Stick ’em Up!

Our news, when reporting crimes, usually reports on only the more serious ones because, of course, crime is a serious offence–especially robbing banks. However, as a former police officer, I can tell you of many humorous cases that makes the law department laugh. This story is fiction, of course, but it could have happened in your town!

z0304
Halt!

“I tell ya, Clinton, this time it’s gonna be different. This time we’s gonna be rich!”

Clinton folded his arms in modest protest to Barton’s suggestion. “Yeah? Well that’s what you said last time, and all your smart thinkin’ did was get us three years in jail. And the reason we didn’t get more jail is ‘cause the judge and the cops couldn’t stop laughin’ at us ‘cause how stupid we was.”

“Ok, ok, I admit, last time I didn’t think it all the way through and we got caught. But, this time, I’m tellin’ ya, Clinton, this time it’s gonna be different! Those three years in jail gave me time to think and plan, and see where it was that I made a mistake.”

“Yeah, a good start in thinkin’ would be, this time, let’s not rob a bank.”

“You got somethin’ better to rob than a bank that has lots of money?”

“How ‘bout a jewellery store?”

“Nah! Jewellery stores is too hard. They got security cameras all over the place and, besides, then you gotta find a fence to sell the stuff to. Too much trouble! I tell ya again,” Brandon emphasized, “that bank on Fifth is our best bet!”

“Well … I don’t know.” Clinton spotted an empty pedestrian bench next to Bert’s Shoe store and sat down. “I gotta think more about it.”

“What more is there to think about?”

“Like, three more years in jail!”

Brandon could see that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Clinton, so he tried a new approach. “Hey, you gettin’ hungry?”

“What time is it?”

“How should I know. I ain’’t got no watch.” Brandon hailed a passerby. “You got the time on you, buddy?”

“Ten to twelve.”

“See? It’s almost noon. You getting’ hungry?”

Clinton became aware of his empty stomach. “Well—“

“Ya got money to buy yourself lunch?”

“No—“

“Then with what you gonna feed yerself with?

“We could go to the Community Church soup kitchen—“

“Again? And what about tonight? What about tomorrow…next week? We always gonna eat at that soup kitchen? Soon everybody will say you’re just a good-fer-nothin’ moocher!” Brandon sat down next to Clinton and embraced him. “Listen, pal, we’ve been buddies fer a long time now, right?”

“yeah.”

“Well, we’s gotta stop bein’ moochers. We gotta start havin’ our own money and support ourselves. Thems is the rules of society!” Brandon stood up, also pulling Clinton up. “Come on. Show you got some guts and that you ain’t just some kinda looser!”

“Somethin’ just don’t feel right, Brandon,” Clinton mumbled, “I tell ya, somethin’ bad’s gonna happen to us!” Although still filled with misgivings, he yielded to Brandon’s nudging him towards the Fifth Avenue Bank. They stopped at the bank’s front door where Brandon pulled out a folded piece of paper from his pocket. “See? I got it all writ down here.” He unfolded the paper and showed it to Clinton.

“What’s it say?”

Brandon snorted. “At least one of us can read and write. The note sez, I got a gun. Gimme your money.”

“But, I don’t got a gun!”

“They don’t need to know that. The note will make them think you got one, and that’s all that matters. Now you go on in there—I’m right behind you, and just hand the teller that piece of paper. That’s all you gotta do. You don’t need to say nothin’. She’ll start giving you all her money. Then we run out outa there and meet at the park. What could be easier?”

“Why do I haveta give her that note? Why don’t you?

“Cause I saved the hardest job for myself. See this bag I’m holdin’? I’ll be right behind you, passin’ this bag to her for her to put the money in. It takes teamwork to do a good job, so you gotta do your part, too. Remember, I planned it all out, and it’s gonna work this time!”

—–

The clock in the tower of the Fifth Avenue Bank struck one o’clock. Most of the lunch hour customers had already returned to work, leaving the bank nearly empty. Brandon and Clinton stood, silent for the moment, in front of the teller. The teller, in return, remained politely patient, anticipating a request.

