Andrew on the case: Governor Andrew Cuomo looking for clues in the tunnel under the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York convicts David Sweat and Richard Matt used in their escape from the prison on June 6. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s office, via the Times-Union.
They headed north? David Sweat and Richard Matt. Those two cons who broke out of Dannemora at the beginning of The month and managed to elude capture for three weeks until first Matt, on Friday, then Sweat on Sunday, stumbled into the gun sites of surprised lawmen. Matt met better marksmen. He's dead. Sweat's in the hospital. They headed north?
The media and the authorities seem convinced they were headed for the Canadian border.
Up there, the Canadian border is in the middle of the St Lawrence River. They couldn't have been thinking they were going to just stroll across the bridge. So what were they planning to do? Swim?
Steal a boat?
These guys couldn't even steal a car, they were going to steal a boat?
My guess is they didn't know the river was in their way. My guess is they didn't even know they were heading north. They were just lost and wandering aimlessly. If they looked at a map before they made their escape, it was probably to see how far a drive it was south to Albany or New York City where they could get lost in the crowds or find a way to get even further south or go west. The border they wanted to cross was probably Mexico's.
If they looked at a map.
My other guess is that all their planning and forethought went into getting them to the end of the tunnel and into their waiting getaway car. When their ride didn't show, their escape was over.
Odds are everything they needed to get far away---money, a change of clothes, weapons, bus tickets if she wasn't dumb enough to have agreed to drive them herself all the way to wherever they planned to go---was in the car with her. When she chickened out, they were done for.
That's why I didn't follow the story with much attention or interest. I figured either they'd made it to Albany or New York before anyone at the prison noticed they were gone and the next we'd ever hear of them is when they got picked up for another crime or were turned in by someone who recognized them from TV---is America's Most Wanted on anymore?---and that could take months, even years, or a couple of days, depending on their luck and self-control, neither of which these two seem to have had much of before they landed in Dannemora. Or, what seemed more likely, they were lost in the woods and would wander in circles until the authorities tracked them down or, hungry, worn out, cold, and out of ideas and hope, they gave themselves up.
Looks like the latter might have been what was happening, I'm just surprised it took as long as it did.
That it took as long as it did and that they weren't so much captured as caught in a Bizzaro world version of an ambush, in which the pursued throw themselves into the arms of their surprised pursuers with the intention of getting caught or killed, doesn't reflect well on the cops, deputies, and State troopers chasing them.
I'm sure they tried their best. There's a lot of forest to get lost in up there, a lot of trees to hide behind.
But there doesn't seem to have been much drama or adventure in the chase. Nobody came out a hero. No brilliant detective work solved the case. Mostly it went the way most police investigations go, with a lot of time wasted chasing down false leads and following up on what turns out to be bad tips, while waiting for the criminals to make a mistake.
Didn't stop Governor Cuomo from grandstanding though. He was up there in a flash to put himself in front of the cameras and microphones, talking as if the state had survived a natural disaster---Actually, I think he was calmer dealing with Hurricane Sandy. "The nightmare is finally over!" he declared when Sweat was finally captured---rather than as if we'd spent three weeks vaguely anxious one or both of these guys might decide they needed a hostage or rob a bank or go out in a blaze of glory with innocent bystanders in range.
In other words, what we were worrying about is that real life might turn into a movie.
The way Cuomo went on, you'd think it had. The way he went on, you'd think he led the manhunt himself. A cynic might think he was taking the opportunity to deflect attention from his less than smooth handling of the renewal of New York City rent regulations or from his feud with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio going public. A more charitable view was that he got naturally carried away by the potential of the story.
From what I've seen, the media did. The little coverage I saw, mainly on TVs that happened to be on in stores and fast food restaurants I was on my way quickly in and out of, was urgent, breathless, full of agitation and exaggerated concern, with reporters and anchors exchanging the trivial and the matter of course as if laying out the as yet unexplained details of a complicated and baffling mystery.
Behind everything they said, of course, was the movie or ripped from today's headlines TV episode they expected---hoped---would be made based on the story.
In fact, that's really what they were reporting on. Which means they were reporting fiction.
It's only as fiction that the story is at all interesting.
Matt and Sweat aren't interesting as characters or personalities or even as possessors of interesting histories even as criminals and killers. They were interesting on the run only in their potential for violence. They were dangerous but not intelligently dangerous. If they'd hurt anyone, there'd have been no thought to it, no planning, no feeling in it except anger and fear. It would have been reflexive and reactive. There was no story to them. Only plot.
