I did some idiotic, not-quite legal things when I was younger–things I’m not sure I want bobbing about on the Internet forevermore. So I’m going to deflect by telling you about bank robberies I’ve been involved in. As a spectator, not as a robber.
The first robbery was during the Montreal Olympics when I was ten. My grandfather was visiting from California and he took me, my 22-month-old brother Michael, and my cousin Scott to the bank. This was mid-day, mid-town, mid-summer. Scott and I were leaning on a check-writing table, Michael was wandering around, Grandpa was next in line at a teller window.
In a flash, four or five men stormed the place. One moment they weren’t there, the next, they were deep inside the bank. All wore dark clothes. All had nylons over their faces. All had guns that I can only describe as big machine guns. Two or three jumped the counters and aimed their guns at the tellers, screaming their demands for money. Another two charged the customers, waving their guns and shouting at us to get down on the floor.
My cousin and I froze. All around us, people were lying face down and sobbing but neither of us could move. Someone later told us that one of the gunmen came at me and Scott, screamed at us to get down. But I have no memory of this. What I do remember is that someone under the table pulled my feet out from under me and I fell to the tile floor. They did the same to Scott.
I lay there certain the robbers would do one of two things: lock us all in the vault and kill us, or take us all hostage in their van. Either way, we were all dead. And it was the day my dad–who had separated from my mother and moved to Toronto–was coming back to visit. All I knew was I’d never see him again. I hid my face in the curtains so the robbers would see I wasn’t staring. So they wouldn’t kill me just yet.
Then I heard a small voice say, “Boogie man.” It was Michael. I peeked up to see him wandering around the bank, way on the other side, pointing at the gunmen in wonder. He was wearing footsie pajamas. A few people lying on the floor tried to get hold of him, pull him down, but he stayed just out of reach. I’d like to say I crawled over to him, risked my life, but I didn’t. I was a little girl with a gunman standing over her. As scared as I was for Michael–unbelievably vulnerable and innocent at that moment–I could see the robbers weren’t bothered by his accusations. I remember thinking they seemed slightly amused.
As quick as it came on, the whole thing was over. The bank flooded with police and reporters, my brother was in my grandfather’s arms, and Scott and I climbed out from under the table. The robbery turned out to be one of the biggest in Montreal’s history.
My next bank robbery wasn’t nearly as frightening. First of all, I was about 20 and had just moved to Toronto from LA, where I’d survived veritable herds of flashers, freak-boys and D-list actors. Second, I’d just had my purse stolen from my car in Hollywood–twice. And had to stand in countless lineups to replace all my i.d.–twice. Third, by this time I’d learned the value of having a cute story to pull out of my pocket while chatting with boys.
I was working for my dad’s company that summer and had gone to the bank on my lunch break to deposit my paycheck. This bank was tiny and I was one of maybe three customers. Standing at the teller, I set my wallet on the counter to my side and signed the back of my check. As I scribbled, a man approached the teller on my right. I looked up to see a black gun pointed at the teller. Just like in the movies, he passed her a paper bag and told her to fill it up. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the gun. It was way too real and way too close.
Then I noticed my wallet. Midway between the robber and me, just next to his gun. Filled with my spanking fresh, twice-replaced driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card. The gun ceased to exist. My only thought was, “If Asshole here takes my wallet, he’s going to have to fight me.” (I didn’t say I was bright at 20.) Very slowly, very carefully, I reached my hand out and began sliding my wallet toward me. Once it was close enough I placed my body between the wallet and the gun. Like a shield made of stupid.
Robber Man grabbed his sack, spun around and–also just like in the movies–dropped the cash all over the floor. He scooped up what he could, jumped in a waiting car and sped away.
My lunch hour was over. I headed back to work with rescued wallet and buoyed confidence. Oh, and a really cute story for the boys back at the office.