You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘gangsters are tougher than you’ tag.

115_box_348x490This is the lesson of Rififirings are nothing but trouble. A carefully planned and executed heist comes to naught because of a diamond ring given to a showgirl by a vainglorious safecracker (played by the director himself). That one symbolic gesture brings about the gang’s downfall.

When civil unions became law in Delaware, the wife of one of Matthew’s colleagues offered her planning services for our ceremony. I’m sure you’ll want to do this soon, she said. Matthew and I glanced at each other, taken aback that she was more excited about our theoretical unionization than we were. 

Matthew’s father once explained that, in marriage, there are three rings:  the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and then the suffer-ring.

When Matthew and I drive to visit his father in upstate New York, along Route 31 in Pennington, New Jersey, we pass a warehouse that sells ‘USA Tolerance Rings.’ Was this the new thing amongst the kids? I wondered. The middle ground between chastity rings for the Christians and the rainbow freedom rings for gays and lesbians? Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that tolerance rings are a manufacturing component used to join mating cylindrical parts.

I once gave Matthew a ring, which he flung away. I had bought it at the Colorado People’s Fair, from a tented vendors with stacked, felt-lined trays of jewelry. I bought him a simple silver band, though given the other stock—rings with dragons and pentagrams, intricate claddaghs, rings that looked like that had been blackened in a fire—I can’t be sure that it was actually silver. Or even metal. The ring turned out to be loose, since I could only estimate his ring size based on my own fingers. While he was pulling a plant out of his car, his hand flew back, and the ring went flying, with only a single tink! to indicate where it may have gone. Or so he claims.

Now that same-sex marriage has become the law in Delaware, Matthew and I play a variant of the gay/not gay game, in which we try to guess whether two people are together or not. An obvious giveaway, of course, is the presence of matching rings. If they, in turn, play the same game with us, I’d like to think that the answer is still obvious, despite the absence of any symbolic jewelry.

But, in the end, no one really cares about the ring in Rififi. The centerpiece of the film is, undoubtedly, the soundtrack- and dialogue-free sequence as the thieves perform their heist. They communicate with gesture and glance, having practiced and prepared. This silent partnership is the raison d’être of the film. It’s what people remember.

What I remember: Matthew and I, stretched out across our respective couches, reading.  I glance over at him and know what he’s saying: Get this damn cat off of me or I need a refill of tea. Why have a ring ruin all that?


ImageBig Deal on Wheeling Street

The scene:

July 1985. Morris Heights. The field at the end of the street is overgrown with beige scrub, with a small copse of trees at its center. The copse hides an abandoned mattress, an object of mystery and excitement to bored adolescents. Around it, bike paths have been carved out of the dry ground with teeth-chipping hills and gullies for intrepid bikers. Midsummer flattens everything, a heat that stretches across the neighborhood like mohair. The sun opens the mischief in our pores, and it’s too far to walk to Circle-K to shoplift candy.

The soundtrack:

Instead of Piero Umiliani: cicadas. Cars speeding up and down Baranmore Parkway. Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Paul Young and Whitney Houston on the radio. My father snoring on the couch as we wait to have dinner with my cousins.

The crew:

Me, as the semi-innocent Mario; my best friend Daddy from across the street as Peppe, the instigator; Floyd, the Native-American, the sad-sack Capannelle; Brent, whose glasses always seemed smeared, as can’t-catch-a-break Cosimo; and Rae, the chubby-faced moll, who lived two doors down from me.

The plan:

Three blocks away, I-225 connects the major interstates I-70 and I-25, cutting through our neighborhood like a pocketknife. The highway is the terminus of our world: anything past Xanadu St. seems as distant as the moon, and the kids there, aliens. Although there’s an underpass right along 30th, the 31st St. gang decides on a shortcut: a kid-sized opening in the chain-link fence walling off the highway. There must be a similar gap on the other side.

The job:

The cars don’t seem to be going that fast, even though they’re barreling along at 65 miles an hour, minimum. We wait until we spy a gap in traffic, then, one at a time, hop over the guardrail and run across the pavement to the grassy median. That’s just northbound; we still have southbound to contend with, though it’s pretty much the same. Floyd, with his short, spindly legs, can’t sprint as fast, and the rest of us watch as cars slow and swerve to avoid him. We also discover that there’s no gap on the other side of the highway.

