Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Argillite Secret Service: Operation Rome

(Originally published in the Ashland (KY) Beacon on April 4, 2012)

As regular readers of The Freakin’ Beacon know, at one time in my life I was employed by a top secret government agency.

That’s right. I was a Double-Naught Spy for the Argillite Secret Service, better known as the A.S.S.

While I can’t reveal details of my top secret assignments, even after all these years, I can tell you that one time I was preparing to embark on a mission to Italy. I had a few hours before my flight, so I decided to get a haircut.

I used a barber a few miles from the A.S.S. headquarters. The guy was sort of unpleasant and a know-it-all and he wasn’t too good at his job. But he was cheap. That was important on a government salary.

I got to Smiley’s Barber Shop just before closing, and I was the only customer.

“How you doing, Smiley?” I said.

“Lousy,” Smiley said. “What do ya need?”

“Uh, a haircut.”

Smiley sighed and gestured to his empty chair. I sat down.

“What’s new?” Smiley said, going into Conversation Auto-Pilot.

“Going on a trip.” I said.

“Where to?”


“Rome? That’s a terrible city! It’s crowded and dirty and full of mafia types. How ya gettin’ there?”

“TWA,” I said.

“TWA? Their planes are old, the flight attendants are ugly and their food is awful! So where ya stayin’?”

“The International Marriott downtown,” I said.

“That dump? Are ya kiddin’ me? The rooms are tiny, the service is terrible and their food is the worst in town! So what are you going to do there?”

I couldn’t reveal the details of my mission, so I said,” Some boring work stuff. Then I’m going to tour the Vatican and try to see the Pope.”

Smiley barked out a laugh. “Fat chance! You and a million other people tryin’ to see him. He’ll look like an ant! Lots of luck, pal.”

He was still laughing as I left the barber shop.

I went to Rome, successfully completed my mission and even had time for a bit of sightseeing. I returned home a few weeks later, just in time for another haircut.

Smiley’s was again empty when I arrived.

“Look who’s back. The big-time world traveler,” Smiley said as I entered.

I settled in the chair and prepared for his volley of questions.

“So, how was the trip to Rome?” he said as he began the haircut.

“Fine,” I said.

“Right,” Smiley said with a chuckle. “So how bad was TWA? I bet it was the worst flight of your life.”

“Nope,” I said. “The plane was brand new. It was full, so they bumped me up to first class, where I had a gorgeous 25-year-old flight attendant and she served me some of the best food and wine I’ve ever had.”

In the mirror I saw Smiley frown. “Well, I bet the hotel was as bad as I said.”

“Sorry. They had just finished a 30 million dollar renovation. It’s now the finest hotel in Rome. The only problem was they were overbooked and ended up giving me the penthouse suite at no charge.”

Smiley was silent for a few seconds. The only sound was the metallic clicking of his scissors. Finally, he said, “I know you didn’t get to see the Pope.”

“That’s a funny story,” I said. “I booked a tour of the Vatican. As I was strolling around admiring the beautiful architecture and the magnificent artwork, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see one of the Swiss Guard. He said, ‘Pardon me, sir, but the Pope sometimes likes to meet a random tourist. Would you mind meeting him?’ I told him it would be my pleasure. He took me to a small, private room and asked me to wait there for a few minutes. He closed the door and I stood patiently. After a few minutes there was a knock at the door and in walked the Pope.”

Smiley stopped cutting my hair. In the mirror I saw his mouth hanging open in surprise.

“You got to meet the Pope?” he whispered.

“Yep,” I said.

“You. Some nobody from Argillite got to meet the biggest religious leader in the whole world.”

“That’s right.”

“So what happened??”

“Not much,” I said. “He shook my hand and asked me a question.”

“What question?” Smiley said. “What did the Pope ask you?”

“He said, ‘Where did you get that terrible haircut?’”

Mark Justice hosts The Breakfast Club weekdays on 105.7 WLGC. He no longer has his high security clearance, so don’t bother asking him about President Obama’s birth certificate.

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