The End Of Days
I was losing, as usual. Every Wednesday night I come to this game and
every Thursday morning I wake up regretting it. Matkowsky's Cuban cigar
was jerking through the air like an excited dog tied to a tree. He'd had
that damned thing for ten years now, and he still hadn't taken it out of
the wrapper. I could tell by the way it was hovering over his beer that
Matkowsky was about to say something profound.
"The world will come to an end in two weeks," he said as he called
Sukenik's last raise. Of the two chips he threw toward the pot, one rolled
off the table and the other landed in Winkelman's beer.
"Why two weeks?" queried Fishbein as he cautiously folded with Aces over
Jacks, drawing one of his smelly foreign cigarettes from the special pocket
he'd had sewn into his ancient fedora.
"Because Noodleman has predicted that the world will come to an end in
a month, and he's usually about half right," Matkowsky stated calmly, his
head framed by smoke, stained wallpaper, and the fuzzy halo that appears
around objects whenever I have too much cheap beer. Even his cigar took
on a solemn air. "Noodleman is the closest thing that we have to an
apocalyptic prophet, and I think we should begin to evince a little more
faith in this otherwise godless age."
"In that case you should have raised me," Sukenik said, mopping his
brow with a tattered old Holiday Inn face-cloth. Winkelman mumbled
something unintelligible through a mouthful of toothpicks, and fished
Matkowsky's chip out of his beer, plopping it wetly onto his own pile.
Matkowsky had a point. Ours was an age without faith. We didn't
believe that a benevolent creator watched over us and rewarded us for our
good deeds. We scarcely believed any longer in the ability of the telephone
company to bill us correctly. Times were indeed desperate. I admired
Matkowsky's simple trust in Noodleman. It was an affirmation of belief
over logic, of feeling over thought, of intuition over reason. All in all,
it seemed a faith bordering on stupidity.
Sukenik also had a point. Matkowsky should have raised him.
Yet I realized that Matkowsky's expression of trust was not entirely
without foundation, for Noodleman was something of a prophet. He once
accurately foretold of the fall of a souffle that Winkelman had prepared
for our fundraiser supporting repeal of the Law of Diminishing Returns.
He once predicted to the hour the rise in price of decaffinated coffee at
the local supermarket. His most triumphant sooth, let it be said, was his
forecast that Fishbein would burn a cigarette hole in Mrs. Matkowsky's newly
upholstered sofa and the very words that Mrs. Matkowsky would exclaim in
Lithuanian! Such talents are not easily accounted for without recourse to
Unfortunately, Noodleman rarely seemed to foretell anything of genuine
consequence. Perhaps his most substantive forecast to date was that the
insurance company would fail to recompense Sukenik adequately for the theft
of his raindrop collection. This, of course, was not to deny Noodleman's
potential. There was no barrier that I knew of to the transference of
Noodleman's powers to matters of greater import such as the prediction of
the end of days.
Noodleman's own claims were never modest. He insisted that he was born
on a cross and would die horribly in a manger at the age of thirty-three.
This was something of a problem as Noodleman had recently celebrated his
forty-ninth birthday. He also maintained that he had been given a guided
tour of the nether regions by Virgil himself and noted that the inscription
over hell's portals actually read "To Remain Unlocked During Business Hours."
Noodleman asserted that God spoke to him directly, calling him regularly
over the telephone. These communications had once been frequent until the
Almighty had taken to reversing the charges. Unfortunately, Noodleman's
meager budget could not withstand such numinous encounters, especially
during peak hours. He purchased a phone answering machine in the hope
that God would occasionally leave a thirty second message at his own
expense. It was then that Noodleman's revelations had become fewer and
farther between and of more restricted consequences. But I had not seen
Noodleman in over two months. Perhaps there was something to this latest
portent. Perhaps the Lord once again had taken to dialing him direct.
There were some who attempted to dismiss Noodleman as a mere eccentric,
but I always maintained that they placed too much emphasis on the fact that
he wore only one sock, chewed almost constantly on his single locomotive
decorated tie, wore a cowboy hat with a plastic crown-of-thorns headband,
and was almost always seen carrying the two-volume edition of The Morphology
of the Seneca Language. All of these characteristics could be easily
explained, however; they seemed entirely superfluous to the understanding
of the real Noodleman and his extraordinary powers.
Certainly one could not argue with the extent of his influence on
contemporary religious thought. His contention that Leonardo's Last Supper
depicted the exact moment when it was learned that Simon Peter had forgotten
the dessert was now widely accepted. I must confess that it scarcely
compared with the pandemonium that erupted when it was discovered that
Fishbein had forgotten the cheesecake for our own annual celebration
commemorating the invention of the adjustable showerhead. His recent
translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls into Pig Latin had received enthusiastic
praise from scholars and theologians in Monte Carlo. It was Noodleman's
research in ancient Hebrew that led to the retranslation of "Let there be
light!" to "Lights, camera, action!" Except for an embarrassing moment on
a local TV talk show when he identified a neighborhood Toyota salesman as
a reincarnation of the prophet Habakkuk, his religious opinions and
judgements were generally respected.
I suddenly knew that Noodleman was right. The end of days was fast
approaching. I knew it in the way a philosopher knows something; with
utter conviction, but without being able to make it clear to anyone. The
realization was staggering. A chill ran down my spine through my legs,
leaving an uncomfortable itch in my left foot. An end to life as we know
it; although life as we don't know it might persist for months or even
years. The cessation of thought, the termination of human creativity, the
obliteration of art! On the other hand, no more struggling to find an
empty parking place at the bowling alley. Nothing was all good or all bad.
Suddenly all the things that I had left undone flashed before my eyes.
My 30,000 line epic on the life of Samuel Gompers was not even half completed.
There would never be time to obtain the divorce Beatrice had promised me for
my forty-sixth birthday. I would never begin to make adequate use of my new
dental plan. I gave silent thanks that I had an appointment with Dr. Klein
the following afternoon to replace a temporary filling.
Despair, however, quickly gave way to nobler feelings. I would live my
last moments to the fullest. Carpe Diem! I would eat fish daily. Where I
had been weak and cowardly, I would now be bold and audacious. I would act
where I had merely observed. I would grasp where I had merely desired.
I shook myself from reverie to find Winkelman finishing the deal. I
picked up my cards and stared at them. I could not believe my eyes. A
Royal Flush in Hearts. It was unbeatable. I immediately knew that it was
a sign from God that my faith in Noodleman was justified. The Lord was
rewarding my faith and helping me to live my last weeks to the fullest. I
recognized that the flush was in hearts as a symbol of God's love for me.
Tears flooded my eyes in thanksgiving. I cautiously bet one dollar in
order to draw my comrades into the game, hiding the devastating power of
Everyone promptly folded.