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Could you endure lunch with Ernest for a cause?

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published October 25, 2005


In one of the more memorable scenes from the underrated classic Groundhog Day , Bill Murray ends up one of the top prizes in a bachelor auction.

After a series of back-and-forth bidding, Andie MacDowell wins Murray by offering everything she has in her bank account, $339.89.

Seeing Murray's good fortune, Chris Elliott volunteers to be the next bachelor. The bidding starts at $1.50 and embarrassingly goes down instead of up. Finally, Elliott's misery ends when an elderly woman gets him with a bid of 25 cents.

This scene has been on my mind a lot lately because I'm worried about suffering a similar fate. I'm not a bachelor, but I am going to be offered in an auction ... sort of.

On Saturday, the Felder Family will hold MaSquerade, its annual fundraiser for multiple sclerosis at the University of South Florida's Gibbons Alumni Center. Megan Felder, a USF graduate student, has MS and, for the fourth consecutive year, Megan and her family and friends have organized an event to help "unmask" a cure.

This year's event will feature entertainment, music, cocktail foods, an open bar, gaming tables and a silent auction. That's where I come in. Among the prizes will be a "Lunch with Ernest" package. Yes, someone thought that if a chance to sit and talk with me was offered in the auction, it would fetch a healthy bid and help the cause.

That someone, of course, was not me. From the minute I agreed to "help," the forlorn look Elliott had on his face in Groundhog Day has continuously flashed in my mind.

Boy that Lunch with Ernest didn't go over too well. Next year, let's see if we can get 7-Eleven to donate some taquitos and Slim Jims. That'll get us more than $3.35.

Except for taking a Dale Carnegie course, I've done all I can to make this package inviting. First of all, my friend Dave Chapdelaine, owner and chef extraordinaire of 220 East, is donating our meals and is even going to select a bottle of wine from his extensive collection.

Of course, it is lunch, so we'll be limited to one glass apiece. I will have to come back to work and, even though many friends say I write better under the influence, I will not be putting that theory to the test.

Second, the Times has graciously added the following to the package: a framed photo of the Sunshine Skyway bridge from one of our award-winning photographers, a 26-week subscription and four tickets to the Florida Aquarium. And if the top bidder strikes my fancy, I might include him or her in an upcoming column.

Still, I worry. My biggest fear is that I'll end up paying for the package and having lunch with myself. How? Well, I'm going to bid on myself to drive the price up. I can't take a chance that no one will show interest, so I'll have to inflate the bidding.

There's also a chance that one of my friends will end up with the winning bid - after I slip them some money to rig the auction.

Oh, sure, I can take my chances and let the process take its natural course. With my dynamic personality, isn't there at least one person who's interested? And who doesn't want to get the Times for half a year?

Yep. I'm in trouble.

My worry wouldn't be so great if my lunch was the best package going. But the big money will surely go toward the Ford Amphitheatre VIP seats for the Alan Jackson concert, the four primo Lightning tickets and the two Southwest Airlines tickets.

Bidder No. 1: Let's see, do I go for the airline tickets or the Lunch with Ernest?

Bidder No. 2: Who's Ernest?

Basically, I'm writing all of this to get someone's help. Sure, contributing to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to raise awareness and increase research is important. And Megan's passion for life, as well as her supporters, would make even the stingiest soul pull out his wallet.

But let's focus on the big picture. This is about me and my fragile ego.

I need somebody - anybody - to come to the MaSquerade on Saturday and help a brother out. Tickets are $35 $50 if you want to be recognized as a patron. It's not a costume ball, so just dress to impress and bring a credit card. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and additional information is available at www.masqueradeoftampabay.org

For me, the term silent auction has taken on new meaning, because I'll be holding my breath until the bidding is closed.

That's all I'm saying.

--Ernest Hooper can be reached at 813 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 25, 2005, 03:00:29]


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