My Spy Notebook?

We headed to the beach this past weekend for a mini-vacation. Late on Sunday afternoon we wandered into a Hawaiian-style restaurant, Nalu, for an early dinner. I did my usual thing: after scanning the menu to decide what I wanted, I jotted it down in my Field Notes notebook. I do this for two reasons: (1) so that I don’t forget what I want to order; and (2) so that I have a record of it if I ever return. I also usually jot down the name of our server when they arrive at the table. I’m far less likely to forget their name if I jot it down.

When our server wandered over to take our order, I pulled out my notebook and jotted down his name, and then told him what I wanted. He looked at me and looked at my notebook and was visibly uncomfortable. I ordered a beer with my food and that seemed to put him at ease. Later, when he came by to bring me another beer, I had my notebook out again, this time because Grace was teaching us a game she’d learned in school, Pico Fermi Nada1, and I was attempting to play. Setting my beer on the table, our server referred to me as the C.I.A. guy. “You’re always jotting stuff down in your little notebook,” he said. By “always” I assume he meant the time I jotted down my order.

In seven years of carrying around these notebooks, this was the first time–the very first time–that it make someone other than me uncomfortable. I say “other than me” because for the first few years, I felt awkward about pulling out my notebook to jot down the name of the person I just met, or to take notes when on a tour of some kind. No one else ever seemed to notice, let alone mind. But it seemed to really unsettle this fellow. Maybe he mistook the numbers I’d scribble in order to figure out the 3-digit code in Pico Fermi Nada as some kind of secret code.

The pages in question from our evening at the restaurant

Friends have gotten used to me pulling out my notebook to jot something down. More often than not, I hear them say, “That’s a great idea, I should do that.” Occasionally someone mentions that they take notes on their phone and how great that is. I usually just smile and nod at this. There’s no need to go into all of the note-taking and to-do apps that I have tried over the years that haven’t worked as well as my Field Notes notebook and a pen. People occasionally ask about the notebook. This happens more frequently if it is a particularly interesting edition of the Field Notes notebooks.

Field Notes makes a Clandestine edition that comes complete with a decoder ring. I wonder what our server might have thought if I happened to be using that notebook instead of the United States of Letterpress edition I had on me.

Front and back covers of my Clandestine edition notebook.

Looking at these pages now, it occurs to me that I didn’t write down our server’s name this time. I think maybe I was distracted by his thinking that I was a C.I.A. guy.

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  1. Apparently a variant of Pico Fermi Bagel.


  1. I want that Field Notes, Clandestine edition. Sold out. If you have a source, I’ll trade you a one-time pad.

    But seriously, I want the Clandestine edition. 🙂


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