By the early 1970s, my family had moved to Weirton, West Virginia. Dad was now Assistant Superintendent of Hancock County Schools. His office was located in the school system’s downtown warehouse. First floor had textbooks and supplies for all the grades for all the schools piled onto large pallets. The second floor contained district offices: personnel and data processing and financial. Dad’s office was in the back. His windows afforded a "breathtaking" view of the alley in back.
After dinner, I was still going to work with him. Sometimes, my sister Pam would come along. Often times, not. The Chevy Impala was long gone, replaced by a green four-door 1969 Pontiac Catalina sedan. Dad always parked at the loading dock in back and we entered through the back door. Since the place was dark, I stayed close to Dad as he walked around and turned on just the necessary amount of lights. Then he turned me loose to do what I wanted.
Many times, I would head straight down to the first floor. I was in elementary school by then and, being a first class nerd, I loved the fact that I could read through the textbooks for the grades ahead of mine. They were all piled up in a row so I just had to grab one, curl up in a corner, and start reading. Often, after a couple visits, I had read a whole year or two ahead. I remember Mom going to a parent teacher conference where my third grade teacher, Mrs. Obrysko, complained that I seemed bored and disinterested in the lessons. How could I tell her that I was disinterested because I had read these same books a year ago down at the warehouse?
When I wasn’t reading, I was checking out the cool machines in the offices. The personnel office had something called a Xerox copy machine. It was great for making copies of your hands and your face. Contrary to popular belief, it never occurred to me to make a copy of my butt.
The data processing office had an IBM punch card machine. That was a blast! I just loaded a dozen IBM punch cards into the machine and then typed whatever I wanted onto the card. I loved hitting the buttons and watching the machine do its thing. It was how I first learned to type. And I got to take the cards home with me at the end of the day!
When our Hagerty cousins Terry and Kim came to visit, they would join my sisters and I going with Dad to the warehouse. One of the TV shows all of us loved to watch then was the spy show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (and its spin-off THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.). Like all 1960s spy shows, it was a James Bond rip off but still done with a lot of class. The title of each episode always ended with the word "affair": "The Vulcan Affair" or "The Mad Mad Mad Tea Party Affair." My sisters and cousins would take turns being the secret agents on the show: Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum – now playing Mallard on "NCIS"), April Dancer (Stefanie Powers), and Mark Slate (Noel Harrison).
Unfortunately, I was five years younger than the rest of them and often viewed as the little kid they were forced to take along by their parents. On the night of our most memorable visit to the warehouse, they decided that I would play the role of U.N.C.L.E. chief Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll). You know, the character who gave the agents their mission then waited for them to report back at the end of the show? It seemed like a promotion. I mean, after all, I was nine years old and now the head guy with an imaginary secretary!
Well, they got their mission and off they went. And I sat in my dad’s office (he was working downstairs in the computer room) and waited for my agents to return. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And waited. Nothing. And it finally dawned on me after a hour or so that my “promotion” was really just a way to cut me out of the action! Well, forget that!
I headed out of the office and went searching around the building for them. I found them hiding out in offices on the other side of the building. They immediately wanted to know what I was doing there threatening to ruin their stakeout. Not missing a beat, I replied that I had received no communications from them since they left so I had set out into the field to get an update. Now that I had found them, it was too dangerous to go back so I was staying with the team.
We ended up “chasing” enemy agents down to the main floor. A real life Weirton cop patrolling out on the sidewalk strolled by and we shadowed him, leaping from box to box and hiding from his view when he turned to look. I don’t think we would try that today!
But the moment that has lived in all our memories came when the pretend evil T.H.R.U.S.H. agents (U.N.C.L.E.’S nemesis) loaded us onto an actual conveyor belt running down into the basement. It was not turned on but once the collective weight of all five of us (between the ages of 16 and 9) were on the belt, it began turning on its own and the next thing we knew, we were all heading down into the dark dark basement. You’ve never seen five kids leap off a turning conveyor belt faster in your life!
When it was time to go, as usual, Dad would walk through the building yelling our names. That night, we were all a little shaken (not stirred) and more than happy to yell “U.N.C.L.E.” and head back home. It had proven to be the most “dangerous” mission of our pretend spy careers. Take that, ARGO!
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