Ben Stein's Diary

Deaths in the Family

Can any drug, any food compare with the feel of a trusting big old dog against your stomach?

By From the June 2011 issue

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Thursday
It is the fourteenth anniversary of my mother's death and I am here in Beverly Hills, lying on a long blue couch in my sunny office. My wife is sleeping on the bed in the office along with our dogs, Brigid and Cleo. In the distance, I can hear kids screaming at a swimming pool. The sound makes me think that Beverly Hills is a neighborhood and not a showroom, which is really what it is.

I fell asleep for half an hour and when I awoke, I saw right in front of me some large blowups of photos of my family. They've been there for years.

There's one of my son when he was about eight years old listening to my father play the clarinet in my parents' bedroom at the Watergate. My mother is resting her hands on Tommy's shoulders and looks happy and calm. Tommy looks ecstatic.

To its right is a black-and-white photo from about 1958 of my mother and my sister standing out on the deck of our fabulous fifties-modern home in Silver Spring, Maryland. The deck overlooked Sligo Creek Park. It was a beautiful setting. Both women are wearing full skirts, the fashion in that era. They look pretty, but a bit wary of each other.

Just under that is a gloriously colorful photo of my mother in about 1987 sitting on a couch in our home in the Hollywood Hills. Gathered all around her are our dogs of that era: Martha, the nutty Weimaraner; Trixie, spectacularly beautiful German Shorthaired Pointer; and Ginger, also perfect GSP. My mother looks so happy. She loved dogs. She had Irish setters when she was growing up, and always loved dogs. Not as much as I do, but considerably.

Once, I left Mary, the original Weimaraner, with my father and my mother for two weeks when I moved to L.A. in the summer of 1976, while I looked for an apartment that would allow me to have a dog. Mary stayed with them in their apartment at the Watergate. My mother told me it was the happiest two weeks of her life. She played with Mary all day. She sat on the couch and threw a ball for her and marveled each time Mary brought it back to her. Why didn't she get one of her own? I don't know. She was apprehensive about many things. Let's see, she was then about 60. She could easily have had the strength for a dog. It was a mistake by her.

Now, it's been 14 years without my mother. I lie in my office and I look at those photos. I also have photos in my bedroom of my mother and father sharing a milkshake at the McDonald's on Route 50 in Maryland on the western side of the Bay Bridge. They look contented with that shared milkshake. They were never pretentious. I can so well recall going to the counter and buying them that milkshake.

I am sure I never imagined a time when my mother and father would have been dead many years. I still get postcards to send them from wherever I am, and keep saving the postcards, as if my parents would reappear. I talk to them at night and through the day.

I hope they forgive my ingratitude and selfishness.

For most of my life, I only thought of what they had done wrong to me. It never occurred to me to think of what I had done wrong to them. Never even occurred to me to thank them on hands and knees for the lush life they gave me after their own modest beginnings and to thank them for how hard they had to work. I wish I had that time back. I thanked them plenty when I was older, but I wish I had done it much more when I was young. How selfish we children are. Or at least, how selfish I was. It's painful.

God bless you, Mom and Pop. I miss you.

As Wlady would say, "A soul is gone." But is it, if it's a soul?

Thursday
A FANTASTICALLY BUSY DAY in New York City promoting "my" new book, The Wiley Little Book of Alternative Investments. I awakened at about six, Eastern Time, which is about three my time. I was feeling fantastically sick. Just as if I had been poisoned. But what could it be? I had almost nothing to eat the day before. Maybe a stomach flu. I drank some of the wonderful herbal tea my sister taught me about many years ago, Tazo Refresh mint tea. It helped a lot. It has something to do with the mint hitting some smooth muscles in the intestines. Anyway, it helps.

I ate a modest breakfast, got dressed, and went off on my rounds along with my publicist, Monique, and my driver, Harold.

First stop, Fox News. I got made up, talked to fellow Fox and Friends guest and my great pal, Michele Bachmann, looked at my book, which really should be called Phil DeMuth's book, because he wrote 99.99 percent of it -- he's listed as co-author but he did all of the serious work on it -- and then went on the air. It was a fast, fun show.

Then Fox Radio. Then four phoners with various entities, then mercifully, a nap, and then more Fox, especially my dear pal, Neil Cavuto, on both Fox News and Fox Business. Then Bloomberg at their strange building that looks like the future is now, comrade. The interviewers were extremely intelligent but the building is disturbing. It has spiraling escalators. What is the point of that?

