The Zoning Exception

A play in one act

by David P. Stern

    (Before the curtain rises, in the dark, two narrators recite from the Book of Genesis, alternating)
          [This part later omitted--too slow. In any case, place this text in the program. Maybe recite just first 3 paragraphs.]

This is the story of Noah: Noah was a righteous and wholehearted man in his generations. And the Earth grew corrupt before God and the land filled with violence. Then God said to Noah: the end of all flesh has come before me, for the land is filled with their violence, and I will destroy them with the Earth...

      Make yourself an ark of gopher wood and caulk it from inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it: 300 cubits the length of the ark, fifty cubits its width, and thirty cubits its height. And I shall bring the flood water on the Earth to destroy all flesh that has the breath of life: they shall all perish from under the heaven. But I shall keep my covenant with you and you shall come into the ark, you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives. And from all the living things, two of each kind you will bring into the ark to sustain with you, male and female they shall be...

      And Noah did everything; as God commanded him, so he did. On the 600th year of Noah's life, on the 17th day of the 2nd month, the fountains of the great deep broke up, and the windows of the sky opened. And there was rain on the land, 40 days and 40 nights, and the water rose, and the ark lifted above the waters...

      Until, on the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat...

      And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth, and your fear and dread will be on all living things. Only flesh with its blood, which is its soul, you shall not eat. And he who sheds a man's blood, man will shed his blood. And my bow I shall place in the sky, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth...

     And Noah and his sons, and his wife and his sons' wives, left the ark, and every beast, every creeping thing, every fowl, and all that crawls on the Earth. And Noah began to cultivate the land, and planted a vineyard, and he drank from the wine and became drunk...

      And all the days of Noah were 900 years and 50 years. And he died.
(The curtain rises)

      The scene is ostensibly the ancient city of Lagash, several millennia B.C.E.. This fact must be conveyed to the audience beforehand, however, because the curtain rises on a modern-looking courtroom. Three judges sit on the bench; off-side is the clerk of the court, and in front of the bench stands a rather shy-looking figure, a nebbich in old clothes.

      The judges are just replying to his plea.

Judge 1 is the chairman and leader, obviously well-versed in the role of spokesman for the others.

Judge 2 is old, and visibly bored, drumming on the table now and then, or fingering a string of beads.

Judge 3 is younger, obviously a politician, searching for the moment he can make a sharp and significant comment, but keeping mostly to himself. His eyes are roving and generally follow aggressively whatever is going on.

      Incidentally, this is not just any court. These gentlemen are also the board of commissioners of Lagash city and are responsible for the welfare of their subjects. Among other things, they are also the local authority on any zoning and planning within their jurisdiction.


(comments added 16 August 2006)

      This play was written around 1966 or so, in Greenbelt, Prince George's County, Maryland. At that time the rezoning of land owned by real-estate developers could easily multiply the value of the property, and the county commissioners had reasons--perhaps the temptation of a reward--to help the process. Citizen committees objected, especially in Greenbelt, but money talked louder. In the end the head of the county council was convicted for accepting bribes, and it's anyone's guess how many other such cases existed but provided no hard evidence.
      P.S. on how history repeats itself: in 2011 the head of the PG county council faced similar charges but for greater sums, and was found guilty.]

      Fighting on the citizens' side was the local paper, the Greenbelt News Review, to whose volunteer staff I belonged. It was sued for libel (this was meant to bankrupt the paper--it had no assets and no real profits) and it lost the case in local courts, though the US Supreme Court ultimately reversed that judgment on May 18, 1970.

      The play was written against that background. I chose Lagash, a real city in ancient Mesopotamia, because Isaac Asimov had used its name in an early story he wrote ("Nightfall") and I was tempted to include a subtle reference for those who might remember. Later Dr. Peter Musen, a celestial mechanics expert of my group at Goddard, who was well versed in ancient Near-East languages and cultures, told me it really should be Shuru-Pak. That was the city mentioned in the flood story in the epos of Gilgamesh, whose Noah-character was named Ut Napishtim. He also provided authentic-sounding names for the judges.

