The face in the mirror wouldn't let me shave in peace. It kept furrowing its brow and wrinkling its nose. Finally, about mid-Adam's apple, I had had enough.

What are you staring at, Mirrorface?

You, handsome.

Flattery will get you nowhere. In fact, if you keep flattering, and keep staring, you might make me so nervous that I'll nick myself. So how about letting me know what's up?

What's up is that you're in the wrong business.

Hey, come on, man, it keeps me off the streets.

No, I'm serious. You're working too hard. See those lines under your eyes? See those silver hairs that weren't there six months ago? You need a change. A new look for the spring, as it were. You need to get back to nature. You need to become a sidewalk vendor in downtown D.C.

You know, if you didn't look so much like me, I'd say you could use a few extra helpings of brains. Did you say you think I need to become a sidewalk vendor in downtown D.C.? You mean those guys who sell the T-shirts that say 'My Grandma Went to Washington and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt?' Listen, I'd rather take my chances with fluorescent lights and quirky editors, if it's all the same to you.

It's not. Think of what getting out there would do for you. You'd be down there on the Mall, right in the center of the action. You'd get a tan. You'd be able to listen to Paul Harvey at high noon, the way all the other vendors do. And think of how you could indulge your sense of community spirit. You, too, could charge secretaries from the Agriculture Department 75 cents for a lukewarm can of Diet Pepsi. You, too, could explain to tourists from Indiana that they'd better hurry up and buy that Reagan post card because he's only going to be president for 3 1/2 more years. I mean, I can see it. It fits you the way a glove fits a hand.

Please don't get poetic on me. I don't think I can stand it.

Robert, listen to me. For a superclever, superorganized guy like you, this would be a breeze. Every other one of those vendors, they all do it the same, right? They all sell the same hot dogs. They all put the mustard on the bun and not on the dog. They all sell cups of ice cream that are as hard as the Washington Monument. But you'd be different. You'd run your cart with a little pizzazz, a little panache.

And a little panic, I have a feeling. How many vendors do you know who make a living? Have you forgotten that wife and child in the other room? They eat. Every day. And they don't want to eat leftover hot dogs with the mustard on the bun.

See what newspapering has done to you? You're always looking on the dark side. You're so used to walking around every problem and kicking the tires that you can't see a cinch when it's right in front of your nose. You don't have to peddle hot dogs and frozen-stiff ice cream, dummy. You could sell diet fruit plates. You could put up a sign that says, "If You Want Junk, Try My Competition. If You Want What Mommy Used To Feed You, Try Me."

I don't know, Mirrorface. Old habits die hard. I like writing columns. I like gossiping with the other newsies. I even like some of the food in the Post cafeteria. To leave journalism and take up hawking salads would be an awfully big switch.

Yeah, but think of what you'd do for your mental health. Newsies are fine, but of sound mind and body they sometimes aren't. Down on the Mall, you'd get a daily dose of wholesomeness. Families with freckles and cameras. Sailors on leave who've never been to Washington before, and who are overwhelmed by the majesty of it all. Grandpas explaining George Washington to their granddaughters. I think it would clear some of the cynicism out of that rotten heart of yours.

I think it would be a daily parade of people asking directions to the Air and Space Museum. What's wholesome about that?

Ro-bare, you're a tough case. Is it the new rules governing vendors that you're worried about?

If I were thinking about this seriously, I'd worry about those rules a whole lot. You think real estate is a matter of location, location, location? The vending game is, too. If I couldn't set up on the same corner every morning -- if I had to fight 300 guys at 5 a.m. for a spot at 15th and Constitution -- you're darn right I'd be worried about it. And the way I understand the law, I couldn't reserve the same space every day. The cops will chase you away if you refuse to relinquish "your" space, right?

That's right. But with your charm and skill, you could make money wherever you set up. You could probably sell President Reagan a dinner plate with his own face on it. What do you say? Won't you try?

Mirrorface, I can't do it. The column and the news game mean too much to me. The die is cast. Typing is my life. Sorry.

All right, Bobbsey Baby. But don't say I didn't try. And don't blame me for that.

For what?

For that trickle of blood on the side of your neck.

Mirrorface, why don't you go hide underneath a hot dog? With the mustard on the bun.