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Grain expectations

By John Breneman

The call came in just as I was finishing my 7:15 a.m. bowl of Wheaties. It was from a Mr. Benny Crocker, assistant vice president for satirical projects at General Mills, parent company of my favorite cereal.

I practically choked on my last spoonful of toasted whole-grain goodness when he told me I had been chosen to appear on a Wheaties box as part of their new "Obscure Journalists of the 20th Century" series. My spoon clanged to the floor, nearly killing a malnourished ant.

"We were looking for a real nobody," Mr. Crocker told me, "and when we read your five-part series on 'The Benefits of Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil as Part of a Balanced Diet,' we knew we had found our man."

I was stunned. My carbohydrate-enriched mind could scarcely comprehend what I was hearing. But once I digested the news along with 50 percent of my recommended daily allowance of niacin, Vitamin B12 and zinc I vowed that if the "Breakfast of Champions" wanted me to appear on their hallowed box then I was ready to accept the challenge, and the responsibility.
It was time to "do my homework," as they say in the fast-paced, high-fiber world of semiprofessional journalism.

First I called Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Mary Lou Retton for some friendly advice on what to expect as a Wheaties box icon, but they weren't able to get back to me in time for this article. Bruce Jenner was in a meeting and John Elway's people suggested I do something unpleasant with my spoon.

No problem. By surfing the Internet I found a wealth of information about Wheaties, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Lou Gehrig was the first man to appear on the box, and Babe Ruth has graced the carton against the familiar bright orange background, along with sports heroes throughout the years.

Why, ever since Charlie Chaplin was first seen eating them out of a battered leather shoe in the 1924 film classic "Will Work for Milk," Wheaties have been an all-American favorite enjoyed by paupers and presidents alike.

But what I didn't realize was that so many great 20th century leaders and thinkers have been inspired by the mythical, medicinal toasted flakes of wheat.

Wheaties played a pivotal role in the Allied victory over the evil non-Wheaties-eating Hitler in World War II, when Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin polished off a box prior to the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Few outside the U.S. intelligence community are aware that J. Edgar Hoover always kept a box in a drawer next to a sock puppet he called "Mr. Wheat," or that Neil Armstrong smuggled two ounces of Wheaties aboard Apollo 11 in a small orange pouch marked "Space Food."

Legendary tycoon John D. Rockefeller was said to be a Wheaties man, and Microsoft's Bill Gates reportedly won't make any major business decisions without first taking a "Wheaties break." Sources close to Gates say key advisers had to talk him out of naming Windows 95 "the Operating System of Champions."

After a brief period of sagging sales in the 1950s when Joseph McCarthy claimed that many Communist operatives ate Wheaties, the cereal surged to new heights of popularity in the late 60s when celebrity chef Julia Child delighted the American public with televised recipes for Wheatie Tetrazzini, Carmelized Long-Grain Wheaties in Sweet Cream, and her delectable Swedish Wheatballs.

Several leading medical journals have recently published startling reports about the cereal's therapeutic properties. One study asserted that consuming two servings per day can prevent rickets, curvature of the liver and cardiac worms.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that aggressive treatment with a Wheaties-based pharmaceutical cocktail has proven successful in curing everything from Riboflavin Deficit Disorder to skeletal dry rot. And Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richard is said to have visited an exclusive Wheaties clinic to beat a debilitating addiction to Pop-Tarts.

The National Enquirer is reporting this week that a Hindu mystic who ate 24 bowls of Wheaties a day for seven months has evolved to a higher-protein consciousness and achieved cholesterol-free oneness with a God-fearing family of wheat farmers from Chafftown, Nebraska.

I believe it. Since becoming an unlikely Wheaties cover boy, I've decided to milk the experience for all it is worth and have upped my daily intake to six or eight bowls a day. The results have been astonishing.

I feel more alive. What little non-Wheaties food I eat tastes better. And my imagination has become a robust 62 percent more bizarre than it already was.

Warren Beatty has called to feel me out about being his running mate in the presidential race and I've received lucrative endorsement offers from Nike, Schlitz and Triple-Action Gold Bond Powder.

And best of all, there is virtually no scientific evidence linking excess consumption of Wheaties with delusional behavior among humor columnists.


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