Breathless - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics

I am getting pretty worried. For about six months now, I have had maddening shortness of breath. It comes and goes. Sometimes I don’t have it for weeks, and then it comes back. Sometimes it responds to antibiotics and sometimes it doesn’t. It rarely keeps me from swimming; in fact, never. But it gets me winded walking up hills or stairs and we have a lot of stairs at our home in Beverly Hills.

It does not keep me from riding my bike here in Sandpoint, world’s most beautiful place. But it does keep me from talking while I am riding, except to myself.

I have had many doctors look at me about this. One said it was from heartburn. He advised literally months of tests and also that I sleep on an inclined mattress. Another said it might be heart disease, but he could not cite any clear reason for that hypothesis. My regular doctor, whom I love, love, love, Bill Skinner, MD, no relation to anyone else I know named Skinner, says it’s re-current pneumonia, but like every other doctor, is puzzled by how anyone could have so much pneumonia and live.

Could it be pulmonary edema? But then why do I wake up some mornings with no breathing problem at all? Besides, shouldn’t I be dead by now if it’s pulmonary edema?

I have a theory. When I was a child, I had really terrible asthma. Really, really bad. Life threateningly bad. Maybe it’s returned in a somewhat more attenuated form…I notice I have it much less in Beverly Hills than in Malibu and a lot more in Sandpoint, which has a ton of dust in the air from the cursed highway bypass, than in Bottle Bay, maybe 10 miles or less across the lake.

Oh, and then there’s another thing. I have on occasion taken Singulair, a pill that helps breathing in asthma victims, and it works fantastically well. Would it work that well if I had pulmonary edema?

Please, if you are a neo-Darwinist who wants me to die, don’t bother writing in. Or if you advocate traditional Chinese medicines, also don’t bother writing in. Ooops. No, maybe I am wrong there because Tazo Refresh Tea, the mint variety, from Starbucks, works fantastically well also to help with my condition. (“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in,” as the song goes.)

Well, shortness of breath and all, I had a great day anyway.

I got up at about 5 a.m., prayed my usual prayers, took some photos of the sunrise, went back to sleep until about 10:30, shaved, got dressed, and made breakfast for my houseguest, Dr. Phil DeMuth. As far as I can tell, he rarely gets to eat a breakfast as hearty as what I make, and he eats it happily.

The menu: Fresh orange juice (fresh from Tropicana), English muffins with butter and marmalade, and Oscar Mayer bacon, five or six slices each.

Now, you might think all bacon is the same. NOT TRUE. For some reason, Oscar Mayer is by far the best. Likewise, no other English muffin is even close to as tasty as Thomas’s. Not even close.

And then we have tea, Tazo Refresh, of course. Tazo Refresh is just one of the many incredibly great suggestions from my sister. It is a miracle tea.

(None of these people has paid me a penny.)

Then, onto the bikes for a quick ride around the beach to see how many beautiful women are there in bikinis. I know this shows I am a sexist, lookist, “beauty discrimination” pig. I don’t care. I’m not running for anything.

Then usually up to the local bookstore, Vanderford’s, to buy the Wall Street Journal. The news of the stock market has been breathtakingly good this summer. Yeah. After the horror of the Crash, it’s a relief. That’s putting it mildly. I am waaay too addicted to the stock market. Wow, I have a lot of flaws.

Then, back to the glorious Seasons resort where I have my condo. I am actually in the process of buying another one there so my sister can live next to me when we’re both really old. I took a brief nap, attended to some e-mail, and then Phil and I headed off in our rented Cadillac to the Sandpoint Marina.

There we met our pal Tim Farmin. He is a boat mechanic and an expert on all things nautical. I like to have him with me when I set out on the lake. He and Phil and I have become great pals. We talk about boats and weather. I call it “Playing Gentile” and I like it a lot. Tim is amazingly smart. His great-grandfather founded Sandpoint and the local elementary school is named for him, and lots of other stuff, too. When I am pulling into the dock in rough water he always gives me short, polite guidance so I can park. You might think it’s easy to park a boat but it’s not, at least not for me. Boats have no brakes and it’s not that easy to make them go into reverse….Well, anyway, I like to have Tim with me.

We headed out past the upsetting freeway construction and then past the kids lolling on the beach, and I thought, as I always do, of Hart Crane, a truly great poet of the 1920s and 1930s.

Above the fresh ruffles of the surf,
Bright striped urchins flay each other with sand,
They have contrived a conquest for shell shucks,
And their fingers crumble fragments of baked weed
Gaily digging and scattering.

And in answer to their treble interjections
The sun beats lightning on the waves;
The waves fold thunder on the sand;
And could they hear me, I would tell them:

O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog,
Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached
By time and the elements, but there is a line

You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it
Spry cordage of your young bodies to caresses
Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast.
The bottom of the sea is cruel.

Poor Hart Crane. Masochist, gay, suicide at a young age. But what a talent. And what great advice.

Anyhow, we passed the no-wake zone, threw the Thompson into hyperspace gear and got up on plane with our super Michigan Wheel steel propeller, and off we zoomed. My boat is only 20 feet but it is fast, fast, fast.

We sped across the waves and wake and lake and soon were in Bottle Bay. We pulled up at the gas dock (“Put it in reverse and hard to port…”) and hopped out of the boat while a lovely girl put gasoline into the beast.

Then we sat amongst the bees and the trees and ate our Bottle Bay burgers — hamburger, chutney, cheese, bun, Thousand Island, heavenly, and talked about boats and engines and weather and the future of the region, and then went back to the boat. We looked at the boats and the water for a long time. “Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy…”

Under slate-blue skies, bluish gray, with a fine breeze, we zoomed like Kennedy’s PT-109 across Contest Point and then under the long railroad bridge and then under the long highway bridge, and across to a restaurant next to the bridge, but someone was having a party there, so we just turned around and headed back to the marina, past the bright striped urchins.

Then to our car and Tim to his motorized bicycle that he made himself, and then back to First Street, the main street, to just sit in a chair and look around. People are friendly in Sandpoint, except for one woman from Brooklyn that I might have already mentioned. She does not belong here.

Then, to the beloved Wal-Mart to buy huge quanta of fiber for my poor old intestines. And then a second nap, and then dinner at Trinity at the Edgewater. Truly incredibly good Korean short ribs, salmon, and carrots. What a meal, right on a lawn next to the water. This may be about as good a restaurant as there is.

Then, out to the Dairy Depot for milkshakes. It is a combination gas station, convenience store, and fast food stop. They make each milkshake painstakingly by hand. I always get chocolate ones because when my father was in the hospital for his final illness, once and once only could he get solid food, and he asked for a milkshake. The chef at the hospital cafeteria said he could not make one. I gave him a hundred dollars to make one and my father loved it and said, “Life is short. Eat as many of these as you can.” He was dead about a week later.

Then back to the condo to watch the moon on the water and listen to the fifties channel of XM radio. When they hit it right and play one great fifties song after another, it’s as if they were shooting me up with bliss. There is not a better way to spend a dollar than to get Sirius XM (and they have not paid me a dime). They don’t always get it right, but when they do, it is a shot of heaven right into the main line.

Then, to sleep, or at least to lie in bed and listen to the trains crashing by, making the whole building shake. I am old so I get up often in the night and I walk into my stupendously large shaving area and pass my photo of the young Nixon by Ross Hall, wink at him, and go back to my bed to think about shortness of breath, shortness of life. Just a few days ago I was at John Hughes’s funeral, sitting next to Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller himself. “Life goes by pretty quick. If you don’t stop and look around, you might miss it.”

I didn’t miss it today and neither did Phil.

Ben Stein
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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.
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