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The adventures of Mirror Man

I had just paid for my gas and was walking back to my car when I heard the call one evening a few weeks ago.

"Hey newspaper man!"

I looked up and there he was, poking his round, smiling face out of a white Blazer.

Anjarvis Parks.

I first met Anjarvis during Thomson Elementary's Thanksgiving celebration. A few months later, I saw him again at the 21st Century Sock Hop -- he was the child on the top of the front page a few weeks ago.

Yet there he was in the Sprint parking lot, chastising me for spelling his name wrong (which I didn't, we later found out) and asking when I was going to put him in the paper again.

Call it my albatross. I can't get away from it. Every time I walk into a lunchroom, classroom or gym, some student or group of students is going to invariably ask to be in the paper -- making me a pretty popular fellow in some spaces. It even follows me into Wal-Mart, the gas station and restaurants.

My wife has even come up with a name for my alter-ego: Mirror Man.

I can see it now: "Look! There with the camera, can of Mountain Dew and stained shirt. It's a heart attack waiting to happen. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet's worst nightmare. It's Mirror Man!"

Maybe I see too much.

But there are times even a superhero can't handle reality.

Mine came a few days after I ran into Anjarvis at Sprint.

I had walked into Maxwell Elementary's cafeteria to take pictures of Hannah Fowler's last day and was stopped by a couple of students who had called out to Mirror Man. They had been in a kindergarten class I had taken a picture of a few weeks earlier and remembered me. We talked a little bit about why I was there, what they were having for lunch and how they were doing in school.

Then, one of the guys spoke up: "This is my mom's lunchbox," he said, pointing to the purple sack in front of him.

That's nice, I said.

"My mom's dead," he said.

What? How did this conversation get here? I tried to say something comforting and reached out to pat his head.

"She died when I was a baby. But it's OK, I've still got my dad."

Then one of his buddies chimed in.

"My dad's in jail. He didn't pay child support so my mom went and took out a warrant on him."

Then another.

"My mom was in jail, but she's out now."

And all in kindergarten.

Three boys sitting at the end of one table in one lunchroom in one school. Three boys who've already faced things no one should ever see. Three boys still smiling, playing and living.

It's enough to make Mirror Man cry.

Just not in front of the kids.

Web posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004

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