Help me, I’m Smart

By David Kaplan

Brooks Awadji was lost. While he carried himself with a certain peevishness generally, he sighed with a little more heft as his seventh — or was it his 17th? — call in less than three minutes to Carrie O’Neill went straight to voicemail.

“Carrie! Hello? Helllloooooo?” he bellowed with a rasp into the phone. Brooks knew full well that voicemail wasn’t an answering machine. Carrie wasn’t lounging out on her sofa staring blankly at the TV ignoring his desperate and loud pleas. “Why don’t you pick up? HEEEEELLLLLLLLOOOOOO? I hate these god awful devices! Do you know that? I loathe these execrable electronic toys!”

At the moment Brooks was standing on a dark Woodside street, Carrie was setting up for the small New Year’s Eve party she and her roommates Jill and Marty were hosting. Brooks would usually arrive an hour before an invitation. He would proceed to make a nuisance of himself as the trio attempted to do the last minute set up.

As Carrie set up the drinks table, Brooks would pour himself two bourbons and ask for ice. Then he would eat half a brick of cheese and the charcuterie. He would break one of their good glasses, even though the plastic cups were strategically placed around the narrow kitchen and tiny living room.

Brooks was a pole. He was about five-eleven and one-hundred-and-fifty-nine pounds. His arms seemed to be able to stretch the length of the living room walls no matter where he happened to be standing. He invariably knocked over a lamp or some not-too-precariously perched nick-knack before the second guest arrived. Every action, every tipping over, every break seemed to designed to appear as if it were the universe conspiring against him.

“Well, you shouldn’t have put it there if you didn’t want someone to accidentally knock it over,” he would say with the innocent dismissiveness of a bystander describing a three-car pile-up to an acquaintance, even though the collision was caused because he absently stopped in the middle of the street to check his phone.

To give them all some breathing room, and allow time for guests to settle in without attention being stolen by a Brooks misshap, Carrie created a special invite telling him the party would start at 10pm.

So it was 8:45 when Brooks called one more time and Carrie, seeing 22 voicemails and 36 missed calls, broke down and picked up.

“Hey, Brooks, we’ll see you at 10, okay?”

“Well, I think I’m nearby and so I thought I would come early, but—”

 “Brooks! I’m in the middle of setting up—”

“I can’t find your address. Where do you live?”
Carrie had lived at the four-story, three bedroom Woodside apartment for 3 years. Brooks had been there dozens of times. And every time, it was the same thing.

“It’s on the invite. It’s on your phone.”

“I delete all messages not from my agent.” Brooks was a fairly successful author of spy novels. When he was first starting out, he convinced Carrie to come with him and furtively take over tables in Manhattan bookshops. He even had her include an eight-by-10 author photo by the books and would stand near the table trying to be recognized. As a result, photos of Carrie were placed at seven bookshops’ checkout counter warning that she was banned for life because of placing copies of Brooks spy novels on tables in the store. She resented the fact that she would have to sneak in to buy books in so many of her preferred spots.

Why did she let herself get talked into his shenanigans so often? And why did he never pay a price? And why was Brooks always invited back to do book signings? She was his consequence-eater.

She gave him the address.

“Oh, I think I’m around the block. Do I go right or left?”

“Jesus Chris, Brooks, you’ll figure it out!”

Brooks stuffed his phone back in his pocket. She was never any assistance. “You had to pull assistance out of her like getting a mule to do whatever mules do,” Brooks said. “Plowing! Mules plow. I’ll have to use that line in the next novel!”

He waited an interminable two minutes for someone to walk by that he could ask for directions. “Why should I waste a minute of my time walking around in search of a party? That makes no sense at all!” Brooks said to himself, marveling at the heap of indignity Carrie always placed on him.

A couple in long beige, wool coats carrying black plastic bags with wine bottles passed him.

“Hey, do you know which way—” he looked at his phone, the invitation was there all along — “946 39th Avenue is?” The couple shook their heads and walked briskly away as if Brooks were some vagabond about to follow them home. He was taken aback by what he thought was a misunderstanding of his harriedness. He tried to catch up to them. “Help me! I’m smart!”

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