Clinton wished that he could be in the park feeding the pigeons rather than standing here in front of the teller, but he didn’t dare get Brandon angry, so he forced himself to slowly hand over the note to the teller. At first, the teller’s face turned ashen, as if she might faint, but color quickly returned and she gained complete composure. She paused for a longest moment, giving the appearance of having to study the note. What was taking her so long? Brandon pushed Clinton a little closer to the teller’s cage. Then her facial expression turned puzzling, as if she had found something wrong with the note—something that she didn’t understand … then abruptly shoved the note back to Clinton.

“I can’t give you any money!”

“Why not?” Brandon countered from behind Clinton.

“You misspelled ‘give me’”

“Did not!”

You wrote ‘g-i-m-m-e.’ That’s not a word! What does ‘gimme’ mean?”

Clinton cast a timid glance back at his partner. “See, I told you your plan was—“

“Shut up!” Brandon turned back to the teller. “That note means we wants your money, lady!” He shoved the note, including the bag he was holding back towards the teller. The teller lurched back as if repulsed by the dirty bag. “That thing is filthy!” She animated.

“That bag’s the best we got, lady. Now, you gonna give us the money, or do we gotta use our gun?”

“But—“

“Shuddap!”

The teller paused again. Brandon could hardly stand it any more. “What you waitin’ for, lady?”

The teller ignored Brandon. She needed time, so she tried to give Brandon the impression that she had to steel herself to be able to touch the dirty money bag, let alone put money in it.

Clinton started to whimper quietly.

“Stop it!”

Brandon glanced around nervously. “You’re takin’ an awfully long time, lady. We ain’t got all day, you know. Now, give us the money!”

“Do you want the money in five dollar bills, or in tens—“

“Never mind! Just give us whatever you got in that drawer!”

“Maybe I should just call the manager and let him decide—“

“Well, well, well! Brandon and Clinton! You two still haven’t learned your lesson, have you?” Brandon felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. The voice sounded familiar. Yep, it was Constable Nelson, alright!

“Now, why don’t you two boys stop bothering this nice teller and come along with me.” The Constable’s voice was relaxed and casual-like, as if he were talking to an acquaintance at a dinner party.

Barton felt insulted and humiliated. Sure, maybe they got caught again, but why couldn’t the Constable at least have drawn his gun and yell at them—commands, like, “Stick ‘em up! Drop your gun!” like cops are supposed to do when they arrest someone? At least, that’s what they do on TV. Barton sighed. One of these days he was going to get it right!

Clinton started sobbing. “I told you your plan was no good! We shoulda at least worn masks! Now, when the cops bring us in front of the judge, he’s gonna laugh at us again, like he did last time!”

—–

The Hole-diggers

This light-hearted short-short piece of fiction is an attempt by me to deliberately not give names to characters, nor any “he said, she said,” and with a minimum of descriptive action on the part of each character. Yet the reader should be able to identify the three characters in this story as they individually speak and act out their part. Writing this story was an exercise in demonstrating that in short, tight-fisted writing, “he said, she said,” plus a lot of descriptive action, can be redundant.

Dysfunctional Labor

“Yes, ma’am, we two is the best hole diggers in town.”

“Good!” The spinster snapped back. “Then you will be able to dig a proper hole for me for my clothesline post.  I want it over there, see?” she pointed a skinny, arthritic finger in the direction where a fluorescent red ribbon was stapled to a survey stake near the edge of her fence. “It has to be exactly centered on that marker, and it has to be exactly three feet deep! Do I make myself clear?”

“That’ll be ten bucks, ma’am.”

“You’ll get paid when the job is done!” She stepped back into the house and firmly closed the door behind her.

Sheesh! Give that ol’ gal a black hat an’ she could pass fer the Wicked Witch of the North.”

“Even her nose is big.”

“She don’t got no warts on her nose, though.”

