every type of animal on the face of the earth,” said God. “Of the birds according to their kinds; and of the animals according to their kinds; of every creeping thing on the ground according to its kind, two shall come with you on the ark.”
I was speechless. I mean, I couldn’t even grasp the significance of what was happening here.
“Male and female, you will bring them along on the ark,” God trilled along cheerfully, as if he hadn’t even noticed that my heart had stopped, and my skin had gone clammy and pale. “Well, that about covers it. Do you have any questions?”
But I still couldn’t speak. All I could hear was the sound of the blood pounding in my ears, and the hum of water (we were still in the bathroom) churning merrily along in the background, like some kind of offensively bad joke.
“Do you have any comments?” said God. “Any feedback or, I don’t know, concerns?”
But I simply could not summon the power of speech.
“Okay,” said God, “Well, I’m going to let you finish putting on your clothes now. I’ll be back before you take your next shower.”
He wasn’t kidding. Actually, He came back the next seven times I showered (He seemed to be fond of examining the manmade plumbing, which He called “fascinating”), and His plans got worse every time. I tried to stop showering. I tried to avoid the bathroom as much as possible, and even constructed a rudimentary outhouse in the backyard. But there are things in life that cannot be avoided, no matter how many weeks you go without a bath. My wife complained about the smell, but I told her that we were all going to be thoroughly cleansed soon, in the biggest bathtub the world had ever seen. ♦
◊ Installment 6 ◊
“Noah,” said my wife, a few days later, after I had recovered the power of speech but before I stopped getting the nervous shakes every time I went in the bathroom. “I’m worried about you.”
“Why’s that?” I said, rifling through my notepad. I was having a terrible time trying to keep track of all the animal species in the Arthropod phylum. You would think they could have given them simpler names, but no, they had to call them things like “arachnid” and “aranea,” when they really just meant “spider”.
“Well,” said my wife, “I can’t help noticing that you’ve been talking to yourself in the shower a lot lately.”
“You think I’ve been talking to myself?” I demanded. “What do you think I am, crazy? Of course I wasn’t talking to myself.” I returned to my notes. “I was talking to God. He shows up in the bathroom from time to time, and makes exorbitant demands.”
There was a long pause.
“I see,” said my wife, finally. “What kind of demands?”
“Well,” I sighed, “He wants me to build an ark.”
“Yeah, you know, like a floating boat type of thing? Picture a giant cruise ship made of cypress wood. Only it wouldn’t be for people, it would be for animals.”
“Yeah, all types of animals. I’m supposed to round them up, actually. Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask, do you know what nationality the platypus hails from? Because I can’t find one anywhere, and I even checked the zoo.”
“You want to find a platypus.”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “Also a quetzal and a quoll, but the platypus first. I’m trying to go in alphabetical order.”
“Noah,” said my wife gently, “I think you should lie down on the sofa for a while.”
“Woman,” I snapped, “I just told you I have to track down a platypus. Do I sound like the kind of man who has time for a nap?”
“This platypus,” said my wife, after another lengthy silence. “Do you want it for a pet?”
“No,” I said. “What do you think I am, crazy?”
Apparently she did think I was crazy, because later that evening she called in a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist tried to make me lie down on the sofa, but I told him I was a man on a mission and I didn’t have time for that kind of thing. (Also, the cat was already occupying it.) So instead he just asked me to sit down for a second. I compromised by leaning slightly against the edge of the windowsill, crossing my arms and glaring at him.
“Um,” said the psychiatrist, “so I understand that you’ve been experiencing some visions lately. Do you want to talk about them?”
“The end of the world is coming,” I told him. “If I were you I wouldn’t waste time asking me about myvisions. I’d go home and think about your sins, and try to come up with a way to save yourself from eternal damnation. You won’t be able to, though,” I added, as an afterthought.
“The end of the world?” said the psychiatrist.
“Yeah,” I said, “well maybe not the end of the whole world, but the end of mankind. Most of it, anyway. There’s going to be this huge flood and everyone’s going to drown, including you.”
“I see,” said the psychiatrist. “Tell me more about this flood. Will it be a very big one?”
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “I just said it’s going to be huge. It’s going to cover the entire planet. It’s going to be the biggest form of destruction since Satan fell from grace. Bigger, even!”
“And what should we do to prepare for this flood?”
“What are you asking me for?” I said. “I can’t tell you how you should spend the final days of your life. Find a lake and learn to swim, man!”
“And if I learn to swim, will that save me?”
“No,” I told him. “You’re definitely going to die, whether you can swim or not. So are all the animals, and the plants.”
The psychiatrist told my wife that I was a grade-A schizophrenic and to increase my Omega-3 fish oil intake.
Have you ever tried swallowing a fish oil capsule? Jesus, it’s disgusting. It’s like skimming off a layer of cold salmon fat, shoving it in a plastic coating, and swallowing it. So I was forced to fill my wife in on the plan. It was probably about time to tell her anyway. There was no way she could have remained in the dark once I wrangled that puma out of the jungle, and locked it in our basement. She was bound to discover the secret one of these days. ♦
◊ Installment 7 ◊
After I told my wife, it occurred to me that maybe I should tell other people, too. I mean, maybe it was my duty. As far as I knew they wouldn’t be able to save themselves, but who can ever say for sure about these things? (Other than God, I mean.) Even if they didn’t want to invest the time and resources it takes to build an ark, they might at least want to buy themselves a decent raincoat, or some of those inflatable water-wing type things, which come in a variety of colors. It might increase their chance of survival by, say, .0001 percent, and when we’re talking about life and death, I personally would want my .0001 percent chance.
So I go to the supermarket. I had already been there about 900 times that week, to purchase supplies for the ark. I forgot to mention that AFTER He told me I had to track down every type of animal on the planet (not only one of them … two) God also mentioned (seemingly as an afterthought) that I would be responsible for feeding them.
