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Hanging out with people of questionable public repute has become second nature. A good friend is an IRS agent; another sells insurance; one associate peddles a brew called Tahitian Noni as part of a pyramid marketing scheme more insidious than Amway. (He claims it cures everything from acne to cancer to baldness to speech impediments.) An accountant acquaintance is the life of any party - but only when he's awake.

Oh, they're all good at what they do - hard-working people of integrity and professionalism - true and fast friends (as of publication). But you kind of cringe when you introduce them to others, wondering if, well, your mutual association is putting you in the best public light. Especially when you're a card-carrying member of the reputed and highly regarded Fourth Estate - journalism.Let's face it, an agent pal dubbed "Joey" conjures up all sorts of underworld images. He's a pretty decent guy, really, as long as you don't owe back taxes. But when you introduce him to co-workers, they immediately check for bugs and telephone taps.

He and the others are good, well-meaning people who have to earn a living somehow. They are endowed with compensatory virtues - like the friendly used-car salesman - and no doubt will depart in good stead at life's end.

My brother may be another story.

For the sake of anonymity and to save my mother additional pain and thwart possible libel suits, let's call him Seymour. He's a great guy - fine family man who married well, responsible citizen who votes, great golfer, drives the speed limit, recycles, plays a mean jazz trombone, attends church, flosses daily.

But he works for the Legislature.

That's not been an easy thing for the family. Mom weeps openly when talking about it. Dad just sits in a corner and rocks. One sister has moved out of state. Another married and changed her name.

His former teachers, coaches and Scout leaders mumble under their breath and shake their heads slowly: "What could we have done?"

In an attempt to salvage the family name, I tried to compensate by going into journalism. Mom wails louder when reminded of that fact; Dad rocks faster; the girls move frequently and don't leave forwarding addresses.

It hurts. But this could be the beginning of healing, of coming together, of again becoming one - if we can get my brother off the Hill and into something more reputable, say, journalism.

No doubt he's proud to tell his friends at the Legislature that his brother works for a newspaper. They surely think more highly of him and his family ties when they find that out - a far cry from the suspicious glances given me when work colleagues learn of his legislative involvement.

And hey, if he doesn't have quite the character attributes to measure up to the lofty ideals of the journalistic creed, he could still do something else like breaking out the clubs and hitting the PGA tour. He would have done that right out of college, actually, but he let his concern for democracy interfere. Or he could polish up the horn and play his trombone in nightclubs, something that would garner him and the family real respect and recoup the costs of all those music lessons.

But he's on the Hill, the Legislature's in session, and when we go to lunch this week I'll have to introduce him as a legislative analyst - while I'm wearing a ski mask.

Seymour demonstrated no indications of this career-path choice in his early life. He did, however, take a couple of hard falls off the changing table as an infant. We had no carpet at the time, since my father was in higher education and hadn't had a raise in six years. Perhaps something became a bit scrambled when the boy hit and bounced, who knows.

And from ages 2-4, he would bang his head steadily on that same hard floor when tired. We older siblings even composed a song titled "Head Banger" - before slam dancing was conceived - sung to the tune of the Road Runner cartoon theme:

"Poor little head banger never bothers anyone; just bangin' his head's his idea of havin' fun." Chorus: "Head banger, the psychiatrist is after you; head banger, if he catches you you're through." He always smiled groggily when we sang it; he loved the attention.

The counselor never caught up with him, which was just as well. He grew up healthy and hardy and normal and was enshrined in the National Honor Society as a luminous student. He earned bachelor's and master's with honors.

Then he ended up at the Legislature, perhaps due to those thumps on a hard floor that was uncarpeted due to legislative cuts in education. Now he's there this year to watch that same legislative body consider a budgetary "hit list" including some $20.6 million and $9.5 million in cuts to public and higher ed, respectively.

Wonder if he's having flashbacks or just up on the Hill banging his head?