Ben Stein's Diary

Perchance to Dream

A week in Washington -- ending up in Century City.

By 6.18.12

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Monday
On American Flight 144 to Dulles. I have many errands in D.C. and the area. I'll tell you about them soon.

The man next to me in row 6 was a middle-aged fellow with thick glasses. He reminded me of a younger version of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, inventor of the replicants and their brains in Blade Runner. Not quite normal, and a bit off base in his comments to me. Like many annoying people, he started off his interaction with me by saying, "I know I've seen you before but I can't think where."

"TV," I said. "I am on all of the time."

"I don't watch TV," said this man, like many another annoying people before him.

He told me his story. His father was a Czech Jewish man who was an ardent Zionist and emigrated to "Palestine" before World War II. He lived on a commune, a kibbutz, but the kibbutz foundered when its engine -- a single cow -- died.

So, my neighbor's father joined an Israeli rebel brigade similar to the Irgun. Then, after Independence and fighting in all of Israel's wars, the dad came to New York and lived in a Hasidic, ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. My neighbor went to an ultra-orthodox Jewish day school, then went off to college to study to be an engineer. He said he was the first in his school to go to college. The others went into their parents' business or else started their own businesses. "They made more money than I did until I became a partner at Blank, a huge consulting firm."

I wondered how he knew how much money they made but I just said, "I am about my father's business."

"Really?" he asked me. "What was your father's business?"

"Just a line from the New Testament," I said. "My father was not in business."

I went to sleep for a very long time. My neighbor does not eat airplane food because he is strictly Kosher and for other reasons he did not divulge. He offered me his meal. I declined but thanked him. The meal was not worth eating. A pitifully dry, tasteless chicken.

When I awoke, we were nearing Dulles. The man asked me, "Are you Jewish?"

"Of course," I answered. "Don't I look Jewish?"

 "You quoted the New Testament," he said.

"I don't know what to say. There is a lot of wisdom in it."

He man smiled cleverly and said, "I looked you up when you were sleeping. You're quite a controversial guy."

The cheesy Internet age.

My driver, Bob Noah, was cheerily waiting for me. We went to a nearly empty Georgetown Safeway (it was almost midnight). I bought a few nothings and then went to my apartment and watched the Military Channel about the battle of Crete in World War II. What a story! What brave men were involved on both sides. Really astounding people, the Germans and the British. I need to learn more about it. A British officer named (I think) Leacock was a super hero there. Crete looks beautiful but I won't ever go there.

Tuesday
Up and off to the new Walter Reed Army Medical Center for badly wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is a cheerful building. They have put the medical part, the rehab part, and the administrative offices all very near each other, which is surprisingly uplifting.

What can I say? There are still men and they are still fighting and they are still losing their limbs and getting killed and they are almost all out of sight except within the military family.

What can I say except God bless them and we are humbled before them. On our knees before them. No legs. One arm. Other arm shattered. Still smiling. Still there. Still Americans. I walked down each hall in a state of shock that men can be as brave as these men are and that we do not have moments of prayer for them as a nation day by day.

There are "Fisher Houses" where the families stay. I met a woman who is there because her baby has a severe heart problem. The Army flew them to Bethesda to work on the baby. I held the baby in my arms. Two hundred and fifty heart beats per minute. God bless that child. God bless the parents and the Army.

Army Blue, Army Blue, 
Hurrah for the Army Blue...

Then back to the Watergate for a long nap, and then off to dinner at Morton's in Georgetown with Karl Rove and Aram Bakshian.

Both men looked well. Karl is working extremely hard to get a conservative government and to get the conservative point of view across. He is an amazingly hard-working man. We talked about the election. I guess it's all confidential except that Karl is optimistic. Aram and I did not say much. We are optimistic if he's optimistic.

Wednesday
A fine TV show on Fox with the magnificent Jenna Lee about the Eurozone problems. "Help them out," say I. "If Europe goes under we'll go under, too." We had a lot of fun.

Then, Bob, my pal and driver, and I headed out to the Eastern Shore. I felt extremely upset after a talk with a doctor about someone close to me who had serious mental problems. I felt suicidal.

But I slept in the car, and soon we were in Oxford. Like a homing pigeon, I am endlessly drawn to Oxford. It has cute houses. The perfect Anglican church right on the Bay, and great sunset views. Maybe I should have a home there. No, that would ruin it. Besides, I cannot handle all of the homes I have already. Oxford would be too much.

