I’ve known Bob Tilbury for several years, and I have always considered him to be one of my three naval heroes, along with Popeye and Hägar the Horrible. We met at the local dog park, where we both exercise our dogs. Bob had served in the British navy during World War II. His most significant adventure then was serving as a gun layer on HMS Exeter during the famous Battle of the River Plate, in which the German pocket battleship, Graf Spee, was disabled and forced into Montevideo. Not able to extend her stay for repairs beyond 72 hours due to neutrality laws, the Germans took her to sea and scuttled her. Bob’s friends assume that he is in his nineties, but his mother assures me that he is older by many millennia.
Until recently, I was unaware that his experience on the sea began much earlier when he was a deck hand on Noah’s Ark. Bob explains that it was not hard for Noah to recruit him when he was young and naïve. He had responded to an advertisement that Noah had scratched on a rock, asking for seamen to man a vessel that he had under construction in what seemed like the middle of the desert.
Building a boat in the middle of the desert seemed a bit odd. However, although he was not prone to sea sickness, Bob thought his mother would like the idea of his having “steady” work. Propped up on dry land, the vessel would certainly be steady. He asked Noah the purpose of the "Ark," as Noah referred to his 300 cubit by 50 cubit vessel. Noah replied that since the earth was corrupt, God was determined to make an end to all flesh. He was going to bring a flood of waters upon the earth. Noah planned to save his family and two of every sort of animal.
Bob asked Noah what the pay and nature of the job would be. Noah replied that he would be paid in manure. Bob asked what manure was, and Noah replied that it is a kind of fertilizer that will be valuable when the earth dries out. Noah advised Bob that his job would simply be to rake in all of that manure during the 40 day cruise. By the end of the cruise he would have amassed such a large heap of manure that women would find him very desirable. “Women,” Noah explained, “find men who have accumulated a large amount of wealth irresistible.” Bob considered that both literally and figuratively “B***sh*t.”
However, Noah explained that, if Bob were not aboard when the waters rose, Bob might realize that treading water for forty days and forty nights is somewhat difficult. Finding that last argument most compelling, Bob signed the papyrus to remain on for the duration of the cruise. After all, Noah appeared to be a righteous gentleman of about six hundred years. Anyway, Bob had heard that cruises were fun, and people would in the future even pay to go on such voyages.
Wrangling the animals on board was very difficult. There was considerable confusion caused by God’s written orders. In one place God said there were to be two of every sort, male and female. However a few sentences later, in Chapter 7 of the orders, God instructed Noah to take with him seven pairs of the clean types of animals and birds. It was going to be crowded enough with just two of every kind. Also, Bob observed that none of these animals appeared very clean to him.
The dinosaurs, in particular, stank so badly they could knock a pterodactyl off Bob’s dung heap. The T-rexes were very grumpy the whole trip, but Bob put up with it, knowing that they were very good producers of that wealth Noah had promised - the manure. Bob found that, after just one week, he had wealth measured in manure beyond his wildest dreams.
As the waters rose, Bob noticed many people floating by screaming for help. Bob was not allowed to toss them a life ring or anything else. Noah explained that those people were the sinners whom God would eliminate from the earth. Noah explained that these people were corrupt because they did not obey God’s laws. Bob was confused, for God had not yet explained what his laws were. That did not come until when Moses and later Congress started up. Absent any laws, the people should have been free to lie, fornicate, and covet as they saw fit. Noah rejected the idea that these people were not sinners, saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse! Besides, I have my orders. No one is to be rescued.” Bob thought (as did H.L. Mencken much later): “Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of what is right.”
After forty days and forty nights, Bob went to Noah and requested to be put ashore. His obligated service was over. Noah asked, “Where? I see no land. It has rained for a long time. Weeks will pass before this water drains, especially if FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have anything to do with it.” Noah was right. It took a hundred and fifty days for the water to abate. Bob’s manure heap was by then huge. Bob also noted that the number of animals had diminished considerably. It occurred to him as he saw a T-rex picking his teeth with a triceratops bone that some species were already extinct owing to what was to be called “the food chain.”
In the seventh month on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. Bob was concerned, for his Baedeker Travel Guide indicated that this was in Turkey, a Moslem country. Authorities there might object to an unannounced visit by a Jewish ship. Noah reassured Bob that Islam had not been created yet, and, besides, no one remained living there to check the papyruswork. Yes, until Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, got busy being fruitful and multiplying, earth was going to be a very lonely place. Indeed, Bob later complained vociferously that, even with his huge pile of manure, finding a date on Friday nights was a problem for many decades.
I asked Bob what became of his manure heap. He said it was massive. A couple of hundred years ago, he moved it to the District of Columbia. He said, “Now you know why pundits speak of ‘the Hill’ in Washington, D.C.”