Sam, how could you? It's 3:14 a.m. and for the fourth middle-of-the-night in a row, I have awakened because your little feline feet have blazed a trail across my chest. If you're hungry, Sammy, too bad. No food till 7. House rules. And no more sleep for Papa Bear if I don't shrug this interruption off. I know. Rather than sheep, I'll count the number of incumbent members of Congress who will get knocked off on Nov. 6. One incumbent, two incumbents, three incumbents, four . . . .

"Mr. Levey?"

"Yes?"

"Mr. Levey, my name is Ralph Goodytwoshoes. I know you've been in Washington a long time . . . ."

"Somewhere between three and four eternities."

"Right, right, that's what I was told. Anyhow, I'm a 31-year-old resident of East Gumdrop, Texas. I'm seriously thinking of running for Congress. I understand you can give me some advice."

"It's your nickel. How can I help?"

"Well, Mr. Levey, I believe we need a return to the old days, when Congress was full of genuine altruism and sincere principles. I want to run so I can serve the people."

"That's as grand as the canyon, Mr. Goodytwoshoes. But Washington doesn't work that way. The only way you can serve the people is to stay in office. So you'll need to worry not just about getting here, but about staying here too. And that'll mean trolling for money almost constantly. You know what a PAC is?"

"Sure. I wear one on my back when I ride my ten-speed around town."

"How quaint. It means something entirely different here, my friend. It's a legal way for groups to give you money."

"But I don't want money. I plan to print my own campaign posters on my desktop computer. And once I take office, I won't need much of a salary. I plan to move into a youth hostel, preferably one where I can store my bike. As for food, well, I'll bring along a hot plate and a couple of cases of vegetable beef soup. I already have two suits and a brown tie. What else would I need?"

"Mr. Goodytwoshoes, I hope you'll pardon the expression, but if you ever get here with that kind of attitude and that kind of look, the big boys will have you for breakfast. First of all, you'll need to spend half your time making public appearances and fulminating on TV, so you'll need way more than two suits. You'll do most of your eating at fancy restaurants, because you'll need to be entertaining important constituents. They won't want vegetable beef soup. As for a place to live, a youth hostel might get you a feature in the Style section about The Congressman Who's Different. But if you don't live in Potomac or McLean, or at least a $350,000 town house in Old Town Alexandria, people might think you're not . . . how shall I say it? . . . congressional enough."

"Mr. Levey, I don't care about image. I just want to serve the people. If a widow is having trouble collecting her Social Security, I want to help her -- personally. If a veteran is getting the runaround from the VA, I want to help him -- personally. If a group of people from East Gumdrop want to take a tour of the Rotunda, I want to be the one to show them around. Isn't that what the job is all about?"

"My God, man, that's why lawmakers have staffs! Members never do that stuff themselves!"

"But I would. If the people send me to Washington, then the people should expect me to be the one to represent them."

"Mr. Goodytwoshoes . . . ."

"Besides, I'd never go home on Thursday morning, as I understand so many congressmen do. Why, what if there were a vote on Thursday evening, or Friday? I wouldn't be there! I'd be letting down the people who elected me!"

"Mr. Goodytwoshoes . . . ."

"And I couldn't go to any fancy embassy receptions at night, as I understand so many members of Congress do. I'd need to spend my evenings reading up on all the legislation that had been introduced that day. I mean, don't legislators always read every word of every bill that they have to vote on?"

"Mr. Goodytwoshoes . . . ."

"But most important, I could never fulminate on TV, as you phrase it, Mr. Levey. Because I'd need to be in my office, reading letters from my constituents and answering every one of them personally. By hand."

"I wish you all the luck in the world, Mr. Goodytwoshoes. But by the time I reach my fourth eternity in Washington and you reach the end of your first term, I predict you'll change your tune. You'll become an incumbent. And incumbents always change. Incumbents always sell out. Incumbents always think about PACs and 'Meet the Press' and junkets. Incumbents . . . .

The radio snapped on. Sam the cat stared as Harden and Weaver joked about the Redskins. Then the feline paws crossed my chest once more. "Sammy," I said, "if you ever run for Congress, will you please buy three new suits first?"