The fallout:

After lying low for a bit and consulting, we decide to haul ass back across the highway, but not before we see police lights coming down to road. Most of the gang scampers across and down the hill, but Danny, who’s been ushering Floyd, gets nabbed. We know as soon as we see this that he’ll sell us down the river, and we scatter home to await the knock on our doors. But as it turns out, Dad has woken from his nap, and it’s time for dinner. As we drive up Baranmore Parkway, away from the crime scene, I see a cop car coming from the opposite direction, and as we pass, there’s Danny’s red hair in the back. For one of us, at least, a successful getaway.

Bob Hoskins walks into the Ritz wearing a Naugahyde jacket the color and texture of an orange fruit roll-up, and beneath that, a Hawaiian shirt which even retired Floridians would decry as too loud. Later, he shows off a gold medallion. At the bar, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Bloody Mary, he thinks nothing of his clothes: they’re new, after all. He’s comfortable in them, proud of them, until the call girl he’s been driving around she sees him and sums up her feelings in a word: Christ.

The camera shows the dining room: white arches, chairs with red velvet cushions, and crystal chandeliers. Rose marble columns, potted palms, Oriental rugs. Everything is gilded—the statues in the recesses, the harp on which the harpist plays—and when the light reflects on your skin, you yourself become golden.

Matthew and I were there on Christmas Day. My cousin, who lived in London at the time, made the reservations, her treat. Tea at the Ritz!: the only hotel to have its name adjectivized. On the long escalator rides in the Tube, adverts framed on the walls spoke of the tradition of spending the holidays at the Ritz, only £50 a person.

But once we arrived, I felt under-dressed. Some men wore tailored tuxedoes. I wore a suit I had owned since college, when it fit a slightly skinner version of myself. It pinched, and the material seemed scratchy. When I reached for my teacup, too much of my cuff showed. Even the waiters’ uniforms seemed custom-fit. For the next hour and a half—before we had to make way for the next seating—I tried to convince myself that I belonged there.

But my clothes gave me away, I thought. The call girl who paid for Bob Hoskins clothes tells him: Being cheap is one thing. Looking cheap is another. That really takes talent.

Afterwards, sated with cucumber sandwiches and lapsang souchang, as we gathered our coats, an older woman emerged from the downstairs casino. She was tall and elegant, Parisian, I imagined.  But:  she wore the most astonishing hat. It teetered upon her head, a swirl of purple, as if Gaudi had built a beehive out of felt. I couldn’t help but gawp as she passed by. I turned to Matthew in order to confirm that what I had seen was real, but instead, I caught the eye of an older British woman. With a wry smile, she said, “I see you looking,” in a tone of voice that humored as much as it chastened.

Chances are that hat cost more than my suit. But she seemed so at ease in it that it didn’t matter that I found it slightly ridiculous, much in the same way that I found myself slightly ridiculous. She wanted to call attention to herself, so if she was there, then Bob Hoskins could be there, and so could I. I put on my overcoat (second-hand, bought at a Washington D.C. garage sale) and headed out into the London winter.


In 1922, a gang of robbers hijacked a Federal Reserve Bank truck outside the Denver Mint, making off with $200,000 in five-dollar bills.  One security guard was killed.  One of the robbers, Nicholas “Chaw Jimmie” Trainor, deflected a shotgun round with his jaw and later died.  But none of the other six robbers was fingered for the robbery, though it’s believed that they were all eventually imprisoned for other crimes (like James “Oklahoma Jack” Clark) or killed in other circumstances.

Catchy as those nicknames are, however, no criminals come close to “Repulsive Rogan” or “Filthy McNasty,” the robbers in The Bank Dick.

The Denver Mint was a near-yearly elementary school pilgrimage, all the students trundling downtown with a brown-bag lunch in hand to learn about how pennies are pressed.  Not me, though.  My mother worked downtown, and I had lunch with her.  When someone asked where she worked, all I knew was that it was at a bank.  Later, I learned it was the Federal Reserve Bank, which sounded more important.

But what she did specifically, I still don’t know.  She was a clerk, verifying checks, I think; her exact job description was unclear.  All I knew was that she supplied my brief philatelist phase with stamps from around the world:  a green Jamaica with a worker in a sugar cane field; red triangular Indonesias; all manner of foreign rulers, smiling grimly.

