For the last few months I have been writing a short book that will likely be published in the not too distant future by a small professional publishing venture. I’m excited and enjoyed writing and trying to organize stories and lessons I’ve learned on the job the last 17 years and more.
Here is a brief introduction:
My name is Michael Joseph Spencer. I was born June xx, 1965 and my Social Security Number is 044-XX-XXXX. My wife and I live in Oakland, California. We have a small house and a dog. I’ve already told you about as much as you would find on me for $49.95 in an “instant online background check.” I prefer to be called Mike because going by Michael is like posing for a photo while intentionally touching your face. Sorry, Mom. Or, if I was an attorney, I could do M. Joseph Spencer but that’s silly.
I became a licensed private investigator in California about 17 years ago. I’m more than half-way through my working days. I’m taking inventory of parts of my life. It’s cheaper than a red sports car. As I am prone to sports metaphors I am starting the third quarter and just came out of a rousing half-time pep talk to myself. As a kid at mass I broke the service down into four quarters; communion marked the start of the fourth quarter with the final whistle about to blow. My plan for the second half of my work life is to set some screens, play defense and hustle until I get my legs under me and start hitting open shots. Any good player, team or coach makes adjustments.
I want to share stories and reflections about being a private investigator. Any good interview involves a give-and-take of information, so this is my opening salvo.
A void exists in literature, media, and pop culture about private investigations. “Reality TV” is a misnomer as it’s more staged than real. I see many “how to” books about private investigations claiming to teach to do your own investigations in areas of skip tracing, surveillance, background investigations, etc. And of course, we have movies and TV from the epic “Chinatown” to she shows of my childhood, Rockford Files, Simon and Simon, et al. Most news articles I read on private investigators just seem to reinforce stereotypes, as in “Private Investigators’ Get Busy on Valentine’s Day.” (For domestic cases I have found that the first warm weather of the year, May and June, drives business to the door.) I’m not trying to write anything “definitive” but just want to dish a chunky slice of PI life.
I write this to give a more honest picture of what a private investigator does. I want to convey the tone, feeling, thoughts, observations, odors and challenges I face daily. I can’t speak for every private investigator as this is a highly personal narrative. I’m fascinating, take my word for it.
I realize that my parents, most of my family and close friends don’t know exactly what I do for work. Private Eye Confidential is my attempt to demystify. I’m part freak and part small businessman, and I love the dichotomy. I will tell some stories that have stayed with me since I was a reporter at daily newspapers, in graduate school and from my early years as a PI during the dot-com era in the San Francisco Bay Area. As the author Ben Mezrich said, he writes books for people who don’t like to read. I hope to entertain those who would never otherwise read about a private eye.
I have changed names or omitted other identifying information in this book. In some cases, where a matter of public record in court files, I have kept the real names.
I write this as the Privacy Wars rage, and the battles will only grow fiercer. We are divided in areas of government monitoring and surveillance in public. No side in the battle should routinely get what it wants, though lately it seems that Big Brother has the upper hand over Privacy Advocate. I don’t like government going behind our backs to gather phone and other information, especially when the courts rubber-stamp search warrant requests. I also don’t like whining about privacy when we are so eager to embrace all forms of social media. Nothing is truly free. I’m just a guy carving out a living on my wits and experience. I will let the pundits fight the privacy battles as I have a business to run, just allow me access to public records and certain other information to help do my job. I won’t abuse it.
I do this work just about seven days a week. I am only as good as my last case. It all boils down to results and winning, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.