Under the Sun
Presidents need to keep an eye on grocery ads
THE White House hasn't called back yet. It's been six weeks since I punched in 202-456-1414, the number listed as "Switchboard" on the White House Web page.
Everything is complicated when a person is the president. You can't just bop out for pizza without a frenzy of Secret Service activity.
Within milliseconds after I identified myself as a writer from the Star-Bulletin, "a newspaper in Honolulu, Hawaii," (I wasn't sure anyone there would know what the heck a Star-Bulletin is) the woman who answered the phone transferred my call to the press office.
A guy who sounded about 13 years old picked up. He said his name was Mark, and when I asked his last name, he informed me that as an intern, he was not allowed to say.
Why's that? I asked. He said he didn't know exactly, that it was just "policy." Even though it irked me that the administration's obsession with secrecy extends to an intern's full name, there was no percentage in giving the kid a hard time. I let it slide.
I told him I wanted to know how much the president is allotted for food for his and his family's everyday meals. Not state dinners or lavish receptions for lobbyists, but for plain provisions like eggs and toast for breakfast, tuna and pickles for lunch sandwiches, mac and cheese for supper, pretzels and chips for TV snacking - that kind of thing.
As expected, he didn't know and put me on hold. Next to pick up was a man whose name turns up as a White House spokesman on occasion. He didn't know either, but suggested, rather condescendingly, that I call Hawaii's congressional delegation since Congress appropriates money. When I said I wasn't going to call Dan Inouye and that surely someone there ought to know, he advised me to call the usher's office.
Got a number? I asked. Not offhand, he said, then came up with another suggestion. Call the First Lady's Office, he said, rattled off a number and abruptly hung up.
For I few moments, I huffed, thinking him a sexist, passing me off to the wifey because, after all, food and household budgets are chiefly the concerns of women. I got over it and dialed again.
Julie (no-last-name policy applied again) answered. She said she didn't know, but that someone would call back with a figure. She said it was complicated. Whatever came into the White House - apricots, hot dogs or toilet paper - was a security issue.
Everything is when a person is the president. You can't just bop out for pizza or an ice cream cone without a frenzy of Secret Service activity. Besides, the White House larder is probably loaded with Chunky Monkey and pepperoni deep dish.
What's missing is the experience of typical life, of filling a grocery cart with cereal, milk and ground chuck and counting out a couple of twenties from the wallet at the checkout, which is really a loss for presidents and for Americans.
Presidents are kept informed about vital matters, but from time to time, they ought to set aside the CIA briefs and check the food ads, or what's on sale at discount stores. It's just as important to know what regular people are shelling out to put meat loaf and rice on the table.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org