They were taking individual portraits of the new Brownwood City Council this week. Perhaps I should have been sneaky and slipped in at the end of the line. Iím in the market for a portrait myself.

Itís a process that doesnít come easily for me, but itís a necessary chore. Sadly, the mug shot printed to the right of these words is long past its expiration date.

You know how frustrating it is when you let something go past its expiration date. I opened a jar of Miracle Whip the other day to make a sandwich, and noticed that its nearly-empty contents where a bit on the lumpy side. Not green, mind you, not yet at least. But lumpy.

So I checked the expiration date. ďBest by April 15, 2007,Ē I read.

Yes, the time had come to toss it out. But I remember having seen an unopened Miracle Whip jar in the cupboard. Now, thatís an outstanding and unprecedented example of planning ahead.

ďBest by Jan. 10, 2007,Ē he label read. Oops, the two jars had been opened in the wrong sequence.

Unlike food, photographs donít spoil ó unless the inks fade or some other chemical reaction related to aging or exposure to sunlight intervenes. You actually ought to take good care of old photos, because they will be treasured by your children and grandchildren some day, especially if youíre thoughtful enough to include names, dates and relationships.

In the case of most high school annual pictures, they might even become blackmail material.

But you donít want a publicity photograph that bears little resemblance to the way a person currently looks. Iím not convinced that is the situation with the accompanying photograph yet, but the clock is definitely ticking.

This realization struck me a few weeks ago when I was researching something entirely unrelated ó something that took me back into the Bulletinís bound volumes of newspapers from 1996.

Some may recall that I was writing this column in 1996. Some may recall I was writing this column in 1986, too. However, I was not writing this column in 1976. That didnít start until July 1977. I go through all this to foreshadow the big 30th anniversary celebration being planned for next month. Watch this space for details, assuming that any details actually develop.

But letís go back to the 1996 issues of the Bulletin. In the papers from the first of January, I noticed an old picture ó and I mean, an OLD picture ó accompanying my Friday articles. That wasnít surprising. But by the time Februaryís pages were being viewed, a different photo was showing up on the viewpoint page.

Itís the same one you see to the left.

I turned back a few pages and determined that this picture was first used with my column published on Jan. 26, 1996. Letís seeÖ thatís 11 years, four months and two weeks. That may be long enough.

The year of our Lord, 1996: A ValuJet crash in the Everglades killed 110 people. Britain was alarmed by an outbreak of Mad Cow disease. Unabomber suspect Theodore Kaczynski was arrested after evading the FBI for 17 years. Prince Charles and Lady Diana agreed to divorce. I donít even want to tell you what the price of a gallon of gasoline was.

And our familyís pickup was brand new.

I liked this picture because itís not formal. Itís not presumptuous. The young guy you see there looks approachable. He looks like heís got more answers than questions. He looks like the me that I envision I still am, not the haggard guy I see in the mirror each morning.

Iím probably spending too much time with this contrived crisis. I actually remember how the photograph came about. It was taken before the newspaperís photography department went digital. We still developed film and printed pictures in the darkroom down the hall.

I was sitting at a desk, mulling the need to replace that other decade-old picture being used then. I asked a reporter returning from an assignment if he had any shots left on the camera. He had just one. I asked him to snap a shot of me.

The darkroom was dismantled long ago, and is now a closet. The smelly bottles of developer and fixer are a distant memory. Photography is now an electronic process, not a chemistry experiment. But my 1996 photograph lingers.

Iíve still got a month before the big anniversary arrives. Perhaps a new mug shot should be the extent of the celebration. Hey, Cat-Juggler, do you have any memory left in that camera?

As I said, watch this space for further developments.

Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at