      The ending seems influenced by the end of the first act in "Saint Joan" by George Bernard Shaw. Maybe so, but I won't change it.

Judge 1:      Look, we have gone over this before. You have no case.

Accused:      Your honor, I know what the law says. All that is left to me is to appeal to your sense of justice. What good will it be if I am evicted? My wife was never healthy, and we have a baby...

Judge 1:      (Cutting him short) I know, I know. You told us all about this. Don't think we would be sitting here if we did not feel strongly about justice. But we cannot be just only to you. We must also be just to your landlord: he owns the house.

Accused:     Your honor, I am not about to run away. I will hire out to a well-digging crew that's going to Assyria, and earn my money honestly. But I cannot take my family with me, and they do need some place to stay.

Judge 3:      All we have is your word. Could you post a bond, leave something of value, to prove it? Now, if you had a boy old enough to have a value on the slave market, that would be a different story. But a baby, and a sick wife--who would take care of them?

Judge 2      (to Judge 1): I think we have heard enough.

Judge 1      (turning to other two): What do you gentlemen think?

Judge 2:      No case.

Judge 1      (to Judge 3): And you?

Judge 3:      Ah, dismiss it. They come like that every day of the week. I could have told you the whole story after his first sentence.

Judge 1:      All right. (Rises). You there, stand up straight. (Man stiffens). It is the considered opinion of this court that you have no case in the matter; and if you cannot pay the rent, you are obliged to vacate the premises or face full punishment of the law. (Pauses.) Do you understand?

Accused:      Yes, your honor.

Judge 3:      And don't go begging in the street. We are a well-ordered incorporated community here. Beggars are not allowed.

Accused:      (Shifts his view suddenly to Judge 3, as if seeing him for the first time) Yes, your honor. As I said, I am familiar with your laws.

Judge 3:      They are your laws, too, you know. They are only here to protect people like me and you.

Judge 1:      And your landlord.

Accused:      (Stands silently, looking at the court, as if thinking up an answer,
                  then gives up and shrugs)

      As you say. May the good gods bless each of us with his just reward.

Judge 2:      (Gently) They are their laws, too, as you are surely aware.

Accused:      (Looks at Judge 2, shrugs once more, turns and briskly walks out.)

Judge 1:      (Sits down, looks to the judges on his sides, rubs his hands and then opens a new tack.) All right. What's next?

Judge 3:      A zoning case. A man named Noah. Lives on the northern edge of town

Judge 1:       Oh, him. Yes, I know what it is. A most unusual case.

Judge 2:      Could you gentlemen fill me in about it? I did not have time to read all the cases.

Judge 1:      Well, this man Noah has put up a most peculiar structure on his property. It is so peculiar that I don't even have a name for it.

Judge 2:      What does it look like?

Judge 3:      It's like the biggest barn you ever saw, but more box-shaped than a barn, really, with three spacious floors inside. It's really huge -- almost the size of the temple down on the square.

Judge 2:      That big?

Judge 3:      300 cubits long, I would say, and about 30 high.

Judge 2:      That is big, But where do we come in?

Judge 1:      Well, for one thing, he needs a permit to raise a structure like this. A permit which, like everything else, has a certain -- ah -- sum of money tied with it.

Judge 3:      That's not all.

Judge 1:      No, it isn't. The place is almost out of town. And just for that -- oh --barn, we would not have minded too much. He must have made a lot of noise, sawing and nailing all that gopher wood, but the neighbors never complained -- not until he brought in all those animals.

Judge 2:      Animals? What kind of animals?

Judge 1:      Any kind. You name it and he has got it -- antelopes, horses, bears, lions, crocodiles -- anything. Even animals I have never seen before. Ever seen one that stands on its two hind legs and tail, hops high in the air, and has a pocket in its belly for keeping the young ones?

Judge 2:      How big?

