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The Seeker Part Two: By Any Other Name

Written By William Reagan | Sep 29, 2015

“It was great to meet you, Nate.”

As the elevator doors closed on Nathan Raines, the tiny room smelling of ancient cigarette smoke and a fading whiff of perfume, the phrase kept repeating in his head like an animated GIF, an echo that never degraded.

“It was great to meet you, Nate.”

He looped the memory in his head like a mental Vine, but couldn’t figure out the intention behind the phrase. He’d had good eye contact with the creative director when they shook hands on the way out, a proper handshake neither limp nor wringing, and everything seemed solid until the guy muddied the moment with, “It was great to meet you, Nate.”

Technically, it wasn’t a terrible way for an interview to end. Perhaps the leap to informality revealed the interviewer’s satisfaction with their conversation, a silent indicator of an accelerated comfort level, but the fact remained that Nathan had introduced himself as “Nathan.”

Had the interviewer asked if he preferred Nathan or Nate, Nathan would have made it clear he wasn’t an either/or kind of guy. A William may be fine with Bill, and a Michael with Mike, but the “Nathan” in 16pt font at the top of his resume wasn’t a typo.

The elevator lurched into action and stopped at 7, where a silver-haired woman in a crisp suit boarded silently and pushed the round 5 button. As they stood beside each other in awkward silence, Nathan mentally analyzed the rest of the interview. He felt like it went well, though he knew better than to equate a strong interview performance with a good final outcome.

One recent interview had gone so well that he expected the hiring manager would invite him to meet her daughter, but a week later all he received was an edited-by-legal form letter about the agency going in a different direction. On the flip side, blurting, “I got tired of all the fuckin’ process” during another interview hadn’t prevented him from getting his current gig.

Today’s conversation had no verbal missteps. His portfolio aligned with the brand vibe and he’d even made the guy laugh a few times. But by the time the elevator had lumbered down to 5 and the silver-haired woman departed, the phrase was looping in his head again.

“It was great to meet you, Nate.”

Nathan wondered if the interviewer was trying to gently telegraph the firm’s easy-going culture, the parting farewell serving as a covert way of saying, “It was great to meet you, NATE, and considering Margaret doesn’t get uptight about us calling her Meg, maybe you should dial back the formality a bit, okay NATE?”

If so, was the creative director encouraging Nathan to reconsider if this firm was the right place for him to work? Or worse, was it a passive-aggressive power play? A preemptive bro-down moment to establish dominance in the corporate cube farm? He’d worked with guys who saw every interaction as a competition, as if the workday was a contest you could win, and that perpetual-swagger fatigued him. Nathan preferred to keep the drama-knob turned to minimum, and that’s hard to do in a place that stinks of territorial markings.

The elevator door opened again. A bearded guy in khakis got on, paused as he saw that no floor buttons were illuminated, then raised an eyebrow to Nathan. “Um, is this your floor?”

Nathan looked at the 5 above the door and shook his head. “I’m going to the lobby.”

The guy nodded. “Cool. Me too.”

As the new rider pushed the bottom button, Nathan realized he’d been standing in a stationary elevator since the other woman got off. He took a slow, deep breath as the elevator jerked back into action and hoped the extra air coming in might push the perplexing phrase from his head. But, before the number above the door had even flashed 2 he was hearing the phrase in his head again.

“It was great to meet you, Nate.”

What if calling him “Nate” wasn’t an intentional maneuver at all, but simply a lack of attention to detail? If he took the job, could he expect a similar looseness with the editing process? Not that he’d want to work for a flake, but a laissez-faire attitude isn’t always a bad thing for a copywriter. Nathan appreciated a good edit, but approvals come quicker when people focus on emotional gist over rigid semantics. As he pondered the plausibility of this scenario, he heard a voice say, “Um, are you okay, dude?”

Nathan looked toward the voice and saw the khaki-clad passenger standing outside the elevator, his hand extended to keep the door from closing. Nathan forced a smile and tried to pretend the answer was yes.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he said as he stepped through the open door. “Kind of got lost in my head there.”

The door holder raised his eyebrows and nodded to acknowledge the understatement. Nathan thanked him, walked through the tiled-floor lobby past the obligatory old photos of the city, and pushed through the brass-and-glass doors to the sidewalk. There was nothing he could do about the “Nate” comment now, he assured himself, so there was no reason to give it any more thought.

But then, what if the interviewer had a brother named Nathan and spent a lifetime automatically abbreviating the name? Or what if…

By day, William Reagan is a mild-mannered marketing copywriter stealthily sneaking clever wordplay into the most corporate of collateral—but at night, he’s a creative mischeivian bent on taking the shortest possible path to profound truths and/or preposterous lies. (Still mild-mannered then, too.)

Read the whole series!

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