Ben Stein's Diary

Shore Patrol

Our Diarist's summer issue installment.

By From the July/August 2011 issue

FRIDAY
Wow. big day. I got up, carried ancient Brigid down the stairs to her preferred spot, then carried her back upstairs to bed. This many-times-a-day ritual always makes me think of Aeneas leaving burning Troy carrying his father on his shoulders. Or do I have that wrong? Can someone tell me?

Then I swam for a while in my pool. I know I have said this before, but I love swimming. I look up at the sky and see the blue atmosphere and the palm fronds and planes high above, and it’s great. One of my first memories is of walking up the walkway of our modest home at 9508 Caroline Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland, feeling terrified of what kind of mood my mother would be in, and looking up and seeing a large (for those days) propeller-driven passenger plane making contrails high above. That would be freedom, I thought, to be in that plane.

But to be in my pool watching a plane fly over—that seems fabulous, too. Freedom and warmth and the good feeling that comes with exercise combine to lift me up.

Then, shower, shave, get dressed, pack, have a small breakfast of tea, English muffins, and orange juice, and then off to the Los Angeles bureau of Fox to do Cavuto on Business.

Going over to Fox is always fun. This time, a wonderful woman who used to be the camera woman on our show long ago was visiting with her husband and her two lovely sons. Gosh, I’ve known her a long time and her life has turned out wonderfully so far.

We did our show and discussed the stock market, and then off to the airport, immense LAX, to meet my wife and take off for DCA.

Not so fast, though. There was a considerable delay so we ordered lunch at an airport restaurant called Gladstone’s. My wife ordered iced tea. The waiter came back after about 10 minutes and said they were out of iced tea. How is that even possible? It reminds me of the time decades ago when I had breakfast at a hippie café in Santa Cruz and they were out of both butter and salt.

Well, anyway…

The flight was uneventful. It’s an Alaska Airlines flight and it truly is a little gem. Please, Mr. and Mrs. Alaska, keep that flight. It goes into DCA, which some call Reagan (yea!) and it’s a fantastic blessing that it does not take us into horrible, lunatic Dulles, the world’s most confusingly laid out airport.

Then off to dinner with our driver, Bob, and my young pal, Russ. We ate at Clyde’s in Georgetown. It stays open very late, a great advantage for those of us on West Coast time. They were out of chicken. What’s going on?

Four extremely drunk young women came over to talk to us. They were all pleasant and intelligent, but one of them was a lot less drunk than the others. She wants to be an anchor on Fox. She pointed at the other young women. “These are my best friends,” she said calmly. “I would kill them to be on Fox News. I can always get other friends.”

That scared me a bit, so I made Bob and Russ leave and went home to the Watergate to pray with my wife, who was not feeling well after the flight. We have developed the habit of lengthy prayer and meditation each day and night and I feel as if it’s brought us a lot closer. You might think that impossible after having been together for 45 years, but prayer and meditation work wonders, and have indeed brought us closer than ever.

Then, to sleep, but first, pray for our many friends who are ill. Too many, too ill.

SATURDAY
Alex and I flew up to Providence, Rhode Island, on a smooth, easy Delta Connection flight from DCA. Again, Alex was feeling a bit ill after the flight, so she stayed in the hotel to rest. My super driver, Dan, drove me up about 45 minutes to Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I am to give the graduation speech there tomorrow.

Why? Good question. I am doing it as a favor to my dear friend Peter M. Flanigan. He is the world’s handsomest man, summa graduate of Princeton, fearless carrier pilot in the Pacific in World War II (he flew Grumman Wildcats), successful financier, and early and important backer of Richard M. Nixon.

He was head of the Council on International Economic Policy at the White House under Mr. Nixon. In that capacity, he was a friend and colleague of my father, who was a member and then chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

He was married to Brigid, a legendary beauty. They were pals of both my father and mother. When I first met Peter (I think at a screening at the Motion Picture Producers Association), I literally gasped at how handsome he was. Like Reagan. That handsome.

I was at the time a lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission. I worked with some smart men and women, but I wanted to be at the White House.

Peter and my father spoke to Ray Price, head of the speechwriting shop at the White House, and they took me in, long hippie hair and all. That was a miraculous change in my life. I went from a tiny broom closet of an office with supervisors who loathed me, to a lovely office with a couch I could nap on and a TV to watch The Young and the Restless and a boss, Dave Gergen, who treated me fair and square. Peter had a far more powerful connection with the Nixon insiders than my father did, so I credit Peter with a huge share in that lifesaving maneuver.

And, I have been super grateful to Peter ever after.

Peter also took me to lunch many times at the Recess Club, which no longer exists, after I left the White House and worked at the Wall Street Journal under Bob Bartley in ’74–76. The Recess was a club for Wall Street higher-ups and I, as a lowly columnist for the Journal, got to eat there with the powers that be, all thanks to Peter. He also had me out to his stupendous home in Purchase to get me out of dreary New York. (Who babysat Mary, my Weimaraner? I think my dear and wonderful friend Larry Lissitzyn, ace lawyer and frat brother and Marine hero in Vietnam.)

