Ben Stein's Diary

Sunrise at Sandpoint

A vacation interrupted by very sad news about a great economist, Dr. Anna Schwartz.

By 6.25.12

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Friday
Here we are in Sandpoint, still. I awakened at about 4 AM because the sky was light. Yes, it stays bright most of the day and night and daybreak is early because we are so far north. At about 4, a bluish light comes up across the lake over Ponder Point, if I have spelled that right. By 4.30, there is pink and yellow in the light. Yours truly is standing out on the deck taking pictures. This lake is magic. I guess mountain lakes often are. My mother grew up in a region of upstate New York (the Catskills) with many mountain lakes. Maybe that’s where I get my love of them from. Inheritance of acquired characteristics. Formerly considered rubbish, now considered possible by some.

I slept very late after that, made my usual scrambled eggs and Thomas’s English Muffins for my wifey and me. Then, over to the framing shop to get many new pictures framed. The owner/framer is a fantastically talented man. Who really notices a frame? Everyone.

Then to Vanderford’s to buy a newspaper. All bad news, as always. Then to the UPS to send money to a friend whose dog is ill. Then to the Post Office to mail some bills. The Post Office here is small and very cheery. There was one rude young woman standing ahead of me who merely gave me a condescending smile when I asked if she was enjoying her day. Youth. How foolish to be rude. It happens a lot though. Rarely here in Sandpoint, though, where extreme friendliness is the norm. The post office here is the beating heart of the town. Ten million Internet connections cannot take its place. There are friendly, smiling people at the post office behind the counters and in line. That is worth a lot of social media.

Then, back home to rest and stare at the lake, where the sky is now lovely light blue. There are many sunbathers on the City Beach. I took out my bike (20 year old Cannondale, still in super condition --Cannondale knows how to make a bike), filled its tires with air, with my own little pump, and then, off for a ride through town and onto the beach.

By far the best part of the ride was when I stopped at the refreshment stand on City Beach. The popcorn machine was empty, but the two high school girls who worked there -- stunning beauties, both of them -- made me fresh popcorn.

I asked if they had any salt. With a wry smile, one of the girls handed me a salt dispenser with a note on it in a perfect school girl hand, in blue ink, under Scotch tape, that said, "Ben Stein gave us money to buy this salt… please be sure it’s always here for him…" or something similar. I was deeply touched. I remembered the girl who did the salt thing -- a willowy blond beauty named Kasey.

I sat outside and ate my popcorn while some teenagers giggled nearby. Soon, one of them, a blond girl, asked if she could have a photo with me. My pleasure, of course.

Back to the apartment to put up the bike. Then, off to Sandpoint Super Drug store to pick up many things -- scouring pads, sedatives, paper towels. A lovely redheaded woman helped me pick out a watch, which I needed because I had left my own watch at home. I do not own any expensive watches. I do have a favorite watch, which a stunningly talented woman named Lynn Kellogg, and her husband, Mr. Simpers, gave me at the College of the Ozarks several years ago. Lynn sang the best song in Hair, "Easy To Be Hard," in the original Broadway cast production of that icon of '60s culture. Her talent and kindness and beauty and devotion to God are immeasurable.

Anyway, I was in a mad rush when I left L.A. on Wednesday and left that watch, so now I have a new Timex with "Indiglo" that lights up when I press the stem. I love it and the woman who sold it to me. But, again, Lynn Kellogg is a superstar. I glory in having friends like Lynn and her husband. I glory in such nice people as Laurie, the red-haired beauty who waited on me and sold me the Timex.

Then, across the parking lot to the Safeway.

This was intoxicating. So very many friendly people. The best was a woman in the bakery who found a perfect cake for me, then put "Happy Birthday, Wifey," on it in pink letters. These are super people.

I was in a trance at the Safeway. It has everything I like: beautiful girls, friendly people, and endless food.

I roamed up and down the aisles buying everything I could see. Actually, it was all small potatoes like water and orange juice. It is mostly the feeling of being in such plenty that I adore.

Then, off to Walmart to pick up some film enlargements from last summer. They are mostly of wifey on the boat and they are great. Big wifey on the water.

I ran into so many kind, friendly people there, too. Many Christians came up to me to thank me for Expelled​. That is the movie I worked on asking why there could not at least be discussion of "intelligent design," the possibility that life was designed by an intelligent designer, not by accident and random happenings. I little dreamed so many people would see that movie, but they sure did. Sincere, kindly people. Not like some of the thugs who hated it, the bullies and Thought Police who simply will not permit any thoughts except what The Party says to say, that there could be no God and that only random chance determines everything.

Really? Then where do the laws of physics come from? Where does the first cell come from? Where do the laws of thermodynamics come from? Physical laws ? By chance? That’s rich. Life, actual life, by chance? How can anyone believe that?

However, I could be wrong about all of this. I am often wrong. That’s what it means to be human. But the neo-Darwinists can never be wrong. That’s what The Party says. Well, I am sure some of the people who were exercised about Expelled were fine people. Maybe they were all fine people. You are just not allowed to disagree with them. That's Thoughtcrime.

Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime is death. So says The Party. Thank you, George Orwell.

Then home to a melancholy e-mail from my pal Phil DeMuth. My mother’s best friend from Barnard College days and for the rest of her life, Anna Jacobson Schwartz, has entered immortality at 96.

Dr. Schwartz was a genius statistician and economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She co-authored as important a book on economics as there has ever been, since The Wealth of Nations, A Monetary History of The United States with Milton Friedman, a supernova genius (like her). I cannot believe I read it all, but I did, when I was 19 years old. It was so beyond me that it might as well have been in Greek. I did learn a lot from it, though. I guess.

But I knew her well because she was my mother’s roommate and best friend. She hosted me for many Sabbath meals when I was a lonely student at Columbia. That was long ago.

She was always good hearted and generous as I whined about missing my girlfriend, Cathy F. I may add that Milton Friedman at this time was a visiting Professor at Columbia and said to me the ultimate brilliance that saved me from despair about her. "If there were only one right woman for every right man on earth, they would never find each other," he said.

(I happen to believe that he was wrong here but I hesitate to challenge Friedman about anything.)

Many, many nights I was saved from lonely sorrow by the kind attention of Dr. Schwartz and her husband Isaac and their brilliant, lovely children. Brisket in their apartment on West End Avenue. Brisket, economics, and love.

I can still recall her, as a woman in her '80s, running to get to my mother’s funeral in 1997. They both graduated from Barnard at 18.

Really, the kindest of the kind.

I called her during the Crash of 2008 and asked what was going on. "The banks are terrified about insolvency, not liquidity," she said, in a spectacular summation of the problem.

We citizens of America and of the world will miss her. I leave to others ultimately to judge her brilliance as an economist (in my book, peerless).

But as a kind woman, a caring soul, without doubt as good as they get.

God bless her family and the souls of Isaac and her and her wonderful, super smart children.

Sunday
More bluish pink yellow light. More photos. More sleep. Then a boat trip to Ivano's Del Lago in Hope for chicken with my wife, our guide, Tim, and his beautiful wife, Penny.

When we got back to town, we headed over to the Dairy Depot for milkshakes. Who should be there pumping gasoline but my tall pal from City Beach, Kasey. I thanked her for the salt and then came home.

All night long the building shook from Mr. Buffett's trains.

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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.