Agent Name: Roast Beef
Real Name: Alex Borkowski
Congratulations, Spy! How does it feel!
It feels great to be nominated as spy of the month! Even better than when I delivered those secret plans to the Moscow branch last winter, which had up until that point been my crowning achievement.
How did you get started at 826CHI?
I started off as a publications intern last year, and finished up my internship earlier in the summer. It was a great experience, even though I've now realized that most people volunteer first and intern afterward, but what can I say! I am idiosyncratic and gotta do things my own way!
What do you enjoy most about volunteering with our programs?
What I love the most about volunteering at 826 is the sheer, unbridled creativity that the students share with us—whether they're writing about a villain named Thunderslapper who is trying to steal a cool looking coat, or a pair of shape-changing sisters whose dad is a secret dragon with an evil python crony, there's a sense of excitement and collaboration when they're building a story in the space that I've really not seen anywhere else.
The top spies always have the best code names—what's yours?
My code name is Roast Beef, which I always say is because it's my favorite deli meat (technically true!), but it's also because my favorite character in Chris Onstad's webcomic Achewood is named Roast Beef Kazenzakis—he's a perennially downtrodden cat who walks on two legs and sometimes wears a shirt. It's a double-layered code name, because I value my secrets.
What do you do when you aren't working undercover?
When I'm not working undercover, I volunteer at a local radio station, write jokes online, practice and perform improv comedy with my friends, and just try to take as many walks around the city as I can while it's still nice out. When it's too cold to walk, I play my guitar, spend a lot of time in coffee shops drawing comics, and spending too much time playing video games.
What's the best thing you've discovered on one of your walks around Chicago?
Just recently I was walking around Buena Park and ran smack dab into the middle of Alta Vista Terrace—it's this really small stretch of street right by the Sheridan stop where everything is designed to look like a London row house and the houses there are over 100 years old at this point. I've never run into a place in Chicago as unique-looking as that!
Do you have a favorite comedian?
I do; there's a Chicago-born comedian named Kyle Kinane who I got really into when I went abroad and needed things to listen to while I walked around London. I've seen him live a few times, most recently at Thalia Hall down in Pilsen.
Tell us about the last book you read and loved.
Man, that's a tough one! Over the summer I read Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, and that's just a really great YA novel about two misfits who live in Omaha in 1986 and bond over their love of comic books and alternative music like the Smiths. It's really touching and poignant. Other than that, I recently finished High Rise Stories, a Voice Of Witness book that's full of interviews of the people who lived in Chicago housing projects like Cabrini-Green and Ogden Courts—really intense and sad, but required reading if you're at all curious about the ways in which Chicago has changed very rapidly in the past few years.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other aspiring spies of the month?
Yes! As long as you listen to the students and are having fun, it's almost impossible to go wrong volunteering at 826. The staff is always there if you need support, and the students are just excited to be sharing their work with you.