Swimming to Arkansas - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Swimming to Arkansas

Here I am swimming lazily back and forth, east to west, then west to east, in my wonderful swimming pool. The weather is perfect here in Beverly Hills, as it has been for weeks on end. Blue skies, temperature in the low eighties or high seventies, no humidity, slight breeze. It is marvelous. As I swim east to west, I look up at our house, which (to me) looks perfect. It’s a 1929 Spanish style home with a balcony running along the second floor as it faces the pool. The roof is reddish tile and the palms tower above the roof.

In the other direction, as I am swimming west to east, there are the jacarandas in our garden. For some reason, they do not have the gorgeous blue blossoms other people’s jacarandas have, but they are leafy and a rich, lustrous green. Glorious. It is always a thrill to think this is my life. I could have died in a concentration camp. I could have been mass marched to death in the snows of Poland. I could have died in a beating by Romanian thugs instigated by the Nazis. Instead, I get to swim lazily back and forth in my pool on a glorious summer day.

Would you like to know what the rhythm of my stroke is? You can guess. It’s “Thank you, God, thank you God, thank you God.” There is nothing I ever did to merit such a life. People always say to me, “Oh, Benjy, you worked so hard,” or “Oh, Benjy, your parents left you money.” But many people have worked hard in Czechoslovakia or Lithuania only to die in pogroms or gas chambers. My parents didn’t leave me a ton of money, and they were incredibly lucky to be alive and working in America, too.

The whole refrain of my life is that I get to live like this for two reasons: One, unearned grace of God, and two, the fact that I live in America, a nation on which God shed His grace.

So, as I swim back and forth, I pray my prayers of thanks.

The pool, by the way, is heated to a sinfully high temperature. This is my wife’s doing. She cannot really tolerate the cold much, and so she has the pool at bathtub temperature. I am not complaining. If it makes her happy, God bless her and it. But in all of my life, I have never been in such a warm pool.

I guess there is a metaphor there. I just don’t know what the metaphor is.

Anyway, I got out of my pool and into my robe and headed to the shower. In the shower, I listened to the Beatles singing a great favorite, “In My Life.” It has been close to 35 years since I first heard that tune and it still brings tears to my eyes.

“There are places I remember,
All my life,
Though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone,
And some still remain…”

It all makes me think of Garth Wood, and Peter Feierabend, and above all, my mother and father, and the glorious dogs, Trixie, Mary, Martha, Ginger, Susan, Puppy-Wuppy. Great human beings like Mr. and Mrs. Scull. Too many people gone. Too many dogs gone. Well, enough reverie for this moment….

I got out of the shower and got into my bed. I put on my headphones and listened to what has become by far my favorite song this year: “Wooden Ships,” originally written, I think, by Jefferson Airplane, but covered perfectly by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I first heard that song when I was a teacher at University of California, Santa Cruz, back before the state ruined it with excess construction. Those were palmy days.

“Wooden ships on the water,
Very free,
Easy the way you know it’s supposed to be,
Tell the people on the shorelines,
Let us be,
It must be free and easy…”

It all makes me think of the days of drugs and love under the redwoods back at UCSC, but those were a really, really long time ago.… I cannot even remember who I was then except I know I was very thin and had long hair. And women loved me.

Back to “Wooden Ships”: It’s actually a song about a post-nuclear war world, and I saw a movie about a post-nuclear war world where it was on the sound track. I have long forgotten the name of the movie, but it starred a little actress who had made her name in Hair. Does anyone have any idea what movie I am talking about?

So much to remember. So much time gone by. So, so, so much time gone by….

Well, wooden ships. Time to be thankful that there has not been a nuclear war. Time to be thankful that those Cold War fears did not come true.

I took off my headphones and picked up my book about the Battle of Berlin. I think it’s called The Fall of Berlin 1945, by Antony Beevor. It is pretty damned depressing. Horrifying cruelty and violence on both sides, Germans and Soviets. Insane cruelty towards women in particular. Mass rapes by the Russians against their German women “enemies” and lots of mass rapes by the Russians against their own women, Russian slave laborers and against Poles and other captured women.

I don’t think the “women’s movement” has even started to understand the sad role of women in history. To be a woman, in most of man’s history, means to be a victim, to be a target, to be a punching bag for men’s anger and frustration. It’s not about corporate “glass ceilings.” It’s about mass rape. Rape until the women are either dead or commit suicide. It is still going on in Africa. Until just recently it was going on in the Balkans.