“Take with you every kind of food that is eaten,” is what He said specifically, “and store it up, and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”
He says this casually, like it’s the easiest thing in the world to just stroll down the street and find striped tiger beetles. (The preferred nutritional supplement of the Malaysian bush frog.) They don’t carry them at the regular grocery store, and when I told the cashier at the fancy grocery store what I wanted, he sent me to aisle three, which did not have anything even remotely like striped tiger beetles, but did have pickled radishes. I carried them back to the front and said, “these are not beetles. These are pickled radishes, and they’re not what I’m looking for.”
“Ah,” said the cashier, looking at them. “No, I suppose they’re not. They’re awfully nice though.” He glanced at me hopefully.
“I don’t care if they’re nice,” I said. “I don’t need them.”
He said, “Did you ever consider TRYING pickled radishes?”
I said, “no! I didn’t, and I’m not going to. When I say I want striped tiger beetles, I mean striped tiger beetles, and nothing else.”
He leaned in close and whispered confidentially in my ear, “pickled radishes go very nicely with deviled eggs.”
I glared at him. I explained that when I wanted advice about what to pair with deviled eggs, I would ask for that, and not for striped tiger beetles. I explained that I would not be coming to him for that advice, because quite frankly the pairing he had suggested sounded disgusting. I explained to him that he was a moron, and that it was a miracle his genetic code had so far survived the process of evolution (though it wouldn’t much longer), and that his intelligence probably did not rank above your average tiger beetle.
“Wait a sec,” he said, scratching his head. “Did you say beetle? I thought you said were looking for tiger beets.”
I said yes, obviously, I was looking for beetles (hadn’t I explained that at least a dozen times?) and anyway, how could anyone working in a reputable grocery store mix up radishes and beets?
“Beetles,” I emphasized, over-enunciating just in case the message was still unclear. “I’m looking for beetles. Striped … tiger … beetles.”
“Oh,” he said, blinking. “That’s disgusting.”
I explained to him that I would be leaving now, and then I did.
And none of this helped me to acquire striped tiger beetles, so as far as I’m concerned the Malaysian bush frog can eat it, and good riddance. (The endangered species list hadn’t been invented yet at that point in time, but this is where you might say that the Malaysian bush frog first became seriously endangered.) ♦
◊ Installment 8 ◊
But to return to my conscience, and how the blasted thing made me feel it might be my responsibility to warn people about the flood, and how this led me back to the grocery store for approximately the 901st time that week, let me proceed.
I arrived at the grocery store, and as soon as they saw me all the cashiers, bagboys and checkout girls edged away, with an expression of trepidation and loathing in their eyes. I suppose I can’t blame them. I had been what you might call a “problem shopper” for most of the week. I had visited the store about two or three dozen times a day, harassing the help staff when I couldn’t find things like elephant supplements, or other vital necessities, and purchasing all my ark supplies in alphabetical order. (I like to be methodical about these things.) The conversations went something like this:
I walk up to the scrawny, pimply teenage produce clerk reading a comic book behind the counter, and clear my throat loudly. He looks up from his comic book.
“Can I help you?” he says.
“Yes, I’d like to buy your potatoes,” I say.
“How many?” he replies.
“All of them,” I say.
“All of them?” he demands, “but sir! You can’t possibly eat that many potatoes on your own.”
“Don’t tell me how many potatoes I can and cannot eat, on my own,” I tell him. “If I wanted a lecture on carbohydrate intake, I’d consult a fitness trainer, not a teenage produce clerk with the lowest possible standards of personal hygiene. When I say I want all your potatoes, I mean all of them. Now put down that comic book and bring me a shopping bag.”
He ended up having to bring 500 shopping bags.
I had similar conversations in the bread, meat, and deli departments. In fact, I pretty much cleaned out the entire grocery store, and people around town were starting to give me dirty looks because there was no food left for anyone else. But I was about to have a hungry pair of hyenas on my hands (not to mention the hippopotamuses), and a man can only take so much responsibility on his own shoulders before he cracks. Let everyone else plant a vegetable garden, was what I decided.
So I go back to the grocery store and the manager comes running out of his office with the veins in his neck standing out like guitar strings, and sweat streaming down his forehead.
“I’ve told you a hundred times,” he says, twitching nervously, “we really don’t have any more canned sardines. We’re not stockpiling them in the back room, and we’re not hiding them under a floorboard in the basement. When I say we’re out of sardines, I mean we’re out of sardines, and I can’t make them materialize out of-”
I waved my hand to stop him.
“I’m not here about sardines this time,” I tell him casually. “Actually, I have a public service announcement to make, and I was wondering if you have a community bulletin board I could post it on.”
The guy looks at me.
“You want to make a public service announcement,” he says.
“That’s right,” I say.
“I don’t think you’re very popular with the public right now,” he says.
“Consider everything you know about me,” I tell him. “Does it appear that I’m trying to win a popularity contest?”
The guy thinks it over.
“No,” he admits.
Finally he tells me that they don’t have a community bulletin board, but if I want, I’m welcome to write my public service announcement on a sign, and stand out in front of the grocery store holding it up, for everyone to see.
So I borrow a piece of thick cardboard and write, “The end of the world is coming” (I wanted to be concise) on it with a Magic Marker, and then I stood in front of the grocery store for several hours, holding it up.
