The Bank Robbery, by Steve Schutzman
The bank robber told his story in little notes to the bank teller. He held the pistol in one hand and gave her the notes with the other. The first note said:
This is a bank holdup because money is just like time and I need more to keep on going, so keep your hands where I can see them and don’t go pressing any alarm buttons or I’ll blow your head off.
The teller, a young woman of about twenty-five, felt the lights which lined her streets go on for the first time in years. She kept her hands where he could see them and didn’t press any alarm buttons.
Ah danger, she said to herself, you are just like love.
After she read the note, she gave it back to the gunman and said:“This note is far too abstract. I really can’t respond to it.”
The robber, a young man of about twenty-five, felt the electricity of his thoughts in his hand as he wrote the next note.
Ah money, he said to himself, you are just like love.
His next note said:
This is a bank hold up because there is only one clear rule around here and that is WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF MONEY YOU SUFFER, so keep your hands where I can see them and don’t go pressing any alarm buttons or I’ll blow your head off.
The young woman took the note, touching lightly the gunless hand that had written it. The touch of the gunman’s hand went immediately to her memory, growing its own life there. It became a constant light toward which she could move when she was lost. She felt that she could see everything clearly as if an unknown veil have just been lifted.
“I think I understand better now,” she said to the thief, looking first in his eyes and then at the gun. “But all this money will not get you what you really want.”
She looked at him deeply, hoping that she was becoming rich before his eyes.
Ah danger, she said to herself, you are the gold that wants to spend my life.
The robber was becoming sleepy. In the gun was the weight of his dreams about this moment when it was yet to come. The gun was like the heavy eyelids of someone who wants to sleep but is not allowed.
Ah money, he said to himself, I find little bits of you leading to more of you in greater little bits. You are promising endless amounts of yourself but others are coming. They are threatening our treasure together. I cannot pick you up fast enough as you lead into the great, huge quiet that you are. Oh money, please save me, for you are desire, pure desire, that wants only itself.
The gunman could feel his intervals, the spaces in himself, piling up so he could not be sure of what he would do next. He began to write. His next note said:
Now is the film of my life, the film of my insomnia; an eerie bus ride, a trance in the night, from which I want to step down, whose light keeps me from sleeping. In the streets I will chase the windblown letter of love that will save my life. Give me the money, My Sister, so that I can run my hands through its hair. This is the unfired gun of time, so keep your hands where I can see them and don’t go pressing any alarm buttons or I’ll blow your head off with it.
Reading, the young woman felt her inner hands grabbing and holding onto this moment of her life.
Ah danger, she said to herself, you are yourself with perfect clarity. Under your lens I know what I want.
The young man and woman stared into each other’s eyes forming two paths between them. On one path his life, like little people, walked into her, and on the other hers walked into him.
“This money is love,” she said to him. “I’ll do what you want.”
She began to put money into the huge satchel he had provided.
As she emptied it of money, the bank filled with sleep. Everyone else in the bank slept the untroubled sleep of trees that would never be money. Finally she placed all the money into the bag.
The bank robber and the bank teller left together like hostages of each other. Though it was no longer necessary, he kept the gun on her, for it was becoming like a child between them.
When I was an undergrad, I loved Tri-Quarterly magazine. I probably came across it while browsing through the stacks on the Periodicals floor, and saw in a glance that it was chock full of innovative writing. You have to understand that this was at the height of the Vonnegut craze. My brother and I read all of Vonnegut’s books. He gave me Breakfast of Champions for Christmas 1973, and we even bought the supposed Kilgore Trout novel, Venus on the Half-Shell when it came out in 1975. I suspect that for a lot of young men at the time, Vonnegut was the gateway drug to experimental fiction–Ishmael Reed, Donald Barthelme, and the just-formed Fiction Collective led by Ronald Sukenick, Jonathan Baumbach, and Steve Katz.
Still under the influence of its original editor, Charles Newman, Tri-Quarterly was always worth reading. Everybody who seemed to be pushing the envelope of fiction was in it. When it came time for me to write a senior thesis for English, I took as my subject the experimental American short story, and almost all my material came from Tri-Quarterly.
So when I decided to devote 2017 to covering neglected short stories, I tried to remember some of the writers I covered. Many of them have come up from the fringe to the mainstream, or at least to the mainstream as it’s reflected in academic coverage. Even what I had considered a pretty unknown experimental story, A. B. Paulsen’s “The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality: A Diagnostic Test in Two Parts” turns out to be included in the anthology Extreme Fictions and on some college course reading lists. But I remembered in particular a Tri-Quarterly issue devoted to short short stories that seemed to have something from just about everyone active on the American experimental fiction scene–Katz, Sukenick, Baumbach, Eugene Wildman, Russell Edson, Frederic Tuten, Max Apple, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ursule Molinaro. When I got hold of a copy, however, I was surprised at the stellar level of the participation: Borges, Cortazar, Robbe-Grillet, John Hawkes, W. S. Merwin, Robert Coover, Annie Dillard, Angela Carter, and someone I’d love to see more of in English, the German fabulist H. C. Artmann.
Now, as often proves the case when one revisits enthusiasms of youth after a few decades, not everything in this collection was quite as fresh as I recalled. An unfortunate number of stories were experimental only in the sense that punctuation or spacing was played with–otherwise, they could have appeared in The Transatlantic Review, The Little Review, or transition fifty years before. An equal number were now insufferably sexist.
But a few have held up well, including this daffy romance from Steve Schutzman, which won a Pushcart Prize. Schutzman has his own website, and turns out to have published his one collection of short fiction, The History of Sleep way back in 1976. I will have to track it down.