This is the spy pen used by Janet Gilmore, also known as “The spy who came in from the cold” (but only when the temperature is under 32 degrees).

This is the spy pen used by Janet Gilmore, also known as “The spy who came in from the cold” (but only when the temperature is under 32 degrees).

by Janet Gilmore

You know that stuff in the back of comic books that your parents never let you order? Well, it’s never too late. I forget who mentioned a Secret Spy Pen to me. Or maybe I was brainwashed to forget. But, suddenly last month, I WANTED one.

My spy work is very important to me. For example, I discovered that our former neighbors walked around without any clothes on. And when my husband, Hugh, thought some people were walking across the lawn to a funeral, I detected that it was really a garage sale. And it couldn’t possibly have been me who left the basement door wide open all night because I was out and not in the basement all evening.

But anyway, I couldn’t just go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him I want a Secret Spy Pen. Then he’d know, he’d tell Mrs. Claus, and you know what a blabbermouth SHE is. is not exactly a paragon of discretion, but there I went, hiding in plain sight to buy myself a present. There are hundreds of available devices. I ruled out the ones with video capability and ordered the cheapest one, $11.

I am my own best Claus.

The package arrived quickly.

Ha, ha, Mom and Dad.

It was actually a Field Agent Spy Pen for ages 6 and up, which I am. I left it in the box until the afternoon our friends, John and Mike, stopped by and spotted the box.

“What’s that?” they asked.

“Shh, I can’t tell you. OK, it’s my secret spy pen.”

“Open it.”

One look at the guy on the box showed that HE could easily get through all the plastic wrap and tape that sealed the box, which took me forever.

Contents: one field agent spy pen, one pen cap, one instruction booklet and a warning: “This is Not a Toy.”

The pen is the size of a broomstick. Not good for secret work. Also, a red light goes on when it records. Bad. Well, maybe I could put a piece of black tape over the light.

What would Nancy Drew do?

My son Andrew joined us at the table, investigating the pen and kidding around.

“Did you read the instructions?” asked Hugh.

“Of course not. I just opened the box a minute ago,” I answered.

“Well, here’s the instruction booklet. Memorize it, then eat it.”

Instruction booklet: “You will be able to record approximately 12 seconds of conversations or sounds.”

“Twelve seconds? What the…? That’s almost a dollar per second!”

Instruction booklet: “If normal function of the product is disturbed or interrupted, strong electro-magnets interference may be causing the issue.”

“Interference from where? From other 12-second spy pens? From other planets? What have I gotten myself into?”

Instruction booklet: “Push the pen clip down to record without being detected.”

“You mean, there’s a different pen to record while BEING detected? How much does that one cost?” John said.

The questions, comments and jokes flew back and forth.

“Are you involved in illegal activity, Sir? Tell me all about it. You have 12 seconds,” Mike said.

We noticed a button stamped “SG.” Nothing happened when we pressed it. “What does SG stand for?” I asked.

“Sucker Gilmore?” Andrew suggested.

“You got that right.”

“Can you record people 50 feet away? 100 feet? Can you record deer munching?” Hugh asked.

“This isn’t a very good present,” I said.

“Maybe not, but it’s going to be a very funny letter you write with this pen, asking for your money back in invisible ink,” said Hugh.

“It’s not invisible ink; it’s OUT of ink!”

“This is so wrong,” John observed.

Instruction booklet: “Do Not Throw this pen away.”

Now what? I have a basically useless $11 spy pen that I can’t throw away. OK to bury it in the back yard?

“Let me see the instruction booklet,” said Hugh.

“I ate it, remember?”

“What is this pen really for?” Mike is a natural-born wonderer.

“Blackmailing a brother or sister, that’s what it’s for,” said John. “Speak quickly and clearly into this pen. Did you or did you not eat my Skittles?”

“A psychiatrist could use this pen for Speed Therapy: ‘So what was your childhood like? Tell me all about yourself in 12 seconds. Oops, sorry, we’re out of time for this week,’” I suggested.

I’m going to have to go back to spy school.

A young man of our acquaintance goes to Philadelphia Police Academy. He once told me I must inform people ahead of time if I’m recording them in Pennsylvania.

Looking at the spy pen and then at me, Hugh said, “I’m not going to worry about you being sued any more, hon. In fact, I’d love to be on the jury when you’re on trial for illegal wire-tapping. The best thing for you to do with that pen is turn the red light on and swallow it, so you can find yourself in the dark.”

I asked my friends, “Do you think I got ripped off?”

“No,” they all agreed. “Where else could five people possibly get to have this much fun for only $11?”

OK, the pen is no good for surveillance. But it’s perfect for getting together with friends, yelling jokes at one another and laughing until we cry.