What are you staring at, Mirrorface?

I'm staring at you, you smashingly handsome devil.

Don't start that sweet-talking stuff. It's too early in the morning, and I can't see straight yet. Besides, look at those bags under my eyes.

Robert, it's obvious that your choice of profession -- a subject we've been through before -- is beginning to grate on your nerves, not to mention your face. Have you considered a career change?

Last time you wanted me to run for mayor. It took me two months to convince you that Barry's unbeatable. Then you wanted me to be a vendor on the Mall, because the fresh air would do me so much good. No, thanks. What'll it be this time? The splendor and glory of law school?

Let's not get snide, Mr. L. What I have in mind is a new career for you that will make the city a better place. It'll also mean you can put your money where your columnic mouth has been. Bobbsey, I think you should become a D.C. cabdriver.

Mirrorface, I think all that steam from the shower has ruined whatever you use for a brain. I think the toothpaste fumes must be getting to you. I think the aerosol from the deodorant can must . . . .

Will you do it?

You can't be serious. The streets are already crammed with cabbies who can't make a living. Why should I join them? I don't particularly enjoy cruising up and down K Street. I don't especially relish the thought of waiting in line for a fare for three hours outside the Capital Hilton.

But aren't you the scribe who always says Washington needs cabbies who know where they're going, who don't smoke, who can quote the fares from memory and who don't suddenly discover they're out of gas every time somebody wants to go to Southeast?

For a piece of glass, your recall is astonishing. Yes, I have written all those things. But why would hacking in D.C. remove those crow's feet and those gray hairs you always flash at me? If anything, my degeneration would probably accelerate.

Nonsense, Ro-bare. You'd meet the nicest people. You'd breathe the sweet sea air beside the Potomac and the Anacostia. You'd never miss the news on the radio. And you would have the chance to inflict your bizarre opinions on one passenger at a time, instead of hundreds every weekday.

Mirrorface, have you noticed the traffic these days around Washington, D.C.? Have you seen what happens to my blood pressure when gridlock takes over at just one intersection? Can you imagine what would happen to my circulatory system if I had to cope with that hour after hour and day after day? I'd break the steering wheel, or break my hand trying.

But what about all those brave words you've written about Sunday nights at National Airport and Union Station? Wouldn't you like to be the first cabbie in history to pick up the first fare in line, rather than the first one you think might be going to Columbia? Wouldn't you like the chance to smile at some lady and say, "Why, certainly, ma'am, I'll be delighted to take you to 53rd and C SE, all by yourself. I wouldn't dream of loading five more passengers into the cab and making $25 when I could take you by yourself and make five."

I don't disagree with your reasoning, Mirrorface. I just don't see why I have to be the cabbie to break the mold. Why can't all the drivers who are already out there mend their ways? Why can't the city force them to?

Hey, I'm just a reflector, Bob. I have no desire to run the hack bureau.

And I have no desire to spend the rest of my life behind a smoke-spewing bus on Rhode Island Avenue. Besides, there's the whole question of money. From what I understand, cabbies have to work an average of 50 hours a week to take home about $300. Now, six bucks an hour isn't the worst wage in the world, but it's not the best, either. For that kind of money, I could do something truly marvelous. Like program a computer.

Handsome, I was hoping you would mention that. I think programming is the field for you. You're so logical. You're so reasonable. You operate so well within a restricted universe.

Mirrorface, how long has it been since I covered you with shaving cream?

Ever since I suggested that you become a toll taker at the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel.

You want another smoosh?

I guess you don't want to be a computer programmer, do you?

Good guess. Nor do I want to be a cabbie, now or ever. I may drive myself bananas in the newspaper world from time to time, but I'd rather deal with editors than with red-light runners.

OK, Handsome. See if I care. See if I keep concealing the stress lines around those baby blues. See if I tell you about the new career I really think you should try.

Which is?

Which is being a barber. You shave yourself so well.

Mirrorface, I couldn't have done it without you.