Judge 1:      About the size of a child.

Judge 2:      Never even heard of them. Will they attack you?

Judge 1:      I have no idea; but the neighbors are not taking any chances.

Judge 3:      They think Noah is planning some sort of a zoo.

Judge 2:      Well, that might not be such a bad idea. Might be a good place for taking the kids on the midsummer festival, after the sacrifice is all over.

Judge 1:      This is not so simple. We have to consider the noise, the smell, traffic patterns, and places to park the chariots. Not to mention public safety. What do we tell the voters if one of those big cats escapes? (Slight pause) But I agree with you -- a zoo might be quite a good thing for our city. Of course, Mr. Noah will have to make a suitable payment before we approve the necessary zoning exception. (To Judge 3) What is the land zoned for now?

Judge 3:      Rural residential.

Judge 1:      That's quite a long way from what he needs. What do you gentlemen think of a charge of 500 shekel -- split five ways?

Judge 3:      Why five?

Judge 1:      Well, as governor of the city, I get a double share. You know that, don't you?

Judge 3:      That still does not make five.

Judge 1      ; True. But one share has to go to the city treasury. After all, the city must have some income. Don't you agree?

Judge 2:      Do you think he can afford that much?

Judge 3:      You wouldn't have asked if you had seen the amount of gopher wood that man has used. If he can pay for that much wood, a few more shekels mean nothing to him.

Judge 1:      In addition, I happen to know that he comes from quite a well-known family.

Judge 2:      Rich?

Judge 1:      Fairly rich, I would say. Though that is not what makes them famous.

Judge 3:      What is it then?

Judge 1:      They are amazingly long lived. Did you know Metuselah?

Judge 3:      Of course. Was he related?

Judge 1:     Noah is his grandson. I am told he is 600 years old, though you couldn't tell this by looking at him.

Judge 2:      Then I must have seen him at Metuselah's funeral. When was that? Yes, last Kislev. All those long-winded eulogies about him having been the oldest man alive. And every one of them tinged with more than a bit of envy. Seemed like every speaker was implying, "What did he do to deserve such a long life?"

Judge 3:      Chose his ancestors wisely, if you ask me. It's all in one's genes.

Judge 1:      Well, if you were there, you must have seen Noah, standing right in front, with his three burly sons, like a tax collector with his bodyguards. Big fellows, all three, there was no missing them.

Judge 2:      Other than that, what is he like?

Judge 1:      Well, he has those strange beliefs, like all other members of his clan -- refuses to eat bloody steaks, and so on. But then, we tolerate strange religions here in Lagash. Also, he drinks.

Judge 2:      Don't we all?

Judge 1:      Not what that fellow drinks. Have you seen that creeper plant with the big green berries that's all over the summer pavilion in my garden,

Judge 2:      Of course, many people grow it. The berries are sweet and pleasant -- unless the birds get them first, as usually happens.

Judge 1:      Well, Noah squeezes the juice of those berries, and by some secret process, turns it into really good stuff. He calls it wine. It makes you feel light and happy.

Judge 2:      No dangerous side effects?

Judge 1:      No more than hashish, and that is perfectly legal here. Some day, I hope, more people will drink wine, and then we'll be able to squeeze a nice tax from it.

Judge 3:      I am tempted to try the stuff myself

Judge 1:      Just ask him. He offers it anyway, to practically everyone whom he happens to meet. In fact, the man seems so cheerful that I suspect he is constantly sampling his stock.

Judge 3:      Well, shouldn't we call him in, then?

Judge 1:      I guess so. (to clerk): Bring in Mr. Noah, please. (Clerk leaves; Judge 1 turns to other judges) The price is 500 shekel. Right?

Judge 2:       Right.
    (Noah walks in, followed by clerk, who resumes his seat. Noah is a well-dressed gentleman, but clearly no city dweller--checkered shirt, no tie. He walks slowly, almost cautiously, holding an umbrella in his left hand, gripping it about one third of the way from the top. There is a pint flask in his back pocket. He may have a beard, but not a white one.)
Judge 2:       So you are Mr. Noah.