Overall I would say that it did not go over well. People walked by and read my sign, and jeered, and some of them made rude hand gestures, and some of them threw eggs. And since I was completely stocked up on eggs (and didn’t really need that many in the first place, because I was bringing every type of bird in the world on the ark with me, and surely they’d be able to produce an egg or two during the journey), this was totally unhelpful.♦
◊ Installment 9 ◊
My days began to take on a more regular routine now. In the mornings I would wake up early, wrangle several animals out of the jungle/zoo/latest delivery from Africa, or wherever else I had found them, and tie them up in our basement/laundry room/kitchen, depending mainly on size, weight, and tendency to attack smaller animals/humans. My wife took to having nervous fits whenever she went into the laundry room (I think it was the crocodile tethered to the ironing board that got to her) so eventually I built a series of barns and pens in the wreckage of my former vineyard, and kept the animals there. The smell was appalling. The waste product from the elephants alone was enough to make you question God’s purpose in creating the elephant to begin with, and to this day, elephants still strike me as fundamentally useless creatures. But you get used to it.
I generally devoted my afternoons, between lunchtime and tea, to ark building; leveling small forests (so as to generate enough ark building material for the next day); and reading the latest weather forecasts in The Mesopotamian Sophisticate. None of them ever got it right. After you read those things for a while, you begin to notice a pattern (Monday: sunny, Tuesday: sunny, Wednesday: sunny with slight chance of cloud coverage in late afternoon, followed by sun), and you begin to realize that weather forecasters in places like the former Mesopotamia and modern day Los Angeles have really bogus jobs.
In the late afternoons, I would get out my cardboard sign and stand in front of the grocery store for several hours, enduring public ridicule. Yes, it was unpleasant, but I felt it was my duty. At this point, I had basically decided to embrace the idea of being Good. (Because it looked like I didn’t have much a choice anyway, and it was either that or embrace an early and uncomfortably damp death.) A Good Person, whether he wants to or not, is always willing to sacrifice his personal pleasure (and/or health/safety) if there’s even the slightest chance of helping another person. (Which is why Good People have a tendency to die young.) For me, this sacrifice meant enduring mockery and contempt, also giving up a chunk of prime ark building time, to stand in the blazing sun and have people throw things at me in order to save the lives of individuals whom, at this point, I could have watched drown with very little personal regret.
The funny part of it all was that I don’t even like doom-saying. I absolutely can’t stand those psychopaths who go around howling, “Oh, it’s the end of the world … everyone must convert to my personal branch of religion/Satan worship/veganism, or there’s going to be a judgment.” I prefer to keep myself to myself, and just get on with things, avoiding the spotlight. So it puts me in a really awkward situation when God actually DOES tell me that the end of the world is coming, and I’m the only one capable of spreading the news. You think I enjoyed that? You develop a reputation, and no one takes you seriously, and you get kicked out of prominent public roles, such as Executive Commissioner of Public Works, and Senior Book Chooser at the library. (Actually, I was the only book chooser. No one else read much in those days –actually I was the only one with a library card- but still.) Everyone says, “oh, you’re THAT Noah,” and you become this kind of circus sideshow freak who everyone wants to come and see, and laugh at. It’s kind of like being a celebrity in a way, and it would all be great assuming one WANTED to be laughed at, which I didn’t.
Well I endured it, but I didn’t enjoy it. The thing is, people only want to listen to a Prophet if they like his Message. If a Prophet says, “Hey everyone, we all know it’s hard not to sin. But I’ve decided to nail myself to a cross so you can keep sinning, and get forgiven for it anyway,” that’s a message that most people are okay with. But if a Prophet says, “The end of the world is coming, and even though you have absolutely zero chance of survival, I just want you to be aware of the fact,” that is not a message that people respond well to. (Or if they do respond, it’s generally in the form of tomatoes past their sell-by date, aimed at the Prophet’s head with surprising speed and accuracy, because even though mankind at this time was not known for its moral fiber or literacy, they were surprisingly talented athletes.) ♦
◊ Installment 10 ◊
On the home front though, things were better, other than the manic depressive buffalo I had accidentally acquired from an unprincipled zookeeper who described it as merely “mopey,” and the unspecified disease that seemed to be ravaging through our camel population, threatening to do away with most of the quadrupeds. My wife turned out to be a real animal lover, aside from her crocodile aversion, which was a shame because the crocodiles, and other scaly reptiles, were some of the few animals she wasn’t violently allergic to. She spent a lot of time sneezing and having asthma attacks in the pantry, but she didn’t object to the fact that our house and yard had basically been taken over by a menagerie of raucous, riotous, flesh-eating wild animals, which is not something one can automatically take for granted in a wife.
My sons, at first, were not what I would call wildly enthused about the project. They objected to things such as being forced to work on the ark ten hours a day, and being insulted by the neighbors whenever they went into town, also to the buffalo, which I was forced to tether in their bedroom at night because someone had to get up and check its temperature every six hours, and give it an antipsychotic pill, or else it became unreasonably violent and frequently charged the nearest bunk bed, with unpleasant consequences for any humans that happened to be in it. Oh, it wasn’t ideal. But eventually they came around.
For example, Shem, my oldest, has always liked building things, and even though he pointed out that, according to preference, he would rather have built something other than an enormous, apparently useless boat thousands of miles away from the nearest ocean, it was good practice for building a hen coop some day, also the tree house I had never let him construct as a child. (I neglected to point out that, after the flood, it was highly unlikely that there would be any trees left standing on the planet, because it was best to keep him cooperative.)
And Ham, my second child, said that for his part, he thought it would be fun to have an ark, because if the flood really happened all his friends would be jealous, and then, after the flood was over, they could all go fishing on it together. (A statement which alarmed me at the time, but which I failed to correct, because I wanted him to labor willingly.) Ham has never been the brightest. He is, for example, named after a hunk of meat. His first word, while staring at the dinner table from the viewpoint of his highchair as a child, was “Ham.” Which is not what we were eating. Everyone started babbling and cooing about the baby speaking his first word, and I was the only one concerned that his first word was a mistake. This concern increased after I realized that my three sons were going to be largely responsible for repopulating the planet, but maybe Ham will turn out to be sterile.