After the tour, I met my mother for lunch.  The inside of the Federal Reserve seemed lacquered in gold, with severe 70s architectural flourishes that reminded me of dentist-office mobiles.  The cafeteria was on the second-floor and overlooked 16th Street before it had become a pedestrian mall.  Over the years, I watched the construction of the Tabor Center, the free shuttles puttering down the road, the opening of endless souvenir shops and the Rock Bottom Brewery across the street.  My mother’s co-workers commented how much I had grown since my last visit:  Tita, a Filipina and my mother’s best friend there.  Peter, who self-published poetry.

Security was loose those days.  I signed in and clipped a visitor’s badge to my chest.  My father could pull into the parking lot by announcing that he had come to pick up his wife, and as we drove out, my mother waved to the unseen guard behind the blackened window on Arapahoe Street — Egbert Sousè himself, perhaps.  At one Christmas party, the managers handed out baggies of shredded currency.

Over time, the Federal Reserve’s defenses grew more elaborate, more necessary.  Concrete barriers.  High walls topped with sharpened bars.  This was long before the Oklahoma City bombing.

But, by then, I had also outgrown spending afternoons with my mother.

The world honors the daring, the thieves.  No one remembers the functionaries, the Og Oggiblys who keep the world in working order.  Tita retired a few years before my mother.  Peter gave my mother a copy of his book for a retirement gift.  The stamps that my mother had ripped off envelopes so that I could steam away their backings and press dry between paper towels — those have been collected, mounted, forgotten.

Peter Bogdanovich introduces The Third Man by mentioning how Carol Reed’s black-and-white photography makes post-war Vienna look preternaturally wet. The light catches the edge of each cobblestone, treachery multiplies along the length of the street, every step a wrong step.

The climactic chase through the Vienna sewers, as well, makes it look as if Vienna had been hit by a monsoon. The water falls in great cascades and winds its way through pipes, channels, passageways. If the city above ground is a ruin, then then the city underground is a maze, an elegant trap from which there is no escape.

But it’s still a sewer. Outside the Vienna Opera House, gilt and filigreed like a carousel, agencies offer tour groups for any number of tastes: the Mozart Tour, the food tour, the World War II tour. The Third Man tour features sites from the movie, with a special excursion into the old sewer system. This is no different, I suppose, than the Philadelphia ghost tours which highlight the cemetery where a scene from The Sixth Sense was filmed. But I don’t recall, however, spirits rising from the toilet to torment Haley Joel Osment.

The Third Man makes the sewers seem almost sanitary. Only one character mentions the smell, but even then, the high arched tunnels make the sewer look like a submerged cathedral. Policemen rappel down and into waterfalls of effluent. People splash in the rivers of liquid. It’s a sewer removed of its scheisse.

Modern-day Vienna still has an underground, of course. In particular: the bathroom near the Opernring announces itself with a jolly yellow sign: Opera Toilet. Mit Musik! Musical notes dance around the words, as if they’d been flushed down from the opera house above. Does the music come piped in for free? Or is there a jukebox inside the loo, vending concertos the way other restrooms sell condoms?

The other bathroom is the only bathroom worth a mention in Rick Steve’s guidebook. It’s down a flight of stairs along the Der Graben, Vienna’s main commercial drag (with translates roughly to “the trench.”) This trench is lined with high-end stores:  Chanel, Hermès, Tiffany’s. People double-fist their shopping bags, store names fanning out like birds during mating season.

This restroom is famous for being designed by Adolf Loos. I wonder if he took it as a challenge: let’s see if I can make something beautiful out of this. And, for the most part, he succeeds: the urinals dividers are sheets of marble; the stall doors are dark, slats of wood with a large milk glass pane, and above each stall, a transom.

But when I went down into the bathroom, there was no mistaking the ultimate function. At one of the far urinals, a man relieved himself. The smell of urine seemed trapped there, underground. Accidental puddles dotted the elaborately-tiled floor. When I took a picture (his, the bathroom’s), he didn’t notice the flash catching the room in light, the way his profile came, momentarily, out of the shadows. Or else, he resolutely ignored it. Austria is, after all, one of history’s great denialists: they convinced the world that Mozart was Austrian and that Hitler was German.

If Tokyo in reality were anything like the ways it’s portrayed in Seijun Suzuki’s films, here’s what I’d expect:  1) yakuza gun battles on every street corner; 2) betraying, murderous and ultimately doomed nymphomaniacs; 3) non-stop go-go dancing teenagers; and 4) nightclub singers who only know one song.

