Ben Stein's Diary

Love and Bliss in Beverly Hills

Still, it’s so different from what one recalls.

By 8.26.13

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Saturday
Here we are back in Beverly Hills. I don’t feel well. Nevertheless, I got up, paid some bills -- my never ending curse, my own foolishness -- and then went for lunch with Phil DeMuth at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge.

As usual, it was a cheerful scene. The pianist, a handsome devil, always plays a Civil War medley when I walk in. He plays a few seconds of “Dixie,” then of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Very kind of him. He knows I am a Civil War buff. Very thoughtful.

We talked about the stock market and the housing market, just as we always do. We talked about the many, many, many dependents I have and then we talk about the goddess of goddesses, my beloved wifey. I know I have said this a million times, but I am endlessly amazed that I, with every kind of neurosis and delusion and sin in my blood, have a saint as a wife. But there it is. She’s my wife.

After lunch, I walked around the shopping district of Beverly Hills… Rodeo Drive, Beverly Drive, Canon. It was a sunny, hot afternoon and the streets were absolutely packed. But there were almost no white people. There were endless legions of Asians, including many simply stunning Asian women. There were startling numbers of Arabs, including many women in hijab or burkha or whatever it’s called when they cover up everything but their eyes. There were great numbers of Iranians talking excitedly to each other in Farsi.

There were also an amazing number of American black men and a few black women. I say “amazing” because when I first moved to Sunny Cal 37 years ago, there were never any black people in Beverly Hills. It was a local bad joke that black men driving through the area would be stopped for the “crime” of “DWB -- driving while black.”

That was a long time ago and now there are far more black Americans than white Americans on the super pricey streets of Beverly Hills, or at least there were today. They looked happy and prosperous and I wondered how many of them felt discriminated against. It was just astonishing how Beverly Hills has changed. Just a sea change. It isn’t really like the old Beverly Hills at all. It is sort of like an international city, like some European entrepôt in China before the Reds took over. Every kind of ethnicity hanging around.

There are also a startling number of beggars, all of them African-American. I gather there is no law against begging, and certainly if there were, it would not apply only to non-whites, so I guess it’s all right.

I always give the beggars at least a few dollars. Rarely do I see anyone else giving them money. I am extremely weak where beggars are concerned. I don’t want them shouting imprecations at me and also I think that however worried about money I am, they are probably in worse shape than I am.

I bought some cupcakes at a place called “Crumbs.” Four bucks each. My beloved mother used to pay a nickel for them at Bernstein’s Bakery on Flower Avenue in Silver Spring. I don’t even want to think about how long ago that was. They were amazingly good. Rich and chocolaty with white flour. Little paper wrappers on the bottom.

I went to Hermes to buy some things but their front door was locked and patrons were directed to the back door. In the back, there was a long line to get in. What kind of world is this where there is a line to buy stuff like neckties that start at $200 and scarves at over $600? This is a highly stratified society. So many rich people. So many poor people.

Except for the Asians and the blacks, the people in Beverly Hills look deeply unhappy. Naturally, I compare them with the happy faces in Sandpoint. I like Sandpoint faces. Happy. Thoughtful. Helpful. Outgoing but not aggressive.

Let me tell you just one little thing about Sandpoint and L.A. At the ATM where I often get cash on Sunset Strip, you get instructions in 16 (yes, 16) languages. In Sandpoint you get them in English. Small wonder that people in Sandpoint are unafraid to be out at night and let their children swim in the lake with just the lifeguards watching them.

I got home, gave my wife -- who has the ’flu -- a huge cupcake. She ate it with great eagerness, then went right back to bed.

I read a fine piece in the Wall Street Journal about the collapse of the Obama foreign policy. Could anyone have guessed how the U.S., the colossus of the world, has been reduced to a joke in five years by Obama confusion, an America-hating mentality at State, and the EOB? The author of the piece, a smart guy named Professor Walter Russell Mead, notes how Obama completely misunderstood the Islamists, thought we could do business with them, spat on Israel and Saudi Arabia, and now we have absolute chaos and American impotence where once we were respected and feared. (I must add that we have been saying these exact things in TAS for a long, long time.)

The horror is that this is true everywhere: the Russian “reset” has been a disaster, with the Russians putting their thumbs in our eyes whenever possible. The Chinese are the new masters of the universe and they deserve to be. How Castro must laugh when he thinks of America, circa 2013. And he was just a little nut with a beard and we were America. 

And now the main task the military faces -- as Obama’s fans would have it -- is equality for transgenders, not defense against nuclear attack. When Republics die, it is by the death of common sense among their leaders and their citizens and we have precious little left.

I slept for a long time after that cupcake, and then read about the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his zany wife, Zelda, who pretty much wrecked his life. But what a talent that man had.

Sunday
Now, this has been a good day. My old pal Michael C. came over to have lunch with me. He is in love. He’s 66. His wife died a few years ago. She had been ill for a very long time. Now, he’s found a woman in her early fifties and they’re in love. I have known Michael since 1977, and never have I seen him so happy. He was beaming with happiness, eyes bright, head held high, happy, happy, joy, joy. Just plain happy.

“I feel as if I have a whole new life ahead of me,” he said. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I need to get a movie going and then everything will be complete.”

We ate at The Polo Lounge again. The food was good but the service was scandalously slow. Just a real pity. However, we were happy there. Michael called his Inamorata on his cell phone and put me on with her. She sounded charming. I hope to meet her soon.

Again, even the Beverly Hills Hotel is changing. There were many tables of black people. “Why not?” say I. They’re citizens. They’re paying the tab. It is a beautiful spot, by far and away the most beautiful spot for lunch in Beverly Hills. Why shouldn’t black people be allowed and even encouraged to be there?

After lunch, Michael and I went for a tiny drive around Beverly Hills. Sid and Martha Dauman’s mansion has been torn down and someone is building a new home there in the ultra tony 900 block of Roxbury. It made me miss Sid and Martha terribly. Back in the late 1970s and very early 1980s, before Martha got ill, they were the most glamorous couple we knew. Their home was a palace of extraordinary taste and design, done by Sid and Martha themselves. To me, they were the summit of The Good Life. They were always generous, always supportive. Fitzgerald characters in Mr. Chow, at Morton’s, at the old Spago, at Chasin’s. Great days.

The night that Joan Rivers sued me for a bogus claim of libel (I am sure she thought it was good), Sid took me to Morton’s for dinner. The waiters loathed the plaintiff so much they cheered when I walked in. Well, good luck to her, too. She had made much out of her quick wit and boundless energy. Jews are really something else. It is like they have an extra dimension of energy beyond what most people have.

Michael left and I took a long nap with Julie. I don’t know if I have told you this a million or a billion times, but there is nothing to compare with lying in bed with Julie and drifting off into dream land. NOTHING. To be asleep with that gentle California coastal breeze blowing, to see the shadows of the palm fronds on the wall, to hold Julie’s furry self next to me… that’s glorious. That’s real wealth.

And to Michael, who just fell in love and is on a pink cloud, God bless you, old pal who made me a movie cult icon.

 

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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.