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James Bond

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James Bond: The Spy Who Raised Me

From Scarsdale, with love: A writer explores a James Bond obsession that dominated his youth in suburban New York. And then haunted his adolescence. And now annoys his wife.

Sean Connery, Goldfinger | GOLDFINGER
Image credit: Photofest
GOLDFINGER

I own a white dinner jacket. I've never actually worn it — at least not in public — but I keep it hanging in my closet, just in case I ever find myself gambling with Le Chiffre in Monte Carlo. I once owned a watch exactly like the one 007 snapped onto his wrist in Live and Let Die, except mine didn't deflect bullets or contain a buzz saw. If you want to get technical, mine didn't even tell the correct time. I still own an Aston Martin, complete with ejector seat and rotating license plates. It's five inches long and parks on top of a bookcase, but it's a DB5 just the same. In case you haven't already guessed: I've always wanted to be James Bond. Sardonic and suave. Dashingly ruthless. Dodging danger with a smooth maneuver and a snappy comeback for every situation (even when strapped to a table with a laser beam pointed at my groin). I may have grown up in suburban Scarsdale, N.Y., where zoning laws prohibited hollowed-out volcanoes, and none of the swimming pools had sharks in them, but I still had my own supervillains to battle. Junior high schoolers, mostly. And there was something about Bond — the way he coolly straightened his tie after braining a bad guy, for instance — that made me believe I too could saunter nonchalantly through a world of peril and chaos and eighth-grade girls. Maybe even deal with the far more serious SPECTREs that sometimes came my way.

I have watched pretty much every Bond movie at least a dozen times — all 21 of which were rereleased on DVD Nov. 6, in the latest James Bond Ultimate collection from MGM. Every time I look at one again, I take a journey into the deepest coils of my childhood obsession. I don't remember which I saw first, but it was probably On Her Majesty's Secret Service when I was about 8 years old (I vaguely recall George Lazenby's angular face). Whichever it was, my older sister maintains I mortified the family afterward by serpentining through the theater parking lot shooting at strangers with my finger. I encountered most of the early titles first on TV, in an era before VCRs and cable-channel ''Bondathons.'' Back in the 1970s, it was a huge deal whenever 007 appeared on the small screen; the network would clear a whole Sunday night to make room for the event. I could have powered Dr. No's entire underwater lair with the radiation I absorbed sitting too close to our giant Zenith during those ''prime-time specials.''

The movies, naturally, led to harder stuff: the books. I spent the summer I was 13 huddled in my bedroom devouring Ian Fleming's whole Bond oeuvre, all 14 volumes. Of course, at that age I wasn't reading Fleming for the crispness of his prose; I was scouring his books for hints on how to be as debonair as a double-0 agent. I procured a pack of king-size Chesterfield cigarettes because that was the brand Bond sometimes smoked in the novels (when he ran out of Morlands). I would have killed for one of those ''sea island'' shirts Fleming was always going on about — the author itemized virtually everything Bond wore, ate, drank, drove, or killed with, proving himself to be decades ahead of the culture in the use of product placement. But I still have no idea what a sea island shirt is.

I knew my limitations. I never took up judo lessons, never introduced myself last name first, never finished that pack of Chesterfields. And, as I grew into my later teens, I acquired other pop fascinations. Humphrey Bogart, Woody Allen, Laura Antonelli movies — they all made indelible marks on my personality. But no matter how much I — or the world around me — kept changing, I never got over James Bond. Even as the character lost his cultural cool in the 1980s and the movies themselves became all but unwatchable — with Roger Moore literally turning 007 into a clown in Octopussy and Timothy Dalton playing him as James Bland in The Living Daylights — the fantasy never fully faded. To this day, I still hear Monty Norman's jazzy theme song in my head whenever I stroll into a casino. I still imagine myself on clandestine missions whenever I check into a hotel in a foreign city. I am still sometimes tempted to raise my finger in parking lots. You know, the index finger, like a gun.

NEXT PAGE: Why boys nowadays aren't as wowed by Bond

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