My favorite thing in the world is a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
When I was a boy I ate them daily. Nothing in adulthood has ever quite matched that early splendor, that gorgeously oozing innocent sensuality, that sheer scrumptious sticky-fingered joy!
They were best made, in my view, with cheap soft white bread, runny jelly that got the bread all soggy -- especially if the sandwich spent a few hours marinating in my hot little lunch box -- great slathers of soft butter, and very thick layers of peanut butter.
Best accompanied, of course, by a tall glass of ice-cold milk.
Now, in my dotage, I've had to shift to Crazy Richard's brand -- which doesn't have any of those bad old hydrogenated oils -- and oat or some other "healthy" bread.
Still, a taste o' heaven in a tough world.
Nor, as it turns out, am I alone. Shortly after assuming the presidency, George W. Bush ordered peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches -- with a choice of raspberry, strawberry or grape -- added to the menu at the White House mess.
And the most popular items at the reception after Michael Bloomberg's inauguration as New York's mayor were, according to news reports, hot chocolate and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
Meanwhile, in California, the Orange County Register reported that 100-year-old Carl Farrell Irvin reads the Bible daily and eats three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
He supplements them with meat and potatoes, which makes plenty of sense to me. Just the other night, I had a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for dinner, too -- preceded by a pound of (cooked) bacon as an hors d'oeuvre.
What is this peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich passion all about? I decided to check with a few pals.
"Oh my God, yeah!" said Tom Snowden, 35, a videotape editor here for "NBC Nightly News." "I've lived on 'em. They're my favorite food! We used to call 'em 'choke 'n' slides' in New York where I grew up. You choke on the peanut butter and the jelly slides right down."
Tom, like so many of us, recalls "growing up on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. My mom always made them, and she put extra jelly on. There was just something about the way she made them that tasted better than anybody else's. It had to be Skippy peanut butter -- creamy -- and Smucker's grape jelly. I was so finicky, I wouldn't eat any other kind."
Tom still has peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches "a couple of times at week, at least -- usually for a late-night snack. With a nice glass of milk." Though now, like me, he uses "whole-wheat bread, because of health consciousness."
I didn't ask him what he has for dinner. Bacon, probably.
Danny Veirs, 42, a housing contractor, told me he's "enjoyed peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches my whole life. I can easily eat two or three in a lunch setting. I've even gotten into putting potato chips on the inside of the sandwich to give it a little bit of a crunch.
"Oh, they're great that way!"
Danny also reported that he's "turned my kids on to 'em." He'll often have two nephews over, too, and likes to "cut the sandwiches up into squares for the kids. I'll make them with grape jelly, and strawberry jelly, then we'll do peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches, too. I'll make a bunch and pile them on a plate and everybody can grab whatever they want."
By the way, Danny added, he's about to attend cooking school at l'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. "I don't know anything about cooking," he said, "and I want to learn."
Like Danny, Philip Brenner told me that peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches were key in his role as a father when his kids were little.
"It's what they'd always eat. Whenever I couldn't find anything to give them nourishment, there was always a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich -- and it made me feel like at least I was doing that job right."
A professor of international relations at American University, Philip grew up in Brooklyn, where he ate plenty of these sandwiches himself. Now he's enamored of peanut-butter-and-jelly bagels -- a refinement his parents never allowed "because it just violated a sense of tradition. I started doing it as soon as I left their house!"
As it happened, Philip took my call between other press calls -- about Castro, whom he visited in Cuba and who gave him a copy of a secret 1968 speech for Philip's forthcoming book, co-authored with James Blight, "Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Secret Struggle With the Russians After the Missile Crisis."
Peanut butter and Che.
In between these chats with friends, the phone rang and it was my daughter Heather, who reported that my 3-year-old grandson, James Dean, "eats peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches every day. That's all he eats! I cut them into little squares, so one sandwich lasts him two days."
Not much wiser about this national obsession, but somehow cheered by these interviews, I felt a sudden sharp midday craving for a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and messaged Tom Sietsema, the Post food critic, who was having one of his "Ask Tom" chats on www.washingtonpost.com.
He responded that the new Potbelly Sandwich Works at 11th and F streets downtown has "P&J on its bill of fare, [though] I haven't tried it."
I moseyed on down and ordered one.
People in line laughed when they heard me. The guy taking the order chuckled, too. The guy who made it smiled big as he handed it over the counter.
Words weren't needed. Everybody understood.
It hit the spot in a special way.