New Orleans. -- I had a dream that I was behind a plate-glass window in plain public view. I was doing all the things I usually do but there were people watching with great interest as if brushing my teeth was suddenly a matter of grave importance. The funny thing was that beyond a vague sense of exasperation I felt quite at ease. What's more, I had the feeling that if I ever stepped out of the window I would be instantly killed.

Now, you don't have to be a shrink to figure out that I've become a middle-aged puppet of my own image. It happens to everyone to some extent or other that they feel suddenly exposed to the gaze of the world. It's part of being around long enough so that people see you, the way they see buildings on their way to work. "Oh, that wreck, at the corner of Humanity & Music streets, it's been there forever!" Only people lucky enough to work solo in the sewers or as lookouts on Magic Mountain can prevent this terrible exposure to the gaze of passing traffic. The trouble is, every time someone looks at you they peel off a piece of your soul. In the end, if you're stared at long enough there will be nothing left but the bare bones of your puppet going through the motions for the benefit of the spectators. It's the kind of thing that makes people move to South Dakota, where there are fewer people, or become monks, who keep their eyes on the ground, but that's hardly an escape since fewer people are known to look harder and monks spectate each other like crazy even if they don't look straight at each other.

I've heard children say petulantly to some oversolicitous adult, "Don't look at me!" I know what they mean. In my case, the gazing is compounded by the public nature of my activities. I can't complain that I'm being stared at if my profession calls for people to stare. Still, I'm complaining. Isn't that something to behold?

And I didn't even get to the part about being killed if I stop exhibiting.

Andrei Codrescu is editor of "Exquisite Corpse."

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