Ben Stein’s Diary

Ben Stein's Diary

Reaping the Whirlwind

By 1.22.14

Tuesday
This has been a whirlwind of the last nine days.

Last Sunday, I flew to Orlando. A wonderful driver named Tom McKneer drove me about 90 minutes through the dark Florida night to an immense set up called The Villages. It is (I believe) the world’s largest retirement community. It has either 50,000 people on 100,000 acres or 100,000 people on 50,000 acres. Anyway, it’s huge.

It has many different communities within it, shops, stores for food, many, many doctors, cafes, bistros, thousands of holes of golf, many lakes, innumerable tennis courts. You have to be 55 or older to get in. There are 2200 social and athletic clubs.

The first morning I was there, I was awakened by a hundred or more men older than I am getting up to row their sculls on one of the many lakes. They were hale and hearty. Everyone there is hale and hearty and super friendly.

The Villages calls itself the friendliest town in the world and it probably is. Everyone who greets me comes up to me and says something like, “Hi, Bill Jones, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

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Ben Stein's Diary

Beverly Hills Dermatologist

By 1.7.14

Monday
For many years now, I have endured a mild skin disorder, rarely fatal. I usually am monitored by a fine doctor in Rancho Mirage. But I wanted a dermatologist near our home in Beverly Hills, so I asked around and got a reference for a Dr. Wang, as I will call him. (Not his real name.) This afternoon, I entered his tiny waiting room, introduced myself to the young women behind the counter and smiled.

The women asked me to fill out several forms, which I did and handed them back. The main receptionist, a woman of about 24, said to me, “Just have a seat, Benjamin.”

This really set me off. I don’t like total strangers calling me by my first name unless I ask them to. But I sat quietly for about 40 minutes while a large British man had a wild altercation on his cell phone, and then a middle aged woman with two truly snotty looking daughters came in and loudly made plans for a sleep over party.

Finally, another young staffer from behind the counter appeared and asked me to come into an examining room. “Right this way, Ben,” she said.

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Ben Stein's Diary

Scam City

By 1.6.14

Sunday
So, I am lying here in bed with Julie Goodgirl, and I am thinking about something.

“Why do so many movies get made about con men and so few about people who actually build something real?”

Last night, Big Wifey (who is actually thin) and I watched American Hustle. It is about an FBI scam/sting to bribe some government officials — perfectly good people — and pretend it’s an Arab sheik who is doing the bribing. It stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and Jen Lawrence and it is breathtakingly powerful.

The heroes, if they can be called that, are all scammers: a scamming guy who defrauds people out of money to supposedly get them loans and never does, an FBI agent who is totally insane and just wants to scam the whole world to make himself a big name, and the scamming beautiful girl, Amy Adams, whose breasts we almost see more or less in every scene. Not quite but almost.

I won’t spoil it by telling the end, but we love the scammers at the end. And we really love them. Not just like them. LOVE THEM. Or at least if we suspend judgment we love them. If we don’t think about their victims, we love them.

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Ben Stein's Diary

Desserts in the Desert

By 1.2.14

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.)

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Ben Stein's Diary

My Jewish Questions

By From the December 2013 issue

SaturdayWell, here I am in Beverly Hills on a spectacularly beautiful day. Temp in the 70s. Light breeze. No humidity. Cloudless skies. I pulled a bit of the pleura on my right side, so I cannot swim for a few days. The pain of that was astounding, by the way. What must it be like to be shot? What must it be like to be stabbed?Plus, a few days before that, I burned my middle right finger removing some film from a microwaveable dish of pulled barbecued chicken. The steam burned right down to the bone and the pain has been punishing. My great doctor gave me a modern “creme” which is helping the wound heal but as it knits itself together, the flesh burns in discomfort. What must it be like to be burned at the stake? What must it be like to get burned in a house fire? Or by a phosphorous grenade? Burns are awesomely awful and mine is a trivial matter.Anyway, my wife and I went out to lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sat outside and the air was perfect. Just bracing and awesome. Then a few errands, and then a nap.
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A Full 20 Minutes

By 12.30.13

Sunday

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.”

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Nightmare at the Polo Lounge

By 12.23.13

Saturday
Well, talk about a memorable meal.

December 21, 2013

General Manager
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.

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

By 12.20.13

Thursday
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.

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Perfect Day

By 12.13.13

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.

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