Secret Agent Boy

Tom C. Erb

© Copyright 2018 by Tom C. Erb

Photo of a poster for Man From UNCLE.

Being a child of the fifties and sixties has always in my opinion been an advantage for my generation. I like to think of us as the “Media Generation.” Much like today’s generation that is tech savvy, us flower children pretty much were the inventors that started the whole technology boom. Granted the technology of our time was very simple, but the invention that came from this era that changed the world was the transistor. Yes, this simple invention made possible the radio, hi-fi stereo, and, my favorite, the television, as a way to connect to the world.

I was always fascinated with the box and the people in it. I wanted to be able to go inside the box. Little did I know that I would be inside it soon enough. Like most families of these decades, the television was controlled and rationed by the television gods: our parents! And it had rules that the gods created. Some of these rules were: do all your homework, make your lunch for the following school day, or, my favorite, take a bath! Really? But, when you look at family pictures of the time the kids all are in their pajamas and looking clean. Once you satisfied their to do list, you got to watch the television after dinner till it was time to go to bed. Plus, what you watched was what they wanted to watch. And to make things more frustrating, I was the oldest of five, so my four younger sisters had opinions about what to watch as well. An,d of course, if Dad had an opinion, then that was what we watched.

My parents were very different in what they watched. My mother was a daytime soap opera addict. One Life To Live and As The World Turns and “like sands through the hourglass, these are the Days of our Lives.” I remember coming home from school and Mom would be bawling because of something that happened on one of these shows.

My father, on the other hand, was completely different. He watched the masculine soap operas at night, the “Westerns.”

I became so immersed in western television shows that I wanted to be them all. The Virginian, Cheyenne, The Rebel, Johnny Yuma, Matt Dillon, Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger, The Rifleman Lucas McCain, Rowdy Yates, and my favorites: Brett and Bart Maverick. There were only two television shows that caused me to live in their fantasy. And Maverick was the first one.

I so wanted to be a member of the Maverick family. James Garner portrayed Bret Maverick, and Jack Kelly was his brother, Bart Maverick. The brothers would travel the West, gambling their way from one town to the next. Bret always kept a one-hundred-dollar bill pinned inside his jacket, in case he lost all his money in a card game or got robbed. I was so immersed in this show that I pinned a Monopoly one-hundred-dollar bill inside my coat pocket. It was there everywhere I went. I was living vicariously through Bret Maverick, and I was content with that until Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin came in to my life.

The second show that sucked this young impressionable boy in was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. This was a spy show that had two secret agents: Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Robert Vaughn played Solo and David McCallum played Kuryakin. The program was actually written by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, which were turned into films. The organization U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) main objective was to fight off the evil of “T.H.R.U.S.H.” (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity). This show completely took the whole being possessed thing to a whole new level.

I had the lunch box, Illya Kuryakin Halloween costume, and the complete Man from U.N.C.L.E. kit that had a badge, gun and pellets, shoulder holster, and a secret watch radio. I am not embarrassed to say that I always carried my badge, gun, and radio. I would wear bulky sweaters and coats, so my gun couldn’t be seen. I got away with it till my secret was discovered at the most inopportune time. It was season two, when that the show went to color, that I amped up my game to the point where I was wearing all my gear everywhere I went. I would be packing at school, out to dinner with my family, and the biggest mistake is where my story begins:

I have always had a thing about history and an interest in knowing more about our forefathers and how they suffered and sacrificed to give us our freedoms. Being the son of a United States Naval Sailor and living in Norfolk, Virginia, I was surrounded by the history that I yearned to know. I was very fortunate to take part in field trips to Jamestown and Williamsburg. Jamestown was enjoyable because of all the Captain John SmithChief Powhatan, and Pocahontas history. Plus, the glass blowing, which I thought was really cool! But my favorite place hands-down was Williamsburg! The House of Burgesses especially amazed me. My favorite heroes of colonial American history are Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. The speech that Patrick Henry made, “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death,” was a very brave and courageous stand to take.

So, imagine being in a position as a fourth-grader, standing in the House of Burgesses, and up in the right-hand corner of the Assembly there is a sign, and a barrier with a plaque that states: “Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson sat here.” I was just several feet away from two of my founding fathers’—and American history heroes’—seats in the House of Burgesses and was going to be denied the opportunity to sit in their seats and see how they saw the room when they were founding this country.

So, now let’s go back to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and how I was in a mild obsession with being a secret agent. Oh, and yes, I was packing on this field trip and felt invincible. In hindsight, I should have just listened to the instructions, but of course I wanted to touch and sit in Henry and Jefferson’s chairs. So, when the tour guide, teacher, and class moved on to another room I hung back.

Once everyone was out of the room, I slowly moved to the wooden stairs that were barricaded with those felt rope, movie-theater barriers, and I crawled underneath. I thought to myself it would be better to crawl up the stairs so that my shoes didn’t make any noise. I could feel my gun in my holster under my sweater. I could also hear the rubber pellets rattling in the gun as I moved. My heart pounded in my head, and there was a bead of sweat on my brow from being so nervous. I knew my time was running out. There was a lip right below the seats; I moved just below so I could stand up and try to sit in the seat of Patrick Henry. As I stood up, my holster belt caught the lip, and as I reached back to release it I lost my balance, tripped, and began falling down the stairs. It all happened in slow motion. I remember the whole time trying to protect my gun from breaking, which caused it to become unhooked in the holster. I rolled all the way down the stairs and landed face-first flat in the middle of the Assembly floor. As I hit the floor, I heard my gun crack, and then it came out from under my sweater, with all of the bright yellow pellets flying out and covering the floor.

The tour guide, my teacher, and my entire class came rushing in when the sound of a falling secret agent filled the room. They found me face down, spread eagle on the Assembly floor of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia, with my broken gun and all its ammunition covering the floor. I still remember the look on my teacher and the tour guides’ faces as they came running into the room. It was a look of fearful disgust. Fear that I might have hurt myself, and disgust by what they had found. Plus, my entire class was laughing and pointing at me. It wasn’t one of my finer moments. I understand that if this were to happen today that fourth grader would likely be sent to therapy and charged with some kind of terrorist act. Needless to say, I was watched very closely for the rest of the trip. Oddly enough, I became more popular with the girls after that, and less so with the boys!

I often think about that day and wonder what I could have done differently. The answer is probably nothing. I have always been influenced by music, television, and performing arts in general. But sitting there in front of the old television watching the old westerns and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a great education for a young, inquisitive mind that was learning to love the arts.

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