Yesterday I had to interview someone for a grad school assignment.
Emphasis on “had” to.
Assignments like this send me, a 36-year-old introvert, into a cold sweat before the semester even begins. Especially when I land an interview with someone who has a very fancy title in a sector with which I am very unfamiliar.
I immediately took to Google. This man and I were from nearby towns and he was, I soon learned, just a few years older. We undoubtedly had acquaintances in common, changing the whole tenor of the interview. I found him on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube…I suddenly knew way too much about him before even meeting, reminiscent of my prolific dating days.
“Just chill out,” I told myself. “At least it’s not a date!”
Except it totally was. Coffee shop, late afternoon, two people with an agenda…
As soon as my interview subject -let’s call him Ted- arrived, he stuck out his hand and said,
“Hi Jessica, nice to meet you.”
Did he just say Jessica? We’d exchanged at least five emails prior to meeting. Perhaps I should rethink my signature.
He had the Book of Mormon-meets-Quasi-Casual-First-Date look down pat: pressed checkered button-down and perfectly coiffed hair, complemented by fitted slacks with matching belt and shoes.
“You know, I just came from the same coffee shop in [a nearby town],” he said, walking towards the counter. “I was meeting Mr. Mucky Pants from the Board. We had so much to discuss, I didn’t even get to have coffee.”
And thus began a 90-minute, name-drop-laden autobiography in which Ted was the unsung hero.
Beginning in 6th grade.
I managed to ask two of my eight questions.
Midway through, he veered -unprovoked- into his personal life, detailing his recent divorce.
“I’m a really happy guy,” he said repeatedly, with a razor sharp edge to his voice. “I played the role of the guy who tried to fix everything. I have a really long fuse, you know. But get this…”
Ted went on to describe his ex-wife’s grievances, and then how wonderfully everything worked out for him, because:
“I’m a really likable guy. I mean, really. I’m so easy to like.”
“Jury’s still out,” I replied before I could stop myself.
He plowed ahead, telling me about the amazing woman he’d met shortly thereafter, and I wondered how I’d ever get us back on track. He leaned across the table, his hands dangerously close to my Central Perk-sized latte. I angled back in my chair, legs crossed, my pen hovering over a small notepad. My heart rate picked up. The flashbacks came in nauseating waves.
…The guy who showed me YouTube clips where he surgically removed his big toenails…
…The guy who wanted to hook up because he and his wife were “on a break”…
…The guy who told me he only dated “German girls”…
…The guy who said his mother made him “scared of sex”…
…The guy who–
MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!
“So the next day, Ms. Fancy Drawers called and said she RECOMMENDED me to the Board.”
I snapped back into the moment. Ted was still going.
“This woman has met the president and the pope, you know? Yeah so that was exactly 17 years ago today. That’s right. I was sitting in her office, seeing smoke across the Hudson.”
I nodded and scribbled in my notepad while Ted talked about how hard 9/11 had been for him, personally, on the very day of his esteemed new role.
“Do you have kids?”
Wha…did he just ask ME a question?
“No,” I replied, sitting up straight. “But I do have a d–”
“Well, I have two,” he said. “You need to show kids that THEY’RE IN CONTROL of how they react to everything. You know? Shit happens.”
“Thank you again for your time,” I said when he finally paused to take another sip of his artisan cold brew. I also gave silent thanks to the Merciless Parking Meter Gods who brought this
interview date torture to a close.
“I just hope I’m always this accessible,” Ted replied.
I hightailed it to my car, and for the next hour, trembled in the corner of my apartment, staring down the Ghost of First Dates Past.
I shuddered as I thought about how Ted embodied every other horrifying first date I’d had over the past few years. The ones where I’d laugh and nod, asking question after question, arriving home exhausted and disappointed, my vocal chords atrophying from lack of use. I’d take off my make-up and high heels, picking peacock feathers off my dress – the same dress I’d second-guessed every day for a week.
I poured myself a pity glass of wine, just like I did back then, and remembered where I was four years ago.
Newly divorced. Like Ted.
Living alone for the first time in my life. Like Ted.
Starting a new job. Like Ted.
Craaap, I thought. Ted is ME. For a split second, it all came rushing back. I had been so scared. Sad. Self-absorbed. God. I wouldn’t pay to go back there.
And the tremors finally subsided.
Maybe I’ll give him a pass this time. What do you think?