The woman who was supposed to be their getaway driver, their supervisor in the prison tailor shop, has more of a story, but it's a sad one. She'll be more interesting as a character if it turns out she was actually the mastermind behind the escape, if she planned it as part of a larger plan to murder her husband, which has been suggested. At the moment it's not certain her husband's murder was really her idea or if it was part of the scheme at all and not just a thought that crossed her mind or something she and Matt and Sweat idly speculated about. She may have been deluding herself in some way about Sweat and Matt---she may have been in love with Matt. That sounds like fiction but it could have happened. Matt may have been more interesting than I thought. I think it’s more likely she was a victim of her own imagination and, depending how vivid her imagination was and how completely it took her over, that could have made her an interesting as a character who was a character in her own fiction.
And as a matter of fact, that's pretty much what happens with the lead female character in T.C. Boyle's novel The Harder They Come. She falls in love with a paranoid schizophrenic whom she's convinced herself is a heroic Right Wing revolutionary and guerrilla.
More likely she's simply someone desperate to escape an unhappy marriage and the story there is in how unhappy the marriage was and what made it so, which means the story is either sad or really sad.
TV news and newspaper reporters don't like to tell truly sad stories unless they can tack on a happy ending. They prefer pathetic ones because it's less disturbing for viewers and readers to feel sorry than to experience real sorrow on a stranger's behalf.
What I'm getting at isn't that it's wrong for the media to treat the story as a movie. I don't think that can be helped. We think in stories and we communicate with each other by telling stories. As Joan Didion said, We tell ourselves stories in order to live. Naturally we try to tell ourselves and each other good stories and we reflexively edit the stories we tell to make them good stories. And most people's ideas for what makes a good story come from movies and television. The trouble isn't that the reporters are making a movie in their heads. It's that they're making a bad one.
Or, at any rate, a clichéd one.
But I also think they're making the wrong one or, rather, the wrong sort of one.
This isn't an adventure tale. It's not a thriller. It's a caper movie. But a comic caper. A caper gone awry in dark ways but still a comedy. It's a comedy about incompetence, official, criminal, and personal. It's a comedy about the various ways vanity warps personality---the cast of characters includes several vain politicians, including, of course, a vain, puffed up, and easily ruffled control-freak of governor.
Now, even though it's a comedy, it can still contain thrills, danger, intrigue, and suspense. It can include violence and death. There's even room for a sad marriage. Great comedy includes tragedy. So if this story gets turned into a movie I'd want it directed by either one of the McDonagh Brothers and be along the lines of In Bruges or The Guard. And of course it's right up the Coen Brothers' alley.
But here's another thing, and this is just me.
I don't really see it as a movie or a TV show.
I see it as a novel.
But since neither of them is around anymore to write it, I volunteer...no, not T.C Boyle. He'd be a good choice, but he's busy, and like I said above, he's just done something similar.
No, I'm volunteering me.
Are you paying attention, editors and agents?
Because here's another thing.
What the story needs that's missing is sex.
Between truly sexy and romantic characters.
And, as luck would have it, I can provide those from personal experience.
First of all, I'm familiar with the area from many family vacations in the Adirondacks and from having gone to college for two years way up thataway.
And while I was there friends of mine who were theater majors were part of a program at Dannemora that taught acting to prisoners. They used to go over to the prison once a month and lead workshops. And they developed rapport even something like friendships with a few of the prisoners. I'm thinking that there can be a third con in on the escape. A character who is smarter, cagier, and more sympathetic than the characters based on Matt and Sweat, although at least as mean and dangerous. He'd also have wit and charm and some physical attractiveness. And he would get farther away. All the way to the college town where he'd look up the students he'd befriended---or more accurately seduced---and convince them he was out on parole. They'd then help hide him without knowing that's what they were doing. The kicker is that he would get into the college life and become a big man on campus.
So, what do you say, editors and agents? Worth an advance? I don't need a big one. Just enough to get by on for the next six months or so and to cover my expenses while I go up north to re-explore the terrain and visit the friends I'm still in contact with who took part in the program and get their stories.
And there’s a bonus: late 70s nostalgia!
Think of the great soundtrack the movie will have when we sell the rights!
Because of course it’s a movie.