It was only Japheth who remained a problem, and he’s never been a worker. We actually found that his poetry had a soothing effect on the buffalo, so we mostly left them alone in their room together, with Japheth murmuring something about autumn leaves in a singsong tone, while the buffalo drooled, a situation which seemed to be mutually satisfying to both. ♦
◊ Installment 11 ◊
As for my daughter, she was, of course, wildly enthusiastic about the whole project. Between her and my wife, I was compelled to keep a number of animals I would otherwise have been secretly inclined to do away with. (Not that I’m criticizing God, but He makes mistakes just like the rest of us –otherwise what was the Flood for? -and in my opinion, a large percentage of His animals were just a terrible mistake from the get-go. Cats, for example. Who needs them? They don’t produce anything, they won’t pull anything, and you can’t eat them.) And the mastodon! Where and how my wife managed to track down a mastodon I can’t tell you, but I CAN tell you that one day I woke up and glanced out the window, and my entire view was blocked by something large, dark, and hairy. And my bedroom is on the second floor.
“What is this?” I panicked, racing down the stairs in my pajamas. “It’s the size of a house! It’ll take up half the ark!”
My wife smiled sweetly. (Though her lymph nodes were swollen.) “It’s a mastodon,” she said. “I noticed you forgot to put one on your list, so I went out and found it for you.”
“Absolutely not,” I said. “I’m putting my foot down. It’ll eat up all the corn.”
“But it will drown in the flood,” said my wife, her eyes filing up with tears. “And it’s our job to save the animals.”
“It’s a freaking mastodon,” I told her. “It’s huge. I hardly think God would expect us to-”
“God said ALL the animals,” she interrupted.
Have you ever tried to wrangle a mastodon up a narrow ramp onto an ark? I pulled from one side and Shem pushed from the other, but the stupid thing still got stuck in the doorway, and we had to chop it out with an axe. And then, the first thing the mastodon did when it got on the ark was trample all the lemurs, so I had to go out and find some more.
My daughter was even worse. I enlisted her help in tracking down the last few animals on my list, but I quickly realized this was a mistake when I opened my bedroom door one day and found seventeen cats, yowling on top of my bureau.
“God said a pair,” I shouted. “We already have enough cats! I told you to bring me a hyena!”
“Oh, I brought some hyenas too, Daddy,” my daughter said brightly, poking her head in from the hallway. “They’re trapped in the barn. I think the female is pregnant.”
The trouble with animal lovers is that, although excellent at finding animals, they find too many animals. Then there’s a terrible scene when you put your foot down and say the limit is two, and then the animal lover has to go through and decide WHICH two, and it’s even more difficult if she’s already given all of them names, and it frequently involves tears, and premature teenage rebellion, and angst. My daughter said that if God would really kill off fourteen innocent hyenas just because they didn’t meet His number specifications, then she didn’t believe in God. And I said that was ironic, since she hadn’t objected to God killing all the humans. And she said humans were more sinful than animals, and what had the poor animals ever done to deserve death? And I said well, for one thing, they had turned my house, barns, and life into a living nightmare, also several of them had murdered a large percentage of their neighbors, and if murdering your neighbor isn’t a sin, I don’t know what is. And she said that (a) it was mostly my fault they had murdered their neighbors, because I hadn’t tied them up properly, and (b) they were murdering each other for food, and that doesn’t really count as murder. And I said murder is murder, whether you’re planning to eat the murder victim later or not, and she said well then, what was it called when I slaughtered all the lambs? Then we both glared at each other for a while, and then we went back to sorting hyenas.
When she finally decided to start speaking to me again, my daughter announced that she had decided to become a vegetarian.
◊ Installment 12 ◊
Then one day, it started to rain. My sons and I were working on the ark at the time, sweating in the blazing sun as usual, when I felt a drop of something wet and cool hit my cheek.
“Goddamn pigeons,” I snapped. “Ham, I thought I told you to keep them locked in their coop.”
“I did,” said Ham. “Dad, I don’t think that was a pigeon.”
We all looked up at the sky. Another drop of water hit my face. And another.
What you have to understand is that, for your average prehistoric Mesopotamian, the concept of “rain” was just not something that came up very often in everyday life. Deserts, yes. Oases, camels, sandstorms … sure. Rain: no. Rain was something you read about in storybooks, like Californians at Christmas reading about snow, then going outside in swim suits to play in the sprinklers before waiting up for Santa Claus. It was an interesting concept: a little questionable, vaguely alarming, but it wasn’t something you ever expected to experience yourself.
We watched the rain collect in puddles on the deck of the ark, little silvery pools that reflected the sky. We felt it trickle down our arms and faces in meandering rivulets. And we gazed at each other in awe. You know how there are some things that, no matter how often parents/authority figures/God promise will happen some day, you just don’t ever truly expect to see occur? For me, Heaven was one of those things, and the Flood was another.
However, this is where you could say that my credibility took a turn for the better in town.
“So Noah,” said the large, beefy owner of the local gym, whom I had last glimpsed taking careful aim at my head with a rotten tomato, before my vision was obscured by a pinky-red haze. “You know how I was mentioning the other day that we should get our two families together for a barbeque and a game of softball? What do you say?”
“Noah!” screamed the baker, running out of his shop clutching a large, pink box. “I want you to have this freshly baked delicacy. I made it for someone else, but as soon as it came out of the oven I thought, you know who this wedding cake reminds me of? Noah.”
“Why, Noah,” cried the mayor, leaning down from the balcony overlooking the town square. “What say you and I get together for a round of poker and a six-pack of beer one night, in some kind of cool, man-cave like setting, such as maybe your ark? It’s on me. The beers are on me, I mean; you would have to provide the ark, I don’t have an ark.”
All of this was said very casually, but I could spot the look of shaky panic in the backs of their eyes.
