Ben Stein's Diary

Summer Disturbances

The whole world is falling apart.

By 8.19.13

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Saturday—Sandpoint, Idaho
Now, believe me dear readers when I tell you that our summer hometown, Sandpoint, Idaho, has the most great restaurants per capita of any town I know of. There is Trinity at the Edgewater, with a spectacular beach and lake view, incredible prime rib, perfect ribs. There is Ivano’s, with melt-in-your-mouth salmon and al dente pasta. There is my very favorite, the Resort at Bottle Bay, lakeside dining with specialty cheeseburgers made with chutney, fish and chips that beg you to eat more, and service far beyond what your parents ever gave you. And there are more. There is Bricks and Barley, serving barbecue pizza you cannot stop eating. There is Ivano’s del Lago, great steak, stunning waitresses, although too many bees.

BUT… there are some that are not quite as good. And there is one that is genuinely scary, which was recommended by an old friend yesterday afternoon. I had a bad feeling about it, but I decided to give it a try. By an incredible stroke of bad luck, I had just a few bites of chicken at that place before I realized something was seriously wrong. I stopped eating at once, but the damage was done. I awakened early in the morning with inexpressible dread, panic, and sweats. I was literally shaking in my bed, as the digestive disorder grasped me, shook me, tormented me. I kept going back to sleep to ever more horrible nightmares and early morning terrors.

In them, I was being evicted from my home, forced to take a few belongings in a wheel barrow as my high falutin’ “friends” from Hollywood and High School sneered at me. Then I had a bee with an immense stinger stuck inside my sandal about to sting my toe. (That’s in the dream. I don’t even own sandals.) I was quivering, desperate, suicidal. Really ready to take my own life.

Then, I drank my herbal tea suggested to me by my dear sister so long ago, made a few bowel adjustments, took my prescribed stomach medicine, went back to sleep and felt great when I woke up. Thank God for Rachel, for Tazo Refresh, the world’s single best food, and for Dr. Herb Moskovitz, who flirted with my wife but did give me good colitis medicine.

I have told you before, my friends, that the bowels have a powerful effect on the brain and it’s true. “A good set of bowels is worth any quantity of brains,” said Dr. Johnson. Wow, was he right. I don’t have them. I wish I did.

I had breakfast and our pal Bob Noah, who is visiting us from D.C., accompanied me on a walk around town. City Beach was packed, and the crowd there gets older and older. In one section, though, which I call “the mean girls’ section,” there was a young, muscular black man with several young white men and a few girls. The young black man wanted me to sign something but neither of us had a pen or a piece of paper. He settled for a soul shake instead.

Then, as I was walking away, he yelled over to me, entirely cheerfully, “Hey, man, can I have some money to buy a great big watermelon?”

I laughed and said, “That’s very funny.”

“I thought so,” he said. A moment later he appeared at my side with a pen. “Can you sign my arm?” he asked.

I signed it as well as I could. “Now, I’m going to sell my arm,” he shouted to his friends.

Funny guy. Two little girls spotted me, ran over to me, and asked me if I were really who I am. “Yes,” I said. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to help animals and be a vet,” said one.

“I want to go to the college of my choice,” said the other.

“How old are you?” I asked them.

“Almost thirteen,” said the future vet.

“Twelve,” said the other. They were tiny.

Bob and I strolled around the park. It was too hot.

We walked up to town and passed many people headed for the beach. Then, home to rest, and then off on the boat to Bottle Bay. The water was surprisingly choppy but the Cobalt handled it all well. If I have only one life to live, let me live it on my Cobalt. When I was a child, I endlessly nagged my very patient parents for a Chris Craft. Don’t get me wrong. Chris Craft is a fine boat. But the Cobalt, for lake boating, is better. Faster, smoother, more reliable. I love it.

Bottle Bay was wonderful, as always. But the cursed bees were there in numbers. Even fearless Tim Farmin, world’s bravest guy, was worried. I was hysterical so I took my burger and went inside. I sat at the bar. I asked the bartender where he was from.

“California,” he said. “San Clemente.”

“I know it well,” said I. “I used to work for a man who lived part-time in San Clemente. Famous man.”

“Who was that?” asked the bartender cheerily.

“Richard Nixon.”

“Yeah?” said the bartender. “I used to live next door to Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal and I was always trying to peep over the wall to look at her.”

“I’ve heard of Nixon,” said a waitress who was standing nearby. “He was President, right?”

“Right,” I said.

We raced home at great speed and I took a long nap.

When I awoke, it was dusk. My wife was calmly in bed with a book. Bob Noah and I went out for a walk. We stopped for tea at Trinity at the Edgewater. A woman who teaches at a local public high school asked me to come speak to her economics students. “These kids need all the help they can get,” she said. “Many of them have a parent in jail or on drugs. Some of them are homeless. Most of them don’t have any clear idea of what they’re going to do with their lives. Please come talk some sense to them.”

