Ben Stein's Diary

I Don’t Like It

Reflections on losing money and going broke -- and bringing home the bacon.

By 8.12.11

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Wednesday
Another day, another crash. I don't like it, as Mister Horse used to say on "Ren and Stimpy." No, sir, I just don't like it.

It's started to affect my enjoyment of my home here in Idaho and that is bad. Lake Pendoreille is still magnificent. The sky is blue with fleecy clouds. The people are friendly. But I am losing money and I do not want to be broke.

May I share with you a few thoughts I run through my head in an effort to keep me sane?

1. I am powerless over the stock market and if I let the stock market be my Higher Power, I will lose my mind. It is bad enough that the speculators can take my money. I will not let them take my soul.

2. I am not the stock market. It is down, but I have my perfect wifey, my son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter, Cora and my friends, Phil and Russ and Barron and Wlady and Chinich and Al and Sally and Tim and Penny and many more. I have my boats. I have freedom. I have more than enough to eat. I am doing fine.

3. I am 66 years old. I have seen a lot of stock market corrections and crashes. I lived through all of them. I will live through this one, too. I will be poorer than I was, but I will get through. If I die any time soon, my family will be well provided for and I will not have to think about the stock market any longer (I hope).

4. I have done the best I can, with the help of some true geniuses of finance like Phil DeMuth, Chris DeMuth, Ray Lucia, Anil Vazirani, J.W. Roth and, supreme above all of them, John Bogle and Warren Buffett, to invest wisely. I do the best I can and even so, I will make mistakes. Warren Buffett's stock has lost close to 28% of its value recently and he has been downgraded by S&P for having too much extra liquidity in Treasury bonds. (Yes. I am not making that up.) If he can lose money, so can I. Again, I do the best I can, and when I am wrong, I am not going to add to my pain by beating myself up.

The speculators can buy themselves mansions in Greenwich. They are not going to buy my self-loathing.

5. I will not get high over this. I will not do violence against myself and I will not take it out on my wife or my son or anyone else. I will not let the speculators change who I am.

6. The speculators do not have all power. There is only One who has all power and I live by His rules, not by the rules of fear and panic peddled by some cable TV systems.

So, I can keep some perspective and go on with my life after all.

And I can look out on this magnificent mountain lake and think how it must laugh at stock markets and the affairs of men.

Fourteen years ago, my pal, the great dock builder, Dana Martin (who built the world's best dock at Ivano's Del Lago at Hope, Idaho) and I disposed of the ashes of our friend Peter Feierabend in this lake on a cool fall morning off my Thompson. It seemed as if the ashes did a little ironic bow, just as Peter used to do, when they were placed in the water. How much at peace he must be in that water. That is the real wealth: peace.

After the markets closed, I went for my usual bike ride around City Beach here. It is a bracing adventure, and the men and women I meet are uniformly friendly. No sullen, surly Beverly Hills sneers. Just happy, friendly faces.

I took my car and went over to the Safeway and found a pound of thick sliced national brand bacon. I took it to the self-serve check out. It was seven dollars and forty-nine cents plus tax. I could not believe it. And the government says there is no inflation?

I asked the manager about that price. "Can that price be correct?" I asked her. "That's way more than it is in Beverly Hills."

She studied the bacon carefully. "Well, it is thick sliced," she said.

Okay…. Never mind.

Off to Hill's Resort in Priest Lake with Penny and Tim Farmin. We had a super great meal at a modest price. The sun was setting over the lake. It is a pretty much perfect setting.

On the way back, we were held up by a line of at least ten police and sheriff's and highway patrol cars with their red and blue lights flashing madly. They were by a guard rail next to a ravine. Many police were looking around with flashlights and dogs.

We had already passed two sheriff's trucks tearing along Highway 200 at a furious pace and two ambulances wheeling up route 57 towards Priest Lake.

When I got home, I saw on the news that two convicts -- violent ones -- had escaped from custody and that the police believed one had gone through a guard rail while seeking to outrun the police. Scary. I slept with my pistol next to me.

Thursday
I slept really well and awakened happy. Why not? I am in a beautiful spot, overlooking this mountain lake, and my wifey is very nearby. Why wouldn't I be happy?

After a very modest breakfast (I have put the bacon in the safe deposit box), I sent out many get well cards to dear friends and postcards to other friends and then rode around City Beach Park on my old Cannondale. Again, I am staggered at how many beautiful women and girls there are in Sandpoint. How can this be? Why are there so many? They all greet me and call me "Ben" or "Sir." There were two adorable high school girls with hats who greeted me. One was named Reagan. I asked her if she was named after the late President. She cheerfully said she was. She had a smile that could make the polar ice melt. I met a young girl on a bike who had blue hair. "Too cool," I said to her.

"Thank you, sir," she said.

Most of the people who want to talk to me, though, are middle aged men who want to talk about Mr. Obama or about the stock market. I usually shine it on. I am not here to talk randomly to people about politics. Blue hair, yes. Politics, no.

Then to dinner on the Cobalt, over to Ivano Del Lago, with Alex and Tim and Penny Farmin. The evening was perfect. Sky light blue, few fleecy clouds, water calm. The food was amazingly good and the other diners a cheery lot. The service perfect, as always.  My wife had got off her sickbed to come out for the evening and I think she was glad she did. My sister called while I was taking pictures of the sunset. It was warming to hear her voice from Brooklyn. It was a swell evening, and I was deeply happy that my wife was well enough to enjoy it. But it obviously tired her. Penny Farmin gave her a jacket to wear on the boat even though Penny was shivering. That is a friend.

We came back in the moonlight, with a full moon casting moonbeams over the rippling of the lake. It is about 12 miles from Ivano's to my dock and we only passed one other boat. There was no sound except the roar of the Cobalt and the whipping of the wind on the windshield.  The peace here is fantastic.

When I think of what my ancestors went through living in the Pale of Jewish Settlement or wherever they lived in Eastern Europe -- the poverty, the hunger, the cruelty visited upon them by high and low, the keen edge of fear eating into them constantly -- and then think of Lake Pendoreille and the peace I get to enjoy, I feel like getting on my knees with gratitude to the military of the United States, to the police, to the ordinary but really extremely extraordinary men and women of the United States who make my life so happy -- and most of all to God, who made it all possible. His gifts, made out of sheer grace, for they surely are unearned, are beyond telling. My ancestors made one decision that changed everything: to come to America.

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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.