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Ben Stein’s Diary
Dinner with C., a childhood friend who went on to become an extremely famous journalist and political commentator. He is precisely on the other side of many issues that are life or death to me, but he’s an old pal and I had not seen him for years. He was one of the seminal influences on my youth, with his smoking and his guitar playing. No one ever thought he would amount to much, but he became for a time a household word. We have stayed in touch for decades and while I abhor many of his views and beliefs, he is in some ways simpatico.
He came over to our home in Beverly Hills and I showed him photos of my sister from our childhood. He had always liked Rachel and I had always liked one of his two sisters. That was probably in about 1957. Time has passed. It is just beyond words that one day Dwight Eisenhower was President and John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State and then you blink your eyes and Barack Obama is President and John Kerry is Secretary of State.
“Twenty minutes,” my wonderful friend, Sid Dauman, used to say. “That’s all life is. Twenty minutes.”
Well, talk about a memorable meal.
December 21, 2013
The Beverly Hills Hotel
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dear Mr. Manager:
How are you, sir? I am an economist, actor, commentator, and lawyer. I live a few blocks from your hotel.
I eat at the Polo Lounge at your hotel a lot. I would certainly say close to 50 times in 2013 and I usually enjoy it. Once in a while there are problems with the service, but it’s generally passable.
Today was the worst dining experience I have ever had at any restaurant. At 1 PM I brought a party of four (including me) to the Polo Lounge. We ordered 3 Kobe Burgers — $38 each — and I went to considerable trouble explaining to the waiter that I wanted the Kobe burgers and not the regular burgers. After a medium wait, the waiter brought three very mediocre regular burgers. I have had the Kobe burgers many a time and know the difference well.
Now, it’s December 19, 2013. This has been a busy year for me and a year filled with sorrow and triumph and with far too much loss.
It rushed by, as time does when you get old, and now, a few recollections of the year come into my mind.
Lying in the sun room of our home in Sandpoint, Idaho, with the perfectly light blue sky of North Idaho out the windows to the west and to the east, watching an occasional eagle or sea bird or immense osprey glide by. Then closing my eyes as I heard and felt the immense rumble of Mr. Buffett’s BNSF trains going by. I did that almost every day last summer and by the end of the summer, I felt as if those trains and those osprey and that sky had kept me alive. My wife would almost always be in her reading room next door and I could talk to her in my train loving haze.
Mr. Buffett gets billions from the trains, I imagine, but I get far more than that. I get a euphoric feeling that I will not only survive but triumph. It had been a summer of extreme worry about whether the economy was slipping back into recession, and I felt reassured by the power of those trains.
My pals, such as they are, in Hollywood, ask me why I love to travel to DC so much, why it’s a vacation destination for me. I say, “Because I sometimes have perfect days there.”
A perfect day would vary greatly from person to person, but here’s one that I had on December 11, 2013.
I awakened to the sound of WBIG on my clock radio playing sixties songs from The Who. I looked out of the window of my apartment at the Watergate. Blue skies. No snow.
I made English muffins, dressed in my glad rags, and headed over to CNN to be on with Wolf Blitzer (star of Skyfall) and Paul Begala. On the way up in the elevator, I discussed Chanel sunglasses with a young woman from CNN who was wearing a pair with real pearls in the frames. Naturally, she was from L.A.
On the show, we all made nice with each other and I emphasized what Nixon would have done about meeting Raul Castro and negotiating with Iran. I got to get in my plug for RN as Peacemaker.
Wolf wanted to talk about being on Air Force One. We all had been, but, I added, “Mine was when Air Force One was a bi-plane.” Hahaha. Ain’t we got fun.
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.