By Joyce L. Faiola

Packing my desk, saying my farewells and writing my final memo to junior management the other day, I realized that I had been in the restaurant business 25 years. I felt utterly depressed.

Everyone thought it was the-packing-my-desk part. No one knew it was the two-and-one-half-decades part.

With a final wave from the dishwasher as he stuffed that day's trash in the Dumpster, I got home and toasted myself with skim milk and decided that it was time to fudge the dates a bit on my next bio and look into that Lifestyle Lift.

I was still feeling bummed out after three days of sorting through the six crates of stuff hauled out of my office at the restaurant, so my friend kindly offered to go to the dump. As he headed out the door, I yelled that he shouldn't take my car; I still had stuff in my trunk.

Ten minutes later I headed out to my car to pick up the final shopping bag of files. Opening the trunk, I realized that it wasn't there. I checked the back seat. No bags. My briefcase was still there. Suddenly drenched in sweat, I ran into my office, maybe I had already lugged it in late the previous night. Nope. Light dawned: He couldn't have taken it. Taken the most important bag to the dump?

I dialed the dump, got their answering machine and left a detailed message. For a split second I thought of jumping in my car in my housecoat to see if I could catch him. Instead, I kept dialing the dump and hanging up every time I got the machine. On my fifth try I got a person.

"Help, stop my friend. He's in a brown Honda Civic, he's wearing a red sweatshirt. He's dumping my contacts as we speak!"

"Your contact lenses?"

"No my files -- my press contacts. Stop him!"

"Hold on lady. I think I see him."

Five terrifying minutes go by and my friend comes to the phone -- not sounding too surprised. "What's up?"

I can't repeat verbatim the assortment of words that were used, but suffice it to say they weren't very genteel. The problem was he had to find that one plain white shopping bag that looked just like the eight other white shopping bags he had dumped.

A torturous 30 minutes went by and the conqueror came back with the correct bag -- a bit sloppy on the bottom (the bag and the friend) -- but intact. It seems that particular bag was the first one he had thrown in the pit.

Gray hair number 2,000.

The horrifying part about aging is that I feel 30 and have not calmed down one iota. I feel spunky and young -- and on good days, positive that I'll win a Pulitzer, hopeful that I'll pick up an Academy Award for a screenplay. I still feel girlish. I still feel the need to drive with my top down (the car roof), play the Beatles real loud (oops, am I dating myself here?) and play hooky.

Yeah, play hooky, that's what I'll do before I take another client. I'll play hooky, search for an agent and fantasize about that Pulitzer. Hell, I've got time -- I'm only 30!