Desperately Seeking Henry

Ever since the quarantine, some people have been taking short work from home breaks for outdoor exercise. Not me. Unless you count exercise as walking thirty-five blocks in search of food (and maybe TP). Even so, the other afternoon I was forced to run. Was I being chased? No. More like running to Chase.

Let me explain.

My credit card bill was due. It’s a quick errand, as the bank is down the block from my apartment. I planned to pay the bill, stop by Stationary and Toy World, and return home by 4pm for my (virtual) date with Henry. He’s a nice, Jewish guy who used to live on the Upper West Side. More on him, later.

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I left my building at 3:30pm, arrived at Chase at 3:33pm and tugged on the bank door. It wouldn’t open. I tugged again. Still wouldn’t open. I peeked in: dark. On the door a note read: “Our branch is temporarily closed.” I wasn’t pleased, but didn’t panic.

Okay, I panicked a little.

I glanced at my phone: I had almost twenty five minutes. No problem to leisurely walk (okay, trot) five blocks to the nearest Chase bank at 67th and Columbus. I was sure it would be open.

It was closed.

A sign on the door suggested patrons Google “chase.com stay connected” for a list of open branches. It was 3:43pm. My Zoom date with Henry Winkler started at 4pm.

Yes.

That Henry.

I refused to be late, or worse, stand him up. I had seventeen minutes to ferret out another branch, pay my card and walk (fly?) home to Henry. I said a positive affirmation with zen-like calm.

That’s a lie.

I cursed, grabbed my phone, typed in “chase.com stay connected” and cursed again. Loudly. Heads turned in my direction. Were they stares of disapproval? Sympathy? It was hard to tell behind the masks and face shields. Regardless, the Chase website directed me to a branch at 73rd and Broadway. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over twenty years, had no idea that branch exists and couldn’t picture it. Was it a fiduciary mirage, appearing briefly, like Atlantis? I started running and dialed the branch.

“May I help you?”

Uh, yeah.

“Where” I shouted, crossing the street and heading back uptown, “are you on Broadway?”

“73rd. Across from the 1, 2 and 3 trains.”

“When do you close?”

“Ten minutes.”

I thanked him (I think), passed Pioneer, made a left on 73rd and hurtled down the street. I hadn’t run that fast since the sixth grade when I tried out for the Presidential Physical Fitness medal.

“EXCUSE ME” I shouted to two men, trying to social distance without breaking my stride. Or my neck. I passed them, wove around a woman pushing a baby carriage, a tall man in shorts (shorts? Really? It was 48 degrees) and reached the corner.

3:52pm: eight minutes to Henry.

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The light changed. I charged across Amsterdam, dash past the subway, raced toward Chase. A man with a Chase name tag, in a black mask, stood in the door, helping two women. Before Covid-19, this guy would be dismissed as a Lone Ranger groupie. Now he’s the new normal.

My heart pounded. I breathed heavily. “Is the bank still open?” Please say yes. Please say yes.

He said yes.

Score!

3:54pm: six minutes to Henry.

I ran into the dimly lit room and hoped there wasn’t a line.

No line.

I approached the teller, a poofy-haired blonde woman with a fixed smile who looked like a mash-up of Martha Stewart and perky Mrs. Price, my high school Home Ec teacher. In between gulps of air, I managed to mumble something about paying my credit card. I guess the teller understood because she started processing the payment.

“Do you want me to shred this?”

WHAT?

“No. I need the statement and receipt.”

“You want a receipt?” The concept seemed new to her.

“YES.”

Some people value honesty or their virtue. I value vital paperwork.

Soon, the transaction was complete and my documents and I were out the door.

3:57pm: three minutes to my 4pm date with Henry Winkler.

It’s true.

Sort of.

I did have a date with Henry, PS 87 alumni and patron of the now-defunct Gitlitz Deli. However, so did 2,500 others who would also attend his digital workshop, “How We Write Children’s Books and Why.” I picked up speed (not sure how), ran back toward Columbus, lurched into my building, limped to the elevator and entered my apartment.

3:59pm: one minute to Henry.

I chugged water, threw off my coat and boots, collapsed in front of my computer and rubbed my feet.

4:00pm: No Henry.

4:02pm: Still no Henry.

Did I get the time wrong?

4:03pm: The Zoom logo dissolved, and Lin, Henry’s co-host and writing partner, appeared on the left of a split screen. A moment later, Henry appeared on the right.

Lin: “Hello, everyone!”

Henry: “Hello? Hello? I can’t get my audio to work.”

It seems we could hear him, but he couldn’t hear us. A few seconds later…

Henry: “Got it!” Problem solved.

Henry waved. I waved. Lin, Henry and I (plus, I assumed, many others) smiled and my (group) date began.

Tara Tandlich is an illustrator, award winning writer (Prose Fellowship- NJ State Arts Council) and multi-subject tutor. When she’s not canvasing the Upper West Side for an open bank, you may find her at: taratandlich.com and tarastutoringnyc.com.

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