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Ben Stein's Diary
An exhausting day shopping in Beverly Hills, then back to paying bills in my office… that bill paying part is hell.
But listening to the fifties station on XM… that is paradise. Those are songs from 55 or 57 years ago, and I recall every word. The Platters, The Drifters, The Olympics, The Cadillacs, Harvey and the Moonglows, Little Richard, Elvis, The Janettes, Ike and Tina Turner. Those songs take me away from my cares of bills and obligations and in my mind’s eye I am dancing with Gay Patlen in the gym at Montgomery Blair High School. I am not sure I ever did but the fantasy is very strong. Only XM can make it light up in my brain. The sock hops at the Silver Spring Armory. The cute Irish girls with their little crosses and their tight skirts and bobby socks. How I loved those girls. I sometimes even danced with them. It is hard to believe but I was once a good dancer of the jitterbug, Washington style. And XM brings all those memories back to me.
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.
Now for a few words about a great gift idea for those of you blessed enough to have living parents. Recently, I sat at lunch with two young women who were in a drug treatment facility. They rattled off their horror stories about their drug use, about how they disappeared from home for weeks or months at a time with shady boyfriends, about how their parents put them in one rehab after another at staggering expense, about how their parents could not sleep at night for years worrying about them, about how their parents showed infinite love and care for them year after year. They talked about what fabulous parents they had and how sorry they were for what they put their parents through.
I finally asked them, “Do you ever thank them?” They hesitated a bit and said they were sure they had thanked them.
I asked them, “Let me tell you as a parent the absolute hell you put your parents through. Your parents are my age now. You should make it a point to call them every single day and tell them how grateful you are. Every darned day. Every morning and every night.”
Here I am in Mr. Tim Kerr’s Advanced World History class at Kent Island High School, visiting with the students. They are juniors and seniors and they look healthy and alert, This school is in Stevensville, Maryland, just over the Bay Bridge of the Chesapeake Bay.
It is a long story how I came to be here. Basically, I met a group of kids from the school at a Taco Bell and was impressed with them and their command of mathematics. So I called the principal, a man whose last name is impossible to spell, but his first name is John and he’s a great guy. John invited me over and so here I am.
I cannot recall ever meeting a sweeter looking, more solid looking, less disturbing looking, calmer looking kids. They looked like Montgomery Blair, 1962. Silver Spring, Maryland. The girls were neatly dressed. The boys were neatly dressed. Everyone looked confident. I was completely surprised at what a spectacle of reasonable charm the kids were.
We just talked about a few statistics like population, GDP, and then they had to go home.
What an amazing day I had. An episode of The Twilight Zone. My driver, the capable Mr. Baha, picked me up in Beverly Hills at noon. We zoomed down the 405 and then the 5 at speeds so fast it was as if I were in outer space. I slept, of course.
When we got to Del Mar, we pulled over for sushi at a little dive called Sushi-Ya. It is in an immense shopping center but don’t get fooled (again). The sushi is fresh and delicious and the chicken teriyaki is the best I have ever had. Yum. Sushi is one of nature’s great gifts.
Then just a few minutes away in Torrey Pines was the elegant “Lodge at Torrey Pines,” set just east of a golf course overlooking the foggy Pacific. I was there to speak to a group of genius scientists, medical men and women, investors, venture capitalists, men and women who are super men and super women.
I went into their reception and started to visit with them and I thought my brains would jump out of my head. These guys and gals were so accomplished, so out of control smart, it made me feel as if I were with geniuses from another earth.