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by C. W. Walker

I was an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

It happened one hot sultry night in August, 1965. My father was watching a summer repeat in the tv room (we had tv rooms in those days) and I sat down to watch it with him. I always preferred Dad's taste in popular entertainment to Mom's. At the drive-in, he liked movies with cowboys, monsters, and guys with swords. Mom only liked movies that starred Paul Newman.

So, trusting his usually dependable instincts, I sat down to watch. I can still recall seeing the skeletal globe symbol and the abbreviated letters of U.N.C.L.E. appearing under it, one by one, for the very first time. The picture was black and white because we had a black and white set. In fact, during the entire run, I saw the show in color only twice, both times in someone else's house.

It didn't matter, though. Even without color, I was hooked from the start. Soon, the whole neighborhood was hooked, too. We watched U.N.C.L.E. We read U.N.C.L.E. We collected U.N.C.L.E. We played U.N.C.L.E. We cannibalized pens for communicators; substituted "Good n' Plenty" candies (but only the white ones) for the notorious Capsule B; strapped makeshift shoulder holsters containing plastic Lugers to our sides. Looking back, it seems I was constantly armed as a child.

I was an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

U.N.C.L.E. taught us things, too. About the world, about life. For example, we learned: UNCLE

* That friendship was good.

* That greed and dominating other people were bad.

* That "good guys" came in various shapes and sizes, all nationalities and even both sexes.

* That heroic people had ordinary concerns, and that ordinary people could be heroic.

For all kids my age, U.N.C.L.E. marked an important passage of adolescence. For the girls however, U.N.C.L.E. also prompted a sexual awakening. Like baby ducks who imprint on a German shepherd and then follow it around for life, we focused our budding erotic energies on one of the two male leads. For the majority, of course, it was the blond-haired, blue-eyed Illya. I was in the minority. (I still prefer dark-haired, dark-eyed men.) But I didn't just love Napoleon Solo. I also wanted to be like Solo, too.

I was an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

All things --- good or otherwise --- eventually end, and so did U.N.C.L.E. The show was canceled, but of course, my own life went on. I graduated from high school, from college. Got myself a job. Got married. The summer before my wedding, my father was cleaning out our basement when he came across my plastic U.N.C.L.E. Special. "You won't be needing this, I guess," he said and threw it into the trash. And I let him, because I thought it was time to move on to other things. We were both wrong. It took another ten years for me to realize how much.

I was an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Perhaps it is the wisdom reaped from experience, or simply the reflex toward nostalgia that comes with the onset of middle age, I don't know. But looking back, I can see how one apparently frivolous, seemingly innocuous television series imbedded itself in my unconscious and had a profound effect on my life. As an adult, I came to understand:

* That personal commitment and moral responsibility are preferable to money and power.

* That both good and evil work covertly, and often, it requires attention and involvement to discriminate one from the other.

* That you might lose a battle, but you can still win the war, so long as you remain cool under fire and are willing to lay it all on the line.

* And that in the end, the secret of life is courage, style and a little witty repartee.

My view of the world may be more complicated, more sophisticated now, but the lessons I learned long ago remain essentially the same. And I can't help but wonder how many other people there are, whose lives were similarly affected. For a brief time in the sixties, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." was the most popular show in the world --- in the world!

I suspect we are legion. We are an entire generation, the field agents of today, and we are everywhere.

Now, we operate undercover, discreetly and secretly --- sometimes even to ourselves. We carry invisible gold cards in our wallets. We respond to the call of silent communicators. We ally ourselves with the innocent. We oppose the grasping minions of Thrush. We work for human dignity, for social justice and for a peaceful future.

And we continue to dream of a world in which a cocky, extroverted American and a shy, introverted Russian, can be the best of friends.

I was an U.N.C.L.E. agent, and I still am. We are all U.N.C.L.E. agents.

And if we're not, we should be.