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Punching lunch ticket in Conway 


I'm probably doing something unethical, but I can't quite put my finger on it.


Each year they throw a charity silent auction in Conway for a worthy local arts enterprise. By the brainchild of local state Sen. Gilbert Baker, the state Republican chairman, an item offered for bid each year provides lunch with him and me and Lu Hardin, the oft-televised president of the University of Central Arkansas.


Each year someone actually makes a bid, apparently, and each year we find an agreeable date to gather at Hardin's college-provided presidential residence across the road from the stateÕs fastest-growing institution of higher learning. The high bidder (only?) always brings four or five guests.


Ever-solicitous Lu insists over my demurral each year that I sit in his usual chair at the head of the table. He told me at this year's event, held Wednesday, that only three people had sat in this chair during his tenure. Those would be himself, me and Ann Coulter, when she came to UCA a couple of years ago to contaminate young minds and get publicly proposed to by some poor misguided young matriculant. I implored someone to wash down the chair.


A stellar lunch comes out of the presidential home's kitchen each year, provided, I guess, by UCA money, be it from taxpayers, students or the foundation.


I suppose my part is simply to show up and make bad jokes, rib Gilbert Baker and predict that it'll be McCain vs. Hillary and that McCain will win.


But I keep wondering each year if maybe I ought to -- oh, I don't know -- chip in a few bucks for lunch or something. But I haven't wondered enough actually to do it.


If a guy is going to preach that legislators shouldn't take even a cup of coffee from lobbyists, should he not eschew a free lunch on even a quasi-public tab and even for charity?


The least he could do would be make a public show of conscience about it.


There seems to be an implied notion that I'm covered by donating my time. But that's not such a valuable commodity. Mainly I've been concocting supposed demands on it lately to avoid having to put up the Christmas tree. I'd be having lunch anyway. And Conway is but a 25-minute drive.

This year, I specifically complimented the pumpkin cheese cake -- not to be nice, because I'm not, but because it bowled me over. It was a chiffon thing, all light and seasonally festive.


So, Hardin went staightway on my departure and dispatched a young aide who almost beat me back to the office in Little Rock with my own whole such cake, conveniently pre-sliced and adorned with dollops of whipped cream.


I couldn't very well send the nice young man back to Conway with his cake, by then badly in need of refrigeration. Could I? So, anyway, it's here at the office if anybody wants a slice, provided any is left, which I doubt.


The purchaser of our lunch this year was a most impressive young woman named Allison Vetter. That's Dr. Vetter. She's a sociology professor at UCA who, President Lu announced during lunch, will be getting money for a study of whether persons entering into these newfangled covenant marriages -- now available in Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona -- turn out to be any happier or healthier or more committed than normally married couples.


I await Dr. Vetter's scholarly findings, but ventured an opinion. It was that these covenantly married people will turn out to be no more married than my mom and dad were, or than Lu and dear Mary Hardin are, or than I have been on any of my three occasions.


Perhaps its observations of that quality that punch my lunch ticket.

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