When I was a kid–fourth or fifth grade–lunchboxes were status symbols.  I was the coolest kid in the yard because I had a Man from U.N.C.L.E. lunchbox, with a matching Thermos.  The TV show was hugely popular at the time, and the lunchbox was very hard to come by.  It was about the only time in my life that I felt like the king of the playground.  Girls swarmed around me.  I knew that they were taken by the lunchbox and not anything about me personally, but I didn’t care.  Attention is attention.

Bad-ass, wouldn't you say?


So one day I’m in the Zach White cafetorium (some oddball cheapskate contractor’s idea of a cafeteria/auditorium hybrid) and I popped open my beloved lunchbox only to find the dorkiest thing on earth:  a red and black plaid Thermos, not the bad-ass Man from U.N.C.L.E. one that belonged with it.  I went from king of the playground to social pariah in nothing flat.

Not so bad-ass.


I was baffled and distraught, and ran straight home as soon as the bell rang.  “Ma, Ma!  Something happened to my bad-ass Man from U.N.C.L.E. Thermos, which I just discovered when I popped open my beloved lunchbox at the Zach White cafetorium!”

She was washing dishes at the time and kind of shifty.  Looking out the kitchen window.  “Well,” she said, “you must have lost it.”

I was confused, but what she said had an air of finality that struck me as uncontestable.  I sucked it up and accepted my fate.  From swashbuckler to bozo with no good explanation.

Many, many years later, I was a student at UTEP, where my dad had an office.  One day I stopped by there to say hello, and guess what was on his desk:  my Man from U.N.C.L.E. Thermos.  Worse yet, it had a sticker on it that said “Property of Wm. M. Russell”–in my mother’s handwriting.

To this day, she denies any knowledge of the conspiracy.