Bank Robber

by Thomas Beller


154 W 93rd St, NY, NY 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

The Joan of Arc Junior High school had just let out across the street and a crowd gathered right away. The man in the headlock, the captured man, was impossibly skinny, and wore faded jeans that were a bit too short, and sneakers. He had a beard and shaggy brown hair. He could have been a progressive librarian or mentally imbalanced junkie–it could have gone either way.

The one who had him in a headlock could have passed for a corporate executive. He wore a blue blazer, a bright striped tie and gray slacks, but his shoes were incongruous–they were cheap jogging sneakers, the kind that fasten with Velcro. For a moment the slate was perfectly empty, waiting to be filled with the truth, or at least information, whichever came first. Then the man in the blazer spat out a phrase that caused a great deal of commotion. “Bank robber!” he said.

The crowd pressed forward. In spite of being in a headlock, the skinny man took on a peculiar kind of glamour just then. However incompetent he might have been here was a person who had the audacity to try and rob a bank. He had a back pack on that seemed quite full. Was it full of money? With guns? With explosives?

The man in the blue blazer dragged his quarry into the lobby of a residential building just down the street. The doorman was not happy to see them. By now the two men’s cries competed. One said, “Bank robber! Bank robber!” The other said, “My Back! My back!”

The doorman said, “Jesus man, not in the lobby!”

The two men lay on the floor in an awkward embrace; the skinny man’s back-pack skidded away, bulging ominously. The man in the blazer said, “Call the police.” His voice was tight, gruff, efficient, and someone in the lobby got on the phone to report a bank robbery. The skinny man looked like he had been run over by a truck; his mouth gaped open. A small mob of Junior high school students hovered at the edge of the lobby, a riot of back-packs, bizarre hair styles, and lips stained red with cherry candy.

A policeman hurried across Amsterdam Avenue, his hand on his gun. He pushed back the mob of kids, and untangled the two men. Soon the lobby was filled with policemen. Some of the building’s residents gathered to watch the proceedings. Explanations were made by both men. The blue blazer was a security guard at the Republic National Bank of New York at 94th Street and Broadway, two blocks away. He didn’t mention a robbery, but he mentioned a door, and some broken glass. His English wasn’t good, and he struggled to maintain calm as he spoke, as though to be as scrupulous as possible with the facts.

It was decided that everyone would walk the two blocks to the bank to clear things up once and for all, but before they left the ranking officer present posed one last question to the skinny man.

“How long have you been banking at this branch?” he said. Everything seemed to hang in the balance on this one question. If he didn’t bank there, perhaps he was a robber. But if he did, well, who would rob their own bank?

The skinny man took several breaths before answering, “I’ve banked there for more than five years, since it was the American Reserve Bank.”

Everyone was silent for a moment. The evocation of a bank merger carried with it a peculiar authority. This man hadn’t even wanted to bank with The Republic National Bank of New York, they just happened to acquire the institution where he did his banking, and now he was being tackled on the street to the cheers of a huge mob. From the sidelines, someone called out, “Get a new bank!”


Originally in the New Yorker

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