“Hee, hee! But she can bark jus’ like that skinny lady at the welfare office. ‘Specully when we ask her fer some extra cash!”

Armed with their rusty post hole digger, the two shuffled away towards the survey stake and took positions, one standing on each side of it.

“Sniff.”

“Yech! You dirty tramp. Will ya stop wipin’ your nose on your shirt sleeve? It ain’t polite, you know. You’re forever doin’ that, an’ it’s ugly an’ unsanitary!”

“What we gonna do now? Just starin’ at that stake ain’t gonna help.”

“Cht-ptu!”

“Spittin’ on that stake ain’t gonna help, neither, you know. You cussin’ me fer wiping my nose on my sleeve. Hah! Well, spittin’ ain’t polite, neither. ”

Shaddap! I’m thinkin’. … O. k., pull that stake out an’ start diggin’.”

“Can’t. I hurt my back sleepin’ in that culvert last night, and I can’t bend. Besides, you spit on it, and I ain’t touchin’ that stake.”

“Oh, sheesh! Sometimes you can be as useless as a balloon with a hole in it!  … Here. Uh! O.k. … I pulled it out. Now, gimme that digger, since you’re crippled and I gotta do all the work.”

“O.k., I dugged about a foot. Can’t dig deeper.”

“Why you stoppin’?”

“Can’t you tell? I hit a stone, stupid.”

“Well, twist harder. Maybe it’s just a small stone an’ you can push it aside.”

“O.k. … Now you see what you made me do? I broke the digger!”

“Now what?”

“Whadya mean, now what? Can’t you see? It broke!”

“Well, fix it. If we don’t dig that hole, we don’t get paid.”

“Can’t fix something that’s broke this bad. Think I’m a magician? Can’t even pry out the broken piece. It’s too deep in the ground.”

“Told you we should have picked up that ol’ lawn mower from the dump an’ gone cuttin’ lawns instead. Probably make more money, too”

“Told you, shmold-you! Sheesh! Don’t preach to me, tellin’ me what we shoulda done! That junky ol’ lawn mower at the dump probably wasn’t workin’ anyway. That’s why they threw it in the dump in the first place.”

“What wasn’t workin’?”

“The lawn mower, stupid! What’s with your brain today, anyway?”

“Oh …yeah. … Probably wasn’t workin’. Probably no gas in it, neither.  So what we gonna do now? We can’t finish diggin’ this hole with a broken digger – unless you can fix it.”

“I said, I ain’t no magician, ya hear? We might’s well go back to the dump an’ see what else we can find.”

“Might’s well. No use standin’ here in the sun. My back ain’t hurtin’ much anymore, but my feet are startin’ to hurt. Think she’ll pay us for just half a hole?”

“Doubt it. Let’s go.”

“Walk slower. I said, my feet are hurtin’.”

Arguing …

“The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” — George Bernard Shaw

I love to argue! Some of my colleagues refer to this, my passion, as a barbaric sport. If I must argue, then, instead of arguing, why not debate like civilized people do? Debating, they say, is more civilized and, since Man is the only creature that we’re aware of  that can reason, why not help him reach for higher stratums by reason of ‘civilized’ debate, rather than ‘barbaric’ arguing?Argument

Hogwash!

Troubled by the restrictions and shortcomings common in formal debating, many years ago two friends of mine and I organized our own “Arguing Club” in order to satisfy our penchant to exercise our minds.  But, instead of adopting the many rules found in a formal debate, we had only one rule that mattered: the person who got angry first, lost the argument! We did, however, add an addendum to this rule–an “Escape Clause” that we knew  at some time we’d need, should one or all three of us become disinterested in the subject being argued and wish to just drop it, and call it “a draw.” Also, unlike a formal debate where opposite teams are given time to research their point of view, our topic for argument was mutually decided upon at the moment, allowing for no time for either parties to do research. Ours was a spur of the moment thing, and we had a reason for doing so, which I’ll get to later.

