Ben Stein's Diary

Desserts in the Desert

Starting the New Year right.

By 1.2.14

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Tuesday
New Year’s Eve. As usual, the weather here in Rancho Mirage is perfect. Just spectacularly sunny, dry, blue skies, slight breeze. In winter, on good days, the Coachella Valley (this area) has as good weather as there is. (In summer, it’s pure hell.)

I hosted a small New Year’s Eve gathering at our house in Morningside Country Club. Morningside is a great club. It isn’t a famous club like Thunderbird or Eldorado, but then it has superb golf and a lovely clubhouse, extremely fine food, and the best staff imaginable. So, I like it. It is way more expensive than I can reasonably afford, but that’s true of everything in my life. On some days, I am at a loss to understand why I am not in bankruptcy court. On some days I think I must move to a padded cell where I am not allowed to spend money. On other days, I feel like living like a monk at our house in Malibu. (It is very modest house.)

I spend so much time in fear of going broke and I never have been even remotely close to going broke. But, as the man in the Hemingway story says when asked how he went broke, “...slowly and then all at once...” That’s how I am afraid it will happen to me.

At our little gathering were Ray and Jeanne Lucia, Joe and Susie Lucia, and Phil DeMuth and his brilliant daughter and glamorous and successful wife, Olivia and Julia respectively. We ate cheese and pate at home, then took ourselves to the clubhouse for the New Year’s Eve party.

It was mobbed. Almost everyone was effervescently friendly. But, one terrifying looking woman grasped my hand as I walked by with a skeletal urgency and said, “Do you know my son?”

“I don’t know. What’s his name?”

She told me a name.

“I am afraid not,” I said.

“He has a lot of hedge funds,” she said. “He earned at least thirty percent on them this year and in the last few years.”

“Great,” said I. “Mazel tov.”

I consulted with Phil. He was as dubious as I was. “Most hedge funds are up maybe one percent this year,” Phil opined. “They’re hedged so they don’t do well when the market goes straight up.”

I avoided the scary woman with the super successful (haha) son.

We soon sat down to dinner. I sat next to my wife and to Olivia. She is a mere 12, but whatever age she is, she could not be plus charmante. She talked to me volubly about the difference between Instagram and Facebook. Apparently, the cool kids simply would not be caught dead using FB at this point. The reason why is unclear. I guess just a fad.

Olivia told me that her friends like to send photos of macaroons and well-crafted sushi on Instagram. What am I to make of that?

We talked about current events for a long time and I was stunned at how much Olivia knows. She is clearly getting a superb education at Marlborough, the girls’ day school she attends. At one point she asked me the name of the Chief Justice and all I could think of was “traitor.”

The food was a poached piece of beef and I loved it. Luckily for me, Olivia hardly ate any of hers, so I could steal the rest of it from her plate.

A lovely woman named Susan Ford, M.D. came over and visited with Phil and me for a long time. She is an early holder of BRKA, Berkshire Hathaway, and also owns a company that tests drugs. She has a gorgeous daughter and granddaughter and several handsome grandsons. How did she get to be an early holder of BRKA? She’s from Omaha and her family knew Warren Buffett and thought highly of him. That’s what I call winning the lottery.

No matter how smart she was, if she had grown up in Prescott, Arkansas, she would not have been an early owner of Berkshire Hathaway. On the other hand, maybe she would have been an early owner of Wal-Mart. Well, who cares?

After the main course, I wandered across the room to the dessert buffet. Big mistake. Several members of a family sitting near the desserts wanted photos with me. Well and good.

Anyway, our guests left and my wifey and I did our usual chore of cleaning up whatever damage the dogs did while we were out.

I watched an old Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire movie called Flying Down to Rio. It was fabulous. Great sets, great dancing, a luminous Dolores del Rio. Chorus girls dancing on the wings of bi-planes. They were brave. The night before I had watched Follow the Fleet, also with Fred and Ginger but also with my VERY FAVORITE ACTRESS OF ALL TIME — Harriet Hilliard, who became Harriet Nelson of my favorite TV show of all time, Ozzie and Harriet.

She was the perfect mother: beautiful, serene, never angry, never shrill, a model human soul. And here, dear reader, is the best part: wifey is a dead ringer for the young Harriet Hilliard. The same sweet face, clean features, intelligent eyes, soaring, angelic eyebrows, endless good humor. Wow, am I lucky to have wifey in my life. Lucky is not the right word. “Blessed.” That’s it.

2013 is over. The days dwindle down to a precious few, and I am in heaven when I get to spend them with the world’s most nearly perfect being, my wifey. I watched Alex lie in bed and read. Her hideous Pomeranian snored loudly. My Julie slept silently. Only two things matter: wifey and being an American.

Well, wait a minute. Our son and daughter in law matter and our granddaughter, Coco, matters, and Rachel matters and Julie matters and Phil matters and John Coyne matters. But mostly, it’s Alex. The difference between sunshine and shadow: Alex’s smile.

Happy New Year and treasure your families. And your dogs and Phil.

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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.