“Smart Guy” Summary
At age twenty-five, Sedaris takes a job cleaning construction sites in suburban Raleigh. The work is boring, particularly when Sedaris is partnered with Reggie, a self-described genius who talks incessantly about his intelligence and how unhappy he is with his menial job. “Here I am with a one-thirty IQ, and they’ve got me sweeping up sawdust,” Reggie says.
When Sedaris jokes that Reggie could try making the work more challenging by turning on a fan and sweeping against the wind, Reggie warns Sedaris not to laugh at him, because he is much smarter than Sedaris. Sedaris counters that for all Reggie knows, Sedaris could have an IQ of “three hundred.” Reggie, however, places Sedaris’s IQ at no higher than seventy-two and says he hopes Sedaris likes “pushing a broom.” When Sedaris asks him what he means, Reggie says to ask him again in fifteen years.
Fifteen years later, Sedaris is working as a house cleaner—though he mostly vacuums rather than sweeps.
A couple of years after the house-cleaning job, Sedaris doesn’t know what became of Reggie, but he is reminded of him when he decides to take an IQ test. He believes the test will be harmless, since, at age forty-two, he is confident enough in his ability to survive. What he doesn’t realize is the effect that knowing his IQ will have on his perception of both his past and his future.
Throughout his childhood, Sedaris suspected himself of being a genius. He often felt misunderstood by the people around him, which only corroborated his theory, and his father sometimes referred to him as “Smart Guy.” However, Sedaris soon realized that his father was using the nickname ironically—usually when he discovered Sedaris engaged in activities like coating his face with mayonnaise rather than insect repellent or attempting to cure his grandmother’s diabetes with sticks of chewing gum covered in suntan lotion.
Although Sedaris did poorly in school, his high school friends praised him for his ability to “read people,” and this fueled Sedaris’s private notion that he might be a “philosophical genius.” During Sedaris’s thirties, however, drugs, alcohol, and the chemicals he was exposed to at work took a toll on his mental state. Occasionally he still believed in his own genius, but only when high on “cocaine and crystal methamphetamine.”
Sedaris finally takes an IQ test in Paris, out of simple curiosity. The test is designed to determine eligibility for Mensa, an exclusive association for the highly intelligent, and Hugh takes the test alongside him. Membership in Mensa requires an IQ of 132 or higher, which means that Hugh and Sedaris will have to score...
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