During the years between fourth and seventh grade, Kim and I used to pretend that we were spies.  I’m not quite sure how this game got started, though I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that we were really into action movies at the time, Mission Impossible One being one of our all time favorites.  While the life of an actual spy probably involves more desk work and less life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments, we imagined it to be the perfect combination of glamour, romance, and the badassery that comes with weapons, kicking ass and taking names, high-speed vehicles and disguises.  Each day would involve at least one fight to the death before lunch, (which we’d always win, escaping within an inch of our lives) and our multitude of aliases and disguises would make us near impossible to trace- not that we’d even technically exist, according to government records.  Clearly, that was the life for us.  However, despite our fantastical imaginings, our brief career as spies was a long stretch from being badass and glamorous, but what we lacked in style we most definitely made up for in effort and commitment, and this game provided us (and anyone who happened to watching us, I’m sure) with much amusement for many many years.

It started with our spy kits.  We each had a matching mini-backpack, the kind with the zipper that connects the two straps together which on a grownup would be a purse, but for us was probably just the right size.  These contained the official spy equipment of the Kim and Janice spy team, which included identical sets of the following items:

1)      Firstly, and most importantly, our spy notebooks.  These were the chunky 4×5 Fivestar notebooks in which we documented all our missions, which also included our master list of code names and numbers for all our suspects- our suspects being the other girls our age from Chinese school, (the JERKS), and all the boys our age from Chinese school (the pool monsters).  Each suspect was assigned a code number, and we also assigned each of the boys a code girl’s name to make our missions more difficult to decipher.  Our documents would then read something like, “what is 5 up to?  Is 1 jealous of 2 liking 3?  Mission: steal stolen notebook back from Courtney Bell.  And make sure he she pays.”

2)      A set of jelly roll pens for writing.  Note that an entire set was needed, not just one or two, because back then carrying 5-10 different pens that were milky, fluorescent, glittery, and basically any color or intensity that made your writing incredibly difficult to read was essential to being a middle school girl.

3)      A magnifying glass, since no spy kit is complete without a magnifying glass

4)      A deck of cards.  This was used for diversions; in the event that we were about to get made, we could pull out the cards and act like we were innocently playing a game rather than sneakily stealing all the secrets of your life.

5)      A box of matches.  Somehow I’d gotten the idea that we should be prepared for everything; this apparently also included getting stranded out in the woods during a mission, in which case a box of matches would be so key for surviving the cold winter nights.  Of note, around this time I also started carrying matches with me whenever we went skiing in case I got lost in the snowy woods behind the slopes and had to wait weeks and weeks to be found.  (I’m not sure why I always thought I needed to be prepared for survival in the wilderness…)

6)      Mini tape recorders.  Like the kind people use in the hospital to dictate notes.  This was probably the most impressive piece of equipment in our kits, but we actually never used them for our missions.  The only time we used them in earnest was to record ourselves singing Disney songs while holed up on the tiny landing in my closet… but that’s a different story altogether.  Which mainly involves us hiding in my closet recording ourselves singing Disney songs.

7)      Clinique powder foundation.  We had bought these matching silver clamshell compacts, not because we were starting to experiment with makeup like most girls our age, but because the shape and color of the containers resembled what we imagined super secret spy communicator devices to look like.  Also we could use them to spy on people behind us, or pretend to be fixing our imaginary make-up if someone got suspicious.

8)      Lock-pick set.  This was something that was just in my kit; I had a travel spirograph kit that I emptied out and filled with bobby pins, mini screw drivers, safety pins, paper clips, and anything that I thought could be used as a lock pick.  I got pretty good at opening diary locks, which was pointless since those pop open fairly easy anyway if you hit it hard enough, and also none of our suspects kept diaries.  Still, an essential skill to cultivate for a spy in the making.

So, armed with our over-full backpack purses, we set off to uncover secrets and solve the mysteries of the world with our stealthiness.  However, as middle school girls, most of our mysteries involved figuring out who had crushes on who, and being Asian, our world consisted mainly of our giant Chinese school crew.  It was pretty limited material to work with, and our game would have been much sadder than it already was if it weren’t for boy-pwner-Rachel.  Briefly about Rachel: Her hair was as black as the midnight sky, her eyes as wide and dark as forest pools, her skin a milky white.  Her smile could bewitch you from miles away, and then you’d have to stand at the end of a long line of boys who’ve fallen for her.  Or something.  We’re not really sure how she does it, but for as long as we’ve known her, Rachel has never been without a slew of boys in love with her.  As far as I know she hasn’t been seriously single since middle school.  We’ve never had to console her about a boy she broke up with, but were very often excited for her and her new boyfriend.  She had her first proposal at 13, and was nearly engaged at least twice during high school.  Now, whether or not the above facts were exaggerated or enhanced by gossip, it is true that she is quite the boy-pwner.  Which, in middle school, makes for lots of drama.  And while that was probably stressful for her, the boys involved, and her super-strict parents, it was great for me and Kim as it provided us with lots of fodder for our missions.  Some of them would be based on actual facts; for example, if Kevin was known to have a crush on Rachel, our missions would be something like, “Is he going to ask her out?  Will she say yes?”  Or, sometimes if things were a little slow, we’d just make stuff up like “Is it possible that Bernie likes Rachel?  Clues include:….. ,’ and chances are, if we waited long enough our speculations would no longer be just guesswork, but an actual event.

While the missions themselves were clearly lacking in so many things, most of our fun came from writing up our coded mission documents and running around trying to spy on everyone.  What made it funnier was, we discovered years later, that no one else had any idea we were doing this; they just got accustomed to me and kim breaking away from the group at any given moment for whatever reason, to be found later playing cards or hiding in a bathroom or closet.  Even if they had known, chances are no one else would have wanted to play with us anyway, so for friend-making/keeping purposes, it was probably best that our spy game stayed a secret.

We’ve since given up on spying, but bits of it will still pop up in our lives.  As the other members of the big house have learned, whenever we needed to run an errand or go to a store or get donuts or whatever, we’d say “We’re going on an adventure!” or “We’re on a mission!” without saying what it is we were actually doing.  This made it sound so exciting and mysterious that we could often get others to tag along for curiosity’s sake; at one point we convinced three other people to follow us to Urban Outfitters to browse the sales (Laura was happy about this when we reached our destination- Dan and Alan were not.)  I’ve also maintained my interest in lock picking, and have since learned how to do it properly, if not well or consistently.  And we’re always on board when something can be done with a little more sneakiness, say with a birthday surprise or with a prank.  It’s probably a good thing for everyone involved that we didn’t actually try to become spies or FBI agents, and now that I’m older I don’t think I’d really want to be one given the chance.  Once in a while though, especially during a particularly good action movie, there is a part of me still sighs just a little bit for that life of danger, false identities, and tiny camera pens.

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