I’m not a vengeful person. I didn’t try to make my enemies grovel, or gloat over my newfound popularity. (Popularity, my crude word for a donkey; it boggles my mind to think of the speed at which those guys would have dropped me if it had stopped raining. Kind of like fair weather friends, only the opposite. Nobody wants to be popular only when it rains.) But I did feel that this would be an opportune moment to marry off my sons. God had said, “bring your sons and their wives” on the ark, and since my sons didn’t have any wives, and my wife and I were getting up there in age, and my daughter was eleven, I thought it would be prudent for the sake of the future population of earth, if my sons got married ASAP. Otherwise we’d have found ourselves in a troubling kind of incestuous, Queen Victoria situation one of these days.
I didn’t think it would be hard to do. Marrying one of my sons was a golden opportunity at that particular moment in history. It was the one and only way to get a ticket aboard the ark if you weren’t a cow, chicken, or other type of reptile/varmint. But you should never try to predict these things. In my experience, anything involving children is likely to be one hundred and ten percent harder than anyone could possibly anticipate in advance. ♦
◊ Installment 13 ◊
I sat my sons down in the barn that evening (we could hear rain trickling delicately on the roof) for a little man-to-man chat. I told them it was their obligation to themselves, their family, and the future of mankind, to pick out some nice girl and get married. Ham looked delighted. Japheth looked alarmed, but vaguely please. It was only Shem, my oldest (and quite frankly the best of the lot) who did not respond according to plan.
Shem was looking particularly respectable that night, in a freshly pressed shirt and pants with little creases ironed into the legs. By comparison, those other two buffoons (also, admittedly, me) were still wearing mud-splattered overalls from working on the Ark all day.
“Um, Dad?” mumbled Shem, after Ham and Japheth had skipped off to do their wooing. (I forgot to tell them to change out of the overalls first, but maybe they still had a chance, what with the impending prospect of being thelast men on earth, and all.) “I think maybe we should talk.”
If you could pick any random moment in time for coming out of the closet, I’m sure there are many poor choices. But I would say that my son Shem picked the worst moment in history.
“Shem,” I said, once I regained the power of speech, “This is neither the time, nor the place. I’m not close-minded; I have nothing against homosexuality. But our family is personally responsible for producing the future generations of mankind. Your brother Japheth is a poet; your brother Ham is, quite frankly, an imbecile; and I’m counting on you to repopulate most of the planet.”
“Dad,” said Shem, looking alarmed. “I just really don’t see that happening.”
Sons. You can’t live with them, and you can’t murder them in their sleep.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, that night the basement flooded and I realized it was actually time to leave behind our house, my vineyard, and most of our possessions (admittedly mangled beyond recognition at this point by various animals) and get on board the Ark.
Well, here I have a small bone to pick with the artist population of the world. You know those paintings that claim to represent “Noah and the Ark,” and in them, Noah is invariably this complacent looking, bearded fool, marching along with an idiotic grin on his face, inevitably followed by a tame elephant and a pair of sappy-looking giraffes? Yeah, those pictures are about as accurate as those medieval paintings of lions, in which the artist has clearly never seen a lion in his life, and the animal in question looks something like a cross between a wolfhound and a goat. What actually happened on the Ark was chaos: utter pandemonium. Few people realize that giraffes are actually very contentious animals, as are most creatures when you’re trying to herd them into a small, enclosed, floating unit of space, when they much prefer to be out in the sunshine, not floating. There are few animals who enjoy boat rides, and there are some who panic at the mere sight of water, and in this last category I include all ofthe damned cat species. By now our entire backyard was waist deep in rainfall, and as soon as my daughter’s cat saw this, it screeched, hissed, and attempted to scale my head. When I tell you that all of its brethren (including thelion, tiger, and puma) had similar reactions, you’ll begin to comprehend some of my problems. The elephant stomped around in the water, trumpeting in alarm, panicking all the other animals and drenching us all, and I don’t know why any logical artist would portray it any differently. This is not a tame elephant we’re talking about, here. An elephant is an elephant, and it’s not going to stop acting like an elephant just because you separate it from its food supply and put it on an ark with 5,000 other panicking mammals. Actually, it’s going to act even more like an elephant, and do what elephants do best, which is to bellow deafeningly, stampede, and then (if possible) eat up allthe buffalo food.
◊ Installment 14 ◊
Well, eventually things settled down. The animals all got sorted into their proper places, and they calmed down once we gave them a square meal, heavily seasoned with ground up elephant tranquilizers. Shem eventually did agree to get married, out of duty to mankind. We found him a very nice lesbian named Sedeq, who felt just like Shem, but was willing to get married for the sake of propriety, and of not dying shortly afterward. The rain poured down harder, and the Ark began to float.
I won’t say we didn’t encounter some technical difficulties.
Right away, for example, the mastodon went extinct. What happened was: the male mastodon (who was by far the heavier of the two) never did manage to achieve lift off with the rest of the Ark. Instead, he went crashing through the bottom of the boat, and drowned. You can only imagine the nightmare of trying to patch up a mastodon-shaped hole in the bottom of an ark, while simultaneously bailing out water so the rest of us didn’t drown too. And meanwhile, of course, my wife is tapping me on the shoulder with her umbrella the whole time, begging me to jump overboard and rescue the mastodon.
“Woman,” I finally bellowed, “I can do many things. But treading water while balancing a five-ton mastodon on my shoulders is not one of them. God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.”
And then of course, there was an argument about what to do with the female mastodon. Personally, I was all for discretely dumping her overboard to join her mate. What’s the point of feeding and sheltering a four-ton, recently widowed mastodon who, by no fault of anyone tangible or visible, is doomed to a life of celibacy and eventual extinction? God said two of each animal. One would be, quite frankly, useless. But when I made this logical and obviously well-reasoned argument, my wife and daughter raised a howl like you wouldn’t believe, and all of the cats joined in.