But if that’s the image we get of Japan from watching films alone, then I dread to imagine what Japan thinks of the US based on our films.  Though, really, there’s no need to imagine:  in Toyko Drifter, Suzuki sets a rollicking set piece in a bar (“The Western”) frequented by American servicemen.  And — true to form for a Western — there’s a mad brawl:  broken bottles, abuse of innocent wooden furniture, inebriated sailors lining up to get conked on the head by gleeful bar girls.  Is this how the Japanese see Americans — militaristic, drunken, boorish?

This reflexiveness is inescapable when you’re in a foreign country:  how do people see me?  How do I see them?  How do I see myself? When I went to Vietnam in 1998, I had a run-in at a Saigon gay bar.  After a round of vigorous dancing, my friends and I retreated to the second level.  Below us, the gay Vietnamese gathered around the white Westerners, who were outnumbered ten to one.  It reminded me of the children who came up to tourist buses, divvying up passengers, clinging to their target, selling soft drinks or knick-knacks or, if need be, begging and crying.  Foreigners are encouraged to tell them đi, đi (“go, go”), but they are not easily shaken off.  They have to be tenacious—it’s their livelihood.

Two Frenchmen stood somewhat apart from the dance floor.  They mouthed to each other:  “Lui?”  “Non.”  “Lui?”  “Non.”  They pointed out boys, casually deciding which one to take home, as if window-shopping.

As I watched, an older man in white seersucker put his arm around my shoulder.

“I very much like your dancing,” he said.  His accent sounded Dutch.

“I try my best.”

He seemed surprised.  “You speak English very well.”

“Thank you,” I said, but I sensed grudging anger from the other Vietnamese in their looks.  The Vietnamese have word for it:  liếc.  It’s dismissive and disdaining at the same time.

When my friends and I left Sam Son, we had planned to go to another bar in Lam Son Square.  As we passed the fountain of algae-green water, the round, modern sculpture of a mother and child, a motorcycle rumbled behind us.  I thought nothing of it, but then, someone screamed, “Stay away from my boyfriend!” and I turned in time to see a guy swinging his belt.  The buckle clipped my collarbone.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, but my friends closed ranks around me and hustled me away.

“Tell him to watch out,” my assaulter said, in Vietnamese.  He pointed at me.  His mouth twisted, as if his words were getting tangled.  “Make sure he knows,” he said, driving off.

I had a small bruise for the next few days.  I can only imagine how large the bruise would have been if he had used a real Versace belt.

In an interview with Seijun Suzuki about Branded to Kill, the director explains that the No. 3 Killer’s penchant for sniffing rice was merely a statement of his Japanese identity.  No subtext, no deeper meaning.  It would be odd, Suzuki says, to have him salivate over a T-bone steak.  But rice — that’s something every red-blooded Japanese man can get behind.

True enough, but having a rice fetish doesn’t necessarily indicate ‘Japanese.’  It could just as easily signify ‘Chinese’ or ‘Korean’ or ‘Vietnamese.’  Pick any Asian country, you’ll find rice.  If the sizzling heart of the American family is the barbeque grill, then the rice cooker is the steaming heart of the Asian family.

I didn’t learn many cooking skills from my parents.  Tips on defrosting and microwaving, mostly.  Acceptable additives to instant ramen noodles.  Most nights, my mother handled the meal preparation, so I never worried about having a hot meal.  (As to what I was eating, however, this remained a point of contention in my upbringing.)  My father taught me how to prepare a simple concoction of sautéed onions and hot dogs, with a sauce made from ketchup and a few shakes of Tabasco.  But this was for those rare times when I was left on my own – as uncommon as it was.

But making rice — this was something I mastered early, before I was tall enough to use the stove.  My parents bought rice in 50-pound increments, which we kept in the basement.  The bag sat on the floor like an abandoned throw pillow.  Once, I saw a kung-fu movie in which the hero strengthened his arm by thrusting into a bag of rice.  He practiced every day until he could thrust all the way down to his shoulder, and at the end of the movie, during the climactic fistfight, he punched straight through his opponent, his knuckles dripping with viscera on the other side.  I never achieved that level of strength, but I did manage to coat my hand with jasmine-scented dust.