Then, off to the airport to fly home to L.A. JFK was jammed, but because I am a super frequent American Airlines flyer, I get treated amazingly well. A Mr. Barry Horton escorted me through security, where I was searched as if I were as guilty as I am, and then brought me to a lounge. I felt a lot better by then and had chicken and mashed potatoes.

I met a simply breathtakingly beautiful young model named Georgia Fowler, from New Zealand, at the lounge. She was beaming with youth and enthusiasm. She passed me on the plane on her way to her modest coach seat. I was wrestling with my suitcase -- far, far heavier than it should be -- and she offered to help me get it up, so to speak. Oh, sweet bird of youth.

The flight attendant in first class was a tall fellow who seemed determined to annoy me. He had only one horrible, tepid bowl of gruel for me to eat on the six-and-a-half hour flight. He sulked when I asked him to make it cooler in first class. My seatmate had taken a sleeping pill and told me to eat his dinner, but my tall steward would not let me have it. What an odd choice for a flight attendant.

Why would a service business that has someone as fabulous as Barry Horton or my dream girl in DFW, Tracy, have that tall, surly fellow in three-class first class? What's the point?

Sunday
A SAD, SAD, DAY. It is Easter. My favorite dog, my beloved Brigid, is on her last legs. She can barely stand. She is cruelly arthritic. She is in pain trying to lie down. She is revoltingly incontinent. We have to carry her up and down the stairs, which is not easy when you're 66. Even though Brigid has shrunk to almost nothing, just skin and bones, she takes both hands and my stairs are steep. Plus we have eight cats and they are always scampering about my feet. Plus I get dizzy when I look at Brigid in her pitiful condition.

Tommy was here at our home in Rancho Mirage today for Easter brunch, along with his very pregnant wife, Kitty. Although Tommy pressed all of my buttons as he likes to do, he sensibly and urgently suggested that we let Brigid go. So, probably Tuesday, we will.

We will have the traveling euthanist come to our house in Beverly Hills and send Brigid to eternity. I cannot really bear to think about it. This is a girl who was my indispensable sidekick since the day after Puppy Wuppy died in 1999. She came with me everywhere I went, slept next to me, followed me everywhere I walked or climbed. She would fall asleep with her nose pressed to mine. She was beautifully house-trained. Her only major flaw was that she begged voraciously at the table, and we aggravated that flaw by feeding her from the table.

She was a rescue and when we got her, her fur was thin and bristly from a hard life as a lost dog living rough. After we had her for a few months, her hair began to soften and soon became as yielding and trusting as her eyes.

How many nights I lay in bed worrying about money or reputation or extortion, and Alex was fast asleep at the other end of the house. My only companion was my Brigid, but that was all I needed. An old wife, an old dog, and ready money. That's what it takes to get through a crisis, said Samuel Johnson, later adopted by Ben Franklin. At two in the morning, with the stock market crashing or some greedy psychopath threatening me or with a famous newspaper firing me for lack of political correctness about evolution, my warm, reassuring, always ready companion was my Brigid, with her soft brown eyes and her spots of liver on a field of ivory and her endless patience.

She would wait for me in the car for hours, never complaining, then sit up and nuzzle my neck with her snout.

How many times she would come out with me before breakfast to the pool in Beverly Hills and climb up on a blue-and-white chaise and lie on her stomach with her paws in front of her nose and watch me swim, then clamber back upstairs with me and wait outside the shower for me. Who will ever do that again? I mourn the loss of the love.

She never kissed. Possibly a legacy from her terrifying days on the loose.

But she hugged and she cuddled. Can any drug, any food compare with the feel of a trusting big old dog against your stomach?

Now, she's barely alive. What heaven can possibly be good enough for a being who does not even know of the knowledge of good and evil? What paradise is good enough for this girl who never tasted the apple?

We always made a point of replacing our dogs immediately after they died. I guess we'll do that with Brigid, too. Maybe not this week. But soon. But as every dog lover knows, the word "replace" never applies. I cannot replace Brigid. I can get a new rescue (ours are all rescues). I cannot replace Brigid.

My dear friends Al and Sally Burton believe we meet all of our old animals at the Rainbow Bridge after we die. It's a quaint notion. I sure hope it's true. There is no possible way to say how much I will miss her. My wife took unimaginably good care of our Brigid even after she became wildly incapable of controlling her bowels. My wife's a saint. An actual saint. Brigid is a saint. I am surrounded by saints. I wonder if Brigid will meet up with my mother on Tuesday.

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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.