“Fine!” I shouted in the end. “We’ll keep her! We’ll waste half our food supply on a useless, grass-guzzling mastodon, for the sole purpose of confusing future anthropologists when they eventually dig her up and can’t figure out why she didn’t die out with the rest of her kind!”
Also, I don’t like to harp on minor details, but it turned out that someone had forgotten to pack the chicken feed. I won’t mention names, but his rhymes with the curse word I was forced to bellow when I discovered this latest example of imbecility among my immediate family members. (You may have noticed that, as this story progresses, I begin to curse more, but can you blame me? It wasn’t a sin at the time; don’t tell me it was sinful. The Ten Commandments hadn’t even been written yet. If it wasn’t for me, Moses would never have even been born.) Apparently, some people can’t concentrate on getting married and packing chicken feed at the same time. Now in an ordinary situation, I would have controlled my temper, and simply made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up five thousand new sacks of chicken feed. But at this point, the grocery store was several fathoms underwater, so it wasn’t an option. I had a private consultation with God about how to handle the situation. God said (in as encouraging a tone as possible) that He was sure I’d come up with some way to manage.
This is the Guy who can design whole planets, swirl up storms to deluge them, and make life-giving manna rain down from the heavens in the case of lucky bastards like Moses, but in my case, it seems I was pretty much on my own. I asked God if He couldn’t make some chicken feed fall out of the sky, to help me out with my poultry problems, but He said He was extremely busy generating the rain itself, and it’s not good to have too many things fall out of the sky at once; also the chicken feed would get wet.
Talk about a support system.
Quite honestly, I don’t think God even wanted to save me. I think He just got attached to His animals, and needed someone along on the journey to feed them. He had to choose me for the job; no one else in the world would have done it. ♦
◊ Installment 15 ◊
I skipped over a sad part of the story. It’s a part I don’t like to remember, which is that while I was dealing with animal-related difficulties on the Ark, all the humans died. Men, women, children … I can still see them: families clustered together on silken wet rooftops, cold and wet and bewildered, standing, forlorn, in the rain. And when the water rose higher than the rooftops … I don’t like to think about it. I have this theory that God didn’t really do it; that Someone who created the sunlight and the stars has Greater things on His mind. I think humans like to understand things, and when we don’t, we make up our own explanations.
“Oh,” we tell ourselves, “It’s raining. God must be punishing me for my sins,” when in fact, sometimes it just rains. Sometimes it pours and floods and thunders; volcanoes erupt; hurricanes roar.
Or, “Goddamn it,” we mutter. “My tower collapsed. It must be because I’ve angered God with my superior language skills,” as opposed to the more obvious reason that we forgot to mortar the foundation. You don’t see the dinosaurs going around complaining that God caused an asteroid collision and ultimate extinction because of the sinful ways of the tyrannosaur. (Granted, you don’t see many dinosaurs at all these days.)
Of course, this entire theory rests on my being mentally insane, since I actually saw God plan the Flood. But at this point, I really can’t tell you with one hundred percent confidence that I’m not.
I really can’t.
Well, however, it wasn’t all bad. There were some highlights to the trip. With that amount of rainfall, for example, we almost never had to water the plants. And we were saved from a good deal of deck scrubbing, and cleaning in general, because the water rinsed away a lot of the mess. (And let me tell you that when you’re dealing with a seasick hippopotamus, you appreciate all the janitorial assistance you can acquire.) Also there were perks such as never having to take the dog for a walk (because there was nowhere to walk him) and not having to worry about impressing the neighbors (because there were no neighbors left to impress). But I’d be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing from there.
It kept on raining and raining, and immediately it became clear that God had overlooked one minor detail in His Plan: Water covered the face of the deep, and what did the birds do? They all came and roosted on the one dry spot left on the planet, which happened to be my ark. You wouldn’t believe the mess they made! And the noise! And the— crap, as if I didn’t have enough to shovel out what with the leavings of the elephant and the hippopotamus. And then, even more problematic, the weight of all those birds added significantly to the weight of the Ark (which was never intended to support that many square cubits of wet bird) and the whole thing began to sink.
We were forced to shoot the birds.
It isn’t pleasant, being stuck on an Ark with millions of rotting dead bird carcasses floating around you on the waves. And then, too, some of the birds were remarkably hard to get. The raven and the dove, in particular: extremely devious creatures. They kept fluttering around out of target range, and then, as soon as we turned our backs, sneaking in with the regular, previously paired off ravens and doves, and acting all nonchalant and casual, like they were supposed to be there. (As if I couldn’t tell there was a problem when we suddenly had nineteen ravens flapping around in the aviary, instead of two.) But finally, I felt fairly confident that I had taken care of them all. ♦
◊ Installment 16 ◊
THEN (you won’t believe this) God decided to take issue with me on the subject.
“Noah,” His voice boomed out suddenly while I was down on my hands and knees, scrubbing out the rabbit cages. (He never did learn to give a fellow a little warning about when He was going to appear out of the blue.) “I can’t help noticing that there are a large number of dead birds floating around in the water, who do not appear to have died of natural causes.”
“I can’t help noticing that there are a large number of dead human beings floating around in the water, who do appear to have died of natural causes, unnaturally,” I muttered. But of course, He ignored me.
He explained that it reflected poorly on Him as a Deity when the one good man He had personally selected, out of everyone on Earth, took it into his head to shoot five hundred million innocent birds.
“Took it into my head?” I protested. “You make it sound like I shot the birds on a whim. Believe me,” I assured him, “if I was just killing animals on a whim, I would have killed all the animals, not just the birds.”
