Ben Stein's Diary

Summer in the Enchanted Kingdom

It may include a dark storm and some thoughts about supply side and taxes on the rich.

By 8.16.12

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Sandpoint, Idaho
Tuesday

Wifey and I are up here in this spectacular spot. Both of us have been ill, so we spent all day yesterday in bed, except for venturing out for food at dinner time. We got spaghetti at Ivano's in town. Both my wife and I noted how the alley behind the restaurant was so welcoming and homey it felt as if we had been there before. An alley, mind you. But clean and safe and charming. An alluring alley. Why? Who knows. Wooden siding on the houses behind Ivano's. Wooden ships on the water, very free. Rosebud. A beautiful brunette waitress sitting on a curb smoking. Blow some of that my way. Who knows why things move us?

After dinner, we watched a documentary about the Nazis that had so many factual mistakes that I cringed. My favorites were about how the German girls who went off to the Bunde Deutscher Madchen (I may have that spelling wrong) even as teenagers, usually returned from their summer camps pregnant even in the '30s. I am dubious about that. If someone out there has some data, please let me know.

But the real whopper was that wealth seized from German Jews financed about one-third of the Nazi war effort. That's just impossible. Jews were one percent of Germans. They might have had ten percent of the wealth, tops. But each year of a full scale war, Germany would have spent an amount equal to the total wealth of the nation in say, 1938. So, in six years of war, they would have spent roughly six times the total German wealth in 1938 (very roughly), but Jewish wealth was only ten percent (tops) of one year's war effort. So Jewish goods and money stolen by the Nazis would have been 10 over 600 at most, or less than two percent. Still insane, but not remotely what the show said. I wonder who fact checked this show, "The Rise and Fall of the Nazis" for The History Channel. (I might add that in many ways it is a spectacularly good documentary.)

Anyway, we went to sleep. I awakened at about 2.30 to have some toasted English muffin. The Amtrak that passes through at 2.30 was outside our window huffing and puffing so mightily that it made the building shake. It is a sleek, stainless steel train but it always reminds me of the ancient train that arrives in the small Italian village to take away a young man to find his future in the big city in Fellini's early masterwork, I Vitelloni. ("The young calves.") That is a much sadder version of one of the greatest American movies, American Graffiti. Coming of age is a big thing. What the heck do you do to stay cool and make a living?

At last I stopped looking at the train tracks. I stared at my wife for a long time as she slept. A goddess. Just divine. The perfect profile. The perfect heart. Then the train huffed and puffed again and left the station.

In the morning, I slept late, did a conference call, slept more, then went out into the hot, smoky afternoon. There are forest fires in Montana, apparently. Maybe in Washington State, too.

I went to the post office. I was the only customer although sometimes it is jammed. The clerk was friendly. I went to the bank. Everyone friendly. One woman stopped me to tell me I should go to Overeaters' Anonymous. Hmmm. Then to buy a backup can opener. At a locally owned, super-helpful hardware store called Merwin's. (The owner is my neighbor, Terry Merwin, a super-nice guy.) Then to buy a Wall Street Journal at Vanderford's. Again, everyone at that store friendly. Then to buy some placemats at the Scandinavian store, where the manager was possibly the friendliest, most helpful woman I have ever met in my life.

Then to Starbucks to buy iced lemonade for me and cranberry scones for wifey. Again, everyone friendly. Every single person I pass says, "Hello," and smiles. Many ask my opinion about the election. Better left unsaid. I don't want to get in trouble with the Thought Police. Then to the Safeway to buy a cake. Ha-ha. So much for OA. At the Safeway I met two 19-year-old girls who had dropped out of high school and were working at a fast food place for $7.25 an hour. "You have to go back to school," I told them. "You absolutely have to." They looked contrite.

Then, to City Beach to the concession stand to buy popcorn.

Just before I got to the stand, a sweet little girl came up to me. "Are you Ben?" she asked with a shy smile.

"Yes, I am," I said.

"I'm Emily," she said. "You know my sister, Hailey."

"Very good," I said. "What grade are you in?"

"I'm going into 7th," she said proudly.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

She smiled and showed her adorable freckles. "Anything artsy," she exclaimed happily.

I posed for photos with her and her cousin and her aunt, no sign of sister Hailey, whom I cannot quite remember although I am sure she is very beautiful indeed. Then photos with about fifty other people and then got my popcorn in the refreshment room.

There were four stunningly beautiful blond, teenaged, blue eyed girls working there. Just spectacular. "This is like the garden of perfect blue eyes," I said to them and they all giggled. They were like angels.

A young man, maybe 14, was leaning against a tree with a sketch pad. "Sketches $5," said his sign, "Unless your a cute girl, then it's free."

"You spelled 'you're' wrong," I told him. I explained the correct way.

"Really?" he asked. "I've never seen it spelled that way."

"Have you had any takers?" I asked him.

"Not one," he said.

It is just impossible to adequately say how friendly the people here are. It is a life-changing experience. It is like being on another planet where there is less gravity.

At 6, my wife, Tim and Penny Farmin and I drove my boat over to Ivano's Del Lago for dinner. It was way too crowded but I saw some pals from the Western Petroleum Marketers' Association, to whom I spoke about a year ago, and they were great pals then and now. The sunset was breathtakingly orange and red and yellow and then the sky grew too dark. Too damned dark.

On the way home, on the boat, a heavy rain fell and a strong north wind came up. I was worried but I had my pal and ace boatman, Tim, with me, so I felt safe. I also had my baseball hat on.

We got totally soaked coming in from the dock. But in our condo, we had that cake and tea and watched the lightning and I felt great. Tim is a wonderful friend to have with me in a storm.

The popcorn girls with their blue eyes. Emily, with her freckles. The friendly woman in the Scan shop. Merwin's Hardware. Tim and Penny Farmin guarding us all. Wifey making tea. Safe at home.

Wednesday
Just spent most of the day walking around town. The storm last night blew out the smoke and heat and humidity. Not a cloud in the sky. A lovely breeze blowing off the lake.

It is astonishing how many people stop me and ask my opinion about the election. In brief, I like Ryan but I do not buy supply-side and don't want lower taxes for rich people. Supply-side is based on a premise that is demonstrably false. That's a big problem. When a major party bases its policies on a demonstrably erroneous premise, that's a bad situation.

However, Mr. Obama is wrong about abortion and defense and those are far bigger issues, so, as always, I will vote Republican.

I spent a long time on City Beach signing autographs. Three 11 year olds wanted me to sign for all three of them on a shopping list. One woman asked me to sign her stomach. She was a big woman. I could have written this column on her stomach.

While I was signing, three girls were swinging on a swing behind me. They came over to me and asked me why so many people wanted my autograph and wanted photos with me. "I'm just old," I said. "That's all."

"No," one of them said, "You're that famous Clear Eyes guy. The one from that old Bueller movie."

I asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. The tallest one, with the great name "Parker," announced that she wanted to be a lawyer. That was good. Better than fast food. I took a picture of the girls on their swing. It does not do them justice.

Now, it's a few hours later and I have to go to bed. I have to leave the enchanted kingdom for a day to earn some money. But, oh that feeling of having Tim guide me in my boat on the lake in the storm.… I want a President who gives us that feeling.

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About the Author

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.