Karl

I’m standing at the bus stop and this guy walks up to me and he’s like, hi, my name’s Karl. And I’m like, uh, hi Karl, and he stands there just kinda looking at me for about four seconds (which is a long time in reality) and he says, um, my car won’t start and I was gonna try to pop the clutch but I need someone to help me with that. And I just look at him blankly for a while and he says, I could give you a ride to wherever you need to go.

So I say, ok, and he says, aw, man, thanks so much. So we walk together without speaking for like three blocks and he points to a red pickup truck and says it’s this one. I start to push it on his signal and he tries to pop the clutch but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t know how to do it cuz he keeps trying to force it into first gear. So I say, hey Karl, why don’t you push and I’ll pop the clutch, and he says sure. So he pushes and I pop the clutch and the car starts. I move over to the passenger seat and he gets in and says where to, and I say north side.

We take off and right away, he gets on the highway heading east. And I’m like, uh, Karl, north side aint east. And he looks at me kinda awkward and says really slowly, oh, yeah, you’re right. I’m thinking, okay, this guy’s a freak, and I tell him he can get off at this exit so he does. But then he says, so what’s a pretty girl like you doin waitin for the bus all alone, dontcha got a boyfriend? And I say, uh, Karl? I’m a guy. And he says, right, that’s what I meant. He says, I meant to say girlfriend.

After that we don’t talk for a while. Then out of the blue, Karl says, I don’t think I got your name. And I want to lie to him and say my name is Dan Smitherson, but I don’t have the nerve to actually do it, so I tell him my real name and he smiles at me. So I’m like, you know what, Karl, you can let me out right on this corner. And he says, you sure? And I say, yes. So he lets me out and says, see ya later. And I walk away without answering.

Two days later, I’m sittin there watching Oprah give tips on how to declutter your home when the phone rings. I say hello, and the guy on the other end says hey man. I’m not sure who it is yet, but I say, hey, what’s up, hoping that I’ll figure it out once he talks some more. Watcha up to, the guy says. And since I’m not sure who he is, I don’t know if I should tell him exactly what I’m up to, so I say, not much. He says, that’s cool, and then neither one of us says anything for a second. And then he says, so a couple of us were gonna go out for some beers tonight, you in?

And now I know who it is and I say, shit, Jimmy? I had no idea who you were until just now. (Jimmy and I go back a long way. Even though he went to MIT and has a job where he makes tons of money, we’re still friends.) Jimmy laughs and I tell him I’m watching Oprah and I say sure I’ll go out for beers, and we call each other assholes and laugh cuz we’re good friends and Jimmy says be there at 8:00. When I hang up, Oprah’s talking about obstacles in relationships, so I watch some more.

So later that night, I get to the bar and I’m like a half hour late, which Jimmy knew would happen, but I figure I don’t wanna get there early and be sittin around alone like an asshole waitin for other people to show up. Jimmy sees me and shouts my name and I walk over through the crowd and he’s there with like five or six other people. He starts introducing me to everybody, saying this is Kate, this is Randy, this is Alex. And of course, Nata is there, and I smile at her cuz I kinda have this thing for Nata, who works with Jimmy and is like the hottest nerd girl I know. And this is Karl, Jimmy says, and at first, I’m not really paying attention cuz I’m staring at Nata, but then I snap out of it and I look at Karl, and sure enough, it’s the same creepy mofo who gave me a ride the other day.

So I’m thinking, damn, I gotta tell Jimmy about this creepy mofo, and then Karl smiles at me and nods like he knows something I don’t know, and I’m about ready to punch him in the face, but then Nata says, so how you been? I glare at Karl one last time and turn to Nata and say, it’s good to see you again, but as I look into Nata’s gorgeous eyes, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, okay, Karl, you’re getting off easy for now, but I’m gonna find out where your psychotic ass lives.

Nata turns to me and says, so Jimmy tells me you like Oprah. And I’m already starting to dream up ways to get back at Jimmy but then Nata says, that’s so cool. I love Oprah, she says. I catch a glimpse of Jimmy, who winks at me, and I’m thinking about how I owe him one. And then Karl steps up to me and Nata and asks if we’re boyfriend girlfriend, and I’m like, shit. Karl turns to me and says, is this the girl you were telling me about? And I’m like, what the fuck, but I don’t say what the fuck. I only say what, but it in the most what-the-fuck way I know how.

But Nata gets this huge beautiful smile on her face and says, wait, you guys know each other? And I say no at the same time that Karl says yes. Nata’s looking at me with her mouth hanging open a little which I find really cute so I start telling the story about how I’m standing at the bus stop and this guy walks up to me. Pretty soon, everybody’s listening to me and I tell the part about Karl not knowing how to pop the clutch and about how northside aint east and everybody’s laughing. But I don’t tell the parts about how Karl’s actually a creepy pedophile for 25 year olds like me cuz I figure that would change the mood a little.

