Ben Stein's Diary

Death Fixes Nothing

A sad, rainy day in Sandpoint.

By 8.30.13

Send to Kindle

Thursday
Oooh, it’s cloudy and overcast here in Sandpoint. Rare for the summer time. Far across the lake, I can see heavy rain falling. There are also claps of thunder and flashes of lightning.

I slept very late, then got up and went about my many errands as the sky cleared: picking up pictures that had been framed, getting the Wall Street Journal, getting the Bonner County Daily Bee, our little local paper, getting prescriptions at the world’s most wonderful drug store, Sandpoint Super Drug, buying a chocolate cake for my wife, buying a TV at the Walmart (wow, TV’s have gotten to be inexpensive and light in weight), getting a lemonade at Starbucks, going down to the beach to look at the clouds. 

As I strolled across the grass to study the sky, I saw my dear pal, Tim Farmin, at the boat ramp, testing whether a certain boat’s engine had been properly repaired.

I am endlessly fascinated by Tim’s ability to fix things. Mostly, he fixes machines. Over years of asking him how he does it, I have discovered a few of what I would call Tim Farmin’s Rules of Orderly Mechanics When a Machine in Broken:

1.) What are the symptoms?

2.) Have I ever encountered symptoms like these in other engines?

3.) If so, how did I fix these engines?

4.) How is the engine supposed to work when it is working perfectly?

5.) What are the mechanics by which the engine performs its work?

6.) What part of these mechanics does not appear to be working properly?

7.) In the past, what has been the procedure to fix these parts of the machine or the process?

8.) Can I do these steps again or replace those parts again to make the machine work?

9.) What are the smallest steps I can take to make the machine work well?

10.) If larger steps are required, are they worth the cost?

11.) How can I test whether my steps for fixing the machine have worked without making the problem worse?

I am going to have to query Tim further about what the other steps are. I gather that much of it comes from a combination of education, experience (form of education), and intuition.

As I was thinking about this. Tim and his wife, Penny, came over to grab dinner with us at Ivano’s, a fine local Italian eatery. Just as we sat down to order, I rudely looked at my Android to see if I had any e-mails.

My mouth dropped open. I had an e-mail telling me that my dear, dear cousin Jeffrey hade died that morning. Jeffrey was my father’s sister’s son. He had been a part of my life for as long as I could recall. He was three years older than I was, and always telling me things and impressing me with his abilities. He was the first person ever to take me to a race track (Saratoga, near where he grew up in Schenectady, New York, then a booming industrial hub). He had made and lost fortunes in oil, and had been an ardent Democrat ideologue.

When he was in the chips, he was a huge spender. He had a Rolls Royce, a plane, had an extra room built onto his favorite restaurant so he and his friends could eat in privacy. He paid for his grandmother, also my grandmother, to live in a lavish nursing home, all on his own, a multi-millionaire when I was just getting by.

In his lush days, he would go into Mr. Chow, a fantastically expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills and order everything on the menu just to have a few bites of each.

He greatly looked up to my father, even though Pop was an avid Republican, and generally respected intelligent people no matter what side of the aisle they were on.

I looked up to him, and thought he was an avatar of how a rich man should live. He even bought his mother a Rolls Royce.

When his fortunes turned, he was still upbeat and witty. I remember the last time I saw him in private, he said, “Just remember what Bob Strauss told me: ‘Money makes women horny.’” I think he was right in a big, big way. It doesn’t really matter to me at this point anyway.

Alex and I saw him at Paul Bernat’s in Dallas about ten weeks ago and he seemed happy. He had gone through a cancer scare, but had been reassured by some tests and now he was looking forward to a brighter future consulting on some oil and gas deals. But his health was deteriorating steadily from diabetes and he lacked energy.

When I called him and asked him what he was doing, he would often say that he was “lying here like a dead lox.” ( Lox is a kind of smoked salmon beloved by us Jews .)

He watched baseball all day long -- much like my father -- and followed the news from a Democrat’s point of view.

Now, he’s gone and I feel just awful about it. We don’t know the cause of death yet and I assume it was heart failure, congestive heart failure, which kills all of the men in my family.

Fifteen years ago, there were four of us male first cousins. Now, I am the only one left.

Too many people have died lately. DeAnne Barkley, Jim Bellows, Alan Abelson, Jim Meagher, Peter Flanigan. It’s just too much. Maybe Jeffrey died of stress over not having much money. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the two worst things that could happen to a man were losing his health and losing his money and losing his money was worse. I often think he’s right. I don’t know. I think Jeffrey was bigger than that. He was not a number. He was a man. He knew it. And his machine was broken and there was no Tim Farmin to fix it.

I don’t know. I just know that I will really desperately miss him. He was my beau ideal even though he was only three years older than I was — maybe four. How his mother and sister must be suffering.

How all of those of us who loved him are suffering. Jeffrey Weiss made a great impression on me.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
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.