Robbing Banks Isn't Big or Clever
(spoiler alert if you're never done it)
By David Whitehouse
Holiday time and I'm watching movies. My girlfriend is here, cooking up some pasta in my open-plan kitchen. She's pretty normal looking. She's not good looking or ugly. You wouldn't notice her on the street. She works at a zoo, giving children guided tours. She gives them talks about seals. The kids stroke guinea pigs with her.
She holds the guinea pigs on her long pleated skirt. Between her breasts there is a snake tattoo.
In her purse she carries a pair of pink fluffy plastic handcuffs, ready to put on anywhere at a moment's notice.
It's Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino has just watched himself in The Godfather and now he is robbing a bank. The robbers have no masks or anything. One guy chickens out at the start so the gang is down to two. The bank has hardly any cash and the two hang around fielding personal phone calls to the staff when they should have been getting away. Soon the place is surrounded by cops.
Al, it would appear, is the only winner here.
The guy, the real one who did the, later wrote from prison that the film was a piece of crap. The FBI didn't need to kill his accomplice at the end, like the film made out, he wrote. But of course he loved Al Pacino. I can see his point. Al standing there outside the bank entrance, white flag in hand, with a pretty tidy female bank clerk. There's a massive armed police presence and a huge crowd. The accomplice has the rest of the hostages at gunpoint inside. Al boots the glass door and tells the cops to get back and put their fucking guns down. Attica! Attica! Bring on the prison riots. The crowd goes wild. The blonde bank clerk, tinged with sweat, refuses to go with the police and follows him back inside.
Yeah, you need to be a bit of a showman to pull that off.
-The real robber said this film is a piece of crap, I tell my girlfriend. They didn't really need to kill the accomplice at the end. They had him restrained already. But he loved Al Pacino. The trouble is, robbing banks is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. Like anything. Like writing, y'know. Planning, execution, hard work. Gotta have all the ideas yourself, like he said, gotta do everything to keep it moving along. Just like Bukowski. Don't try being a genius if you aren't one. This guy tried to do it on inspiration alone. But you can't just watch The Godfather and wander in there. Doesn't work like that. Doesn't work unless you're a total genius.
-If you're going to be an accomplice, you have to choose your friends very carefully, she said. Can you get me a strainer for the pasta please?
-I mean, no masks? C'mon. How were they ever going to spend the dough with no masks?
I can see the attraction with Bukowski. Unfettered male freedom. A life of debauchery, playing with words just something to do until drinking and the horse races start. It's a hobby, 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration. That kind of hobby. Tricky if you have to go to work already. The same as robbing banks, I guess. Which is also more fun as a hobby. Doing over a bank can hardly be counted as a serious activity. The act is essentially petty: what you want is a quick heist and a long boozy lunch. The guy might have got away with it if he'd played it cool. It would have held drinking time back until early afternoon, at least. But he started to take it too serious, that's the problem. Demanding planes, choppers, this and that.
A letter to the bank manager would have had a better chance. If you told him the zoo needed the dough, to extend the seal aquarium for instance, they might go for it. They'd just write it off if you couldn't pay it back.
A couple of weeks later and you just phone up and ask them for more money.
I pour myself some wine. I ask if she wants some. She says no.
-A stroke of genius could have got him through, though, I tell her. When he was chucking the money around and everyone was scrambling to get it, he should have run into the crowd. He could have got away. He was just a 95% genius. Didn't quite have 100% star quality. That's why Al Pacino had to take over.
Stop trying to act like you're something, the bank manager told Al. Stop showing off and just leave me alone.
-In Asia in the second world war, I tell her, the Japs had to shoot all the animals in the zoos. Korea, Burma, places like that. They knew that no-one could stay there to guard the zoos once they retreated. So they gunned down the big game down so that it wouldn't escape onto the streets. Just like that stupid accomplice in the film.
-Pass the parmesan?
I walk up behind her as she stands at the sink and put my hands on her hips.
-I want to see the look on the lama's face, I said.
-I'll never put the cuffs on in the zoo, she said.
-We could wear masks.
-Stop asking me that.
I get some more wine.
-Typos are worse than fascism, I tell her. You know who said that?
-Why not just do it, she said, if you want to lead the same sort of life as Bukowski. There's nothing to stop you. No-one's relying on you, certainly not me. Chase girls and puke up the side of trees at 9 in the morning if you wish. Stop tucking yourself in to bed with your Bukowski book and your mulled
wine and just do it yourself. If you think it's so very nice to live like that.
-Do you realise that the surrender of comfort required to write a sentence is enormous?
The big bountiful plates of pasta are now visible.
-Another thing, she said. Even if Al Pacino had got away his friend would still have been shot. Are you going to lay the table or what?
David Whitehouse, who is British, works as a journalist in Paris, where he has lived for 14 years. Previously he lived in Japan. He's married with three children and edits the The Lesser Flamingo ezine, which accepts poetry, flash fiction and short stories.