Secret Agents

Spy­ing was both real and roman­ti­cized in the news, the movies, in songs and on tele­vi­sion. Our coun­try was in the mid­dle of the Cold War, an arms race and a space race with Rus­sia. We had one thing in com­mon with the Rus­sians, a lit­tle shared phi­los­o­phy apt­ly called M.A.D. (Mutu­al­ly Assured Destruc­tion.) We were liv­ing in the Atom­ic Age and dooms­day was an all-too-real sce­nario. Spy planes had been shot down, base­ment bomb shel­ters dug and the Sput­nik satel­lite kept an eye on us from above. Use­less emer­gency drills were per­formed in schools, just in case. The school drills were absurd­ly com­i­cal. If an A‑bomb hit near­by, it wouldn’t have mat­tered. We would have been incin­er­at­ed curled under the desk or sit­ting in our seats. Some­how, we sur­vived the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis but there was fear that one provo­ca­tion by either side would lead to our anni­hi­la­tion.

Secret agents and spy­ing became the rage when 007 hit the big screen. James Bond was cool, calm and col­lect­ed as he trav­eled between the dan­ger­ous realms of allies and vil­lains. His arse­nal of fan­cy gad­gets always got him out of a tight jam. The Austin Mar­tin he drove in “Gold Fin­ger” was not only fast and styl­ish, it deployed oil slicks, smoke screens and with a push of a but­ton, machine guns. When he fin­ished dis­patch­ing the bad guys he got the very best of Pussy Galore.

On TV there was an abun­dance of spy-themed shows to choose from. “Get Smart,” “Secret Agent Man,” “I SPY” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” The lat­er two were the best of the bunch. Get Smart was too goofy. Secret Agent Man had a hip John­ny Rivers song to open the show, but not much more. Lines were clear­ly drawn — Adults watched “I SPY,” kids watched “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” The MFU spies, you have to admit, had the coolest names in the his­to­ry of TV: Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

We were all caught up in the web of intrigue. Besides play­ing Army or Cow­boys and Indi­ans, we now played Spies. Spy­ing was basi­cal­ly an elab­o­rate game of hide and seek. We had our own gad­gets like invis­i­ble spray to elude cap­ture, laser-ray Insta­mat­ic cam­eras and lis­ten­ing devices (cups) to lis­ten through walls. And if you were cap­tured, you had a hid­den dag­ger tucked away in one of our socks. Inevitably you were cap­tured, dis­armed and forced to drink truth serum and spill your guts. My sis­ter Karen con­fessed to pass­ing secret cod­ed notes to a few boys in her class.

Joe’s Dilemma

Kids can be so cru­el to each oth­er in ele­men­tary and mid­dle school. For my sis­ter, the idea of being humil­i­at­ed by her class­mates was a fate worse than death. My broth­er Joe felt the same way the day he faced his own ter­ri­ble dilem­ma. One of his sneak­ers ripped out or some­thing like that. Mom hap­pened to spot it as he stepped out the door and dragged him back into the house.

I wait­ed.

There was argu­ing and a tus­sle inside, by the sound of it, before Joe was lit­er­al­ly shoved out the door. He turned and pound­ed on the closed door to get back in, but couldn’t. Joe was pret­ty upset; he had good rea­son to be.

I’m not going!” he bawled.
“No one will notice, now get going!” Mom said from inside.
OH YES THEY WILL!” he screamed.
“Notice what?” I said as I looked down.

I saw it—them, it was an awful sight… Poor Joe was wear­ing an old pair of my sis­ter Karen’s pointy white sneak­ers. Talk about cru­el­ty to chil­dren! Good Lord, what was he going to do now?

Let’s get out of here,” Joe huffed and looked fright­ful­ly up and down the street.

Whew! Lake Badin was clear and he ran quick­ly across. I fol­lowed. Had there been any wit­ness­es to this atroc­i­ty, there would be no ques­tion … Joe would’ve had to kill them. Those pointy sneak­ers would have been the very last thing on earth they’d see. Joe raced ahead then detoured from the side­walk up to the base­ball field and dis­ap­peared into a dugout. As I caught up, I saw Joe’s tor­tured face through a small-screened win­dow in the back of the dugout.

Leave me alone — just go! I’m not going and you bet­ter not say any­thing! OK?”
“No way, don’t wor­ry,” I answered.

Joe sat all day in that dugout and returned home shoe­less when school let out. The sneak­ers were buried deep with­in one of a hun­dred squir­rel bur­rows some­where out in the field, nev­er to be seen again.