More reasons to be grateful.

So, I went to join Peter and various pals from Portsmouth Abbey for dinner tonight at a club there. Tomorrow is graduation day from the Abbey and I am the speaker, again, as a gift to Peter.

The dinner group were a cheery, lovely bunch. Peter’s magnificent Brigid passed away some years ago. Now he is married to a simply perfect Austrian woman. She has an otherworldly kind smile. Peter’s doctor son, Tim, and Tim’s son, Michael, valedictorian at Portsmouth, and various other important Flanigans were there, as well as two monks from the monastery that runs the school.

One of them, the top man at the school, was the Father Abbott. He also had an almost unbelievably kind smile and bottomless blue eyes. When asked by Jim DeVecchi, the headmaster, to say grace, the Father Abbott said the Hebrew motzi over bread in perfect Hebrew.

I was touched. He told me he had spent many years studying Hebrew with a rabbi. His comments on that rabbi were extremely moving and had me in tears. I will not share his conversation except to say it was sublime.

Peter and I talked about the collision between political correctness and the Constitution, and about the threats against me. I took great strength from Peter’s encouragement that I was in the right, but that I should always seek to be polite and practical about the ways of the world.

I felt much stronger just being around Peter and the Father Abbott.

After dinner, Dan, my trusty driver, drove us back to Providence. The town was mobbed with partygoers, blocking traffic, smoking reefer, watching fireworks. Apparently, this is a huge event in Providence every month. They set off fireworks on the water. Young people gather around, get high, and watch. I am sure there are plenty who are not smoking the chronic, but enough are so that it was getting me high just passing by.

Still, a happy-looking group, and that’s nice.

SUNDAY
No chronic here. The graduation from Portsmouth Abbey was a fine event. I watched the healthy, well-groomed young people and their happy parents walk by. I gave them a speech. They were kind enough to give me a big response, which I appreciated a lot. The only trying part was standing for about an hour or maybe a bit more while we handed a diploma quite separately to each graduate. I am an old guy and it was getting me tired. The kids were a fine-looking bunch. Mostly young women, more women than men, and I wish them all a great life.

Afterward, Peter Flanigan and I talked about the Second World War, and about the fierceness of the Germans and how it took a fantastic amount to subdue them. I did recall reading somewhere long ago that German generals who had been in World War I and WWII said that the German soldiers in WWI were tougher than the ones in WWII, but I cannot recall where I read that.

(If anyone knows, please let me know. Also, if anyone can tell me the source of the line that no amount of effort “can call back time in its winged flight,” please let me know.)

Then Peter showed me the stupendously powerful cruciform in the Chapel (is that the right word?). At the Priory. It has been made so that light from above catches the head of the crucified Christ and it’s represented by wires going into the head, but many, many wires. The Holy Spirit is represented by many, many wires stretching out from the body of Christ to all over the sanctuary. It is a moving sight.

Then, many photos. Then, back to the parking lot where I said an affectionate good-bye to Peter and his bride. I think Peter is 86. He still looks like a movie star. His mind is better than perfect. They don’t make them like Peter Magnus Flanigan anymore.

MONDAY
Memorial Day. Alex and I said our prayers for the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Then, our trusty driver, Bob Noah, drove us to Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland. We had crab cakes at the Tidewater Inn, and then went down to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge for the second time in as many months. It was absolutely void of tourists save for one photographer. We saw many eagles nesting, some soaring, many, many egrets and herons looking for food, and a lot of beautiful wetlands.

Apparently the wetlands are rapidly disappearing. Perhaps my soon to be born granddaughter will never see these treasures. Sad.

Then, on to a small but welcoming restaurant at Taylor’s Island south of Cambridge, the Taylor Island Grille. Friendly, cheerful people. Everyone greeted me happily. I will go back there.

We drove to Oxford, Maryland, visited the beautiful Episcopal church there, then I walked from there to the wharf. I passed by immaculate small homes on ancient brick sidewalks. The air smelled wonderfully of boxwood and bay air. the town felt sane. I read a sign about how many “colored” troops were recruited from there to fight R. E. Lee, especially at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, outside Richmond. What a nightmare. What a slaughter.

The way black people in this country have suffered, the insanity of the Civil War, man’s cruelty, these weigh me down even in a sublime spot like Oxford. But, wow, Oxford is a pretty place.

Then, back to the Tidewater Inn in Easton for supper. It was superb. My wife and my driver and I were the only people there. Truly, it was as fine a meal as I have ever had.

Then, a quick drive back to the Watergate. We bid good-bye to Bob, and Alex and I prayed.

We need God in our lives every minute. He is The Higher Power that is keeping us alive and sane. I am under attack in many ways—age, infirmity, financial issues, angry people. I break. God is The Power that puts me back together each day.

We have many ill friends, and we pray for them, day by day, too. Some will soon be gone. We’ll miss them.

God bless us, every one of us, and let us go back to the Eastern Sho’ over and over 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.