As a kid I used to buy ”spy junk” at the toy store. Unlike most kids I had a singular purpose growing up. I didn’t promiscuously flit from one career trajectory to another: fireman, astronaut, policeman, whatever. No, as my parents recount from my earliest years through about eleven or twelve I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a detective.
I read detective novels voraciously (Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, anything I could get my hands on). It wasn’t until my Dad organized a visit with an actual detective, at the main police station downtown, that I had any doubts at all. To say I was excited about the visit would be a considerable understatement. I was going to meet one of the head detectives for the Grand Rapids Police department. As I sat in the lobby of the police station waiting to be escorted back to his office in the depths of the station my imagination ran wild. What would it look like? Did people think I was a criminal? Were these other people criminals? What had they done?
The questions ran through my mind so fast that what was probably five minutes waiting for the detective to come out and get my father and I felt like an hour. The detective opened the door to a hallway and we followed him back. The hallway was unremarkable. Tile floors with concrete walls punctuated by doors leading to small offices filled with steel desks littered by paper. As we reached his office at the end of the hall he opened the door to another office just like the others. As he walked round and sat behind his desk it was the papers that stuck with me. The piles and piles of paper.
The detective answered my questions (I think I was writing a report of some sort). He told me about his day, his work, what it was really like to be a detective. Missing were the mind-bending puzzles, the gadgets, the wit and super-human intellect. This was a guy who sat in an office and filled out a lot of forms. A guy who had a job not unlike most other jobs with occasional excitement but much more mundane work.
As a kid I used buy “spy junk” because I imagined it would give me super powers. If I had the right tools maybe I could be like the characters in my books. These gadgets would help me notice things I didn’t notice on my own. I didn’t really believe in magic but invisible ink, long-distance microphones, night-vision goggles, codes, and rear-view sunglasses that was magic I could believe in. I would buy these “novelty” toys only to have my hopes dashed like they were the day I sat in that detective’s office.
The marketer’s promises of bionic ears, lie detecting, and infra-red stealth night vision never fell so flat. I don’t remember clearly the day I stopped wanting to be a detective. Maybe it was the day I walked out of that detective’s office, maybe the reality dawned on me later as I followed Frank & Joe Hardy into yet another improbable mystery. Maybe I heard my own voice through a secret identity voice changer whispering, “the mystery you’re seeking can’t be found here.”
I don’t regret the evolution that occurred. There is inevitably something sad about any loss of innocence but I still knew what I wanted. I wanted a puzzle, a mystery. I wanted to spend my life unraveling the complex and making confounding seem elementary. I wanted to play with gadgets — real gadgets not the stuff they lie about to children in order to capitalize on their innocence. Today I get to do all of those things. It’s exciting. I get to build things that give people real super powers. The power to hear their children on a business trip, the power to see a photo sent seconds ago from the other side of the world, the power to understand their body and their health better than ever before.
As a kid I used to buy “spy junk” because I wanted super powers but today I build the tools that give people super powers everyday.