Ben Stein's Diary

Performance Art Indeed

Page Six comes calling.

By 7.22.14

Ben Stein
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Monday, Sandpoint, Idaho
A trying day but a rewarding day. The smoke has returned somewhat but temperatures are pleasant and a delightful breeze blows across the lake and the beach. I lay out on the balcony for a while, then came inside to nap with my Big Wifey by my side.

My “smart phone” rang and on the other end of the line was a gossip columnist from New York City. She had a smear item on me. In brief, this is what it’s about.

About five months ago, as I was walking through SFO to get into my car, I met a young woman who was extremely excited to meet me. She was literally jumping up and down with excitement. She told me she was a “performance artist” but hinted at some scary parts of her life. She said she would like to be a writer and asked if I could help. We exchanged texting addresses and off I went in my car. I spent fewer than five minutes talking to her in a busy airport terminal.

We texted many times after that day and she told me her tale of woe: she had just discovered she was pregnant by a man who did not want to live with her or support her; she was not sure how she could possibly support a baby; this was just scratching the surface of the horrors that had befallen her.

Only I, Ben Stein, could save her. So, since I am a big believer in Right to Life, I sent her money over the next several months to keep her alive and give her hope. I read some bits of her writing and complimented her lavishly to encourage her ambitions. She sent me examples of her “Performance Art.” Much of it was racy stuff, but always done with a smile and what seemed to me to be a good sense of humor. She shared with me the arithmetic of her livelihood and it was clear that I was keeping her from being broke and homeless while pregnant, although she was a hard worker.

To me, it seemed as if we were friends and that I would help her to realize her creative dreams.

As her pregnancy progressed, she wrote to me that she was increasingly stressed. She wanted to come visit me but I dislike having visitors from out of town because they take too much of my time. I did not want her “messing up my day’s work schedule….” I said to her and she said she did not want me doing the same to her schedule (paraphrases — we actually used much worse language, including throwing the F-bomb in a good natured style about getting in each other’s way), so the trips never happened.

Recently, she told me she was coming to San Diego to see someone whom I assumed to be the father of her child. (I could be wrong. The trip might have been for another reason.) I wished her well and told her I was awed by her strength and courage in her challenging circumstances and wanted to see her and give her a hug and a kiss. I made it abundantly clear that sex would not be involved.

She soon texted me that she was in San Diego and was eager to see me but needed money to make the trip. I had heard ads saying that an Amtrak train to L.A. from San Diego was about $40. I was extremely surprised then when she said she “needed” $1500 — a wild sum for a distance of about 120 miles, tops.

Other texts happened, some of which I found insulting and apparently some of mine she found inappropriate. Recently, she sent me a furious text taking many other comments by me out of context and telling me what a creepy guy I was. This had never come up before. Again, as I say, she sent a violently angry text to me and said she would never speak to me again.

I told her I still believed in her writing talent and would be glad to help in the future. I have often had angry texts and usually they blow over.

Alas, that was not the end of it. Far from it. She contacted Page Six. Page Six was calling with a wildly out of context, wildly misleadingly selective few snippets from my many texts to her. Page Six said I had said “inappropriate” things to this young woman and moreover that I had given her money.

As I told Page Six, I had always behaved in a supportive way to the young woman although I thought her most recent requests were extreme. And while the young woman might have thought my comments “inappropriate” I did not and neither did the young woman until roughly the time we disagreed about money for her travel. 

As I said, the real story is not an “inappropriate” comment I might have made to her when I was angry about how much money she was asking for. The really “inappropriate” fact was that I, who had kept her alive for more than four months without even laying eyes on her, who had never touched her, not even shaken hands with her, was being attacked by her via Page Six over nothing.  I kept asking Page Six why this was even a story. Her comments about me were far more inappropriate than my comments about her, as far as I could see. So I told Page Six.  Again, where’s the story?

The basic answer was, “Because we at Page Six say it is and if we print it, then it becomes a story and it will get picked up on the Internet.” Page Six: Prosecutor. Judge. Jury. Executioner. All Hail.

Performance art indeed.

Anyway, as I told Page Six, I hardly hold myself out as a saint. I do many things that are not ideal and always have and probably always will. I am not kidding.

But my main sin in this case was being beguiled by this young woman whom I thought was my friend, as I had been her benefactor. I guess my other sin was not realizing that a story need have no merit at all for it to be picked up by a gossip column. I really am way too gullible.

Anyway, there is not even the faintest allegation that I ever saw this woman again after our brief meet and greet at SFO and I simply do not see what this is about except that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Big Wifey had a clear take on it. “It’s a story because Page Six has space to fill,” she said, “...and that’s it...” I wonder what’s going to happen. I have been engaged in legal disputes where persons totally falsified documents. I sure hope this won’t be one of them.

In any event, BW is taking it well, so that’s really all that matters. (Statistics fan that I am,  I keep thinking, there are about 250 million persons beyond childhood in this country. Probably every single one of them thinks that something inappropriate was done to him or her in the past week. Why does my little story get into the press? Am I really that important? I don’t think so.)

I also keep thinking of the great Don Henley song, “Dirty Laundry.”

Dirty little secrets,
Dirty little lies.
We got our dirty little fingers
In every body’s pies.
Love to cut you down to size,
Give us Dirty Laundry.
We can do the innuendo,
We can dance and sing.
When it’s said and done
We haven’t told you a thing.
We all know that crap is king.
Give us Dirty Laundry.

I feel sorry I ever met that young woman, of course. I don’t really feel angry at her, though. She is in a very dicey situation, I would say. I can see why she would be stressed. I feel badly for her.

But Page Six.... They make their living by hurting people. Again, Bob Dylan comes to mind. “There are a lot of people who have knives and forks but they don’t have anything on their plates and they have to cut something.”

After my interlude with Page Six, I went to City Beach for a walk. The air was cool and most of the smoke was gone. Then a hurried shopping trip and then onto the boat with the usual suspects for a trip to Bottle Bay. Coco, my 3-year-old granddaughter, is a born politician. She goes up to kids, teens, adults, and says, “Hi. My name is Coco. What’s yours?” The only thing missing is asking them for their vote.

Then a long nap and another walk around town. I met many old friends and neighbors as I waited for my takeout food from Ivano’s. I walked across the bridge over Sand Creek and took the picture above of the covered bridge.

My wifey was still sleeping when I got home. She is a perfect soul. I am far from perfect. What a gift she is.

I read the newspapers and online about Israel and Gaza. It’s funny but my father, who worked a lot with Israel, used to say that people give the Israelis more credit for brains than they deserve. Maybe true. They should probably never have ceased Gaza’s occupation. But that was not working well either. My friend John says an iron trap is closing around Israel. Dear God, I hope not. The Golani Brigade is taking heavy casualties in Gaza and they are the best Israel has. The scope of the tunnels into Israel is terrifying, like those tentacles on the monsters in Avatar.  Prayer works, and prayer works wonders.

I looked in “The Gift of Peace,” my book of sayings to bring calm:

* When all else fails, turn it over to God.

* I am a person made up of the seven deadly sins. I always will be. I should not be surprised by it. It’s called “Being human.”

* Luckily for me, God works by mercy, and not by justice.

* Fear is the common human condition. Faith is the solution.

* What happens to me is not very important.

* Acceptance of what God sends me is not a choice. It is a necessity.

I am not kidding. I am not at all important. But, please pray for Israel.

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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.