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WARNING: Top Secret Column

WARNING: Top Secret Column

Erik is out of the office this week on a secret assignment, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

I wanted to be a spy when I was a kid.

I wanted to drive around in cool cars, wear sharp suits, drink vodka martinis, and have beautiful women throw themselves at me, a la James Bond. After I watched my first Bond movie, I was convinced of the awesome power of suits and vodka martinis.

I knew I would be a good spy, because at age nine, my friend Eric Pratt and I snuck around the neighborhood on summer nights, trying to annoy our neighbors, who we imagined were actually enemy spies. We didn't know who they were spying for, only that they were enemy spies. As we saw it, it was our patriotic duty to thwart these ne'er-do-wells from their villainy. (This was also our battle cry. We were not very cool.)

We were pretty good at spying though. We snuck around from backyard to backyard, and not once were we ever captured. We'd get barked at by the occasional dog, but that's to be expected from highly trained enemy attack dogs. Scottish Terriers can be extremely vicious.

Our spying efforts were based on the ability to ring people's doorbells and run away without getting caught. We even plotted our escape routes and meeting points before each ring. We got good enough at it that we could do 15 doorbells in a single night. We had a few close calls, like the people who answered their door too quickly, or the people we hit three times in a night.

We eventually had to stop after the parents of one of our so-called "friends" ratted us out after we hit his house one night when he couldn't go out with us. But my dreams of being a spy never died.

When I was 13 years old, I got a book about spies. It was a behind-the-scenes look at what spies did and how they were recruited. There was even a test that I could take to see if I had the temperament to be a spy. I figured out that by answering 'C' to all the questions, I would achieve the ideal score for a spy. And it only took me three tries to do it. The problem was, I didn't know who to tell about my test score or that it showed that I was qualified to drive cool cars and sleep with beautiful women. So I thought about writing a letter.

"Dear CIA, I took a test in the 'Handbook for Spies' book recently. I'm sure you're familiar with the book, since it was written by someone in your line of work. I achieved a score of 82 on the test, which said that I would make an ideal spy. Do you have an opening for any agents? If so, could you please tell me where I can pick up my suits and car? Sincerely yours, [Name stricken for security purposes]."

I decided against this approach, since an enemy spy might intercept my letter at the post office. Also, I didn't have the CIA's address.

But I was undeterred. I continued reading James Bond books and watching his movies. I even bought a plastic gun that fired suction cup darts, because it looked like the kind of gun Bond carried. For hours, I practiced concealing it, pulling it out quickly, and making difficult shots in my room. The end result was that if I ever encountered an enemy spy who could be stopped by a suction cup dart to the forehead, I had nothing to worry about.

That all changed when I finally read a newspaper article about spies, and how James Bond basically over-glamorized the spy business. "It's not really like that," the article said. "It's all about sitting in windowless rooms, analyzing information. You never get to drive cool cars, and beautiful women don't throw themselves at you on a daily basis."

That article popped my dream of becoming a spy like a balloon on broken glass. I was adrift, without any motivation or long-term goals for weeks. But soon, I was embarked on a new career. One of glamour, intrigue, and even more beautiful women. Thanks to the TV show, "Magnum P.I.," I had a new goal in life.

"Dear Private Eye Agency, I would like to be a private investigator. I am very good at gathering secrets, and I already know how to shoot a plastic Walther PPK dart gun. Do you have an opening for any investigators? If so, could you please tell me where I could pick up my red Ferrari? Sincerely, [Name stricken for security purposes]."

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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