Ben Stein's Diary

Julie in the Pool

That was before we had Gatsby at The Chinese.

By 7.1.13

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Friday
Out to the old swimming hole, namely, our swimming pool at our house in Beverly Hills. I have a routine. I put on my pitiful old bathing suit over my fat old body, find a tennis ball, put on my bathrobe, and go down to the pool. Julie follows me, barking madly. I throw the ball in the deck area and she runs after it. Meanwhile, I swim, as much as I can.

Julie retrieves the ball almost instantly. After all, we are in a fairly confined space. Then she runs to wherever I am swimming and drops the ball next to where I am. I stop swimming, reach for the ball, and throw it again. You get the picture. It keeps me from getting decent exercise, but it makes Julie very happy.

She often misses her catch and hits the ball into the pool. She then walks down the steps to the pool and blithely swims to the ball, puts it in her mouth, and swims back to the stairs, climbs up to the deck, shakes herself, and brings the ball to me. This can go on for an hour, but usually not even half that. Frankly, it’s good but not ideal for me, except for the pleasure I take in seeing my lover happy.

I love my swimming in the desert far better because there I can really swim laps without Julie (so to speak) hounding me. No fence in the desert so Julie cannot go outside by the pool at all.

It is a far better life than I deserve. I am well aware of the sacrifice and suffering that go into allowing me to live this way. I am humbled with gratitude. Endlessly, I think, “I get to swim with my German short-haired pointer by my side under the jacarandas (and these have blue petals they drop into the pool). There is bougainvillea all around. The air smells of rose petals. Above my head are blue skies and palm fronds.

"How many Jews died in gas chambers while being watched over by Germans or were beaten to death in the snow, and I get to live this way because so many brave Americans offered up their lives and their limbs all over the world."

We have to thank the Russians and the British and the Canadians and the Aussies and the Kiwis and everyone who saved civilization. And we have to thank the soldiers of now and of Vietnam and Korea and the police and the firefighters.

I didn’t do much to get those jacaranda and bougainvillea petals in the pool. They are a gift from the men who died at Bastogne and their widows.

When I got dressed, I had a call from a realtor in Malibu. He badly wants to sell my home there. “I can get you a record price for your neighborhood,” he said. Of course, I live in a very modest part of The ’Bu, so I would not get rich from it, and I don’t plan to sell it, but here’s my point: Two years ago, I could not have given away my home in Malibu. Now people are shrieking for it. Real estate always comes back if it’s in a decent location. It can scare you and get you depressed, but never sell when the market is bad if you can avoid it. And you avoid it by having juicy liquidity. The time to sell real estate is when it’s up, not when it’s down. So said Frank Hathaway to me many years ago. He is a great genius of real estate. His stock, LAACZ, has been a little gold mine. I own a tiny amount. I’m not selling it. Not ever, if I can hold onto it.

Saturday
Holy Smoke. I decided I had to see Gatsby in 3 D again. This would make lucky 13 times. The only place it was playing was at The Chinese in Hollywood at a 9:40 PM show. I headed over there at about 9. It was total madness. Hollywood Boulevard was like the Vegas Strip. Thousands of tourists walking up and down, looking at street musicians, street jugglers, lingerie shops, souvenir shops. Homeless. Women in tight dresses. Young girls in unbelievably short skirts. Tough-looking men who might have been gang bangers.

Wall to wall people and cars. No sign of a parking lot. The curb lane closed in front of The Chinese. Hmm. There was a black and white LAPD car next to me. Should I let him in front of me as the lanes squeezed us both? Of course! It’s the LAPD. So, I lowered my window and said to a very pleasant policeman, “You’re the law. You go first.”

 “But you’re a legend,” he said. “You go first.” He also told me where a parking lot was. I love it when that happens.

I had to climb way too many stairs to get to the box office. Plus, the area around the popcorn stand is now a night club for very large people. Incredibly loud music is played there. Not for me, thanks.

I had to climb more stairs to Gatsby and it had already started. (I hate that.) But -- as always -- it was magical. It is a story about miraculous changes. As miraculous as a swimming pool in Beverly Hills where blue jacaranda petals and red bougainvilleas float on the waves my Julie makes as she swims near me on a June day.

At a certain point, the noise from the nightclub downstairs infiltrated sacred Gatsbyland with its thuggishness. “Money makes women fall in love,” said my cousin. Men, too. That’s a lot of what Gatsby is about. Money and love. Immense forces in life, moving men and women to great deeds.

Thuggish music accomplishes nothing but the destruction of thought. It actually stops brain activity. I hate it. By an act of will, I drowned it out and watched Gatsby die by the hand of the woman he loved, whose voice was “full of money,” as the author said. What a little creep she was. No one in that book is noble. So few of us are.

I love that movie and the blue and red petals in the blue green pool and my brown and white dog in a haze of water as she shakes herself off.

There is a lot going on in Gatsby, a movie of genius, and a lot going on in life. Money and love and dogs and colors and blood paying for it all.

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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.