Bob and I admired a vintage 1956 Mercury Montclair Coupe of aqua blue, then drove back towards Easton. We drove down Bailey's Neck. Wooded. Green. Mansions. Water. Perfect.

Then to the Tidewater Inn. The night was glorious, Seventy degrees. No humidity. No insects. Crabcakes. Was I really suicidal a few hours ago? Now, I feel great. Many men and women came over and greeted me. I like being known.

I slept all of the way back to the Watergate.

Thursday
A show on CNN, also about the Eurozone. Then, a visit to the National Museum of Natural History. I spent about an hour looking at a display of an immense globe that showed the infinitude of ocean currents, some ten thousand feet below the surface, carrying water hither and yon in marvelously complex patterns. This happened by accident? This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave overarching firmament… I know I have that a bit wrong. But all of this happened by chance? I strongly recommend a visit to the Natural History Museum.

Then, the National Gallery of Art, where I rendezvoused with my lovely Nan from New Haven and gave her a necklace. We have been close friends since 1969. She has everything she needs. She's an artist. She don't look back. Dylan. I was so happy to see my Nan.

Then, dinner with two lovely middle-aged Polish/American women who are extremely successful in business. One of them brought her staggeringly beautiful daughter. Just a living doll.

The women told me about their grandfather in Poland in 1944. Someone in his village had killed a Nazi soldier. The Nazis wanted to take all of the young men of the village and kill them. But their grandfather, a landed nobleman, hid his son and went to a church with the other men. They were machine gunned, then the church was set on fire. "The only way my grandmother could identify my grandfather was that he had a silver cigarette case in his breast pocket. When the beams of the church fell down, a beam made a dent in his cigarette case. I still have that case," said one of the granddaughters.

And there we were, in America, eating deluxe food and beaming at one another in America's stupendous freedom land. The granddaughter wants to be a rock star.

I wonder why I am drawn to these tales of Poland. None of my ancestors was from Poland. Mysterious but what a brave, smart, good-looking people.

Then, home to watch a documentary about Bush 41. What a man. Major league heir. Great war hero. Baseball star. Fine President. Modest. Loyal to this day to RN. He sees the flaws but also sees the greatness.

I went to bed with my head swimming about how many spectacular men and women are out there. What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and movement how express and admirable. Now, to sleep.

Saturday
This has been quite a day. We are back in Beverly Hills but our poor old Cleo, an ancient German short-haired pointer, is very weak and sickly. Extremely and can barely walk. So we have decided to euthanize her. This is a bitter pill and I spent the better part of the day in deep shock and sorrow.

But then, by a miracle, at about 7 p.m., just as the vet pulled up at our house, Cleo sprung off her bed and started walking around in a sprightly way.

We had the euthanasia canceled and instead went to see Ridley Scott’s new movie, Prometheus. Ridley Scott is the man who gave us the best postwar movie, Blade Runner. He has to be taken seriously.

Just buying the tickets online, finding parking in Century City, getting into the immense theater -- all of that was exhausting. I am sure I was the oldest man in the theater.

But it was a spectacular movie in its look and feel. Well worth seeing. In fact, absolute must viewing. The story made little sense that I could make out, but the space ship was fabulous and the sounds coming out of the speakers were breathtaking. It helped that it was in 3D. That was truly an experience. The terrifying giant worms were really an ordeal.

I find it fascinating that these sci-fi movies, made under the capitalist system, in studios led by capitalists, are relentlessly anti-capitalist. Blade Runner had as its main villain not the replicants but the capitalist Tyrell (not Bob Tyrrell). Avatar had as its main villains capitalist mining companies. The heroes were semi-animals. (Maybe they have something there.) And in Prometheus the villain is an extremely old capitalist magnate who has spent a trillion dollars to find eternal life, not caring at all how much human life is lost. I am sure I am missing a lot here but I simply cannot recall a movie that has heroes and villains where the villain was not a super rich businessman. What was that James Bond movie where the villain was a Rupert Murdoch lookalike? Well, in Hollywood, bastion of capitalism, fortress of money worship, they grind out movies -- great ones sometimes -- where the villain is almost always a successful businessman -- sometimes in outer space.

Envy plays a big role in human and artistic affairs.

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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.