So, before I go any farther into proving the superiority of arguing over formal debate, let me state that, to stubbornly argue about anything— little things– and insist that you’re right gains you nothing. Many friendships–indeed, many marriages have suffered simply because one or both members just refuse to give in, afraid that their ‘error’ might expose a weakness in them. To the contrary. Be assured, to admit error is not a sign of weakness. In fact, to stubbornly insist on being right against all odds can show you up as being ‘brilliantly’ clueless! Instead, if you find yourself cornered where you face superior reason, take advantage of the moment and listen: open your mind to learning something new from your ‘opponent’ that you didn’t know before. In the end, that little bit of humility will thank you for it: you’re now truly on the road to getting smarter!

So, back to my ‘argument’ that arguing is superior to formal debating. Spur of the moment arguing, like my friends and I had set up, can be compared to driving peacefully along a straight stretch of road when suddenly you hit an icy patch. You can’t stop Father Time so that you can dig out the driver’s manual from your glove compartment and quickly brush up on what to do in such a slippery emergency. All that you have at your disposal now is a very heightened awareness. You’re suddenly more awake–desperate– than you’ve been during your trip up to now. Good driving habits–instructions– long forgotten, stored deep within your psych, pop up front and center as you wrestle with the emergency.

The same mental awareness happens when you properly prepare yourself for an argument. Like a crack platoon of  battle-hardened troops, all your heightened senses now are front and center, ready to defend your views! Bits of information–maybe something from years back that you had glimpsed on a billboard, or heard a high school teacher say, crashes through your brain’s cobwebbed time barrier and rolls off your tongue as if it’s always been there, fresh and handy. You’re a sudden genius!

No, I don’t promise that, overnight, you’ll become a famous battle-hardened arguer, feared by all opposition. Oh, if it only were that simple!  First, it’s not that simple and, like all worthwhile skills, it can take a while before you become a real challenger in the argument arena, and like the skills of any Learned Grand Master of any trade or profession, it takes a lifetime to make your opponents fear and/or respect you. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

  • Arguing and formal debating can be compared to a speaker and a listener. As in all meetings that we attend, the one giving the talk can be compared to the arguer, because he has to be more aware than the listener. The listener, for all that it matters, can fall asleep. Awareness plays an important role in turning on all your senses. Because of this heightened awareness, the speaker will always end up knowing more about the topic than the listener, no matter how much the listener concentrates on the topic.
  • A true Arguer is a person who desires to learn more than the average person, and to learn it fast.
  • Although we “Three Musketeers” had one rule: he who got angry first lost the argument, not once do I remember any one of us getting angry during our many sessions. That rule was just sort of a decoration that we added to help keep our arguments fun and in line.
  • Did I mention that our argument sessions were designed to be fun? A lot of studies have shown that the brain learns better, and retains more of the information, when it is fun to learn.
  • Back to the topic of speaker and listener, have you noticed that a good speaker, one that the public flocks to, enjoys speaking and, over the years, that makes him ever more proficient in his speaking skill, and develops a broader span of knowledge? The key here is, have fun and it will all come to you!
  • Don’t be shy about taking the opposite or disliked view when a topic is presented. It’s usually easy to win the argument if you take the ‘popular’ side of the view and one that you’re familiar with, but just spewing out a bunch of known information does little in sharpening your quick-thinking skills, nor will it help broaden your knowledge-horizons. Taking the opposite view in discussions, especially unpopular ones, is a common practice among lawyers when learning their trade. That’s why the good ones seldom loose a case! Besides, it’s taking the opposite view that brings out your platoon of crack self-awareness troops.
  • Be selective in choosing whom you wish to engage in an argument. There are far more people out there who are more interested in picking a fight with you rather than engaging you in mental competition! Not heeding this advice can even put you in physical harms’ way. If your opponent shows any sign of anger, quit the discussion! Believe me, an angry or frustrated person cannot be swayed to accept even the most simple truth. That is why politicians rarely go out and meet with a demonstrating crowd. An angry crowd is a closed-minded crowd!