THE COVER OF the current People magazine brings us sad and depressing news.
It shows Princess Di and Prince Charles kissing. Unfortunately, it's a wedding picture from 10 years ago.
Below it is a more recent photo of Charles looking glum and Di looking bored.
The headline tells today's story: "A Decade Later, Where Has Their Love Gone?"
And, "On its 10th anniversary, the storybook marriage of Charles and Diana is a painful fake. Now Britain openly asks the unthinkable: Is he fit to reign? Will they finally divorce?"
Not being a busybody, I've tried to avoid knowing about the troubles of Di and Charles. Besides, keeping up with The Donald and Marla and Carla is a chore in itself.
And I haven't wanted to take sides on who is at fault, Charles or Di.
That's because I have a distant but personal interest in their marriage. It came about this way:
The day they married, I finished work and stopped at my favorite bar. Several regulars made cynical comments about the royal wedding and marriage in general.
I don't know what came over me, but I found myself talking at length about the wonders of young love and how, yes, they could find happiness and live happily ever after if they are thoughtful, kind, understanding, supportive, caring and all sorts of blah, blah, blah.
When I finished, the cynics were sniffling. The bartender dabbed his eyes and said: "Why don't you go back to your office and write that?"
So I did. I immediately went to the newsroom and told the night editor to dump the column I had written earlier in the day.
Racing the deadline, I pounded out a column giving Di and Charles my thoughts on living happily ever after.
The next day, when I read the paper with a clear mind, I said: "Lord, what sappy, gooey, disgustingly sentimental slop. How can I ever face the readers again?"
But then the phones began ringing. Men and women were calling, old, young, in-between; voices cracking, quivering, telling between sobs how moved they were and how surprised to discover that I had a soft, squishy heart.
For months people called to ask for copies of that column, many saying they were going to have it framed, so they could give it to some young couple as a wedding gift. Several clergymen and a judge told me they had read it as part of marriage ceremonies.
So that's why I have felt twinges of regret during the past decade, as stories have related that all is not well between Di and Charles. And why I have found reading about them too painful.
But the People magazine cover grabbed me. If it is now at the crisis stage, I might as well know the sordid details.
Actually, the story contains little that hasn't been told already. They virtually live apart; he is moody, distant and getting on with his own life; she is a good mom, outwardly cheerful and getting on with her own life. They barely wave and say "Tah-tah" to each other.
But there was one detail that I didn't know about. And that one detail has forced me to take sides. And to my surprise, siding with Charles.
Yes, yes, I know: Most of your sympathies will be with the beautiful Di. But hear me out.
The story says that Charles has been seeing a lot of a long-time attractive friend named Camilla, of whom he is very fond. And it quotes a royal biographer as saying of Camilla:
"She has traveled the world, has strong opinions and likes nothing better than tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind."
What are we to make of that? Well, it has long been known that Di enjoys going to discos, artsy parties, nightclubs and engaging in other frivolous pursuits.
But not once have I read that Di likes nothing better than tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind. If she did, we would surely have been told.
I have to assume that if Charles is smitten with Camilla, who likes nothing better than tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind, Charles must like nothing better than tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind.
So it isn't hard to imagine what might have happened. Charles spends a hard day out in the royal kingdom. He comes home and wants to get his mind off the burdens of being a prince.
So he says: "Di, why don't we go tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind."
But she says: "I want to go to a disco."
He pleads: "But you know how I love to go tramping the grouse moors in the howling wind. Why won't you ever come tramp the grouse moors with me?"
"I want to go to a disco."
"But listen. We have a howler of a wind tonight. And the moors have never been grousier. Come tramp them with me, my love."
"The moors make my shoes wet and the howling wind gives me an earache. I want to disco."
So is it any wonder that Charles would become distant and glum? It is in the nature of men, especially Englishmen, to tramp the grouse moors in the howling wind. All you have to do is watch any old black-and-white English movie, and you'll see that they spend most of their leisure time tramping the grouse moors in a howling wind. Then they tramp home and flop into a big chair in front of a roaring fire and drink brandy. It is a good life, if you don't fall into a bog and sink.
So if Charles is guilty of anything, it is only his failure to have asked Di, before he proposed marriage, how she felt about tramping the grouse moors in a howling wind.
And if I am guilty of anything,it is of letting a goofy bartender talk me into anything but another round.