Ben Stein's Diary

Too Much Illness and Death

Yet on Independence Day, in many places, America itself still works.

By 7.5.12

Send to Kindle

Sunday
Wow. What a day. I awakened filled with dread. That makes it a normal day for me. I trudged (the road of happy destiny) over to my office above the garage. Just as I reached the top of the stairs, my wifey came out of the house in her robe and said, "Zelda has died."

Zelda was our poor, pitiful German short-haired pointer who was terrified of men. She had supposedly been owned by a man who abused her horribly and she cowered whenever a man came into the room. She was emaciated and poorly trained, but when I was lying down and not towering above her, she was affectionate. She mainly loved my wife and hung out with her constantly.

When we played ball, she ran for the ball eagerly. When she could pry it out of the mouth of my Julie Goodgirl, she would drop it into the pool and wait for me to retrieve it and then she would run for it.

Just a few weeks ago, she attacked Julie Goodgirl for getting to the ball first and took to biting Julie on the nose. Julie's poor nose bled and bled and still has dreadful scars. (I do put Neo Sporin on it consistently and that helps.)

We rescued Zelda about two years ago. Shortly after that, she showed signs of weakness, and we brought her to the vet. He diagnosed Addison's Disease, the same ailment that afflicted JFK. We had her treated with what the vet said was right, hydrocortisone, and she seemed to be doing well. Just yesterday, she was furiously chasing the ball when I threw it.

She cuddled with my wife last night but this morning, she was dead.

Rigor mortis had already set in, and I carried her downstairs. A dog mortician came and got her remains and the house feels empty without her.

Eleven months ago, when we drove down to the desert, we had four dogs with us: my favorite, Brigid, a GSP of immense warmth and lovability, really my dog; Cleo, a bit sluggish but also loveable and of course, a GSP; Mopsy, Alex's pitiful, yapping, but brilliantly inventive and aggressive Maltese -- who could open bags of potato chips and eat them in the car -- and hiding on the floor of the back seat, Zelda.

Now, they are all dead. All dead. Of course, I have Julie Goodgirl, but Alex has only her seven cats. It was a morbid day. Alex, normally the most strong and sanguine of women, is crying.

It was especially morbid after yesterday, when we had our granddaughter's first birthday party. Tommy made a delicious parfait. Kitty (staggeringly beautiful daughter-in-law) made a cake, and Tommy assembled an elaborate splashy toy from Toys'R'Us for his daughter. I slept on a chair in the back yard by the pool while Tommy worked purposefully next to me. It was a short but delightfully lush sleep. For some reason, I could not stop thinking of the FAO Schwartz that used to be on 14th Street, NW, next to Garfinckel's in the 1950s -- when their toys were one of a kind handmade wooden and metal, not mass-produced plastic. Wow, I am old. Still, Coco's birthday party was glorious.

Anyway, that was yesterday. Today is sad.

Monday
Now, this is the real story of my life: Alex and I flew from LAX to Portland, where we had a lovely stopover at the B gates' Alaska Airlines Board Room. It's a great club, and then we flew to Spokane on a Q400. Its ventilation did not work (FAA take note) and it was cruelly hot inside. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't.

Then, in Spokane, I rented a Chrysler 300 C. On Route 200, my wife was complaining that I was driving too slow. "I'm going the speed limit," I said.

"Well, go faster," she said. She loves speed.

So, I went between 70 and 80. Sure enough, a state trooper pulled me over. Grinning from ear to ear. I said, "It's my wife's fault." She laughed hilariously. He checked for a very long time to see if I had any outstanding warrants. Then, he wrote a speeding ticket and wished me good day. Alex literally could not stop laughing for an hour.

In Sandpoint, we had a very quiet dinner and watched a baseball game. Like my father before me, I love to watch sports but only with my wife present. He watched his alone and knew incomparably more about it than I did.

Tuesday
Shopping day in Sandpoint. The Safeway… jammed. Staples (totally deserted). The Walmart, jammed beyond words. Then home. I don't feel at all well and yet made dinner -- sautéed shrimp, rice, green beans, cake (from Safeway) -- and then went straight to bed at 10 PM -- literally four hours before my usual bedtime.

I am not well at all.

