Ben Stein's Diary

Late Summer Weekend

Many a perfect day, though service was slow.

By From the October 2010 issue

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Friday
I am so angry. Phil DeMuth and I just had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, La Scala. We had a good table outside and could see lots of interesting people walk by. But the service was criminally slow and when I complained about it, the hostess, a sullen little creep, would not apologize. I told her I had been coming there 35 years and this was the worst service ever. She made no sound of apology at all.

Why is it so hard for young people or even old people to apologize or to say, "Thank you"? What is the issue? Is it that they would have to show some vulnerability? Or that they hate me so much because I am old/famous/well to do/conservative/male? What is it? Whatever it is, I can tell you that people who cannot say, "I'm sorry," or "Please," or "Thank you" are doomed to a pretty miserable life. Maybe not. Actually they are already miserable. So, they will just continue in their miserable lives.

As I thought about it and discussed it with Phil on our way back to my little mansion (actually just an ordinary house, but on a nice street -- far, far smaller than the home Phil grew up in in Kenilworth, Illinois), I started to laugh.

Here I am bitching and moaning about rude service at a fancy restaurant. What about the soldiers, Marines, sailors, Air Force people, National Guard, Reserves, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? What about the ones who fought in the Hurtgen Forest, with Nazi 88s shattering trees all around them and killing them with splinters? What about freezing in the Ardennes with the SS snipers shooting them and panzers rolling over them? What about creeping about in the jungles in Tarawa or Peleliu with Japanese mortars raining death down? What about getting ambushed by millions of screaming Red Army "volunteers" at the Chosin Reservoir while your toes get frostbite and you are exhausted and starving? What about that?

What about getting shelled day and night at Anzio or the firebases in Vietnam? What about being a prisoner and being tortured day and night at the Hanoi Hilton? What about being in a German Stalag or the belly of an infernal Jap prison ship without food or water or sanitation and death and cruel heat all around you?

What about being sick with exhaustion while in patrol near the DMZ in I Corps? Or being pinned down at Pusan? What about missing a decent meal for months on end while you get snakes crawling on you in Okinawa or Iwo Jima?

What about not going back in history? What about training some Afghani man to be a soldier only to have him turn his AK-47 on you and cripple you and kill your buddies in the mess hall where you had just been having lunch ? What about being on patrol in Fallujah and suddenly having an immense bomb blow up your pals right in front of you while terrorists -- not militants, terrorists -- open fire on you with top-notch Russian sniper rifles?

What about spending years in a hospital recovering? What about never recovering, losing your family, your peace of mind, your health, for the rest of your life because of wounds that cannot be treated?

What about having to read that some little pissant movie star gets all the cute girls while nobody even remembers your name? What about waking up at 4 a.m. and remembering when your best friend got his brains blown out by a very unluckily accurate sniper shot in Baghdad?

This is the price that Americans who serve in wartime pay. This is the price our men and women from small towns and farms and big cities pay to keep us free.

It makes me ashamed to complain about anything, and yet I still do. But at the same time, I pray for the men and women who serve. God bless them, God bless all of them and you who are reading this, hearing this, for all eternity.

I came back home, bid farewell to Phil, got on my knees and prayed. I prayed especially for the ones still fighting night and day in Afghanistan, in the most inhospitable place on earth, against a totally conscienceless, vicious foe who have American blood all over their hands. Dear God, please help them and please bless their families because, as I will say unto my last hour on earth, the military wife is the backbone of the nation, the backbone of freedom on this earth. God bless them.

Saturday
Well, guess what. Another perfect day in L.A., but I am not feeling well. I keep forgetting where my phone is, where my glasses are, where my car keys are. I guess I am getting old. I hate it, but there it is.

Wifey and I had a great lunch at a hamburger stand on Santa Monica Boulevard next to our car wash. Lots of fun watching the couples, gay and straight, mostly gay, walk by. Many gay people have really great-looking dogs, and we love watching them.

Then home to work on my infernal income tax (I have an extension ) and then off to dinner at Mister Chow. It was mobbed beyond words. Just totally packed. I ate with my wacky friend Jane. Alex was too tired to go. I did not want to eat alone and Jane is a fine conversationalist.

