The Two Michael Rovners
I first became aware of the other Michael Rovner nearly five years ago.
I was living in the West Village of Manhattan, at 67 Jane Street. He was at 67 Morton. Occasionally, his mail arrived at my apartment, and I wondered if I was legally allowed to open it. The New York City public school system was trying to reach him, so I gleaned that he, too, was a dad. I walked the letters over to his building and left them in his lobby.
Not long after that, I was participating on a panel for AdWeek magazine when the moderator introduced me by reading my bio — only I hadn’t done any of the impressive things she described. Initially, I was confused, and for a moment I considered just going with it. When she got to the part where I’d won a regional Emmy Award, I said, “Excuse me, but you’ve got the wrong Michael Rovner.”
A brief Google search showed that the other Michael Rovner was an executive at a cool ad agency that was hiring for a role I could fill. Would one Michael Rovner go to bat for another? I reached out and invited him to lunch. At first, the other Michael Rovner was unavailable, because he spent weekends at his country house. Not too shabby, Rovner!
We finally met up at a restaurant on Hudson Street, halfway between our apartments. There were more than a few similarities. He was dressed casually, bearded, with slightly thinning hair. There were some differences. He was a year older than I and, annoyingly, two inches taller. Still, not only could he be a relative, he could probably take my place. Me, but better.
He was easygoing, warm, funny. He told me we were destined to be friends, if not colleagues. I said I felt like we already were friends, and he immediately agreed! He confided that he was annoyed that I was a better writer than he was but said he’d get over it though, by weeping over his Emmy. We shared a similar smug charm. I thought, So this is what it was like to have to deal with a Michael Rovner.
I learned that, years earlier, when I had been a prolific journalist, he had regularly accepted compliments on my published pieces. What could be more Rovnerian than taking credit for someone else’s work, I thought. Over the years, I’ve written about being an alcoholic in recovery, being fired from my job as a private detective and having spent half my life in therapy. Based on my lifetime of oversharing, I wondered what those people must have thought of him. There was definitely a component of the movie “Fight Club” to this whole thing.
He, too, primarily went by his surname, only he pronounced it wrong — ROWV-ner, instead of RAHV-ner. I was informed that the Massachusetts and Iowa Rovners favored his style. I told him that wasn’t how we did it in Philly. He told me his ancestors hailed from Rivne, Ukraine, which had been Rovno, Poland, at the time. I said that, whenever I asked my grandparents, I was told our family had come from Minsky-Pinsky, which was how people in that generation had tried to put the past behind it.
He said he would recommend me for the job at his company, but mainly because they’d give him a $5,000 bonus for bringing in a new hire if I could last for 90 days. I told him nothing would make me happier than enriching Michael Rovners’ bank accounts — a rising tide lifts all Michael Rovners. Should it work out, I promised not to sully our good name. He suggested that, if I were hired, I go by any form of Michael that suited me. While this seemed like a major concession on my part, since I was used to going by just “Rovner,” I figured we’d work out the details later. He said he would send “a hilarious Michael Rovneresque note” to the people making the hire, adding that the rest was up to me “and the ghosts of Michael Rovners past.”
At the start of my first interview, the hiring manager said she had initially been perplexed. “I thought the Michael Rovner who already worked here was interviewing for this position,” she said. I was delighted at the potential confusion this would unleash on the world.
After my interview with the president, he hugged my namesake and said, “I love the other Michael RAHV-ner,” to which he replied, “It’s ROWV-ner, damn it!” I suggested we each stick with our own pronunciation to eliminate any future confusion, which he agreed could be an effective solution once we got everyone on board with it.
Years earlier, I had heard about a similar conundrum: A publishing friend named Stuart Elliott told me his first job in media was as the assistant to the advertising columnist at this paper, Stuart Elliott. Apparently, this made answering his phone more than a bit of an ordeal.
As the interview process continued, I learned that I had made it to the final three candidates. But then something told me I might not get the job. After all, they had a perfectly good excuse not to hire me: They already had one of me.
When I got the official word, the hardest part was breaking the news to the other Michael Rovner that it had become something of a beauty contest, and we wouldn’t be working together after all. Instead of $5,000, all he was getting was lunch.
He said that if it had been an actual beauty contest, I certainly would have won. It was such a Michael Rovner thing to say.
Michael Rovner is a journalist and content strategist.
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