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Slight modifications

I have a tattoo. I have a few pierced body parts. But, hey, so does almost everybody these days – compared with some people’s more creative body adornments, I blend into the background like a chameleon lounging on a beige, ‘80s-era sectional sofa.

"Or like a lizard perched on an IKEA barstool?" asks the Lizard of Fun, swiveling very noticeably on its latest favorite seat.

"Not quite," I say. "Think dull. Think blah. Think February in Detroit."

The Lizard shrugs. "Think quit whining. Whyn’tcha dye your hair purple? Grow a moustache? Get some mirrored insets installed in your forehead? You know, some people actually do something about their looks when they don’t like them."

But, I protest, with all the bodily modification possibilities out there, how do you choose?

The Lizard shrugs. "Check out the possibilities, the practicalities, the pain factor – then narrow it down to what’s most likely to match your desire to look different. Like, how did you decide to get tattooed?"

"I didn’t. My mom wanted one, but she wouldn’t go unless I went, too."

The Lizard gives me one of its ah-so-freakiness-runs-in-families looks. "And the piercings?"

"Sheer impulse."

"Right. Then how about this?" says the Lizard, flipping open a newspaper article it’s clearly been saving for just the right moment. "I’m so touched – there’s a guy who wants to look just like me!"

In disbelief, I look at the article the Lizard is holding. As it turns out, Erik Sprague, a philosophy student in Albany, NY, and clearly a dedicated human chameleon, has been changing his appearance so he looks more like – a lizard. He’s installed bumps in his forehead, tattooed scales on his skin, and even had his tongue surgically split so it looks forked.

"What kind of lizard do you suppose he’s trying to be?" I ask, but the Lizard shrugs.

"Who cares? He’s making himself into one of us! This is soooo cool! It’s way better than that British babe who’s had all those plastic surgeries to make herself look like Barbie."

"Is it?"

"You bet. She just had implants and facelifts and tummy tucks. This guy has had his tongue forked! Imagine! Barbie would never have a forked tongue. This is on a completely different scale."

"So to speak," I say. "So, OK, I’m ready for something different. Let’s find out what’s possible."

The Lizard fires up the laptop and gets itself hooked into our friendly Internet service provider. But when it tries to hit the Yahoo! site, nothing happens.

Frustrated, we wait, and then try again. Nothing. And then, when we’re looking for a book about piercings on amazon.com, the same thing happens: nothing. We are, as we’ll find out later, in the great inconvenient throes of trying to access these sites at the same time as they, along with eBay, buy.com and CNN’s Web sites, are under a massive hacker attack.

What happened was someone, possibly in California or Oregon, possibly not, managed to incapacitate these popular Web sites by, well, using them. An amazon.com executive called it "junk traffic" – in other words, incoming requests kept the site so swamped customers couldn’t use it to buy anything.

"Hmmm," says the Lizard. "So, as far as they’re concerned, it’s the computer equivalent of having a crowd of people in a shop who are ‘just browsing,’ thereby preventing the real spenders from shopping?"

"Uh-huh. And with Yahoo!, I suppose it was like having too many people asking for information at once."

"Isn’t that what Yahoo! is supposed to do? Provide information about important stuff like how to turn yourself into a lizard?"

"Well, theoretically, yes. But when people do this smurfing, as I’ve heard it called, it’s like what they worried would happen if everyone picked up their phone on New Year’s, just to see if it had a dial tone."

"Smurfing?" asks the Lizard, disgusted.

"I didn’t invent the name."

But the Lizard ignores me, and gazes fondly at the article about Lizardman Erik. "You know, you should really do this. A few bumps, a crest of scales, it might be just the change you’re looking for. You, too, could look like a hacker."

I stare at the Lizard uncomprehendingly. "A hacker? Somehow I don’t think computer hackers are necessarily pierced, body-modifying types."

"You mean," says the Lizard, looking disappointed, "‘Hack’ doesn’t refer to what they do to their tongues?"

"Ugh," I say. "It means they’re jamming up computers with too much of a good thing."

"I get it. Like releasing that Scream 3 hackfest in thousands of theaters all at once. Y’know, I don’t think they were hackers."

"No?"

The Lizard shakes its head. "Nope. I’m convinced. It was merely thousands of trendsetters, all wondering how to turn into lizards. No wonder we couldn’t get through."

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