I really had to think about that. First of all, I don’t have very much sense. Anyone who could see my spending habits would be appalled, simply staggered, at how wildly I overspend. Second, I grew up with so many benefits and privileges that I feel awkward talking to kids without those graces. Most kids in Boundary County, Idaho, don’t have parents who went to graduate school. They don’t have parents who were in the Cabinet. They don’t have parents who could afford to send them to any college. I thought about it and discussed it with Bob.

“What do kids do if they don’t have stable homes, don’t have well off parents, don’t have super great schools and family connections?” I asked him. “What do they do if they are not born on rails that automatically take them to the upper middle class?”

“Maybe they join the Navy,” he said. “Maybe they work at the Post Office.”

“They have to go to college and do really well. Then the college will get them the connections to graduate school and to a good job. If their families have no financial or human capital, they have to seize every chance to develop their own human capital through education. That’s free and it’s a must,” I said.

As we talked, we sat at Bricks and Barley and had a delicious spicy pizza. It was after 10 p.m. Many teenagers walked by, including some in bathing suits. Many stopped to talk to me.

Then, we pursued our walk. We passed by an open sliding window of a defunct restaurant and loud noise came out of it. A worried woman appeared and said, “This is a teen dance. Move along.”

Before I had a chance to explain that the sidewalks of any city are public places, she recognized me and started to explain how she had put in a bid to have lunch with me with a charity but had been outbid. A mob of teens came running out and shouted, “Bueller, Bueller,” at me. The woman who had tried to move us along looked sheepish, but really, what was she doing? Does she really think a group of teenagers dancing own the sidewalks?

Bob and I met a lovely young woman about to become a firefighter in Florida. No positions open at Goldman Sachs. She looked earnest about wanting to help people. Again, no positions at Goldman Sachs.

When I contemplate the riches that have been showered upon me, I truly am knocked to my knees. What would I ever have done without the connections I was born with?

Speaking of which, when I got home, Big Wifey was waiting up for me, reading her book. NO ONE ON THIS PLANET, LEAST OF ALL BEN STEIN, DESERVES A WIFE THIS FINE.

When she smiles, it’s as if the sun was shining in her eyes. God is in that face.

I watched a long documentary on PBS about high school football and injuries. The main point seemed to be two fold: high school football is way too rough and brutal, and second, high schools that have enormously large, strong black players can do a lot of damage to puny white players. Food for thought. Maybe there should be separate leagues for players of different sizes. Maybe I’m wrong. I often am.

Sunday
A lovely walk around City Beach with Bob. We met a beautiful optician and her staggeringly gorgeous daughter. We met our black friend again. We met a lot of people, then went over to Bottle Bay for more food.

On the way back, the phone rang. It was my pal X calling from prison. What a world. There he is in prison in 114 degree heat and there I am in my Cobalt in a breeze on Lake Pendoreille. All beyond belief. Yet his spirits were high and he was insightful and brilliant as always. He writes me letters that are off the charts poetic and poignant about prison life. He will be a famous writer some sweet day.

When we got back, I glanced at the week’s newspapers.

The whole world is falling apart. Pax Americana has disappeared in Mr. Obama’s foolhardy mist of an idea that the world could just run itself. We threw Mubarak under the bus in Egypt and we see what happened. We cheered on the Islamists and we got a whirl wind of chaos and bloodshed in the Arab world. America is now just a blind, helpless Cyclops, eye poked out by Obama’s innate confusion and rage about what America is.

American leadership is just a memory. American military dominance will soon be just a memory. In five years, we have become a laughingstock. “Yes, we can… commit suicide,” is the new motto. And the worst part is that the GOP does not have any better ideas. Lower taxes are more important than defense? Are they serious? China as a benevolent world leader? I guess that’s the future.

Mr. Obama actually claims that he has al Qaeda on the run. That's just plain insanity. Al Qaeda is a mighty force from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the Moslem world. They are not a few guys in a cave. This is a worldwide force. We have to be honest about it, not make up fairy tales. Al Qaeda is a really big deal and a terrifying deal. Does Mr. Obama truly not know it?

Oh, and that sound you hear? That’s the America we of my generation know and love being shoved down the garbage disposal of a world which used to fear us and now laughs at us. It is our own fault. These people didn’t elect themselves. Yes, the media is largely to blame, but a nation that could not choose a John McCain over a Barack Obama has lost its way badly.

And yet and yet, life on Lake Pendoreille is glorious. And we have lovely young women who want to fight fires, not start fires.

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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.