Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

James Bond Is Dead

I've been reading a lot of spy fiction recently (currently "Agents of Treachery", edited by Otto Penzler), and all I've learned is that James Bond was an asshole. Do you notice that he never follows anybody or does any real surveillance? Or that he never runs agents or in any way tries to actually gather intelligence? Why is that? All he does is go lightly, nay, casually, undercover. Even then, it's no big stretch: all his cover identities are suave, well-dressed, playboy types. The villains always figure out who he is fairly quickly. "Hmm, a well-dressed Brit who enjoys baccarat and shaken martinis. Somebody run that data...Oh, James Bond, you say? Yes, I thought he looked familiar." What a dick.

But maybe I'm being too hard on the old boy. In the last couple of weeks, I've tried out a few of the techniques myself that these operatives and field agents put so much stock by. You know what? It's fucking impossible! Let me share with you just exactly how I failed Tradecraft 101:

1. Following People

Following people on foot through the downtown area of a major metropolitan city is fairly easy. I tailed my subject for ten blocks and he never once looked behind him. But then he went into an office building with a security guard at every one of its three entrances. And I lost him.

Following people by car turned out to be just as successful. On a busy street, I stayed a few cars behind my subject for a couple of miles. Then he turned off the busy street onto a residential street and I was the only other car behind him. After two very slow turns, I think he figured it out.

2. Being Followed

In the books, the operatives like to turn to one another and say, "I think we picked up a tail." They also enjoy saying, "I felt like I was being tailed, so I flushed them out into the open and then shook them off." Oh, you felt like you were being followed? And what exactly does that feel like? Let me tell you: I couldn't spot a tail unless every time I turned around or looked in one of those convenient slanted store windows, there was a seven foot tall man dressed all in black walking RIGHT BEHIND ME. I've tried walking around my apartment and noticing who was directly behind me and it's impossible. If someone was tailing me, all they would have to do is stay a block back and I wouldn't spot them.

If anyone doesn't feel like walking, don't worry - I'm much easier to follow while driving. I tried counting cars (Leonard Chang, "Over the Shoulder") and almost had an accident. Again, if that seven foot tall guy is driving a bright red Humvee, I'll probably spot him. Short of that, I could have S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the NKVD, and Ernst Fucking Blofeld behind me and I would never know.

Maybe next week I'll try going undercover (with my lousy poker face) or "turning an asset" (given that I can barely convince people to do things they actually want to do). I don't hold out high hopes for a successful mission. I think I'm better suited to the anonymous spy support team which hovers in the background and does the heavy research.

Besides, I've given up martinis.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Adventures in Domesticity

Yesterday was one of those days which I can look back at and say without any doubt, "dammit - we got something DONE!" I felt like Hannibal after a battle, surveying the destruction and savoring the victory. No, not the general, the colonel. He led the A-Team? No? Nothing? Okay, moving on.

Four months ago (Four?! Allah preserve us!), we moved out of our apartment and office and into a house two hours away from civilization. Then we waited for the cover of night and quietly skulked away, leaving a garage full of chaos, insanity, and boxes of old clothes. Well, yesterday, we opened that garage and brought order and rationality to what was once thought lost forever.

In the space of a two car garage, we had stacked and piled boxes and boxes of samples, inventory, shelves built and unbuilt, rolls of fabric, banker boxes full of bidness, and various tools, tables, and chairs. In short, we had a shitload of shit.

Add to that my father-in-law's collection of old boxes, papers, and mystery packages. He has a slight hoarding problem and yesterday was very hard on the poor guy. I pulled a lot of his stuff out of the garage with the other stuff destined for the dump, but he slowly brought it back inside piece by piece when he thought no one was looking. Apparently, although he agreed to throw it away, he never intended to follow through on that agreement. Silly me, I figured broken cardboard boxes were useless and could be thrown out.

After four hours we got everything squared away and I felt a physical sense of relief. Like I could breathe suddenly. It made it all worth it. And by it I mean scrubbing the piles of rat poop and rat-urine soaked nesting out of the corners. We also ran into a two foot long California King Snake sleeping in a box of extension cords (which made me wonder if it was looking for a snake sex doll...I kept that thought to myself though). Everybody flipped out, but I surprised myself by picking up the box, dumping it on the grass, and then driving the snake away by beating on the ground next to it with a four iron. The snake was actually quite beautiful. Kings are vicious (they eat other snakes, which is how they got their name), but they're not poisonous. I didn't get a picture, but here's a reference:

We're supposed to hit the living room today. I wonder what will jump out at us in there?