Ben Stein's Diary

Return From Sandpoint

The death of Robert Butler, M.D., stirs memories.

By 7.12.10

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Saturday -- July 10, 2010

Here I am back in L.A. I have been up in Sandpoint, Idaho, for about ten days with my beautiful wifey, and now we are back at home looking after our dogs and our lives generally.

With the exception of some noisy people renting the condo below us, we had a great time in Idaho, as always. We rode our boat out on the lake, rode our bikes around town, ate great salmon, and watched the ever changing sky. Really, I believe there is no view on earth better than the view out of our condo at The Seasons, probably the most wonderful resort condo community I have ever encountered.

I got quite a shock the day before we left when I saw in the NY Times that Robert N. Butler, M.D., had died at 83 of leukemia. Dr. Butler was a famous expert on aging and an advocate for the aged. And a kind-hearted fellow. But before he did all of that, he was my psychoanalyst. Real psychoanalysis. Four and five times a week on the couch. Thank you, federal employee health insurance. He had a lovely office adjacent to his home in Cleveland Park, a great home on a big triangular lot.

He was a fine shrink and a kind, loving man. He had a way of getting to the heart of things, sometimes quite sarcastically. I well recall one day after many days of my endless moaning about my mother, he sighed loudly and said, "Oh, a boy and his mother."

It was cutting, but it well summed up my greatly excessively close connection with my mother.

When I went back to Yale Law School, Dr. Butler offered me three excellent pieces of advice.

1. Make new friends.
2. Bind up your wounds.
3. Forget contempt.

All great words.

Of course, it might have included, "And stay the hell away from the Yale Health Service." It was going there that had laid me low in the first place. I went there to talk about my difficulty studying for Civil Procedure, taught by one of the meanest men I have ever met, J. William Moore, and a terrible, horribly incompetent teacher, too. The YHS, in their wisdom, prescribed Trilafon and Mellaril, two of the most dangerously powerful anti-psychotics on earth. It was like using an atom bomb for the fourth of July in a small town.

My reactions, ataxia, inability to read, extreme fatigue -- totally foreseeable -- put me utterly out of commission for weeks and led me to drop out of law school. In the end, that was a good thing, because when I went back, I wound up in the class of '70, a much better fit for me than the class of '69. The class of '69 was one of the last gasps of the Silent Generation. They were men, and a few women, who really wanted to be lawyers. My new class also had a few of them but it was largely hippies and radicals who wanted something else more like fun.

And, wow, did we have fun. It is just a guess, but I doubt if any law school class in any law school in history had more fun than the class of '69 at Yale Law School.

That was when we stopped getting kicked around by our teachers, got high a lot, demonstrated against anything we felt deserved our attention, and generally behaved like happy, very spoiled children. Years later, people at Yale referred to our time as "The Dark Ages" but they were wrong. They were the flaming bright glorious ages. The fun we had, playing bridge while stoned, mocking the teachers, watching great movies, observing Duncan Kennedy tie the teachers in knots. Fun, fun, fun.

I was a big student leader for telling a teacher to stop bullying us or I would take my clothes off in Anti-Trust and start reciting the names of the Vietnam War dead. The teacher was so angry he stomped out of class and became a spectacularly well-paid Wall Street lawyer.

I got cute little hippie girls following me around and started wearing pink tie-dyed shirts and bell-bottom trousers and sandals. I am telling you, it was happy days.

"Bell bottom blues, you made me cry..." (Great song by a great singer.)

Anyway, why am I telling you all of this? Because Bob Butler died and it brings back memories.

At Yale when I went back, I had a simply dreadful shrink for two years and then a super great shrink named Sidney J. Berman for a year. He was a prince and a great, great analyst. I credit him with giving me a lot of the self-confidence it took to be a student radical leader.

Now, I would laugh at us as we were. Maybe not, though. We made fun of ourselves. We knew we were not really rebels. We were really the gilded, unbelievably blessed youth of privilege. The real stars were fighting in Vietnam. We had fun. They had balls.

I don't regret trying to stop the war, though. My father-in-law, Col. Dale Denman, Jr., a highly decorated Vietnam war hero, told me in 1966 that if he were not in the Army, he would demonstrate against it himself. "It's a meat grinder," he said. "We'll never win and good men are getting killed."

It's amazing how all of these memories keep flooding back to me. I can recall Col. Denman in his Dress Blues. This man was not only the bravest of the brave, but as handsome a man as God ever made.

His daughter has been my wife since 1968, with a few years interruption.

That is the number one blessing of my life. That, and America, and the fighting men and women, and the dogs lying in bed with me. Psychoanalysis is good. Yale is good. Doctors are sometimes good. Women, good. But dogs in bed with me. That's perfection. I see Brigid looking at me now to get back to bed with her. Bye.

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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.