'What are you staring at, Mirrorface?" I inquired, of the haggard visage that gazed back at me the other morning.

"You, Gorgeous!"

"You're entirely too kind."

"And you're entirely too tired. You see those crow's feet? I'm not making them up. You see those raccoon jobs under your eyes? Those aren't labeled F-for-fiction, either. It's time for you to reconsider the way you're spending your life."

"Wonderful, Mirrorface. The savings and loan that holds the mortgage will be delighted to hear that. 'Hi, there, folks. Levey calling. I'm awful sorry, but I can't make the payment this month. My mirror image thinks I should move to Bolivia and take up transcendental meditation.' "

"No, no, I have a far better idea than that. I think you should return to your first love. I think you should become a political reporter again."

"You know, I think I'm going to go get the Windex. Maybe a little shot of that will bring you to your senses."

"My friend, I make this suggestion only because it would be in your best interest. It would remind you of your youth. It would get you in step with political Washington. It would get the juices flowing again."

"The only thing it would do would be to sentence me to endless plane rides, in the middle seat of three-abreast, with seatmates who want to tell me how exciting the grocery business is in Tuscaloosa."

"You're being simple-minded about this. Covering politics is where the action is. It's only a little over two years until the next presidential circus begins. Don't you want to be out there, beating the bushes, taking political temperatures, trying to find the next Jimmy Carter?"

"Mirrorface, perhaps you don't recall why Walter Mondale declined to run for president in 1980. He said he didn't want to spend the next year of his life in Holiday Inns. Do you think I do?"

"Well, I hear a lot of these motels have gotten a lot more homey lately."

"Don't be a wise guy. You know very well what I mean. And since when is covering politics so wonderful? Have you forgotten what the campaign trail is really like? The candidate spends all his time mugging for the TV reporters. You can't ask him an intelligent question without elbowing a couple of sound men out of the way. You can't get a good fix on who's really ahead, because Candidate A always says he is, and Candidate B always says he is. You can't get a straight answer to any question that doesn't place the candidate in a favorable light. And then, near the end of the campaign, the candidates always have the nerve to beef about how your coverage hasn't focused on the issues. No, thanks."

"But admit it: you liked the roving life, didn't you?"

"I hated it! Never knowing if you had enough toothpaste. Never knowing if you had enough clean shirts. Never knowing if you'd have another meal before 2 a.m., or without some busboy running an electric carpet sweeper under your feet as you ate. And that doesn't count the physical demands of life on the road. Three a.m. cocktails. Five a.m. wakeup calls. Drinking rancid coffee out of styrofoam cups for weeks on end. You think I'm tired now? Remember the time I fell asleep in a phone booth dictating a story from the Wallace campaign?"

"Yes, I had forgotten that."

"Well, a certain editor hasn't. It's a miracle I didn't take up selling pencils that very day."

"But, Ro-bare, there is plenty about political reporting that's hard to beat."

"Yes, Mirrorface, there is. The camaraderie is marvelous. The sense of covering an important story is always there. But there's something about campaigns that makes them all seem the same after a while. For all its blarney and boastfulness, I think I'd rather cover Capitol Hill. Write about the same great leaders after they get here, if you will. At least that way, I'd spend most of my life in the first cab zone instead of running to make a connection at O'Hare Airport."

"Would covering the Hill make you less tired? I hope so. I mean, honestly, those flabby cheeks and those bloodshot eyes. If I don't worry about you, who will?"

"Save it, Mirrorface. The only thing I'll promise is that I'll think about covering the Hill. But there's plenty to drive you nuts up there, too. All those legislative aides with the same red patterned ties. All those tourists clutching their gallery passes. All those 311-page committee reports that nobody ever reads. That doesn't sound like any bargain, either, now that I think about it."

"Mr. L., you leave me no choice. I'll let you remain a columnist. A man can't wear a shoe that doesn't fit. And political reporting would fit you like Patrick Ewing's sneakers."

"I appreciate your wisdom, old friend."

"There's just one more thing . . . ."

"Yes?"

"I'm worried about that drooping flesh on your neck. Would you consider a face lift?"

"Windex, Windex, where the heck's the Windex? . . ."