Noah:      Noach ("ch" pronounced as in Scottish "loch"), your honor. In Babylon they call me Ut Napishtim, but that's because they can's pronounce the "ch" properly there.

Judge 1:      If you don't mind, we better call you Noah, or the clerk there (motions) will have a lot of clay tablets to rewrite. Welcome to our court, Mr. Moah.

Noah (gently and politely):      And a good day to you, your honor.

Judge 1:     Let me perhaps introduce our special zoning court to you, Mr. Noah. I myself am Governor Nunamnir, ruler and chief judge of Lagash.

Noah:      I am most honored by your presence, sir.

Judge 1:      This here (nods towards Judge 2) is his eminence High Priest Namtar, custodian of the calendar and master of the sacrifice ceremonies. Last year he even predicted an eclipse of the Moon.

Judge 2:      Predicted correctly.

Judge 1:      Of course. And this here (motions towards Judge 3) is his lesser eminence, Assistant High Priest Dumuzi. A young man of great promise.

Judge 3:      Mr. Noah, I wonder whether some day I could taste that beverage -- ah --that "wine" of yours.

Noah:      Oh, sure, except that I have something much better now. (Taps twice on flask.) I call it "brandy," and it is a concentrated form of wine. You are welcome to try some of it.

Judge 1      (raps on the table): Gentlemen, please. We have some business on hand, and it is no trifling matter. I understand that you (points) Mr. Noah, have built on your property a structure (pauses, to check tablet in front of him), 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 high. Is that so?

Noah:      Yes, your honor. That's about the size of it.

Judge 1:      That's quite a building, especially on land zoned for rural residential. I hope you are not trying to pass it off as a single-family dwelling -- ore are you?

Noah:      No sir, I certainly cannot claim that.

Judge 1:      Well, in that case you better obtain a zoning exception for it, permitting commercial use. A zoo is certainly a commercial venture.

Noah:      A zoo?

Judge 1:      Isn't that what you had in mind.

Noah:      No.

Judge 1:      What, then, is that thing?

Noah:      A ship.

All judges:       A ship ??

Judge 3 :      Of that size?

Noah:      Well -- it is a strictly utilitarian design, but it ought to be seaworthy enough. Shem and I just finished caulking it with pitch, inside and out.

Judge 3:      This is most unusual.

Noah:      I have checked all the zoning ordinances. It says nothing about ships there.

Judge 2:      And for good reason. Lagash is about 200 miles from the sea, and at least 30 from either the Tigris or the Euphrates. How in the world do you expect to float it?

Noah:      I'd rather not go into that, your eminence.

Judge 1:      And you still expect us to believe your claim?

Noah:      Your honor, it is not that I want to break any of the local laws. It just so happens that this matter involves some most unpleasant events taking place here in Lagash.

Judge 1:      In that case, I must command you to speak. As governor, I am responsible for the law and order in this city, and if any misfortune is approaching, we better find out about it. Or would you prefer being served an official subpoena, Mr. Noah?

Noah:      No offense meant, governor. I will gladly tell. But please understand that this is none of my doing. It's all God's idea, and I personally am most unhappy about it.

Judge 2:      Which God?

Noah:      I worship only one God -- the one and only. Perhaps you are familiar with Him under some local name.

Judge 2:      What is he God of?

Noah:      Everything -- the whole world.

Judge 2:      One God for everything? No specialization?

Judge 3:      (turning forwards Judge 2) Would never work here. Too simple. Imagine (gestures with his hands), only one temple, only one set of priests for every purpose.

Judge 1:       (raps table)     So -- your one and only God told you to build this ... What do you call it?

Noah:      Ark

Judge 1:      This ark. Is that so?

Noah:      Yes, your honor.

Judge 2:       (bows head slightly forward, in inquisitive manner)       How does he communicate with you?

Noah:      It is difficult to explain that, your eminence.

