Ben Stein's Diary

Down in the Desert

So much for 45 years of psychotherapy.

By From the February 2012 issue

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Friday
We are still down in the desert. It's still raining and cold, but we love it anyway. We (wifey and I) got up, had breakfast, I swam, then we rushed over to our 12-step meeting. As we did, I got a call from a woman who works for me confirming my worst fears about how incompetently I have handled my spending urges. I am just an insanely wild over-spender. I always have been. All of my life. It makes me crazy, but I cannot stop it. It scares me to death.

Our 12-step meeting was fairly sparsely attended. As I sat there, I made a mental list of my faults:

  • Truly delusional overspending (how I have been able to do it for so long I am not sure).
  • A shockingly poor ability to detect the danger in crazy persons around me. I am the most naive, trusting man in the world. I can spot corporate frauds at a great distance and have a recognized knack for it. But for individual human beings—I am about the worst in the world at detecting people around me who will hurt me. (Luckily, I have the best wife in the world, but she is way too kind to judge others around me and never tells me what to do. My son is a superb judge of character and is not at all reluctant to speak out about the people around me.)
  • I eat way, way too much and much of it is too salty and fatty.
  • I work insanely too much.
  • I stay up too late.
  • I dare to question conventional wisdom, such as Darwinism, and this gets me into trouble with the powers that be.

I thought about this all day as Alex and I did the trivial errands we do down here—grocery, laundry, pharmacy, bookstore. It got me down. I feel as if I am dragging around all of this insanity and it weighs me down. I am like a centipede who has gotten dust balls on his many legs and can barely move.

On the other hand, I also realize these traits are exactly what my mother used to criticize me for all of my life. Maybe that's why they weigh me down still. So much for 45 years of psychotherapy.

On the other hand, I thought, as I nursed a ginger ale at the River Shopping Center tonight, I have some good qualities, too.

  • Fanatical loyalty to those who are good to me and in whom I believe, no matter the consequences—i.e., my devotion to Nixon out in Hollywood.
  • Generosity to friends in need.
  • Generosity to charities.
  • Appreciation of the military, the police, fire fighters, teachers, mothers (I think there should be a statue to mothers on the Mall).
  • Deep love of animals—though not to the extent of not eating them, of which I am rightly ashamed.
  • So far, good provider for my wife.
  • Very, very easy to work with.
  • Know a lot for my age (tee-hee).
  • Make people laugh while informing them.

I wrote the list on a napkin and then went for a walk through the shopping center. It was oddly deserted. The weather down here has been dismal so maybe that has something to do with it.

Anyway, I think way too much about myself. In my 12-step meeting there is a man born in 1929, which makes him about 82, and he says the secret of his success in the program is to not think so damn much about himself. I am probably the worst offender on earth about this.

So, as I walked through the River and ran into Marines from 29 Palms, I made a point of talking to them for a long, long time. I LOVE THESE GUYS. I mean, I really love them.

They are so brave, so enthusiastic, so strong, that it's almost beyond my calculations. I just love them. They are also extremely modest and never brag. They're just the greatest.

The two bravest men I know, John W. Keker and Lawrence Hyde Lissitzyn, are both Marines who saw horrible combat in Vietnam. The smartest man I know (except for Aram and Wlady and Bob) is John R. Coyne, Jr., also a Marine. These are amazing human beings.

Many years ago, David Eisenhower, one of the smartest guys on the planet, told me that he thought that part of Ike's success was that he was never afraid to fight with his hands. This tells us a lot about the Marines, who actually like to fight. They would rather fight than not fight. Again, they are amazing. Thank God, they are on our side.

Monday
We got back last night about midnight. To my disgust, someone had been in my office and left the lights on. These lights are a bear to replace—they are at the apex of a vaulted ceiling—so I was furious. Plus, the people who were supposed to care for our EIGHT cats had failed to show up or let the cats into the rooms where their litter boxes are for two days, so the house smelled unbelievably horrible. I was hysterical. Plus, my wife needed cat litter. So I, exhausted as I was, went out and bought the stuff and came home with it. Yuck.

As I started to prepare for my nocturnal swim, I put my toe in the water. ICE COLD. The heater had not been working. This is just too much. Plus, on TCM was an incredibly sad movie called Fanny and Alexander. Bergman was a depressed guy.

I did not get to sleep until after 3 a.m. and in a foul mood to boot.

But I prayed a lot and fell asleep only to wake and start thinking about the nutty lawsuit that is threatened against me. It is so unbelievable that no one would consider it possible, but it's unfolding.

In this country, the system of laws is such that a trial lawyer can say any damned thing in a claim letter—any fantasy, however fictitious—send it off, and next thing you know, you are shelling out time and money defending yourself against a fantasy.

It is a nightmare, only it's real.

Maybe this is some kind of karmic payback for me because I participated in a highly questionable lawsuit against Coca-Cola Foods long ago. I still feel bad about doing that.

Well, it caused everyone involved a lot of grief. Now, a threatened lawsuit is upsetting our little household—my wife, my son, and my daughter-in-law far more than me. I hate it, but it's sort of a challenge for me. If the suit ever gets filed, I intend to make it memorable for the plaintiff.

Speaking of epic struggles, as I lay in bed last night, waiting for sleep to overtake me, I thought about Mr. Obama. It is not easy to see what he has accomplished. Yes, he did pass a national health care plan far less comprehensive than what Mr. Nixon proposed in 1974. But other than that, what?

He brought the troops out of Iraq but just replaced one dictator with another.

He has accomplished little about the economy. He still employs the main culprits who caused the crash—Dr. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Geithner.

Education is still a catastrophe area. The African-American community languishes in far worse conditions than the white and Asian communities. Mr. Obama has done zero for it, as far as I can tell.

But then, I thought, what could he do? In a free society, people have to lift themselves up by education, discipline, and hard work. In homes where there is no father and the mother is exhausted and overwhelmed, little progress can be made toward education. It really is sad. And while the problems are not Mr. Obama's fault, he did promise to fix things and he didn't. Again, in a free society, people mostly have to fix themselves.

When I awakened this morning, I was exhausted and went right back to sleep. My son came over to wake me up and worry me about the threatened lawsuit.

I took him out to lunch at Nonna, a super-good Italian restaurant. I really cannot get over how handsome he is. Like a movie star.

It is still overcast and miserable here. Will it ever be sunny again? Will it ever be Morning in America again?

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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.