Woody Allen’s Gun and Other Phenomena of the Phenomenal World
Whenever something from a Woody Allen crime-caper comedy shows up in so-called real life, it makes me wonder about the very plausibility of planet Earth itself. So you can imagine the existential confusion I experienced yesterday when reading about this guy who once had escaped from prison brandishing a gun carved out of soap. At least in Take the Money and Run (1969), the gun foamed up and the prisoner was sent back to his cell. Out here in Kant’s “phenomenal world,” such tactics actually find traction.
The story showed up on Reuters yesterday because the guy with the gun made of soap, Ronald Tackman, was being sentenced for a more recent escape–also wildly implausible, also perfectly successful (at least in the short term)–by dressing as a lawyer. What kind of lawyer, you say, wears prison-issue canvas shoes? Not a lawyer like Tackman, who repurposed the shoes by cloaking them in black socks, and then walked out wearing a three-piece suit. As for where he got his suit–the article didn’t have the answer for that.
And there were other times when a gun of dubious authenticity and ingenious design served as his ticket out of prison. This other time, he constructed a so-called zip gun, double-barreled, with nothing but a couple of soda cans and some charcoal briquettes ground down to gunpowder. (MacGyver didn’t even sue for copyright-infringement.)
That was enough to put him back out on the street stealing, which is what had gotten him imprisoned in the first place. He committed stickup heists wearing fake noses and eyeglasses, and I don’t know if he went the full Groucho by wearing a mustache, too, just like Woody’s favorite Marx Brother. One time, when Tackman’s fake gun fell and lay broken on the sidewalk, he pulled out a cigarette lighter that was also made to look like a gun, which put him right back in business.
The judge yesterday ended up giving 28 years to this enterprising entepreneur. For a guy like Tackman–57 years years old and already suffering from cirrhosis, hepatitis, and diabetes–that amounts to a double life-sentence. He deserved at least that, because although we romanticize and laugh at exploits like his, a fake gun is a real gun if the person on the other end doesn’t know any better.
Paul Auster, in his recent novel Invisible (2009), lets his narrator express exasperated indignation at a character who killed a man mugging him with a fake gun. It was only a fake gun, was Auster’s thesis, but I couldn’t share in Auster’s indignation, because even out here in the phenomenal world, reality is what gets constructed out of illusion’s possiblities.
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