Well, another reason to be grateful to live in America, the Beautiful.

To be in love with America, now that is a sensible love affair. To have gratitude for America as an integral part of religious observance…that, too, makes sense.

God bless this great, great land and the men and women who keep us free. The ones who go out on terrifying missions in Afghanistan so I can swim in my pool. The ones who search for terrorists in Ramadi so I can lie in bed and reminisce.

God bless them all. And now, to bed.

Now, I am scared. I flew to Dallas today on American Airlines. I have to say they covered themselves with glory until we took off from DFW. By that, I mean the airplane flight from LAX to DFW was pretty good. There was one truly insane woman sitting across from me who was drunk and shouting, but of course, she passed out as they always do. At DFW, a kindly American Airlines employee took pity on my gray hairs and drove me in a little cart to my bus for my trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas. That should have been a tip off. You only need a bus if you go to a terminal where there are tiny little propeller Saab 340s. We got on board ours and taxied out onto the runway. The pilot told us there was a line of thunderstorms coming from the west towards Fort Smith but we should get in before them.

Surprise! We didn’t. We bounced around like insanity in the storm and then the pilot told us that we would not land in Fort Smith because (get this) there were severe thunderstorms in Fort Smith. Plus, a tornado funnel was nearby and the airport was closed AND the tower had been evacuated.

So, we flew to Little Rock. Fine and dandy. I love Little Rock. As soon as we landed, I made a reservation at the fabulous Capitol Hotel. But then we landed on a blazing hot runway and some psycho witch from hell on the ground crew would not let us off. Plus, there was no air conditioning. It was hot. Someone hooked up cables to the plane. Hot air started blowing out of the vents. It was very hot.

I stood at the open door of the plane. It was still very hot. Then the pilot came back and said we were taking off right away. The weather had cleared totally around Fort Smith, he said, and all would be well. “The sky is blue,” he said.

Oops. Not quite. We ran into terrifying black clouds and blood curdling lightning strikes as we neared Fort Smith. The plane bounced. I HATED IT. My palms were sweating. I tried to imagine American, British, and Canadian paratroopers flying into Normandy on June 6, 1944, with their planes bouncing around from flak and bad weather, knowing that they might well meet a painful death in the next few minutes, while they were exhausted and nauseated from their trip. But they did it and they carried out their duties magnificently. HOW CAN PEOPLE BE SO BRAVE???? I was just sitting in my little seat and no one was shooting at me and I was terrified.

Behind me, a large, developmentally challenged young woman with a nose ring kept shouting, “Save us, Jay-Sus!” Then when we got on the ground she held up her hands and said, in a very loud voice, “Thank you, Jay-Sus!” At first I thought she was kind of nutty, but then I realized she was probably more sensible about it than I was. She started to clap and shout, “Y’all got to clap, ‘cuz Jay-Sus got us here safe.” The more I think about it, the smarter she seems. We all clapped.

On the ground, in a surprisingly comfortable airport with big easy chairs, my two hosts, Rex and Keith, waited for me with their white Cadillac.

They were in a jovial frame of mind. We went to the Waffle House at my request, had waffles, eggs, and bacon, and then I went to bed. I was happy to be alive.

What a day. Three speeches in one day on behalf of Bush. I spoke at noon to the Exchange Club of Fort Smith. I loved those guys and dolls. They all remind me of my father-in-law, who was President of the Exchange Club of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, when he lived there long ago. They all look so serious and yet so charming and witty. I spoke right after a young man who talked about hats of central Asia.

Then I spoke at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith. That was a non-partisan speech. The kids were fairly pleasant, in fact, very pleasant.

Then a long nap, and then a speech to a large crowd (their biggest ever) for the postponed Lincoln Day Dinner of the Sebastian County GOP. I can summarize my speech in a few words. I said that I was a Republican because when I wanted to go to the Waffle House, Rex and Keith just took me there. Democrats would have to argue with me about carbohydrates and saturated fat and processed sugar. The Republicans just took me there and we all had waffles. (The best part was that the local cardiologist was also there having waffles.) This is GOP vs. DNC in a word. The GOP just lets you live your life. The Democrats want to tell you what to do.

That’s a big difference.

After the dinner, I went to the Waffle House for more waffles. I love Arkansas. It’s the backbone of the nation, and it all starts with letting people be who they are.

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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