Local Lifestyle

Monday, Apr 23 2012 06:16 PM

Appetite for knowledge rivals hunger for shrimp

By The Bakersfield Californian

Thursday I went back to college. I learned something. I might go again, especially if they figure out how to grow bigger shrimp. This was CSUB and the annual Charles W. Kegley memorial lecture put on by the Kegley Institute of Ethics. I'm outing Christopher Meyers, the director of the institute, right now. Heading this department -- whose mission statement is "Inspired by love and guided by reason" (Bertrand Russell) -- is the best job at the university.

Most of us work in environments "inspired by fear and guided by looney birds."

I immediately focused on the shrimp. Not really the shrimp, but Christopher told me there would be appetizers and wine before the lecture given by James B. Stewart, business columnist for the New York Times, author of "Den of Thieves," the best-selling account of the insider-trading scandal that nearly brought down Wall Street, and owner of a sickeningly impressive resume.

During cocktail hour, the institute would also honor CASA's Colleen McGauley, chosen for the community ethics award. This is a new award, so if you want to be considered for next year, put aside your wicked ways and do something with your life other than worry about shrimp.

I admire Colleen, but mostly I like saying her name. It rolls off the tongue and makes me think of Ireland, rolling hills and laughing children with heavy accents.

Inside the Albertson Room, face to face with the appetizers, I had a decision to make. Do you fashion a meal from the thinly sliced steak with horseradish on French bread, the mixed green and black olives, the warm, cheesy, whatever-it-was spread, and the teeny, tiny cups of teeny, tiny shrimp? Or do you go light and eat dinner after the lecture?

I asked Bart Hill, who works in University Advancement at CSUB, for his strategy:

"Definitely make this the meal," he said.

Bart is wise, but here is the problem with that plan: The plastic plates were small, the portions petite and in order to make this dinner, you have to be like a buzzard circling road kill, making repeated passes at the carcass.

What made it more challenging was the shrimp. I'd never seen smaller shrimp. If shrimp are big enough, you can build Shrimp Mountain and have it make a dent in a dinner appetite.

How do you even catch shrimp this small? I remember small shrimp at Sea Breeze years ago, but these shrimp made those look like plump, pink shrimp whales. They were tasty, but it was hard to get a visual on them.

Judge Robert Tafoya and Sandra Serrano, chancellor of the Kern Community College District, were milling about. If they were struggling with the shrimp, they didn't let on. They reek of intelligence and sophistication, attributes the great shrimp hunter does not have.

Colleen McGauley received her award and then one of those oversized cardboard checks for $5,000 made out to CASA. She cried. I was so moved by her innate goodness that I almost forgot about the quark-sized shrimp for a minute and whether I would or would not be eating dinner later.

Cocktail hour over, we filed into the auditorium. I looked at James B. Stewart's resume again. Contributor to The New Yorker, nine books, former columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg professor of business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School, and also sued by Michael Milken for $30 million after writing a book about the junk bond fiasco. Stewart, a tall distinguished man, also looks good in a suit.

His speech was called "Back from the Brink: The Causes and Ethical Implications of the Great Recession."

I don't care if the speech was canned and he's given it a million times. It was so good, he made me forget about dinner and remember what I liked about college. I could do college again and, maybe this time, get more out of the experience than quiet naps on the library couches.

An hour and a half later, we were walking to our cars. I was hungry. Some of it was for food.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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