When I’m done, everyone’s like, what a coincidence! And we’re all laughing like we’re starring in a sitcom. And then Nata says, so wait, where’s the part where you were telling him about me?

So then I’m like, shit. I have no idea what I’m gonna say cuz, see, here’s the thing: my chances with Nata are based not only on how smooth I am, but on how smooth the whole night is. And things would get really awkward if I told the truth about Karl right now. So I say nothing. Instead, I sit there with my mouth open, looking dumbly at Nata.
Then Karl leans in close to Nata and says, she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. And I’m picturing what my bottle of beer could do to Karl’s nose. Nata looks at Karl like he just let one go and is smelling up the place, but Karl, says, that’s what he said to me — he said you’re the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. Everyone exhales audibly. Nata melts, turns to me, and says, aw, you said that?

Uh, yeah, I sputter. And Nata grabs my arm with both hands and smiles and says, that’s sweet, and I smile at her, and her smile gets bigger than it was, and then my smile gets bigger than it was and then someone in the group coughs and we realize everyone’s looking at us, so Nata lets go of my arm and I call the waitress over for some more drinks.

We make it through the rest of the night, pretty much without incident and over the course of the next month, Nata are seeing each other like three times a week at least. We watch Oprah, we play Grand Theft Auto, we make out. It’s pretty much like the ideal girlfriend situation, okay?

But then one day, Nata shows up at my place and says, you’ll never guess who gave me a ride over here. And I say, who? And she says, Karl.

I just about shit my pants. Karl? I say. That Creepy Mofo who was at the bar with us that one night?

And she says, yeah, I was downtown, coming out of that shoe store on Washington, and I hear some guy say, what’s a pretty girl like you doing down here all alone? and I was a little freaked at first, but then I turned and saw Karl driving a red pickup truck and he says, Nata, right? and I say yeah, and he asks me if I need a ride.

So you got in the car with him? I say.

What’s the big deal? she says.

So I explain to her all the creepy details of that first time I met Karl and after I’m done with the whole explanation, she’s like, wow, he is a Creepy Mofo. And I’m like, yeah.

We stand there looking at each other for a second and then I remember that I’ve never asked Jimmy how he knew Karl. I ask Nata if she knows how Jimmy knows Karl.

No, she says.

You know what? I say. We’re gonna call that mofo.

Karl? she says.

No, I say, Jimmy.

So I pick up the phone, dail Jimmy’s number, and I get voice mail. Jimmy, I say (after the beep), hey, me and Nata are just wondering how you know Karl, cuz he’s actually a Creepy Mofo. He just gave Nata a ride and said all this Creepy Shit, and a lot of it was the same Creepy Shit he said to me a month ago when he gave me a ride. Call me. And then I say, asshole, just so he knows I still love him.

When I hang up, I say to Nata, maybe we should go over to his house, and Nata says, yeah, maybe Karl’s over there right now, like asking Jimmy to take a peak under the hood of his pickup truck.

And I sit there not saying anything, imagining how that plot might play out until I snap myself out of it and say, I’m callin Jimmy again. But just then the phone rings, and the caller id says it’s Jimmy.

Jimmy, I say.

What’s up, he mumbles.

Did you get my message?

Yeah.

So what gives?

Karl’s a nice guy, he says.

But something’s wrong with his voice. He sounds different. Like maybe he’s . . . holy shit! Who is this? I say.

I hear nothing.

Who is this? I repeat.

And then I hear a dial tone.

I grab my car keys and head for the door. We’re going to Jimmy’s, I say to Nata.

What? Why? she says.

I tell her that I’m pretty sure Karl’s over there right now. I don’t tell her that I’m also pretty sure that Jimmy’s tied to his bed with nylon ropes and that he has a racquetball in his mouth and is probably crying while Karl talks to him in an eerily calm voice about how he doesn’t want to hurt him.

When we get there, Jimmy’s door is locked. I look under his doormat for the key, but it’s not there. Mofo, I say. I punch the door, which hurts a little, but then Nata reminds me that I have a key.

Before I can stick the key in the lock, the door opens and Karl’s standing there. He’s eating a bowl of cereal. Where’s Jimmy? I say. But he’s just put a spoonful in his mouth, so he can’t answer me. He goes and sits on the couch. Where is he? I shout.

He swallows and says, his body’s in the bedroom. He takes another spoonful of cereal. Nata screams and runs into the bedroom, leaving me facing Karl.

