The Spy

By Bailey, Greg | American Heritage, May 1999 | Go to article overview

The Spy


Bailey, Greg, American Heritage


The first thing you must understand in the story of how I was recruited to spy for Albania is that when I was eight years old, I never foresaw a time when I might be embarrassed to admit that I used to read Dennis the Menace comic books. But the truth is that before I discovered Superman or Batman, let alone Hemingway or Shakespeare, I loved reading about a kid my age who got away with things I never could.

The second thing you must understand about the story is where I lived at that time in the early sixties. Our house was near Peru, Indiana, on Capehart Street on Bunker Hill Air Force Base, now renamed Grissom Air Reserve Base after Indiana's native astronaut, Gus Grissom. Bunker Hill was an important base for the Strategic Air Command, the nuclear weapons branch of the U.S. Air Force.

Life on a SAC base was, for our fathers, a constant state of readiness to bomb the Soviet Union, for all of us made the assumption that the Russians would drop a hydrogen bomb or a missile on us at any time. For most people Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Dr. Strangelove is a dark comedy; for me it is a home movie of my childhood. My classmates and I knew no other life, and it seemed perfectly normal at the time.

Bunker Hill was special in many ways. Peru was the unlikely but historic winter quarters for a number of circuses. Unlike military families, circus families put down roots in the area. Sometimes on the edge of a cornfield a family would set up a trapeze and teach their children the act while passersby watched the free show. Just outside the base, past the security fence and guarded gate, was a barn with a painted sign by the highway: FREE ELEPHANT MANURE.

Idyllic as it was, I had visions of the wider world. The inside cover of the Dennis the Menace comic book ran a list of readers looking for pen pals. For some reason I thought I would like a pen pal in Hawaii and sent a request to the magazine. After a time I received a letter from Dennis, promptly pasted in a scrapbook, telling me that he would run my listing. When the issue finally arrived in the mail, I was thrilled to see my name in print even though Bailey was misspelled as Badey. …

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