May 7, 2008
By Olivia Hall, Santa Cruz, CA

Nosiness is something that has run in my family for generations. Some would describe our common trait as rude and meddlesome, but others would say that we simply like to stay well informed about our surroundings. I believe it’s a little bit of both, but either way, members of my family just can’t seem to get enough of other people’s business.

I like to think that I’ve learned to be less nosey as I’ve gotten older. As a child, however, I didn’t understand that eavesdropping and sneaking around probably weren’t the best activities to be involved in. This tendency toward snooping was definitely not discouraged by the numerous “spy kits” that my parents purchased for me over the years. The kits generally included a colorful array of semi-functional listening devices, mini flashlights, and pens whose ink was only visible under UV light. I, of course, loved them, regardless of whether they worked or not. Just the idea that I was wearing authentic night vision goggles or an official investigator utility belt was enough to make me giddy with excitement.

I was fully equipped with the tools that I needed to do some serious spying, but every good secret agent needs a partner in crime. That’s where my friend, Caylah Novak, came in. Together we were unstoppable. We had the best technology, outfits, and most importantly, people to spy on. Virtually all my neighbors were perfect candidates for our investigations.

Caylah and I were most interested by the man who lived directly next door to me. His name was Carey and despite his alcoholism and numerous drug addictions, he really was quite a nice and friendly guy. I’m not sure why we found him so incredibly fun to spy on, but we were relentless in our efforts nonetheless.

A typical day began with Caylah coming over to my house, excited by the prospect of another afternoon of snooping. We would run, giggling, into my room to put on our undercover attire. Our outfits were most definitely a crucial part of the investigation. Without the right garments, our covers would be blown and we’d have to spend our days playing games like Hi Ho Cherry-O, and participating in other mundane activities.

Caylah and I sauntered over to my giant, wooden costume chest. We stared reverently at its smooth, worn handle before prying it open and rifling through its contents. By the time we finished, there was always a massive heap of clothes on the floor. Both of us would have on some strange, mismatched combination of beanies, sunglasses, and occasionally a pair of snow pants. I’m sure we looked completely ridiculous at the time, but Caylah and I were convinced that we had discovered the perfect blend of style and sneakiness.

Once we were fully decked out in our spy-wear, the real excitement would begin. I would grab the gadgets and the two of us would creep out the back door and into my driveway. Since Carey, our favorite neighbor, was right next door, we didn’t have to venture far to do our spying.

My personal favorite detective implement was the listening device. It was a far more chic and sophisticated way of eavesdropping than simply pressing our ears against the rough fence. It looked like a small plastic gun with a round purple barrel and a bright red trigger. It was smooth and hard, and gave off a thrilling air of power as I cradled it against my chest. Attached to the device was a pair of headphones that we took turns deftly slipping over our ears. Once the shiny trigger was pressed, a screeching noise would blast through the headphones, not stopping until the listening device was pointed at a suitable angle. Usually Caylah and I would tactically place the tip through a knot hole in the fence. In this position, we were set up to hear noises from Carey’s driveway. It wasn’t the most likely place for scandal, but he spent most of his time hanging around near his garage, so we had high hopes for an exciting discovery.

Whenever we heard a noise that sounded remotely close to some form of human activity, Caylah would furiously scribble the information on our Hello Kitty notepad. The listening device generally didn’t pick up on any sounds, aside from an occasional cough or the thud of a door slamming, but we continued to yearn for a snippet of secretive conversation.

One sizzling summer afternoon, Caylah and I were crouched in a bush with our detective equipment. The Hello Kitty notepad lay blank at our feet, and the two of us were starting to get cranky. A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead and I scowled, realizing that it probably wasn’t the best day to be disguised in snow pants. I sighed, and was about to pull the headphones off of my ears when I heard footsteps in Carey’s driveway. I hushed Caylah and motioned for her to listen.

The sound of footsteps grew louder, but then stopped with a suspicious abruptness. The two of us sat motionless, holding our breath for what felt like hours. Finally, I moved my face up next to the knot hole and lowered the listening device so I could see what was going on in the driveway. My small, green eye was met with Carey’s large, gray one. It was bloodshot, surrounded by a tan, leathery face. I could smell the whiskey on his breath as he slurred in his thick southern accent, “What’re y’all doin’ over there?”

I squealed with fright and scurried back into my house as fast as my legs would take me. A confused Caylah trailed behind, tripping every few feet over the extra-large loafers we stole from my dad’s closet. We were soon reunited in a fatigued heap under my covers, both exhilarated and alarmed by the events that had just occurred. The truth was that we had been in no real danger, but it was the most perilous situation Caylah and I had experienced in quite some time.

After that incident, the two of us decided to scale back on our spying. Getting caught by Carey wasn’t something that we wanted to experience twice. However, our thirst for detective work had yet to be quenched. We still felt a need to pry open the mysteries of the world, but Caylah and I had no idea how to do this in a risk-free manner.

One day, the answer came to us in the form of a Nancy Drew computer game. The first one we ever played together was called “Message in a Haunted Mansion.” We were instantaneously hooked by the simulated trap doors, secret tunnels, and hidden rooms that were at our fingertips. Over the years, we must have played dozens of those games. The truth was that despite whether Caylah and I were crouched in a bush, or huddled in front of the computer, we always enjoyed ourselves. The two of us embarked on countless adventures together, and I look back on each and every one with pleasure and amusement.

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