But naturally, He paid no attention. He made me promise not to kill any more birds. Well, I promised, because quite frankly I didn’t think there were any more left to kill. Once I take on a job, I’m usually pretty thorough about seeing it through, if I do say so myself. But that night, I crept downstairs to the aviary to check on a sick albatross, and (wouldn’t you know it?) there were three doves and three ravens, roosting comfortably in the birdcage, instead of two!
Well, it bothered me.
“Three doves,” I muttered to myself, every time I walked through the aviary. “Three doves, not two.” I had given God my word that I wouldn’t kill any more birds, and I’m a man who sticks to my word. But every time I walked past that damned birdcage and saw those smug, self-satisfied, complacent looking extra birds, it rankled. I’m the type of person who just can’t stand to have things imbalanced like that. If we’re going to be organized, let’s be organized, is what I say. What’s the point of making rules about pairs of animals, and then allowing triples? And then too, I got to thinking about history, and how it would look.
“And God said to Noah, ‘Bring two of every kind of animal with you on the Ark,’” the story would run, “and Noah almost managed it, except in two instances where he miscounted.’” I would look like an idiot!
So that night, I snuck back down to the aviary, and I opened up the birdcage.
“Go on,” I said, nudging the extra raven and dove. “Get out of here. Fly off somewhere. Get lost.”
The raven took the hint. It flew out of the Ark, and it went to and fro until the waters abated from the earth. But that stupid dove kept coming back! The first time, it flapped around for a while, and then it came and perched on the windowsill, tapping on the glass to be let in.
“Get out of here,” I told it. “Scram!” It flew off again, but seven days later, it came back. This time it had a freshly plucked olive leaf in its beak.
“So what?” I said. “So you can pick a leaf from a tree. I’ll tell you something; so can a lot of animals! It’s hardly an exceptional skill. You don’t even have opposable thumbs, like the chimpanzee. I’m not even remotely impressed.”
It didn’t occur to me until later that the leaf meant there was dry land out there somewhere. (Or at least, a partially dried tree.) But I think this has been blown out of proportion historically. It’s highly possible, for example, that the dove just found the leaf floating in the water, and dried it off under its wing. Doves are highly sneaky creatures. I wouldn’t trust them farther than I can fly. However, my scorn failed to make a significant impression on the dove. It kept coming back, like the plagues of Egypt, only more annoying. You’d be surprised; it’s the little things that get to you when you’re traveling. Mosquitoes, doves … you’d think it would be the bigger animals, like the rhino and the puma, who caused the most trouble, but that dove irritated me more than any other living creature on the ark, with the possible exception of my daughter’s cat.
I shot the dove.
I did it in the dark of night. I buried its body under a loose floorboard on the Ark, and then I told everyone that it just flew away again, presumably to join forces with the raven.
But the trouble with God is, even though He doesn’t always comment on everything, leading one to the unsafe conclusion that He isn’t paying attention, He does, in fact, see everything. That night, He appeared to me in the reptile room.
“Noah,” God said to me. “Where is the third dove?”
I said, “What third dove?”
God gave me a Look.
“That dove,” I informed Him, “has been wreaking havoc all over the Ark. He’s insubordinate. How am I supposed to concentrate on feeding the leopards and the rabbits, when that dove is always flapping around the ark, monopolizing all the attention?”
God said He would overlook my transgressions this time (since it would be impossible, at this late date, to replace me) but not to let it happen again.
Honestly, sometimes He acts like I was the one who came to Him, begging for the privilege of becoming a floating zookeeper. Please recall that I didn’t ask for this job. (And frankly, if I had known the job was coming, I would have lived a much more sinful life, so as to avoid it.) But I assured God that it wouldn’t happen again.
◊ Installment 17 ◊
Forty days and forty nights of rough sailing in a damp menagerie is enough to put anyone off their sea legs for life. By now it had been raining for nearly six solid weeks, and I felt like my feet had become permanently moldy.
“Look at all this rain,” I grumbled, trudging into the galley for breakfast one morning. (There was water in the oatmeal again.) “I can’t even see any stars or landmarks through the drizzle. I have two questions: where are we? And does it ever stop raining here?”
And God said, “Welcome to Portland.”
We floated around a good bit, visiting most of the soon-to-be continents and all seven locations of the future wonders of the world, but for all we could see of any of it, we might as well have been floating on the same misty, grey duck pond for weeks on end. Have you ever been trapped in a car with a bunch of howling children, on a really long road trip? Right, well now imagine that you’re the in same situation, only the “car” is a drafty ark; the “children” are 8.74 million whimpering, barking, stinking animals (some of them capable of mauling you to death when aggrieved … and being as how they were trapped in a confined space with a limited turning radius, they were mostly aggrieved); and the “road” is an endless ocean with no rest stops, nowhere to pull over, and no bathroom breaks.
There were the inevitable sniping and moaning, and bitter accusations about whose turn it was to feed the Asiatic lion (who had somehow acquired rabies at some point along the journey), but once things got settled and we all became accustomed to our routine, it mostly just boiled down to boredom, and angst. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to do with myself. By profession, I’m a tiller of the soil, which of course is difficult when there’s no soil around to till, because it’s all been covered up by an enormous blanket of water deeper than the Atlantic Ocean. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d have to taken on a second career path, but “floating zookeeper” never had any part in my life goals or ambitions, and I began to question the meaning of my existence. Well, this is not a healthy thing to do when you’re trapped in a small, confined space with a large number of seasick animals, and rain drumming down constantly on the roof like a funeral march. I hadn’t seen a single ray of sunshine in a month, and of course, my Vitamin D level plummeted, and there was no bringing it back because the grizzly bear had eaten up all the canned tuna. And I fell into a depression. If people could stick to questioning the purpose of life only when it’s sunny out and they’re feeling cheerful, things would be a whole lot easier, and the antidepressant industry would plunge, but unfortunately, most of us tend to think about this question mainly when we’ve hit rock bottom.