Many people came by to say hello. That was nice. Mister Chow may have the tastiest food of any restaurant in town. The service is also very fast. No messing around. Order: seaweed, dumplings, spare ribs, chicken satay, Beijing chicken, steamed rice, eat, and go. The food is astoundingly good. Just amazing. Lots of sweetness in that food. Too noisy, but still fabulous. Wifey and I used to go there all the time with our beloved Sid Dauman and his wonderful wife, Martha, who reminded me a lot of the young Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end. But they did end. However, Sid and Martha, the classiest people on this planet, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. North, George and Laura Bush -- they are still around in my memories.

At about midnight, after my nocturnal swim, I realized I didn't have my new favorite drink, Minute Maid Lemonade. I whined and moaned about it to my wife, and while I was taking a shower, she got dressed, went to the grocery store, and brought me back two half gallons. At midnight!!!! I said to her, "That humbles me. Thank you, humbly. That is beyond the call of duty."

Alex, in her typical way as a soldier's child, said, "No. It is my duty." She is a literal saint. Not "saintly." Not "almost a saint." A saint. I pray she will stop smoking. I know many very fine women. That's sort of my job. But there is only one Big Wifey. Only one.

Sunday
Now, this is interesting. It is a wistful Sunday afternoon, as summer draws to a close. I worked on my taxes, swam, then headed over to a friend's party at a fancy athletic club on Sepulveda in west L.A. The people there were extremely unhappy-looking. My guess is that they are all divorced and pitifully on the prowl. I feel bad for them. What would they give for Alex? Anything. It was creepy in that place.

Then off to Best Buy, an immense appliance store on Sawtelle, also in west L.A. I had to buy a new computer for the house in Malibu. The place was packed with every race, every ethnicity, every sex, every age. There were so many different languages being spoken it made my head swim. It reminded me of the Tower of Babel. How can people feel much attachment to a country where everyone is a stranger? I guess it can be done, but it's pretty damned difficult.

Then off to Malibu. It was a lambent, magnificent evening. I met a gorgeous singer named Summer something from a group called The Speaker Junkies. One of the cashiers told me she had been the cover girl for some tanning lotion. She was a stone knockout. Very friendly but made a point of telling pitiful old me that she had a boyfriend who was a hard-drinking surfer.

I have the only girls I need in my car sleeping right now anyway. I went to the Malibu house, emptied the car, and got right into bed with Brigid. The stars were coming out. The phone was beeping incessantly with calls from men and women wanting to cadge money. I slept listening to Mozart and holding Brigid's paw. When I awakened, the stars were dazzling. It was heaven. Yes, that's it. I think I am in heaven. I will not think about the terrorists or Mr. Obama or supply side. I will just look at the stars and hold Brigid's paw. Life moves pretty quick. If you don't stop and look around, you might miss it. Ferris Bueller said that. Or something like that.

Monday
In the last couple of months I have befriended a young woman who lives in a very modest apartment near my home in Malibu. She is a single mother of an extremely active 8-month-old girl. The woman has little money, no car, and a sporadically functioning laptop. She is utterly without household help and is exhausted every day caring for her daughter. The dad lives far away from her and where he created his kid.

While she was visiting my home recently, as I was working on my income tax, I gave her a glass of orange juice. When the mom looked away for a moment, the little baby knocked over the glass on my papers. I was extremely upset for a moment, and the mother was mortified. When she thought I was really angry, she looked so totally fearful, terrified, hopeless, bewildered, just plain lost, that I immediately told her it was no big deal and I would get new papers. But that look told me way too much.

That poor woman, like millions of other single mothers without much money, is simply overwhelmed by her duties. The dad does nothing and gives her almost no money (or so she says -- she certainly lives modestly). The whole duty of caring for that sweet baby girl devolves on the poor beleaguered mom.

It is completely outrageous.

How any man can knock up a woman, then leave her to bear the whole burden -- especially without much money -- is just beyond my imagination. It is a national disgrace, just a national shame.

I am a pretty wimpy guy. But even I know that any man who brings a baby into the world and does not shoulder his fair share of the physical, emotional, and money work of child rearing is no man at all.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more uncool than to shirk your duties as a father and leave your lover to suffer total exhaustion, fear, and confusion -- and poverty. That's not being a man. That's being a chicken-blank loser. Excuse my French, but it's true. Shame.

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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.