I should have run you over when I was popping your fuckin clutch, I say.

Karl sets his cereal bowl on the coffee table slowly and deliberately, like a serial killer, and looks at me. Was that, uh, sexual? he says.

And I say, what?

He says, what you just said about popping my clutch, kinda sounded sexual.

What? No, it wasn’t sexual! I say.

Just then, Jimmy appears around the corner.

Jimmy! I say.

And he says, hey, man.

Are you alright? I ask.

Yeah, I’m fine, he says.

And then I look at Karl, who shrugs and says, just fuckin with ya.

I turn to Jimmy and ask him if he got my message and he says what message? and I say the one where I told you that Karl is a Creepy Mofo who hit on me the day I popped his clutch.

Karl interrupts and says, I’m telling you, that really sounds sexual, and I say, shut the fuck up. And Jimmy smiles and shakes his head and says, Karl’s not a Creepy Mofo. Nata whispers something in Jimmy’s ear, and I glance at Karl, who’s still eating his damn cereal.

Then Jimmy laughs out loud and says to me, you know, man, you can be a real asshole sometimes. And I give him a look like where the hell did that come from?

And he says, you really don’t remember, do you? And I’m like, what the hell are you talking about? And Jimmy says, Karl come over here. So Karl gets up and walks over to Jimmy and Jimmy grabs him by the arm and stands there next to him. Take a long, hard look at Karl, he says, you know him.

I don’t know what he’s talking about, but it’s Jimmy, so I do what he says. I stare at Karl’s face. And the whole time, I’m just thinking, yeah, I know this guy, he called me a girl and I’m pretty sure he’s a sexual predator. He’s like a dumb Hannibal Lector, I almost say out loud. But instead I shrug and say to Jimmy, what’s this all about? And Jimmy says, just do it.

So I keep looking at Karl and I get this flash of a familiar face. I can’t quite place it, but now I know Jimmy might be right. I keep looking at Karl and now it’s driving me nuts. I definitely know him. I’m thinking of all the possibilities. Was he a bartender? A clerk at a liquor store? One of Jimmy’s college roommates?

His last name’s Morris, Jimmy says.

Karl Morris? I know that name. I gaze at Karl again and just like that, I remember. Holy shit, I say. Karl Morris? I thought you were dead, I say.

Nata looks at me. She’s got a what-the-fuck expression on her face. You know this guy? she asks. Karl says to me, took you long enough. Seriously, Jimmy adds.

What’s going on? Nata says, I thought this guy was all weird to you when you popped his clutch.

Karl snickers.

Me and Karl thought it would be funny to set up a “chance” encounter, Jimmy says. He makes quote marks in the air when he says chance. It was just a joke, he clarifies.

Yeah, Karl says, I figured I could act really weird and eventually you’d recognize me and we’d all laugh about it.

But that didn’t work, Jimmy chimes in, so then we had Karl show up at the bar that night.

And that didn’t work, either, I say.

Right, Karl says. I figured I’d just keep messin with you until you recognized me.

Okay, Nata says, so who the hell is Karl Morris? She’s looking at me. So is Jimmy.

Yeah, Karl says – he puts his hand on my shoulder – who am I?

So I explain to Nata that me and Jimmy and Karl were good friends in elementary school, but then Karl moved away in 6th grade and that in high school, I heard that Karl had died in a skiing accident. I tell her how the three of us used to go wandering through the construction sites in the subdivision where we grew up and how we were always getting into trouble and how we stole two boxes of nail gun nails one time. And another time, I say, Karl put like 20 toads in a box and wrapped it and tied a ribbon around it and gave it to his sister for her birthday.

Holy shit, says Jimmy, I forgot all about that. Yeah, so did I, says Karl.

We crack open some beers and sit around telling stories about those days and then at 10:00 Oprah comes on and we stop talking and watch, all four of us – me and Jimmy and Nata and Karl. The show’s called “Perfect Strangers, Perfect Friends,” and it’s about a taxi driver and a businessman who discover that they are actually best friends. Or something like that. At the end, Dr. Robin comes on and starts talking about happy friendships and shit.

And then out of nowhere, Karl says, Dr. Robin’s a Creepy Mofo.

You’re telling me, Nata says.

Amen, Jimmy adds.

And I honestly can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Are you guys crazy? I ask. Do I even know you people? Dr. Robin rules.

They say nothing. They all look at each other for a second and then Karl says, just fuckin with ya and we all laugh our asses off. I’m telling ya, it was just like a sitcom — beautiful people, misunderstandings.

And as the credits began to roll, I kissed Nata and told Jimmy and Karl to go fuck themselves.

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