Lemon sole, golden pea tendrils and buffalo medallions were among the delectables served last week to the more than 27 million American school kids who participate each day in the National School Lunch program.
OK, you got me. Those food items were actually part of the menu when Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, dined at the White House last week. Apparently there is such a thing as a free lunch when you're one of the richest men in the United Kingdom.
Charles and Camilla's dining choices were included in the deluge of unwelcome information forced on me by the nation's news outlets during the royal pair's visit to our humble shores. While nothing I read told me exactly what golden pea tendrils are, I did find out that the 56-year-old prince, a notorious bumbler, has allegedly come into his own. If that weren't enough to warm my heart, I also learned that his new wife, while a somewhat frumpy dresser, excels at making small talk with commoners.
Excuse me, please, while I retch.
If there's one thing guaranteed to turn my stomach, it's the expenditure of brain cells and precious time on blow-by-blow reports of the charisma-challenged prince's activities. It's bad enough that some poor buffalo had to give up his medallions to fill the royal heir's belly, but I'm expected to pay attention and pretend like I care?
Bonny Prince Charlie may be a nice guy, and his visits to Ground Zero and the White House came off as the perfectly dignified and carefully choreographed photo ops they were intended to be. But he's nothing more than an ordinary man born in extraordinarily fortunate circumstances. That is not enough to merit our interest or affection -- especially in the United States, where the idea of royal birthright runs counter to the very principles we claim to hold sacred.
Charles' visit to the nation's capital, complete with the obligatory trotting out of dark-skinned school kids to demonstrate his alleged ability to mingle with the masses, stirred up notions of his country's unfortunate legacy of colonialism. And news articles in which Americans discussed the whens and hows of shaking the royal hand only fed our ever-expanding obsession with trivial pursuits.
What message does it send to American youth when our dignitaries roll out the red carpet for one of the world's best-known welfare recipients? It says that you need neither talent, extraordinary intelligence or a tireless work ethic to become wealthy and famous. Really, you don't even need a job. Don't we have Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey to drive that point home?
Sure, I know the prince is involved in charities and can speak in complete sentences. But all this blather about him being an astute businessman, exemplary humanitarian and visionary world leader, as one columnist recently implied, is hyperbole at its worst. And while he may carry out his various public roles with appropriate enthusiasm, it ain't exactly working for a living.
I was heartened -- and a little surprised -- when I read in The Washington Post that the Bush White House took "a decidedly ho-hum public attitude" toward the royal visit. Bush, whose own career contributes little to our by-your-own-bootstraps philosophy of American uplift, has often confused cronyism and the right family ties with bona fide job qualifications.
Amid newspaper-industry concerns with falling circulation, print media's sickening onslaught of royal coverage reflects another, equally perplexing kind of confusion. One day last week, the features section of The Washington Post prominently displayed photos of Camilla and Laura Bush, both of whom are famous mostly for being married to someone famous. Wearing painted-on smiles, they looked stiff, excessively hair-sprayed and every bit like icons of an outdated, irrelevant era. Meanwhile, John Hope Franklin -- a pathbreaking historian and genuine American genius -- was unforgivably relegated to the bottom of the page.
I acknowledge that I am contributing to our misplaced fascination with pomp and privilege by writing about the British royal family here, but I solemnly swear to refrain from doing so in this space again. I wrote about them this time only to raise an argument that I hope will become a rallying cry of my embattled profession: Enough Already!