Judge 2:      Please understand, I am not prying into your secrets. It is purely a professional interest. In Babylon, for instance, priests get their messages from the shape of the livers of sacrifice animals. In Ur they read them in the positions of stars in the sky.

Noah:      It is nothing as involved. His voice appears to me, and I answer it, just as I am talking to you now.

Judge 2:      When does that happen?

Noah:      Oh, I may be walking out by myself, and suddenly it comes from all around to me. Away from the city, in the quiet of nature, one can often hear God's voice.
        Especially after a noisy thunderstorm, when the wet ground emits a good earthy smell, and the sun comes out and shines again; then I not only hear His voice, but also see His presence in a vast and colorful arch across the sky, in red, yellow, blue and green.

Judge 3:      Amazing!

Judge 2:      I am most intrigued by that God of yours. Being a priest by trade, I would greatly appreciate it if we two could get together at some time and discuss this subject on a mode technical level.

Noah:      I wonder whether there will be time for all that, your eminence.

Judge 1:      How come?

Noah:      Well, that's what all this is about. You see, God is about to release a tremendous rainfall and cover the entire Earth with water. Please (beseeching) please don't blame me -- it's not my idea, it's His.

Judge 1:      And what are the animals for?

Noah:      To save their species from extinction, your honor. That is what God ordered me to do.

Judge 2:      And when do you expect this -- this calamity -- to befall us?

Noah:      I was not given that detail, your eminence, but it's probably going to be quite soon. The caulking is complete and all the animals are here -- all but the dragons and unicorns; and I get a suspicion that He (shakes an extended thumb back over his shoulder) might not be particularly interested in preserving those.

Judge 3 :    (with sudden interest)   Do you have a hopping animal with a belly pouch, on that stands on its tail and hind legs?

Noah:      Oh, you mean the kangaroo.

Judge 3:      The what ?

Noah:      Kangaroo.

Judge 3:      Is it dangerous?

Noah:      Not at all. It eats grass and behaves itself. Of course, if you drive it into a corner somewhere, it is likely to kick you in the belly.

Judge 1      (making an effort to redirect the discussion): Let's go back to the main point. You mean to tell us that it is going to rain now, in midsummer --the end of Iyar, just before the summer solstices?

Noah:      Well -- yes, that's what I was told.

Judge 2:      But man, it never rains here in the summertime. In fact, we had precious little rain this past winter, too. For over a week, there hasn't been as much as a single cloud in the sky.

Judge 3:      We could use some rain right now, you know.

Noah:      Well, you might get it.

Judge 1:      And you really believe this?

Noah:      Your honor, if I didn't, I would not have spent the weekend crawling on my belly, with caulking pitch dripping into my hair. I would rather have gone with my grandchildren to watch the dancing virgins in front of Enlil's temple, believe me.

Judge 3:      A pity you missed it. It was an outstanding performance this time. They were dancing to bring rain, you may be interested to know.

Judge 2:     (firmly taking the lead)     Now, that God of yours -- you understand, of course, that I doubt very much whether his power extends to us here, in Lagash, since we have our own Gods to take care of local matters. But never mind. Suppose he had the power. Why would he want to flood the land?

Noah:      Your eminence, I can repeat what I was told about this, but really, I am not particularly enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Judge 1:      Out with it -- man!

Noah:      He said -- well, He claims that this world is wicked -- wicked beyond reprieve. It's too far gone to fix what's wrong, He says, and He'd rather make a completely fresh start.

Judge 1:      Wicked ? Do you realize the tremendous progress our society has made during the past century or so? No robbers on the highway, no runaway slaves, no bloody feuds over who gets to use the irrigation ditches. Why, for the first time since this town was founded, we have law and order here! My administration is proud of it --and your God considers it wicked?

