It is really late at night. And it’s cold as heck. And my pool heater in Beverly Hills is not working right and I am tired.
But, I am not throwing a fit. I am not yelling at anyone. I have every right to be cranky. I drove all the way down from Rancho Mirage with barely a break. I did that after an emotional meal with my pal, J., a hero of modern warfare. He’s an infantry sergeant in the U.S. Army. He has been in Afghanistan twice and Iraq three times. He’s been rocketed, sniped at, mortared, attacked with IED’s, and he’s tough as nails.
He told me not any of those things is as upsetting as dealing with his surly 9-year-old son. “He raises my blood pressure so much I don’t think I can survive much longer.”
I counseled him about love and patience as we ate our steaks at Morningside. I told him to get a dog and walk the dog together. It must be incredibly tough on families when a dad is deployed five out of the last nine years. And we civilians complain when our steak is overcooked.
I’ll say it until my dying day: No nation in the world has fighting men and women and their families like ours, and we have to value them as if our lives depend on them — because they do. The military wife in particular is the backbone of the nation.
Anyway, I am not throwing any fits tonight because I have a new vow: I am going to try to be more like Joseph Cotten. He is my very favorite actor. He was a courtly, polite, self-effacing good guy who never got the girl but was always good natured about it.
If you want to see how to act as a human being, see him in The Third Man” or Since You Went Away. Calm and self-confident and doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s Joseph Cotten. He was from a good family in Virginia — and wow, does it show. He reminds me (and my smart sister) of our childhood friend and neighbor (and my idol), David Scull.
Mr. Cotten has been gone for a long time but he lives in my mind and I am going to seek to act like him for as long as I can. When all else fails, act like Joseph Cotten. I know, he didn’t look even a bit like me. No matter. I want to be him.
No more of rash, unthinking, quick to worry Ben Stein. From now on, I’m Joseph Cotten.
This reminds me that when I was in Palm Desert yesterday in my endless and unsuccessful quest for new dishes, a handsome older couple came up to me and greeted me. The husband knew my work well, the wife not so much. The husband explained about me to his wife, “Ben has really strong Christian values,” he said and patted me on my back.
I didn’t know quite what to say about that but I quickly realized it was an extravagant compliment, so I took his hand and thanked him and wished them both a happy new year, with a smile. That’s what Joseph Cotten would have done.
A few minutes later, I saw my dream girl, Sierra, the T-Mobile sales woman, who is some day going to show me how to work a “smart phone.” If she can do that, I can be happy. I just know it. Joseph Cotten with a smart phone. Sierra, with electrifying red hair, asked me if I could make her a star in Hollywood.
“Frankly, no,” I said.
“That’s okay,” she said, “you’re a cute old guy.”
That reminds me that Joseph Cotten played an old, alcoholic, dying man in Citizen Kane. At that time Cotten was probably not even thirty. Can you believe that Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind were made within months of each other in 1938-39, when World War II was already started and Dachau was up and running? What a world that was. Now, we have movies about passing gas. And some people say voters should not have to show photo ID. It’s just unbelievable. What a world we live in now. What a fall was this.
Well, Joseph Cotten wouldn’t take it that seriously and neither will I.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes “Ben Stein’s Diary” for every issue of The American Spectator.
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