I felt a lot of self-pity and looking back, I don’t think it was wholly unjustified. But the confusing thing about me and pity is that, historically, I’ve never received any, and I can’t understand this. Everyone has all this compassion for Job. You almost never hear them say, “poor Noah, look at all his trials and afflictions.” It’s always “Job this” and “Job that,” as if losing all your possessions and getting stuck with a minor skin rash or two is worse than losing 99% of the Earth’s ecosystem, and all your possessions. (Except for the goddamn cat.)
But there is an end to every tunnel. One morning, I peered out the window and there was a streak of light, limpid and graceful, staining the wet, grey sky with soft, radiant colors in every shade.
Oh my God. You just can’t fully appreciate the beauty of a rainbow until you’ve been trapped in a dark ark in the middle of a monsoon for a hundred and fifty days.
Then God’s voice rang out over the face of the abating waters. He made a long, somewhat formal announcement, but the basic gist of it was that He had decided never to wipe out all of mankind with a Flood again. Well, that was nice of Him. (Of course, you don’t want to read more into it than is really there. Next time He wants to wipe us out, He’ll probably just use an earthquake, or a hammer or something.) But still, it was a nice thought. He said that in the future, the rainbow would be dedicated to me, as a symbol of His pledge, so that whenever He saw it shining in the sky, it would remind Him of his promise (just in case He forgot) and He would make it stop raining.
In the end, it was a symbol that my son Shem essentially stole. That was MY rainbow. But it has been appropriated, maliciously and intentionally, to represent a cause I never played any part in whatsoever. It used to be that any time anyone saw a rainbow, they thought of me. But nowadays, you see rainbows on every flag and bumper sticker across town, and if anyone still thinks of me, it’s probably with some extremely erroneous misconceptions about my sexual orientation. However, I’ve given up trying to control my historical reputation. It’s a losing battle, because if you have a historical reputation then, by definition, you’re dead, so there’s nothing you can do about it. That is what I call a no-win situation. ♦
◊ Installment 18 ◊
My days on the earth were long and prosperous, and then eventually I died, and my sons took over. Things went mainly downhill from there. Looking back, was it all worth it? I don’t know. Sometimes people come up to me in Heaven and they ask, do I think the Flood really made that much difference? It all depends on whose point of view you look at it from. From a mastodon’s point of view, yes: it made a tremendous amount of difference, from which the mastodon population will almost definitely never recover. From a human point of view, though, I don’t know that it changed things that much. Do I see the world as necessarily less sinful? Not really. Granted, there are fewer of some types of sins in the world (almost no one fornicates with Nephilim anymore) but there are all kinds of new sins out there to take their place, such as nuclear weapons and reality television.
People also ask if I feel proud of myself, what with being personally selected as the best man on earth, and all, but I don’t, especially. It wasn’t that I was particularly good; it’s just that everyone else was awful. And in the end, it isn’t actually that gratifying to prove to the world that you were right, if the rest of the world is dead, subsequently not around to see that you were right. Throw in having to take care of a couple of mopey zebras and a sick giraffe, and the glamor of the thing really begins to wear thin.
My son Shem became the leader of Mesha, and the father of the future engineers of the world. My son Ham’s children settled in Canaan, where they became extremely superior athletes. My son Japheth’s children drifted about, wandering here and there on the face of the Earth, and then eventually they wrote the Bible, which of course caused all sorts of new problems. I often try to read the darn thing, but so far I’ve never made it past Genesis. It’s that part where they list all the names that gets to me; “And then Joktan became the father of Almodad, and Almodad became the father of Uz, and Uz settled in the land of Sephar, in the hill countries of the east, and became the father of Aram,” blah blah, yadda yadda. Um, how boring can you get, people? These are my own grandchildren we’re talking about here, and even I can’t get through all their names. No wonder other people have trouble.
I will admit that some parts have a certain ring to them; “All the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
That sounds a lot better than saying, “on Wednesday, it rained. Again,” which is the kind of thing you would have read if I’d been responsible for the record keeping. But the trouble with poets is, they’re too poetic. They like to make things sound complicated and metaphorical, and they just don’t think about the consequences. If they had simply put a helpful warning label on the Cover of that Thing (“not to be taken literally”) it would have saved the world a host of grief and confusion, also prevented the Crusades. But writers just don’t think. Actually, they don’t do much of anything, except moon about with a dreamy look on their faces, and heaven help you if you trust them with a hammer and a couple of nails, and ask them to patch a hole in the ceiling. Likely as not, you’ll have the whole Ark come tumbling down on your head. If it were up to me, all literary types would have been shot very early in the evolutionary process, and the world would have been saved from a multitude of trouble and vexation. But I was never consulted about anything.
As for assigning blame, let me remind you that I was not the one who caused the Flood; I was the one who saved mankind from it. If you happen to be alive today (that is to say, you) you owe me a debt of gratitude. There should be buildings and monuments named after me. I’ve heard of things like the Eiffel Tower and the Lincoln Monument. Where the heck is the Noah Tower? What about the Noah Monument? As far as I know, there isn’t even a significant roadway or thoroughfare named after me, whereas this guy Washington seems to be monopolizing major landmarks all over the place. (I mean, they named both a capital and a state after him, which is both unfair and confusing.) As far as I can tell, that fellow did nothing to save mankind (and actually shot a considerable percentage of it) whereas without me, fish would be the only people left on earth. Cripes, World, show a little respect!
I’ll conclude on the topic of the meaning of life: to tell you the truth, I don’t know what all this is for. But sometimes, I look up at the sky and I see my rainbow, soft and translucent against a silken, storm-grey sky, and sometimes, at the end of it, an autumn tree, all aflame with golden leaves. And I realize, I don’t need to know. Whatever it’s all about, I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.♦