Noah:      Your honor, personally I am quite happy with your law enforcement policy, but you see, my God is rather particular on justice

Judge 1:      So? We have got justice, too, and your being here just proves that the system is working. Did we send out a goon squad after you to drag you here in chains? No, sir! So let us reason together like civilized men; and if you pay us the necessary fee of 500 shekel, the clerk here (motions) will give you a duly stamped clay tablet, assuring your right to open and operate a zoo, which I still believe, after all that has been said, is what you really are after.

Noah:      Your honor, I am not trying to evade any legal obligations, and I certainly don't have any personal complaint against your justices. But take Mr. Mushakino, whose case you heard just before mine...

Judge 3:      Do you know Mushakino?

Noah:      Not really. We just talked in the lobby while I was waiting for the clerk to call me in.

Judge 1:      Then you know he's a nobody. Why do you worry about him?

Noah:      I don't, but my God does. You see, it's His idea that everybody deserves justice.

Judge 1:      Well, Mushakino is getting his. Or will get it, when he is sold into slavery for his debts, which will be pretty soon.

Judge 3:      In fact, I may buy him myself, if the price is right. I could use an expert well-digger on my estate.

Noah:      I know, I know. That's how things operate here in Lagash -- the rich and the powerful get all the breaks, and it's only the poor who'd better watch out for themselves. However, that's not my God's idea. He thinks every person is entitled to a fair shake.

Judge 1:      Well, that's the way is, and has always been. Some give orders, others take them. Does your God think he can change that? Even if I gave half my wealth to Mushakino today, do you think he's know what to do with it? He would waste it all on frills and be back where he was, in short order. Would you consider such people on the same level as you and me?

Judge 2:      Allow me to go even further. If indeed your preposterous prediction were to come true -- not that I believe it --and humanity were to start from a fresh beginning, do you sincerely believe things would be different? That there would be no masters and servants, no overlords and underlings, but one set of rules and complete equality for all? Your God must be an out-and-out idealist if he hopes to change things so basic.

Noah:      He is an idealist, if you want to know. When I have my conversations with Him, he often gets emotional about basic rights and wrongs.

Judge 3:      I don't know about your Gods, Mr. Noah--just about our own, with whom we have a perfect working relationship. But how about yourself? You are no Mushakino yourself, but a gentleman of property. You own land, you employ other people to do your rough work, and you have everything to gain from supporting the system which assures you of law and order. So why should you, of all people, point a finger at us and call us wicked?

Noah:      Your lesser eminence, I am not criticizing anyone. I am just passing on to you what I have been told.

Judge 3:       So, if you are not any different from us, why should God talk to you, of all people?

Noah:       (pauses a moment before speaking, looking at the ground, reflecting) I sometimes wonder at that myself, and I am not sure God's choice was so wholehearted, either. One day he told me, "Noah, you are indeed a righteous man in your generation." By His standards, I am not really righteous -- just "righteous in my generation," in comparison with others.
      At least, that is my explanation as to why I was chosen, of all the people --by the way I treat my slaves, keep my word, abstain from violence, and so forth, perhaps I have come out a few points ahead of everyone else.
    (looks embarrassed to the ground for a moment, then addresses himself to Judge 3 gesticulating with his hands as he speaks.)
    But you see, your lesser eminence, just as I cannot very well criticize your system, since I leve and prosper by it, so I cannot criticize God and His ideals, since he did choose me.

Judge 1:      Mister Noah.

Noah:      Yes, your honor.

Judge 1:      All this is very entertaining, but it takes us too far from the business on hand, which is a zoning exception for your structure ... (Noah make move to speak up, but Judge 1 stops him with an uplifted palm). I know ! You would like to say that it isn't a building, but a ship, and there are no zoning laws for ships -- right? But it is not enough to say that it is a ship, you must also convince this court of your assertion. Personally, I regard nothing as a ship unless it is floating on water, even if it is caulked with pitch, inside and out. Do the other members of the court agree? (looks left and right, as the other two judges nod their assent) Are you with me, so far, Mr. Noah?

Noah:      Yes, your honor, I understand. You do not believe me.

