Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Boy from U.N.C.L.E.

My favorite TV show growing up was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. For those of you too young to remember, U.N.C.L.E. stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The program documented the thrilling adventures of U.N.C.L.E.’s two top agents, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The weekly show was a must-see for me; my mother even let me forego violin practice to watch it.

The Cold War raged during the Sixties, and we all had to do our part. My friend John and I loved the action. Even though we were both toe-heads, John assumed the role of the suave and sophisticated dark-haired Solo, and I the persona of the quiet and introspective blond Kuryakin —a Russian, ironically enough, who had defected to the side of good and democracy.

John was probably the brighter bulb of the two of us—he would later become a physician—but that wasn’t the main reason he landed the more prestigious spy position at U.N.C.L.E.; he had all the official gear, including the pistol with silencer, the assault rifle, and the ID badge with the number eleven on it. I had to hand-draw my badge, and tape a safety pin on the back. Although, to be fair, Mother (Mother, second only to Mr. Waverly, headed Allocations-Sector One) issued to me the Man from U.N.C.L.E. cigarette lighter with the hidden radio transmitter, faux cigarettes, and cap gun. It was a great concept, but proved too fragile in the field—especially when duty required falling off retaining walls or leaping over fences. After a few make-shift patch jobs, I left the weapon on my dresser at home.

John possessed the state-of-the-art equipment, but I had superior cunning and stealth. We made a formidable team, admired by everyone back at headquarters and feared by our enemies on the streets. Mr. Waverly always assigned us the plum missions. John and I kept the neighborhood safe from the countless incursions of that global menace, THRUSH.

My only glaring deficiency was the look. Everyone knows that ninety percent of what makes any top-notch secret agent is appearance; if you look cool, you will be cool. My drab attire had definitely affected my ratings, especially with the female agents. They became increasingly dubious of my reputed prowess. I found myself taking more and more risks on each new mission in order to compensate for the negative effects of my dreary wardrobe. Clearly, a change was needed, so I asked Mother for a black turtleneck shirt.

It seemed a simple enough request. After all, I hadn’t asked for a Beretta, or an exploding pen, or a mini-submarine—as much as those things would have come in handy—just your basic black turtleneck. Yet for some unknown reason, Mother resisted. I would plead; Mother would push back. Could it be Mother worked for THRUSH? The idea of a double-agent that high up in the organization was too horrific to even contemplate. Perhaps she knew what the people in Apparels were whispering behind her back because Mother finally relented, and allocated to me a white turtleneck dickey and a brown v-necked sweater to go over it.

Now picture it: Kuryakin wearing vintage 1960’s two-tone tortoise shell glasses with the right lens thicker than the left--enlarging one eye that never quite aligned with the other (I have amblyopia)—seated on freckled cheeks—although the scar I received from attempting to shave at age four made up for the freckles— and outfitted with the top portion of a white turtleneck tucked under a brown sweater.

Mother thought it looked adorable—any mother would, of course. All I know is it ruined my career at U.N.C.L.E., at least as a field agent. I tried fitting the turtleneck piece with an undershirt to jerry-rig a white turtleneck shirt, but the dickey showed through the thin cotton fabric. Left with no recourse, Mr. Waverly transferred me to the Library-Sector Thirteen. Not long after that, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. went off the air.


Andrea K. Van Ye said...

funny ... now i see why you are drawn to black turtlenecks .... a need from your past ... :) i, along with you, hope that the dickey does not come back in to style. i'd have to resist ...