I measured out rice with a dented tin cup — three scoops for the family — and I rinsed and drained it, using my hand as a sieve.  I picked out pebbles, the grains that hadn’t escaped their husks.  And, when I was ready, my sister taught me the secret to perfect rice:  the proper amount of water — one knuckle from the top of the rice.  Forget cup measurements and the markings on the side of the pot — an index finger was all you needed.

When the scent of rice drifted throughout the house, it was an olfactory announcement of dinner.  My father woke up from his nap; I turned off the television.  When I uncovered the rice, it sighed a plume of steam, and I stirred it with a bamboo paddle to prevent clumps.  And there in the kitchen, we ate dinner:  my father at the head of the table, my mother next to him, then my sister, and me at the far end, finishing every last grain.

Most gangster movies suggest a moral imperative:  no one who receives ill-gotten gains will prosper.  Witness Bob Hoskins’ decline in The Long Good Friday:  despite his high-rolling lifestyle (yacht! champagne! a young Helen Mirren!), his and his compatriots’ lives seem to be shorter, more nasty and more brutish than most.  But few people watch gangster films for moral instruction (at least, I hope not).  They go to see a pre-Remington Steele Pierce Brosnan.  Wet!  In a Speedo!

My own gang knowledge remains thankfully non-existent.  During the mid-90s, I heard about Vietnamese gangs terrorizing Little Saigons around the nation, but I never suspected Denver had a problem.  Asian gangs were, after all, a California phenomenon.  I remember my parents talking about a brazen robbery during a Catholic Mass:  the gang members made everyone lie on the floor and went through the congregation’s pockets, one by one.  No one was killed, but Vietnamese communities coast-to-coast were on high alert:  these could be your neighbor’s gelled and spiky-headed sons! Not your own, of course.  Never yours.

Before I went to high school, my family faithfully attended Tết (New Year) and Tết Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn) festivals sponsored by the local Buddhist temple.  After dutifully bowing to my parents’ friends and acquaintances — arms crossed, back sore from the repetitive stress injury, I got to mill about with the other bored kids.  The smell of spent firecrackers hung in a colloidal suspension with oil spritzing off the egg roll frying vats.  You could hear dice rattling and cheers of excitement and disappointment as people played bầu cua cá cọp.

There were always handful of white people at these events — befuddled but patient spouses, hip-before-their-time Buddhists — and one tall guy who always stood out.  He wore a polo shirt tucked into his acid-washed jeans with no belt.  Armed with a few halting words of Vietnamese, he circulated, courteous but watchful, like a guard dog looking for scraps.  My sister, who, at the time, went to the University of Colorado–Denver, a hotbed of Vietnamese pow-wows, told me, That’s JamesHe’s a cop.  The liaison for the Vietnamese community — gang patrol.

James was personable, good-looking.  A trustworthy face, as my mother might say.  He would have had a hell of a time going undercover, but engaging the community was the next best thing.  He tempered his easygoing camaraderie with a firm handshake and steely voice, as if suggesting, You know what I am, I know what you are, let’s all play nice.  I always wondered if he was packing.  But it seemed excessive:  Colorado was not California.  No one had inducted me into a gang.

But chalk this up to my lack of gang-desirable qualities.  As I’ve since learned, the Viet Pride Gangsters (VPG, not to be confused with their nemeses, Asian Pride) have operated in Denver since the 90s.  In 2003, they took a major hit when the police arrested 23 gang members (including one white boy).  Ironic:  they call themselves “Viet Pride” but victimize primarily other Vietnamese.  I suppose nothing says pride like burglarizing neighbors, friends, family.  But not your own, of course.  Never yours.

Suffering a cold today.  You know you’re miserable when you don’t want to eat fresh-baked brownies because you know you won’t be able to taste the chocolate goodness through the congestion.  That, my friends, is the epitome of sadness.

A hospital full of nurses and cripple patients getting gunned down?  That, my friends, is entertainment.

John Woo hasn’t gotten much love for his American-era films, and, to be honest, I’ve only seen Face/Off, which, I understand, is one of his better ones.  (It also introduced me to Alessandro Nivola, so I’m grateful for that, at least.)  But perhaps it’s better merely because it directly imported Woo’s best Hong Kong moves:  slow-motion dove (The Killer)?  Check.  Gunfight with a young child in someone’s arms (Hard Boiled)?  Check.  Now if they had only brought over Tony Leung, it would have been a magical trifecta.

