Cross My Heart and Hope to D’oh! by Deb Jenny

I luuuuuvvvvvvv a good secret. I’m addicted to the intrigue of secrets, mostly. Secrets are so fun to be in on, yet so hard to, uh, keep secret. Not that I spread things; no way. If someone tells me something in confidence, I absolutely maintain that confidence. But then there are other times where I’ve been told something, not quite realized the gravity of the information, and then sort of spilled the beans, purely by happenstance.

Take for instance the spy episode…

Okay, somewhere out there, I know some people who have some spying background. Leave it at that. See! I’m keeping my secrets. So in the course of my knowing some people with some spying background, I learned some things, about covert versus overt, about “Need to Know Basis” and generally about keeping your big mouth shut. That sort of thing.

So one night we were at dinner with those distant espionage-ish people and another couple (I didn’t even know they were secret agent types!) who were talking with great pride about their son, Donny. Their son who lived in some obscure pocket of the world involving guerillas (not the cute hairy kind that swing in trees), sharpshooters, warring factions, and a very complex language that one doesn’t know but for on a, um, need to know basis.

Seemed Donny—who worked in “imports/exports”—got a promotion, and was headed off to another embattled nation with yet more guerillas, warring factions and an even more complex and arcane language that no one, but no one, knows. I don’t even think the people who live there know it. It’s that unknown. Upon learning this, even I was able to deduce that Donny’s job entailed far more than ensuring the safe shipping of Barbie dolls and tainted pet food in far away ports. No one becomes fluent in two bizarre languages without really good reason.

So at the dinner table that night, conversation was rolling merrily along, as we sipped our wine and exchanged jovial banter. But chatter ground to a screeching halt—I’m talking rush hour in Bangkok screeching halt—when I said:

“Oh, so Donny’s working imports/exports?” With a hyperbolic wink—one where my right eye squeezed shut really hard and the side of my lip raised up dramatically, forcing my cheek to scrunch up toward my forehead. You know the kind. The “hey, we’re all in on the big secret!” wink.

Suddenly a hostile silence embalmed the room as nine sets of squinting eyes glared at me, the dingbat who unwittingly broke the unspoken code of Need to Know.

Now, to backtrack. I sorta knew about the Need to Know. Like if you don’t need to know, you don’t. But I also thought that if you’re amongst everyone who Knew, then you didn’t quite have to tap dance around the inevitable. I mean, everyone at that table knew! But I didn’t know till then that that was the whole point. Everyone knew we weren’t supposed to let on we knew. It’s sort of the Omerta of the cloak-and-dagger world, I guess.

Thank goodness my lapse of tight lips happened in the land of the free and the brave. Sheesh, had I been sipping a macchiato in a cafe bar off a lovely little piazza in Sicily, or worse yet dining on Borscht served up by a matronly hostess with long chin hairs in frigid Minsk, my transgression could well have rewarded me with a bullethole between the eyes. And I would hate for my last supper to have centered around beets. I hate beets!

Now, just to prove to you that I can keep secrets, I’ll tell you one. You remember that woman, Valerie Plame? The one whose covert spy history was exposed by vengeful operatives in the White House? Well, I knew—I knew!—for the past 20-plus years that Val was a spy. And I didn’t tell a soul. Not a soul! Because I knew it was a Need to Know. But now that everyone knows, well, the cat’s out of that bag. And if you try to get out of me how I knew that information long before it was a glimmer in Karl Rove/Scooter Libby’s eyes, well, now, that I can’t tell you.

Then again, I suppose I could…But I’d have to kill you. And you wouldn’t want that.

18 thoughts on “Cross My Heart and Hope to D’oh! by Deb Jenny

  1. Jenny, I would have been a little afraid keeping Valerie Plame’s secret. I would have lain awake for endless nights imagining what-if scenarios. But I do LOVE secrets! I never used to be very good at keeping them, I’d almost always tell someone, but over the years I’ve learned to savor the privilege. Can I keep secrets of my own? Well, I do have one and it’s a doozy.

  2. Oh, Amy, you can’t leave us hanging there —do tell!

    I have to say when the whole Val Plame story broke and I started reading the details of her career, my humble life certainly paled by comparison. She was ‘best in her class” in AK-47 training while I was changing diapers and schlepping laundry. She had this life of such intrigue and glamour while I was cleaning up parrot poo off my bird cage all day long… But then I read she suffered from post-partum depression and realized spies are just like everybody else, they’re just better with high-powered weaponry LOL

  3. Do you live near Quantico by chance? Veeeery interesting! My little brother attended Zelda Novak’s wedding (Bob’s daughter) and got to see the Prince of Darkness up close!

    Fun post, Deb Jenny.

  4. No question, Jenny, when it matters you CAN keep a secret. But determining the other Need to Knows is tricky and that’s the problem with secrets — they’re either fun or likely to hurt someone.

  5. Great story, Jenny!! Funny! That whole everyone knowing everyone knew but the unspoken rule not to acknowledge it. Reminds me of holidays at my Waspy in-laws. All the conversation is like that and I’m ALWAYS saying the thing you’re not supposed to say. Thanks for the morning laugh! Gail

  6. Hmmmm, years in Washington, living not too far from Langley – does Deb Jenny have a few more secrets up her sleeve? Great post, Therese

  7. Larramie, it is so true–spilling the beans can be detrimental or hurtful. Always best to keep it zipped 😉
    Gail, I’m laughing about your little holiday gatherings. Oh, to be a fly on the way…
    Eileen, I’m bent over laughing at the James Bond reference. More like Austin Powers!
    Therese…sounds like you know too much for your own good…LOL
    And Danielle–I think the only thing thrilling I know about spies is that they’re not so thrilling LOL

  8. But the question I REALLY want an answer for is, “Shaken or stirred?”

    (Love your description of the wink. 🙂 And the bit about beets. I too hate the beets!)

  9. Now there is a great book in here somewhere Jen, to go with the other great books the world is going to see out of you soon!

    And hello, beets are fabulous. Above crowd has obviously never had home grown fabulously prepared beets, cold beet salad, etc. Or maybe it’s the Russian in me. :~) Vodka helps. I remember my “Russian” phase- with absolutely no political reference points except the move “Reds” I was having a mad love affair and we went to Dr. Shivago and out to dinner at the Russian Renaissance and saw Reds and well, I had a red petticoat to go under my midi skirt and well it all got very sexy and fashion driven after that LOL

    Suzanne

  10. I think a LOT of vodka would have to be involved. Though we recently went out with friends to a tapas restaurant and my friend brought along her mother-in-laws treasured pickled beets in a tiny ziploc sandwich bag and made me taste them. She said the family fights over jars of the stuff. I will admit, they didn’t make me actually dry-heave, as did the Gerber’s baby food beets when I first tried to feed them to my son 17 years ago, but I wasn’t first in line for seconds either. I stuck to the tapas 😉 .
    That Russian phase–was this some underlying commie pinko thing?! 😉
    Now there is your story, by the way!

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