Just Say No

With a word, a St. Paul teller becomes my folk hero

Years ago I used to say, "If I ever rob a bank, the note I'll pass along to the teller will read, 'I dare you to refuse.'"

In those days I was disheartened at how easy bank robbing had become. Guns were being replaced by handwritten notes. Lard-ass bandits, unwilling to leave the seats of their cars, were demanding money from drive-up windows. I felt strongly that to honor the memory of the great thugs of yore, area riff-raff should offer something a tad more menacing.

I longed to push the envelope myself and test a teller's mettle, perhaps find a burly bank employee with hairy fingers and say, "Give me all your money or this here note delivers a heinous paper cut."

My thinking was that eventually some weary, emasculated soul would shout, "That's it, I can't take it anymore. You get nothing till I see a cold-steel pistol."

Well, imagine my surprise when last week a teller did in fact say "no," but not to a crook with a wimpy note. The hoodlum had a genuine gangster revolver and wasn't afraid to brandish it.

Here I was, hoping some bank clerk would eventually question the legitimacy of this whole scribbled-note nonsense, and our local Miss Moxie actually questioned an outlaw's willingness to pull the trigger.

Ma'am, may I borrow some of your DNA?

The robbery last week at Cherokee State Bank in St. Paul was a real throwback caper. The feisty bandito not only had the true-blue American handgun at the ready but even donned the old-fashioned bandanna to hide his face. You almost expected running boards on his getaway car.

These are not supposed to be the ruffians a teller turns down. These are the hard-core pros who study Dillinger's playbook.

But our flummoxed Clyde Barrow wannabe turned tail and ran—no doubt thinking, all the way out the door, "Bet she's a handful at the poker table."

Turns out the gun was just for show. He was planning to bring a clever note, perhaps, but at the last minute must have chosen to look old-school.

I sure wish I knew when this country began the grand shift from guns to paper. In the 1930s a note would have gotten a thief a hearty belly laugh but little more. Somewhere along the line things changed. Banks must have decided everyone would be a whole lot safer if word got out that weapons weren't necessary anymore. I bet the robbers were delighted to hear that news. Whatever joy the old-time gangsters felt learning that St. Paul cops would leave them alone as long as they robbed outside the city, the modern thieves must have been equally thrilled hearing banks would now gleefully reward them if the hoodlums just put it all in writing.

Now their guns could be left at home, or better yet, sold off to Republicans. Decent penmanship would be all that was required from here on out. The painfully shy and hopelessly effete could rob banks just like the tough guys.

I imagine some tellers had a hard time sleeping at night. Some evenings they had to go to bed saying to themselves, "A note. All the loser had was a lousy note. I haven't used a note since Mom stopped writing them for me in grade school."

As use of paper and pen spread, great nicknames like "Machine Gun Kelly" began to fade. New monikers were taking their place: "Cursive Cody" and "Sharpie Sherm." Soon drive-up window robberies were common, and eventually thugs tired of even having to spell correctly. The ultimate result of this impotent pillaging came as bandits seemed no longer recognizable as thieves. Last week was a prime example.

The Palm Beach Post reported on yet another robbery by a man cops have dubbed the "Withdrawal Bandit." According to the newspaper, "This bandit doesn't come in guns blazing. Instead he grabs a blank withdrawal slip and steps up to a window. Then he informs the teller he's 'making a withdrawal.' This baffles bank employees, who often wait for an ID or a filled-out slip." At the National City bank in West Palm Beach the robber had to clarify: "This is somewhat like a robbery."

Somewhat like a robbery, indeed. Where was a Southern Miss Moxie to tell this slacker, "Not until you brandish an actual writing utensil and threaten me with ink"?

Mark my words, they'll soon be ordering their loot by phone from the family room. 

 
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