My main character in Upload, Jay Brooks, has a mother who, before her tragic death, was employed by the FBI. Her career choice is no mistake, or act of whimsy on my part. I feel like a grown man finally admitting how passionately I wanted to be a cowboy or astronaut. So here goes. Ever since high school, I had an intense interest in joining the FBI. As if by way of a cosmic sign, an FBI recruiter even visited our English class on a “career day”. For me, this was a wasted visit. I already had developed a keen interest and my entry into the academy was a certainty.
Standing before our class in an affordable-looking navy blue suit, the recruiter was preaching to the choir. I sat up in my seat, nodded vigorously, all the while looking around at the rest of the class, wondering why they weren’t similarly enthralled. I was so enamored, I half expected to spot a second agent stationed by the classroom door. After all, the room had only one exit. Odd that they hadn’t thought of this. This was spy 101, right? I leaned back in my chair, crossed my arms, and skeptically listened to the man’s presentation. Maybe they sent a flunky? By that time, I had already read up on all the career paths in the FBI, with “field agent” as my focus, and had even written the agency for even more information packets. I had poured over their entry requirements, the physical fitness demands, and modeled myself in all ways possible to seem like a shoe-in G-Man. No drinking, intense physical exercise, high-and-tight hair cuts. I was all in.
Oh, it would have been great, me in the FBI. To this day, I remain a steadfast rule follower. If I pick-up something in say, the grocery store, I refuse to orphan it later onto the nearest, most convenient shelf. I will walk the six aisles back and put it where it belongs. Since we’re in the grocery store, here’s another: I can’t bring myself to open and consume food while there, knowing full well I’m going to pay for it minutes later. This same self-governance must explain why I had enjoyed wrestling in high school so much—it was fighting, but it was organized. It had rules. The FBI felt like it could be much the same. Full front confession now: I even dressed up as an FBI agent one Halloween. I was so passionate about this possible future, I even memorialized it for all eternity in my high school year book under “Aspirations”. This surely has had a peculiar side effect—instead of sinking into mid-life obscurity at this point, I might hope my classmates would assume that I’m actually still in deep cover. Or not. But for all of these reasons, I wanted more than anything a career in the FBI, well before several movies had begun to make the FBI seem uber-cool.
One final inspirational boost occurred just before all of my FBI hopes were dashed for good. I remember it was the beginning of senior year in high school. I was caught in one of those weird, fickle, funky periods between books and my mother noticed it right away. She told me she had just the book for me and had me follow her up to the attic. She was an avid reader herself and our book-lined living room wasn’t enough to contain them all. She pulled aside several cardboard boxes and finally pulled out what she had been looking for: The Silence of the Lambs. My mother had a penchant for serial killer fiction, medical thrillers, and true life crime fiction a la Anne Rule. The Thomas Harris book had been right up her alley, and she hoped I would like it as much as she did. I loved it. To cap it all off, in one of those convenient little coincidences, just days after I finished the book, the trailer for the movie came out.
So it was exactly around this time, where the flames of my passion to join the FBI were stoked to their whitest, hottest heights, that I learned something critical about my uncle that decided my fate for me. At the same time, I learned the answer to several questions that had lingered with me for years while growing up. Why didn’t our uncle make it to all the family holidays? Why can’t my brother and I accept his invitation to go live with him for the summer? Why does he have a .357 magnum in his glove compartment?
Unfortunately, my uncle for most of his life had been living fast and loose with the law, and was at that time in Costa Rica fighting extradition back to the United States on drug charges. After a swift calculation in my head, and considering the FBI’s deep background checks for all applicants, and I quietly slid my partially filled-out application back into its drawer. My uncle’s troubles had caused him and the family deep emotional pain and long lasting separations; so much so that he was unable to even attend either of his parents’ funerals. He was barely able to reconnect with his two sisters before the passing of my mother and then his own, somewhat mysterious end.
All told, I’m grateful I didn’t pursue a career in the FBI. I haphazardly learned over the years how frustrating and exhausting the life of a field agent could be: what a tax it took on one’s family, the day-to-day stress, and the surprisingly unimpressive pay scales. But this doesn’t mean I can’t at least write about the FBI in my books, however peripherally, enjoying a kind of parallel G-Man existence through my writing. Besides, it’s not like I don’t get to challenge my investigative skills in day-to-day tasks: hunting down missing board game pieces, repeatedly losing and finding my keys, or becoming involved in more intense investigations, such as finally ferreting out who dinged my driver’s side door at work, and left an ultimately damning fleck of royal blue paint behind. I’ve narrowed it down to three possible suspects. Two of the three are actively ducking me at the coffee machine.
I’m on the case.
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