My 25 Year Bond with Her Majesty’s Secret Serviceby Matt Kindelmann
One of the most naïve statements I ever uttered was that I wanted to be James Bond. I had no interest in working for the government; I just wanted to live James Bond’s life. After my busboy shift was over on a slow Sunday night at Angelo’s, I chatted with Tommy the bartender as You Only Live Twice aired on the bar’s television. When I informed Tommy of my post high school plans, he stopped wiping down the oak bar and shot me a concerned look.
“You know, that’s all make-believe, right, Matty? It’s a fantasy world.”
“I know that,” I shot back defensively. Of course, I realized I most likely would never work as a British agent, but nothing was going to stop me from being a member of her Majesty’s Secret Service in my head. Pretending my 7-up was a shaken vodka martini, I sipped my drink and watched James Bond on television.
The Bond mystique grabbed me five years earlier when I first saw Roger Moore as 007 in Octopussy. After getting over the initial shock of my parents allowing me to view a film with such a ridiculously racy title, I was immediately bitten by the Bond bug and fell headfirst into the character’s formulaic world of deadly gadgets, gorgeous women, and signature cocktails. I wanted to be Bond. At the bus stop, I used a hand sized piece of a maple branch as my prop Walter PPK and spoke with an English accent to the other waiting kids.
By 16, my writing shifted from comedy sketches to stories about subjects I was into at the time, like baseball and espionage. One of my first pieces was a spy thriller focusing on an American agent named Sean McSky. I cringe now because I see how A Day in the Life of Sean McSky is rife with blatantly lifted ideas from Ian Fleming and the Bond movies. In a preface, I let readers know that my character, though influenced by James Bond, was in no way a copy of him. This was blatant rubbish. Both spies tangled with the Russians, enjoyed copious amounts of both booze and ladies, and made witty quips after ultimately winning the day. The name Sean was an obvious nod to Connery and I even snatched the Istanbul locale from From Russia with Love. Even McSky’s boss S had a single letter name just like Bond’s M. But, so what if my story was a copycat? I was a teenager and having a Bond-like protagonist in my story fanned the flames my secret agent passion.
The more James Bond films I watched, the more I realized that I was leaning towards the Connery camp. George Lazenby, who wore the Bond tuxedo only once in 1969, portrayed the part well for his first ever acting job, and I liked the light way Moore portrayed 007 as a tongue-in-cheek playboy, but there was just something cooler about Sean Connery. He was grittier and tougher, but still suave; the type of guy who knocked out henchmen with single punches while still looking like a million dollars in a dinner jacket and tie. He was rough with muscles and hairy arms, yet he was charming and made the ladies melt. When I developed unfashionable chest hair by age 17, I dismissed style and fully embraced my frontal fur because Connery had some in his films.
My “Bondness” flourished as I entered my later teens. My favorite part of my junior prom was that I treated Roger’s Wedding Rentals like it was a tailor’s shop on Saville Row and got to wear a tuxedo like 007. I flatly refused to wear a peach colored tie and cummerbund that matched my date’s dress, and opted for the classic black against my white shirt because that’s what Bond wore when we first meet him at La Circle Club in Dr. No. A good portion of prom night for me was spent reenacting the gun barrel sequence from the movies where I, trying to look like Bond, walked, turned, and then pretended to shoot.
My bond with my grandpa was reminiscent of the relationship that Bond had with Q, the quartermaster of gadgetry for the British Secret Service. I spent many afternoons shining a flashlight over the engine of my first car while Grandpa, who I adored, operated on the Chevy’s innards. I grew bored holding ratchets and wrenches, and like how Q acted with Bond, Grandpa often grew annoyed by my seemingly playful lack of respect to his gadgets. “Stop fiddling,” he’d pipe as I touched parts of the exposed engine I wasn’t supposed to. When we finally did get that car on the road, the famous Vic Flick guitar riff from the jazzy James Bond theme played in my head whenever I made a quick turn or swiftly changed lanes. If someone tailgated, I pressed the button for windshield fluid and sprayed the car behind me, like Bond did with oil slick in Goldfinger.
My fantasy life in the Bond world didn’t peter out by my twenties. Any attractive office secretary (as long as I was single at the time) got what I called “the Moneypenny treatment” and whenever a boss spoke to me in his office, it was like M was briefing Bond. I came down into the lobby of my hotel in Berlin one morning and was suddenly hit with a Bond epiphany. I was going to start my day like 007, I thought. In my best Connery voice, I asked if there were any messages for me. (I was backpacking through Germany and the only people who knew I was staying at that hotel…were the people working at that hotel.) The clerk turned, peered into an empty pigeonhole, and looked at me.
“Nein, mein Herr. Es ist nichts für Sie da,” he said with a shrug.
I feigned surprise, cautiously looked to either side, and then, still in my Connery voice, quietly informed the clerk that I was expecting a very important message from headquarters and I was to be contacted immediately when it arrived. The clerk’s eyes suddenly grew to the size of half dollars and he assured me that he’d be on top of it. I nodded and the Vic Flick electric guitar riff echoed in my head as I exited the building.
Roger Moore recently promoted his memoir and stopped at my local bookstore to sign copies. I couldn’t believe this news- James Bond was coming to Long Island. The bookshop was mobbed with 007 aficionados on the night of his appearance and I was stuck in the back of the room. I stood on my toes and peered over a bookcase to see Roger Moore, flanked by two bodyguards, enter the store through the back exit. He was smothered with cheers as he took his place behind the podium to take questions from the crowd.
“What was your least favorite Bond memory?” someone shouted out.
“Kissing Grace Jones in A View to a Kill,” the dapper actor replied.
“What is your favorite?” said another voice.
“Any moment when I didn’t have to kiss Grace Jones.”
After the Q and A, Moore was led to a table off to the side where he was to sign copies of his book for fans. A snaking line formed and we were told a number of times that Mr. Moore was NOT signing anything except for a purchased copy of his book. We also were not allowed to take pictures with the actor. I wonder if anyone else there saw the irony in James Bond’s two beefy bodyguards in trench coats at either end of the table.
I thought about how I should greet 007 as I waited on the sluggish line. Should I act like a villain and in some muddled European accent say: Good evening Mr. Bond. So we meet again, but this time the pleasure is all mine.? Or should I be suave as Bond himself and, in a British accent, say: The name’s Kindelmann. Matt Kindelmann.?
The closer I got to Roger Moore, the more I studied the actor. He was 81, 23 years since he last played Bond. His face and hands were dotted with liver spots and his blue eyes and crow’s feet hid behind thick glasses. In his sports jacket, crisp white shirt, and red tie, he was an English gentleman, politely grinning and chitchatting with fans. When I ultimately got up to him, I extended my hand and told him I him I enjoyed his Bond films. He shook my hand, said thank you with a smile, and signed my book. I was immediately struck by how he reminded me of my great-grandfather from England. His attire, his demeanor, even the feel of his hand all reminded me of my witty and chivalrous great-grandfather, Thomas Ellis, or Pop, who died at 101 year old when I was 14. Roger Moore reminding me of Pop supports the idea that there is a fine line between reality and fantasy.
Yes, Tommy the bartender was right. James Bond lives in a fantasy world of mission-ending explosions, scantily-clad women, and cat-stroking villains inside of my head, but there was nothing wrong with me stopping by there for a martini every once in a while. My video library of the Bond films, my tattered Ian Fleming paperbacks, and the 007 marathons that TBS runs have all been part of an escape for me for the past 25 years. Unless James Bond has his license revoked, I foresee many more missions. No fictional character does it better.