Ben Stein's Diary

Picking Up After Dogs

It's how we live, especially in Washington.

By 12.9.13


Yesterday morning I received a telephone call from a young woman — 23 — whom I knew through a friend in Los Angeles. She had come to LA to be a writer or a producer or something important. But she lived in a dream world. She definitely had talent as a guitarist and a singer, and I had her sing and play the guitar for me in my living room at the Shoreham Towers long ago when she was probably 21 or 22.

But as to how she was ever going to make it as a producer or writer… that was a mystery. You have to do that either by working your way up in a studio or a production company, or by writing a script that someone loves and makes you director of the movie based on that script, or, best of all, by having a dad or a grand dad or a father in law who is a high player in the biz.

As my super smart sister said, “There’s pre-law and pre-med, but pre-dad is the best business.” She’s almost too smart.

So, I have seen men work their ways up through patience and talent and connections. But a young woman who comes to Los Angeles on a plane with her guitar and her cool hat and her reefer? I have never seen that kind of girl get anywhere much.

She was here for about a year off and on, worked as a waitress, was always looking for ways to sue people — an inevitably sure sign of a loser — and she eventually went to work possibly as an escort. But that didn’t work out either, so she went back to New York.

This morning, as I was coming in from a morning swim (the air is extremely cold for LA but the pool is perfectly warm and comfortable — 86 degrees), as I was toweling my fat bulk dry from a shower, the phone rang.

It was the girl with the guitar and the hat, and she desperately wanted to talk to me about some grievance a boyfriend of hers had in New York City against a magazine. She wanted me to fix it. I told her I could not help her at all. She took it well and then she told me what she had been up to:

* Working with a famous Broadway producer to get a musical of her own devising made with many famous stars in the cast. She did not actually know any of them, but she would.

* Selling a pilot for a situation comedy that would be on major network.

* Putting the finishing touches to a website so revolutionary she dared not even mention it to me.

* Getting herself ready for a live concert at a venue in The Village.

“This is amazing,” I said. “Is there any chance you could pay me back some of the money you borrowed from me two years ago? It sounds as if you’re raking it in.”

“Oh, I don’t get paid for any of this,” she said. “This is all just things I am hoping will happen.”

“In that case,” I asked her, “how do you keep body and soul together?”

“What does that mean?”

“How do you pay your bills?”

“I work at a doggie day care center,” she said. “I clean up the dogs’ poop and put it in bags for disposal.”

For some reason, this reminded me greatly of our government. There are all kinds of great plans and schemes, but in the end, it’s all dog droppings. In the end, it’s nothing but a con job.

Look at the President’s foreign policy behavior. He has taken a nation that was the undisputed world champion and only super power and reduced us to a crawling beggar. He has taken the good work that Bush 43 did in establishing American influence in the Middle East and allowed it to become a seething cauldron of civil wars.

In Bush’s years, America was the boss and Russia had to get in line, although there was a huge lapse on Georgia. But now, Russia calls the shots in central Europe and in the Middle East.

In the Far East, we were the only country with global reach. Now, we are just trembling about what China will do next.

And as to our alliances, our allies know that if there is any chance to throw them to the Islamic wolves, the Islamophile Barack Hussein “Barry” Obama will do it. (I don’t claim credit for calling Mr. Obama an Islamophile. Wlady coined that phrase.)

My dear pal, the genius Phil DeMuth, said that once Obama was sworn in, all that counted was his unconscious feelings. We know what they are now: loathes Israel (standard for Chicago Black Muslims, who are his pals); is extremely ambivalent towards the nation that has taken him from nothing to the White House and basically — like Michelle — is ashamed of America when he is not hating America and apologizing for America. (Who ever heard of another great nation’s leader starting his term in office apologizing for his country?)

The screw up of the health care system might not have been as much a mistake as strategy for socialism. The medical care field is now so badly messed up that maybe the only cure is single payer National Health Service Bolshevized medicine. So I can imagine him saying.

Yet, I don’t really blame him. He had such a strange upbringing: from his father and mother abandoning him to being treated like the Messiah as a black man who could sound as if he were learned and even brilliant that he could not avoid extreme confusion: thinking of himself as dirt and then thinking of himself as a god. And he has to cope with hatred of a nation that has indeed treated blacks shamefully to some inkling that he was singled out for spectacularly good treatment because he is black.

