Ben Stein's Diary

Up On the Roof

When this old world is getting you down -- but how can it be?

By 8.1.12

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Wednesday
Hot, hot, hot here in Sandpoint. It was hot as soon as I awakened and got out on my deck to look at the lake. Too hot to get up. I went to the guest room, a very small room with just one double bed and a few sticks of furniture. But it looks up at the Selkirks and also is right next to Mister Buffett's trains. On almost any day, you can look out of the window from the bed and see fleecy clouds. The sky is a pure blue. No smog at all.

The clouds remind me of the clouds that Ferris Bueller was looking at on the day when he decided to take the day off. They are powerfully relaxing.

I lay there for a while contemplating my fears --usually about money, especially about running out of money before Alex and I die. These fears have become especially powerful as I have grown older. My shrink says they are a metaphor for fears of death. Maybe so, but they are deeply frightening anyway. Suicide. Then I think, "Suicide because you have too many homes? Are you crazy?" Do not answer, dear diary. You know me too well.

I got up, made breakfast for Alex and me -- the usual, scrambled eggs, English muffins, OJ, Tazo Refresh herbal tea, one of the many great gifts from my sister (she also told me about Hill's Resort in Priest Lake many years ago).

I got dressed and went out for a ride on my mighty Cannondale bike all around the town. I especially love riding around City Beach. At this time of year, it's packed with visitors, especially high schoolers from the area and some parents and some very young kids.

A stunningly beautiful little girl came walking past me holding an ice cream confection that looked as if it had about ten different kinds of ice cream, all different, cheery colors.

I went to the ice cream/refreshment stand to see what the ice cream could be. At just that moment, the girl with the ice cream appeared, possibly to get a refill.

Truth to tell, I don't recall exactly what she looked like but I do remember that the ice cream had some blue in it like the blue in her eyes. I wished I had my camera with me. Her perfect little face next to that ice cream would have been good.

"What's in that?" I asked the woman behind the counter, who gamely tried to reconstruct it.

"How old are you?" I asked the little girl.

"This is so cool," she said breathlessly. "I'm talking to Ben Stein and he's a celebrity. I'm almost twelve." I think she said that. I really wasn't paying attention. She might have said she was almost sixteen. I just don't remember.

I asked her what her name was. "Jackie," she said. "Jackie Sweet." She was simply adorable. I wish I could live long enough to make a movie about what happens to someone that beautiful in North Idaho post 2012. I hope lots of good things.

Back home to pay bills (an excruciating process), and take a long nap. Then out on the boat with Tim Farmin and Alex to have some spectacularly good Bottle Bay Burgers. A Bottle Bay Burger, which you can ONLY get at Bottle Bay, about a ten-minute boat ride from our marina at The Seasons, is a hamburger with cheddar cheese and chutney. It is heavenly.

We looked out at two frisky English Springer Spaniels that kept jumping into the water and eventually got on a paddle board with a boy and balanced themselves perfectly. This is a peaceful scene and I wish it stayed warm all year in North Idaho so we could go to it all year, but it does not stay at all warm after summer and Bottle Bay Resort is closed anyway.

(In North Idaho, a resort is not like The Greenbrier. It can be a very small café and a few rooms to rent.)

Back to The Seasons, and then another nap. Then Alex and I got into our rented Chrysler and headed up to Hill's. The drive along the river was stupendously beautiful. In my humble opinion, that broad river, with its many meadows and mountain faces abutting it, is almost as beautiful as the ride to Hope, with its wetlands, sloughs, and literally endless lake views. But there is no one on that road. Why? The views are stupendous, again. Why go to Disneyland?

The Northwest is the America we think of when we pledge allegiance to the flag. Jane Heyman told me that long ago, and she was totally right.

At Hill's, I had delicious spare ribs, then bought a lot of postcards, then headed home.

In Priest River, about half way back to Sandpoint, I got pulled over by the local police for speeding. This is a real problem in the Northwest, at least for me. The speed limits shift dramatically, and bingo, all of a sudden, it was 60 and then it's 35 and you're caught.

This has happened to me in Priest River a great many times.

But the obliging policeman laughed and only gave me a warning, so I was happy and drove very slowly all the way back to Sandpoint.

I love this area a lot. Thank you, Mark Story, famous director, for telling me about it. Thank you, God, for making it. Thank you, Peter Feierabend, RIP, for making me feel welcome here.

Thursday
Expulsion from Eden. Alex and I drove down to Spokane to catch a plane to Chicago. The trip was totally uneventful except that we stopped at Del Taco in Hayden for a taco. It was crowded so we left. The manager came out to the parking lot and waved me inside. He told me to sit patiently and he would get me my usual taco. Sure enough, out came the taco. It was heavenly.

One of the great culinary secrets of life is that well-prepared fast food is as good, or better, than haute cuisine.

That is a fact that is especially evident at Del Taco, although the tacos are also good at Taco Bell. There is another factor: "Hunger is the best sauce," says the Roman maxim, and it's true. It is especially true if the people at the Del Taco remember me and are kind to me. Hunger plus kindness plus smiling faces all make a good sauce.

Friday
Now, this has been quite a day. I am here in Chicago with Big Wifey at The Peninsula. Tonight, I spent three and a half hours at a reception for graduates of American Intercontinental University at Harry Caray's Steak House.

AIU is predominantly on line but with some "ground campuses" as well. The moving thing about it is that its students are highly non-traditional. People who have worked terribly hard to get their degrees while working full time and taking care of a family. They are largely minority (I guess for now they are minority), and deeply determined to make something of themselves.

I talked to many of them. My favorites were a woman named Alvania, from a small town in Mississippi, and another woman who had served ten years in the Navy Construction Battalions, building things under fire in Iraq. She wants to be a coroner. These are impressive people.

When I think of how hard they work, and what a privileged life I led as a student, I truly am embarrassed at how much I complained. I really lived like the Aga Khan and I bitched and moaned endlessly. That was until I joined the Alpha Delta Phi, met Mary J., and my life became paradise.

I will pray for the Alpha Delta Phi and for Mary always.

Saturday
Graduation at the Navy Pier for AIU. I really was so choked up at the ceremony and how hard the kids had worked for their degrees that it was hard to sit still. The best was a woman with advanced MS who had to be helped across the stage. She was shaking badly but smiled when she got her diploma. This country still has some life in her.

Tuesday
Now, we are back in L.A. Yesterday I had lunch with my genius stock broker, Jerry Au, from Merrill Lynch, and my dear pal and financial guru, Phil DeMuth, at Mister Chow. Life in Beverly Hills is pretty damned nice. I know I don't deserve it. You don't have to tell me. I know. 

I will just tell you I cannot afford this life much longer. I am going to downsize and just live quietly somewhere. Soon, too. I just do not have the strength to live this large much longer. I wish I were as sensible as my sister, but I never have been and never will be. She lives a life that has balance. I am a fiddler on the roof, to coin a phrase. But what a roof it is, surrounded by stucco and a glittering blue pool and palms and jacarandas and cedars and my Julie Good Girl always wanting me to throw the ball for her.

What a roof.

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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.