I was very surprised to read in the newspaper last week that Mrs. Ford said her family was cutting down on their food bills as a way of fighting inflation. The reason I was surprised was that Mrs. Ford has teen-agers, and there is no way under the sun you can cut a food budget when you have teen-agers living in the house. It isn't the immediate family that costs money - it's feeding everyone else's children that sends your food costs sky-rocketing.
In the past most us could get away with giving a strange child a glass milk and a cookie. But recent years we seem to be sustaining large masses of youth, which I have dubbed, for the want of a better name, the sleeping-bag generation.
Last month my grocery bill for a family of four on Martha's Vineyard was $791. This is what happened.
Three sleeping bags showed up at the door. A voice from one of the sleeping bags said, "We're very good friends of your daughter Hilda, and she said we could camp on your property when you got here."
"I don't have a daughter named Hilda," I said.
"That's it," the voice said. "We're good friends of Jenny, and she said we could sleep on your lawn so we won't be arrested and tortured by the police with chains and rubber hoses."
"We won't be any bother," a voice from another sleeping bag said.
"We have stale doughnuts for dinner."
I gave permission for them to camp out on the lawn. When my daughter came home I informed her that three of her dearest friends had arrived and set up camp.
"Boys or girls?" Jenny asked.
"How the hell would I know," I replied.
It turns out that sleeping bags require large amount of nourishment. While those of us who lived in th house could get by on bluefish or eggs, the sleeping bags had to be fed steak, ham, imported cheese, French bread, butter and a good brand of beer.
Every day my daughter, who never did find out their names, carried down provisions to the sleeping bags. The zippers would open up automatically and they would consume $60 worth of groceries at a feeding.
In exchange for the food, the sleeping bags strummed music on a guitar in our living room while I was trying to watch the evening news.
After the sleeping bags departed, a new group of sleeping bags arrived and said they were friends of my son Edward. I probably would have been nicer except that I have no son named Edward. The nearest thing to it was Joel. While it bothered me, it didn't seem to bother Joel. He took all the sleeping bags to Kronig's grocery store where they charged everything to me for a picnic they were holding with some other sleeping bags on the beach.
Now that I'm back in Washington the sleeping bags are starting to show up here. Many turn out to be friends of the sleeping bags who camped on my property in Martha's Vineyard. If I refuse hospitality from them I am considered an ogre by my children, Hilda and Edward, or whatever their names are. But if I let them spread out on the grass I'm going to get another $300 grocery bill.
I'm sure Mrs. Ford is telling the truth when she says she's been able to cut back on her food bills. But I figure the only way she has been able to do it is by having the Secret Service boot all the goose-feather sleeping bag acquaintances of her children right off the White House lawn.