Jake was not in a hurry as he passed through the glass doors of the First Federal Bank of Maywood. His lunch date was not for another hour, and only a ten-minute walk down Victor Boulevard to the Lotus Café.
December had been an excellent month for the middle-aged model. He collected checks from both print and TV ads. Big checks from Target and Macy’s led the list on his deposit slip. Marcella would be impressed. He could see her across the bank at her teller station, and he knew she would, as always, have something special to say to him. It would be direct, witty, and dry, perhaps ruthlessly cutting. Words only for him.
He felt uncomfortable nearing the line of brass posts that anchored the red velvet rope separating the customer service desks from the teller lines. Standing next to their shiny ball tops he again felt diminutive, as if they were his shadow. It happened at restaurants and theaters also. Get in line, move post to post, don’t touch the velvet rope.
As a child he would run, counting his steps, and hurdle the low point of each rope section, going from one side to the other, like a slalom skier. One, two, three four, jump. One, two, three four, jump.
His mother had put a stop to it: “This isn’t a playground, Jacob.”
Now he felt the urge to again hurdle the course. Everything was the same as when he was seven, including his height. The low spot of the velvet still reached to about his knees, his head still didn’t quite breach the four and a half feet to the top of the post.
The customer he was behind finished her business, and stepping away, the view to Marcella opened. He felt a sense of excitement and thought he saw her catch herself smiling at seeing him. Her green eyes flashed, framed by her thick red hair, hair Jake longed to push his nose into. But he knew that satisfaction would only come from her words, words specially put together for him. A phrase he would be able to take with him, remember, and think about through the day.
Jake stepped up to the window, his chin just reaching the top of the marble counter, his hand coming up to the shelf stuffed with checks and the deposit slip.
Wednesday was not Marcella’s favorite. It was the longest to get through of those days that were difficult to get through. The customer flow to her station as 2nd teller at the Bank was picking up. It was a week before Christmas and the bank was as busy as the new Target.
Her feet were starting to hurt, so Marcella knew it must be close to noon. They had become like a podiatric barometer. She had already slipped off her shoes, against the rules. She wasn’t worried about the supervisor, Mr. Gardner, coming by and admonishing her because she knew her new scoop-neck, red sweater would hold his attention away from the floor.
Four years into her ‘financial career’ had not produced the dynamic investment excitement referred to by her life counselor, Mickey Merker. She wondered if his feet hurt.
The bank had divested itself of the protocol of a single line serviced by four tellers. All stations were open. The idea was to promote a friendlier image. Marcella was visible from the bank entrance and her dazzling mop of thick, red hair drew men, their hands filled with deposit slips and their eyes swirling like wild planets. A few customers consistently gravitated to her station. Jacob Calander was one of them.
As her current customer, Mrs. Bartelstein, accepted her receipt and turned to leave, Marcella realigned her pens and stamps, using the break to notice the activity on the floor. She turned to the next station to ask Candy her plans for the weekend, but before she could get a word out, Candy rolled her eyes to the front directing her attention, and Marcella saw Jacob coming through the large glass doors.
This was his season. It would be a rare Christmas issue magazine or TV advertisement that did not have Jacob’s toothy grin and turtle brown eyes. He had been in the model business since he was 12, and now 35 years later, it was fair to say he had become an American icon. Curiously he did not seem to age. His hair stayed dark brown thanks to Just For Men, and he shaved now. But there was never any need to refit his elfin costumes. There wasn’t a Santa Claus in the country that didn’t have a helper. They could all thank Jacob for the friendly smile that enabled people to bridge their aversion to ‘small people’.
Marcella knew that Jacob would be coming this week. He always deposited his royalty checks after the 15th of the month and if a man was measured by his bank account, this was Jacob’s day. It was by far the largest deposit he would ever make. Marcella caught a slightly exaggerated swagger in Jacob’s walk, thinking that he was feeling, well, lanky.
She cut short an emerging grin as Jacob neared the brass post that anchored the red velvet rope separating the customer service desks from the teller lines. Standing eye level with the ball top exactly four and a half feet off the ground, he stopped, and it appeared to Marcella that he was mirror-checking himself out in the shiny orb. Her green eyes flashed like the last moment of sunset. She edged closer to the counter, shifted a forearm beneath her breasts, and lifting herself on to her toes, leaned forward.
Jake stepped up to the window, his chin reaching the top of the marble counter, the view into her scoop necked sweater a sweet invitation.
Marcella purred, “You’re not very tall, are you?”
Beaming, he lifted himself onto his toes and pushed the deposit across the cold stone, and said: “No, but I try to be.”