Wednesday
I awakened at about 5 AM, feeling desperately ill. I turned on the TV and there was one of my all time favorite movies, Quiz Show. It is about the rigged quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. Robert Redford directed. Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schofield, Rob Morrow, all magnificent. There is one part of a crazed fan attacking Charles Van Doren when he is in a glass phone booth. That scene alone is pure genius, part of an incredibly brilliant screenplay by Paul Attanasio. Stupendous look and design. It puts pitiful, fake Mad Men to shame.

It is largely made up in the sense that the Rob Morrow character, Richard Goodwin, was made out to be the hero and really was not. But he went on to be a powerful aide to JFK. I was shaking my head that he was so proud (in the movie) of finding a small crime -- quiz show rigging, which wasn't even a crime then -- when 1) He never really found it, and 2) He was an aide to JFK, who committed a dismaying number of misdeeds in his life, including stealing the 1960 election. Oh, well. Being a liberal Democrat means never having so say you're sorry.

I was extremely moved by the story of Quiz Show, though, especially the relationship between the quiz show cheater, Charles Van Doren, and his very famous, scholarly father, Mark Van Doren. It made me think of how many times my father saved me, protected me, promoted me. He and my mother helped me get so many jobs, make so many connections, protected me from so many consequences of my own idiocy, I cannot even start to count it all. I wish I had eternity to thank them.

Quiz Show also made me think of my own quiz show. No one ever gave me the answers, but I won most of the shows anyway. I think it's because so many of the questions were on history, my strongest suit. I miss that show. A man who has his own show is like a man with a principality, I used to say. I don't have that now.

I called my sister, with whom I am very close, and spoke to her as she prepared for a trip to Paris, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. She is close to being a perfect sister.

Then, back to sleep to be awakened by illness and then to read a terrible e-mail. The widower of a woman who has been a friend for 14 years e-mailed me to tell me that the woman had died. She was a stunningly beautiful girl I had met in 1998 when she was in the audience of Win Ben Stein's Money. I had noticed her because she had blue nail polish. Just so beautiful she could make me dizzy just looking at her blue eyes. She was Ukrainian, although ethnically Siberian, with long legs and slender hips. We were close for several years in L.A., and then she married a simply brilliant computer genius in the Silicon Valley and moved there. We all stayed in touch and I saw her and her husband and baby many times up there. She was always lively, always enthusiastic. Always beautiful. She was so proud of Mother Russia. We had our main connection by virtue of our interest in Russia's history changing, life saving contributions to mankind by beating Hitler. We had one key point of contention: she had some lingering affection for the former Soviet Union, which I did not.

Now, she has died, possibly from an inadvertent fatal drugs (prescription drugs) mixture. I had just been e-mailing her Sunday night. This is really just horrifying. Life is "chaotic, elusive," as my pal of almost fifty years, David Paglin, said today. She was far too young and vibrant to die.

I will really miss her. Her husband must be devastated beyond belief. My wife was asleep when I got the news. I went in and covered her up and thanked God for each instant I have with her. As far as I can see, she is God's love on earth. I know this sounds crazy, but a good woman is God's word incarnate in my book.

Now, out to the lake to breathe the mountain air.

And pray for the soul of my beloved Tatyana and Eric, her husband, whom she loved so much, and who is suffering so terribly.

It is Independence Day. On this day, 46 years ago, I met my soon to be wife at a July 4 Formal Black Tie Reception at the State Department. She was with a friend of a close friend and I was with the redoubtable and really spectacularly great Mary Just. Now, time has passed. Alex and I are old but still together. Mary is happily married for many decades and a great success story as lawyer and mother and wife.

However, today, Alex feels a bit ill, so she's resting as I roam about Sandpoint on my bicycle. Many, many people come up to me and ask me for photos. Many middle-aged men ask me about the election. Everyone is in a good mood except one man whose wild pig hunt in Alabama had to be canceled because of his job requirements. He quit and moved up here to the nearby town of Bonner's Ferry, which has some amazingly pretty girls.

Out at City Beach, the Blue and Jazz Band of the Northwest Air National Guard at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane was playing great songs from Glenn Miller to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Little kids were grooving along in bare feet at a parking lot in front of the band. The band was extremely, extremely good.

It was a perfect evening of enthusiastic Americans, enjoying the freedom that so many good men and women suffered and sacrificed for. My wifey and I had our dinner, listening to the sounds of the band, and now we are waiting for the fireworks.

In Sandpoint, America itself still works.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
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.