Judge 1:      I did not say that. (With slight sarcasm) If your God tells you to build an ark, collect animals, and get set for a flood, in the middle of the dry season -- why, that's all right by me, and it would be plain religious intolerance if I were to tell you that I did not believe what your God has told you. We don't do such things here in Lagash.
(Assumes legal and slightly pompous tone.)
    However, there still remains the matter of nonconforming use of land for a purpose for which it was never zoned. You need a permit for that -- a zoning exception -- and the fee is 500 shekel. So far we have heard some interesting stories, but not a single bit of hard evidence as to why this should be waived or changed.

Noah:      Your honor, I do not think we have to wait much longer. As soon as I am able, I promise you, I will float the ark away.

Judge 3:      And if you cannot?

Noah      (shrugs) : Then I'll pay.

Judge 1:      Well, this makes everything simple. Mr. Noah. We will give you 40 days from now -- 40 days and 40 nights, exactly, to float away your ark, with your animals. If you can do it, you will have convinced us that, indeed, it is a ship. If not, and if after the time has elapsed, it is still standing there -- well, then you owe us 500 shekel ...

Judge 3      (cutting in): Plus expenses.

Judge 1      (looks at Judge 3, gets the message, looks back at Noah and continues)
    ... yes, 500 shekel plus expenses, for your zoning permit. Do you have any objections?

Noah:      None whatsoever, your honor. I wish I could do something for you in return, but ... (Gesture of helplessness)

Judge 3:      That's all right. We can handle everything by ourselves.

Noah:      Well, thank you anyway. (He bows to everyone, including, last of all, the clerk.) You have been most gracious and understanding (hefts umbrella and walks out).

Judge 2:     (when Noah had left)   Well?

Judge 3:      Crazy -- completely crazy. Colors after rainstorm and voices from the sky, indeed!

Judge 1:      Just goes to show you what 600 years will do to a man's mind, no matter how well-preserved he appears. (to clerk) Is this all?

Clerk:      Yes, your honor.

Judge 1:      In that case, please close and seal the record for today, that is ... (looks at Judge 2) what's today's date?

Judge 2:      Iyar 17th.

Judge 1:      Thank you. (To clerk) So seal the record and go call our chariot drivers to pick us up at the front gate.
    (Clerk makes motion of stamping the document, then puts it on a pile of other documents in front of him. Then he gets up and leaves, the judges following him with their eyes. The silence is broken by Judge 3 hitting the table with is fist and exclaiming ...)

Judge 3:    Ah!   (intonation same as "Darn it!")

Judge 2:      What's the matter?

Judge 3:      I completely forgot to ask him for a taste of that "brandy" of his.

Judge 1:      Don't let it worry you; he'll be back here within 40 days, or less -- and I am pretty sure his bottle will still be in his pocket.

Judge 2:      Unless his God bids him to do otherwise (others chuckle).

Judge 1:      Gentlemen, we better adjourn.

Judge 3:      (standing up, stretching) I'll second that. (Judges get up, pick briefcases etc. and move towards the door.)

Judge 1:      (who, sitting in the middle, got up last from behind the table, now rejoining the others)     Well, you cannot say it was a dull day.

Judge 2 :      No, that fellow Noah was quite a card. But I am glad it's all over ... (door opens and clerk hurries in)
      Now, what is this ...?

(Clerk is wearing a wet raincoat and carrying an umbrella. He is in a great hurry, as if he's carrying an urgent message, which of course he is. He stops in front of Judge 1.)

Clerk:       Your honor! (Judge 1 measures him up and down with his eyes) Your honor!
Your honor, it is raining, fearfully! Out of the clear sky!

(Judges exchange looks, pale a bit, then rush out. Judge 3 who is last stops in front of the door, turns around to snatch the umbrella, then also leaves.)

Clerk :      (raising hands in gesture of hopelessness and addressing no one in particular)

      What is this world coming to now, I wonder!



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Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern     
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david  ("at" symbol)      .

Last updated 20 August 2006