I cannot imagine all of the confusion and tempest in his brain. And the result? Delusions of grandeur, delusions that he has anything at all in common with a genuinely great man like Nelson Mandela, delusions that he can accomplish anything real in world ten million times too complex for him. And at the end of the day, after the media worshippers have gone to bed, there he is with his doggie day care center job cleaning up the poop, putting it in bags, and labeling it “great achievements,” with Jay Carney holding up each bag in triumph. 

Does he have any inkling of just how huge a failure he has been or does he really believe what Jay Carney says? Who knows? I wonder if he knows himself at all. He is far from alone there.

I went through my day 12-step meeting, lunch with Phil, shopping for groceries, naps, naps, naps.

Then, bill paying. I have so many bills to pay. It is extremely time consuming and it uses up much of my energy. Plus, it uses up a lot of my money. I hate paying these bills, but I spent three solid hours from about 8 PM to 11 PM sitting at my desk, paying my bills.

Really, really terrifying. I keep thinking that my mother is going to materialize from eternity in my office and start yelling at me about my extravagance. I remember bouncing a check long ago and my mother told me that she had never bounced a check in her life. Of course, I made the check good (or my mother did) and it must have been fifty years ago now, but it lingers in my brain, I assure you. The criticisms by one’s mother and father never go away. At least not from my head.

Yet, as I think about it, my father almost never criticized me. Once, I mistakenly woke him from a sound sleep and he was furious. He said that he would break my arm if I ever woke him again. Naturally, this was a sort of joke. In all of my life, my father never laid a hand on me. But, he did not like being awakened and neither do I.

My mother used to lay it on very thick about how I was such a loser because various friends and neighbors, Jerry Akman, Stanley Sitnick, Jeffrey Burt, Carol Brimberg, got better grades than I did in 8th grade. She was also incredibly sad that I did not get into Harvard College (which I loathed from the minute I saw it ... I am so glad I went to Columbia, joined the Alpha Delta Phi, met Larry Lissitzyn, and his girlfriend, Susan Sgarlat, who introduced me to Mary Just, who was a life-changingly good factor in my existence). I will never forget those tongue lashings from my mother, and I will never forget Mary, who was a saint (although my wife is an uber saint).

But my Pop was a far gentler human being than my mom, and I very much regret waking him up from his nap.

Still, they provided me with a comfortable life in every material way, which was a lot more than what they had. And my mother was totally right to stress the importance of school. She also really bashed me (verbally) for smoking, and she was right to do that. What an idiot I was to smoke just to look cool.

Yet, when one is young, what could be more important than looking cool? The distant future? Nahh, better to look cool right now in 1959.Better to fit in however a poor nerdy guy like me could fit in. Plus, my next door neighbors, the Carl Bernstein family, smoked, and my parents smoked (my Pop smoked three packs a day of Kent With The Micronite Filter — turned out to be asbestos — all through his years with RN and Ford). My neighbors all smoked. How bad could it be?

What must it be like to be in the urban or rural black community? Or any poor community where anti-self, anti-social habits, are the norm? It must be incredibly difficult to resist joining a gang, not studying, dropping out of school.

And what is it doing to the whole rest of the country for these anti-social attitudes to persist in the black and white communities ? How is it affecting our educational status in the world? How would our educational achievements or lack of them stack up if we only counted white or Asian parented children whose parents yelled at them about their grades? How would our “income inequality” (a really scary issue Obama will use in a dangerous way if he can) be if we all had mothers who yelled at us to do our homework and pay attention in school.

I sat there and I paid my bills and I missed my mother and father. And so many others. Garth Wood, MD, who was in many ways my best friend and who committed suicide. How I loved that man. Peter Feierabend, outdoorsman and skier and carpenter and brilliant and loyal pal, died way too soon while river rafting. DeAnne Barkley, genius and doyenne of TV, best woman friend I ever had besides my wife, Bob Bartley, who hated my economics but told me I was a good writer, my dear, dear cousin Jeffrey Weiss, whom I miss like mad every hour of every day, that dear sweet man, how I miss him, Jim Bellows, the best editor ever, sage, kind, merry, handsome — a smoker, Jim Meagher of Barron’s, a genuinely witty man and irreplaceable.

Too much dying. Too many bills to pay.

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.