It’s tempting to blame the big-budget American film industry as a huge, homogenizing hopper.  Imagine it as a pot of boiling water. John Woo’s Hong Kong films are like raw eggs, gooey and messy and full of variations on the same string of proteins, but once he was plunged into the American pot, his films started coming out the same.  Perfectly formed, yet unfortunately bland.  Like hard-boiled eggs.  Most are completely edible, but a few have that weird green ring around the yolk that leave a sulfurous aftertaste in your mouth.

In any case, in the ultimate Hong Kong cool-off between Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung, I’d have to give it to Tony.  He’s such an expressive actor, and he brings a sensitivity to his role.  Does he kill people with tears in his eyes.  Why, yes, indeed he does.  Chow Yun-Fat, to me, is a more physical actor — his body barrels into scenes, triggers twitching away.  He must have the most perfectly formed index fingers ever.  But no one can smoke a cigarette like Tony Leung can.  Not since Marlene Dietrich has nicotine addiction been so sensual.

Me, I’ve never smoked a cigarette a day in my life, though before the current bans for smokeless bars and clubs, I most certainly inhaled my share of second-hand smoke.  Much of it is a pose, after all — at my favorite late-night coffeeshop in Denver, Paris on the Platte, cigarettes seemed permanently glued into the fingers of the dark and dispossessed.  Oh!  The lingering cruelties of life.  All I wanted was a pitcher of Earl Grey cambric and a tuna melt (or possibly a French dip) but never had the appropriate world-weary pose (despite the outfits of revolving Skinny Puppy t-shirts).  Too straight-edge and goody-two-shoes.  I longed to be yet did not have the lungs to be one of the deep, wounded souls around me, who stared into the curls of smoke like they had once killed a man and were now planning their escapes to Antarctica.

If my life were a John Woo movie, I most certainly wouldn’t be the Chow Yun-Fat character.  I don’t have the necessary grace to kick a poker table so that a gun flies effortlessly into my hand.  Nor do I have the wherewithal to slide myself back in a chair in order to shoot at a shadow creeping down the hall.  I’d probably drop the wounded little girl I was trying to carry into the Scared Heart (sic) Hospital.  Yun-Fat and I share at most the same cool, calm demeanor, the seemingly unruffled surface, even as the light of a thousand prayer candles flicker around us and white doves coo in the rafters.

No, I’d much more likely be the Danny Lee character:  good-meaning, but always one step behind and one poorly-timed gundraw away from failure. I’ll surround myself with composite sketches of Chow and draw wild conclusions based on his eyes:  he seems like a good guy.  One day he’ll be all mine.  I mean, Jenny might be cute as a bunny — and as equally useless — but she’s really only a gloss, a beard.

When we meet, we’ll be at arm’s length from each other, exchanging smoldering looks. Sure, we’ve got guns pointed at each other’s faces, but we know that guns are merely metaphors.  Look at how deftly Chow plants a kitchen blade deftly between a marauding gangster’s shoulder blades; it’s like he’s opening a letter.

Later, when I touch his bare skin, I feel a spark.  Sure, I’ve just poured gunpowder into a bullet wound and lit it with my cigarette but, cauterization or no, this is our moment.  Why worry about the fact that I may have accidentally put the bullet there?  What’s a mistake between friends?  What I’m looking for, in my John Woo life, is a place for male intimacy that’s neither necessarily erotic.  You could call it “bromance,” if you must, but how can two nominally-heterosexual men transcend friendship without sex?

I’ll tell you how:  with guns.  With violence.  All the filmic tropes of romance — slow motion, soft lighting, classical music — are present when we pull out our guns.  Inside the church, we move in synchronicity and as our eyes search the room for bad guys to waste, we always find each other. Jenny?  Oh, she’s cowering in a corner somewhere.  I’m sure she’s fine even as bullets fly about the room like hollow-point hornets.  And once we pull out the machine guns–!  Don’t get me started.  It’s better than an orgasm — we’re covered in blood (our own and others’) and sweat (mostly ours) and we’re tired and panting and our hands are sore from clutching gun handles.  And when we burst out of the church doors, ablaze with muzzle flashes, we’re now beyond friends, beyond perhaps even lovers.  We’re a symphony, a ballet, one element irreducible from the next.