Every profession has its fringe benefits.

Economists get free lunches. Doctors don't have to wait in line for a second opinion.Journalists can claim bragging rights.

Hey, reporters may not get paid the big bucks, but we always have stories to tell at parties. (Those of us who are invited to parties, that is.)

Ask Bruce Hills. Hills, the Deseret News' agricultural specialist, hobnobs with presidential types.

Well, OK. He talked to Ted and Bobby Kennedy on the phone once, in the spring of 1968, when he was managing editor of the New Albany, Ind., Tribune. The Kennedys were stumping on the speech circuit, and wanted some press during their stop in New Albany.

Hills said his wife, Judith, picked up the phone. "She said, `Bruce, Bobby Kennedy wants to talk to you.' I didn't believe her until I got on the phone. Ted Kennedy was on the other end, smiling over the phone - he could do it - and saying great things," Hills recalls.

Lois Collins, who writes about Social Services, has nice eyes, according to Lionel Richie.

Ray Boren's career as a film consultant may have been relatively limited, but he can brag that movie superstar Robert Redford chatted for a while about journalism before the filming of "All the President's Men." Boren, then a night police reporter, is now associate editor of the Today Section.

Angelyn Nelson Hutchinson, an education reporter, claims she is the only woman to say "no" to Redford. At a Society of Professional Journalists meeting at which Redford spoke, Hutchinson was seized by a coughing attack. Redford interrupted his comments to reach over and hand her a glass of water. In an effort to not create a larger disturbance, Hutchinson turned down the water.

Twila Van Leer, now education editor, says she used to be good friends with local morticians, back when she wrote obituaries. They gave her hand cream. "It was good lotion," she said. "I'm sorry they wasted it on the dead folks."

Interesting packages, boxes and crates show up as fringe benefits to the food editor, said Ann Whiting Allen. "I receive new product announcements for crackers, chips, spaghetti sauces, dipping chocolate, cheeses, jams and jellies, syrups, pastas, all sorts of beverages and then only photographs of the new Dannon's frozen yogurt bars or mini-Dove bars."

There was the delivery of a wooden crate of California apricots, she said, but most surprisingly were the five pounds of Vidalia onions: pride of the South, freshly pulled and energetically scrubbed - completely photogenic on arrival.

Elaine Jarvik once got an exclusive interview with the inventor of the artificial heart. It was a pretty big story, and pretty interesting, too, but, of course, Robert Jarvik was her husband at the time.

Jarvik, a Today Section feature writer, did interview Vice President George Bush, back in 1968, when he was a representative from Texas, and she was a "lowly nothing" with Northwestern University's Medill News Service. "I was very nervous," she said, "and I couldn't figure out how to work my tape recorder, but Bush was very charming and got it working for me."

Jay Evensen, a Deseret News government reporter, lunched with Liberace.

Well, he did once. While writing for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Evensen called to arrange a phone interview with the bejeweled pianist. Instead, he was invited to the antique room of Liberace's restaurant, Tivoli Gardens.

"The table must have been 400 years old, as were the plates and silverware. Everything in the room was antique. I gently set my tape recorder down and tried to start the interview while a team of waiters attended to our every need, making me feel like I had pulled into a pit stop at the Indy 500," he said.

Evensen found himself a little bit intimidated eating with a man who had once commissioned an Italian artist to paint a reproduction of Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" on his bedroom ceiling. The artist had deviated slightly from the original, making sure he included Liberace's face in the painting.

"I'm also pretty sure I had never lunched with anyone who owned 10 houses and 27 dogs or who owned the world's largest rhinestone.

"The highlight came when I asked him if he agreed with people who felt he was too worldly. He furrowed his brow and looked puzzled. "Worldly?" he asked. "How do you mean?"

And Police Reporter Brent Israelsen has eaten dinner with Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Buchanan, a Miami Herald police reporter. Buchanan, who wrote the book, "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, is a messy eater, Israelsen reports.

R. Scott Lloyd, a Church News writer, tells about the time he met famed trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey and gave him a ride in his 1966 Volkswagen Beetle. "He said: `A Volkswagen and a buck a day for food got me through law school,' and `If this were anything but a Volkswagen, I would offer to pay for the ride.' " He smoked a panatella and dangled it out the wing window so he wouldn't stink up the car.

Susan Lyman, a Today Section writer, said her friends aren't too impressed with her famous-people stories. "For example, the other day while I was interviewing Peggy Fleming, I noticed on her agenda that a friend of mine was introducing her on that night's program.

"My kids, however, are starting to dig it. I took them along when I interviewed Gordon from Sesame Street. I took them along when I reviewed Roller Derby. But actually, the person they are most impressed about me knowing in the whole world is Chris Hicks, (Deseret News film critic) because he's on TV. All this fame stuff is relative," Lyman said.

Reporting on sports figures often makes great story material. Ask Kurt Kragthorpe about his brush with greatness.

"I was covering the 1986 NBA Finals in Houston, and the big story was Houston's switching different defenders on Larry Bird. Amid a crowd of reporters, I asked Bird, "Do you really even care who guards you?" Bird looked right at me, shrugged and said, "You can guard me if you want to."

Kragthorpe hasn't - yet - but at least he was extended an invitation.

Hills claims to have broken the story about how Cassius Clay became a black Muslim and changed his name to Mohammed Ali.

Hills, then a reporter for the Chicago Times, spent an evening waiting outside the Muslim headquarters on the south side of Chicago for Clay, who was supposed to be inside. The Muslims asked Hills inside the building, where they photographed him, then told him to leave, as the prize fighter wasn't there.

About 10 p.m., Hills' patience paid off, when Clay and his brothers and body guards came out of the building, and got into three big black cars. "Clay rode in the middle car and I drove up alongside, at speeds approaching 80 mph, and Clay leaned way out the window and gave me an interview, complete with poetry," he said.

Lee Davidson, a reporter who has interviewed scores of polygamists and been covered in flood waters, said the only bragging right he claims is that he was the first college receiver for BYU's Jim McMahon, now of Chicago Bears fame.

"OK, so I was never on the Brigham Young University football team," he admits. When Davidson was writing for BYU's Daily Universe, McMahon signed a letter of intent to play for the Cougars. Davidson and a photographer drove to Roy High School to interview him. "We needed to get some pictures of him throwing the football, so I went out to catch the passes. I dropped the first one. But I did catch others.

"So when I saw McMahon throw the miracle pass at the Holiday Bowl, or saw him win the Super Bowl, I could always claim - by stretching the truth a bit - that I was the first BYU student to catch a McMahon pass after he decided to go to BYU."

Me? Well, I discovered Steve Young.

Young was an unheard of 20-year-old sophomore in October 1982, battling for the No. 2 quarterbacking spot behind MacMahon when I interviewed him in my living room for my first-ever newspaper story.

His roommates brought him over to my apartment in a pickup truck, and stood outside the window listening to the interview. My roommates were much more suave - they were giggling in the back hallway. Young had a reputation as a runner at the time, and wanted to be known as a "passer." He said the word with reverent tones.

Young left BYU two years later to the tune of a $40-million-dollar contract with the fledgling United States Football League's Los Angeles Express. Sportswriters figured he was making nearly $40,000 a pass.

Me? Well, I started my career stringing for the Associated Press at the princely rate of $.03 cents a word.

But my bragging rights are priceless.