Duncan Nussbaum always had a feeling God was out to get him. When he was six years old, he was eating a cheese sandwich – this was back when his parents still kept kosher – and snatched a piece of salami off his brother’s plate, mixing it in his own, daring the Lord of Hosts to strike him down. And strike Duncan down God did: Duncan was promptly punished by what he later came to call the Year of Nightmares, a year in which the boogieman visited him every night in his dreams. Later, Duncan was to see that instant as the beginning of the end; it was at that moment that God declared war on him. From the sandwich on, no action of Duncan’s would go unpunished.
When Duncan was ten years old, after telling his parents he was going to play catch with a friend, swearing, above all, that he was not going over to the Goldberg house to play Nintendo, and then proceeding directly to the Goldberg house to play Duck Hunt, Duncan came home to find that his grandmother had died. At the age of fifteen, despite mounting superstitions and a continued belief in God’s regular interference in his own life, Duncan casually bragged to some friends that he had become a freethinker and disbelieved in an active Deity. One week later, as he was caught in a reverie, staring at a girl’s chest from behind his locker, he experienced the greatest betrayal of his life: he overheard his best friends talking about how “weird” and “crazy” he was. He never spoke to them again.
Duncan grew into an awkward adolescence, one marred by frequent bouts of depression and loneliness. He lived in an increasingly solipsistic world, and at one point, for about a week, even convinced himself that he was the only one in the world who really existed. Duncan was tall and skinny and had a gigantic Jewfro, which he refused to cut because he insisted he looked even stupider without it. He was from California, but never understood the surfer or stoner culture. He preferred to read, and especially enjoyed Isaac Asimov and Phillip Dick stories. Unsurprisingly, Duncan also liked to write. Eventually he decided he wanted out of his Los Angeles nightmare, and Duncan went east for college, where again life was to disappoint him.
When he was twenty years old, a sophomore at Yale, Duncan Nussbaum met the girl he was to marry, because he had a premonition that it would rain. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on a beautifully New England April day, and the streets seemed bathed in light, like in the overly cheerful movies from the early days of Technicolor. He was standing on line to buy pistachio ice cream, which is what he did every day in the early afternoon, rain or shine, in a small park just off campus, from a Mexican immigrant whose name he still did not know. Behind him stood a pretty girl with wild blue hair and piercings all over her face. Duncan felt intimidated.
And then the heavens opened. Duncan looked at the girl shyly, clumsily motioning to his Mickey Mouse umbrella – a relic from a long-past Disney World vacation, from back when his family still went on silly American family vacations – and asked the girl if she wanted a little shelter.
“Thank you,” she said, as he held the umbrella over both of them.
She asked him what flavor he wanted.
“Pistachio,” he answered.
“Two pistachios,” she told the Mexican.
She smiled at him, and asked him if he enjoyed old movies. He didn’t particularly, but he nodded anyway. He wondered, for a moment, how it was that he had stepped out of his life and onto the set of a sentimental movie. He quickly decided it better not to question.
She grabbed his hand in hers, and they began walking. After five minutes, Duncan put the umbrella down. They walked together in the rain.
Duncan looked up to the sky, a tear in his eye, the rain pouring down, harder and harder, soaking the earth, soaking Duncan and the girl, destroying what was left of the ice cream.
“Truce,” Duncan whispered to himself, so only He could hear.