A Smile on My Face - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Smile on My Face

Here I am at the Atlanta airport. I flew in from LAX this morning. I was so groggy when I awakened in L.A. I literally could not remember where I was even though I was in my own bedroom.

Things are sad at our home. Our beloved Brigid, German Shorthaired Pointer of my dreams, heiress to the love I had for Mary Margaret of Santa Cruz, Trixie, Puppy Wuppy, Ginger, is in extremis.

She can still get around our house in Rancho Mirage because it’s all on one floor, but we have to carry her up and down the stairs in Beverly Hills. Even though she is considerably diminished in size and weight, that’s still a chore. Plus, she falls down frequently. Her back legs just go out from under her. It is (as my wife would say) “heart rendering.”

Brigid is also extremely incontinent. My wife, a literal saint (I mean, a real saint) lets Brigid sleep next to her and deals with the mess with total aplomb. I am too weak to do it.

Anyway, Brigid, who slept next to me for 11 years, will soon be sleeping with Old Shep.

That’s what makes things sad at our home.

I slept almost the entire way from LAX to ATL. It was a super flight, a Delta 777 with comfy seats and a great staff. Then, when we got to Hartsfield, the whole place was filled with soldiers. I greeted them to the extent they did not overwhelm me, then went in search of one of my favorite foods, Popeyes chicken. All around me were kind, friendly people wanting to talk about the issues of the day. Mostly, they were TV watchers who had seen me on Fox or CNN or, even more often, CBS Sunday Morning. They were uniformly upbeat, happy, outgoing. No sneering. None of that garbage about “I usually agree with you but sometimes you’re really off base” that I get from people in Beverly Hills or New York.

I looked around me as I ate my chicken wing. The men and women had friendly faces. I know I use that term too much. But it means everything to me to have friendly faces nearby. In my main home, in Bev Hills, too many people look suspicious and cunning. Well, I am going to get in trouble if I go much further with this. Let’s just say that when wifey and I are walking around in Beverly Hills, I feel as if my pocket is being picked emotionally. Out there in AMERICA, I feel as if I am refilled.

I ate my chicken, also some string beans, went to my gate, posed for a lot of photos with soldiers (who are apparently all flying to Fort Sill for training), then got on a surprisingly large plane to one of my favorite places, Charleston.

Omar, my Charleston driver, picked me up and took me to The Charleston Place, a fine hotel, where they put me in my room.

It was COLD there in Charleston. I did not have a heavy coat, so I walked in my skimpy, pitiful threadbare blazer to a nearby barbecue place. Closed. I met a trio of men who had just eaten at FIG, a famous bistro in Charleston. One of them invited me to join them for a drink at the hotel lounge. I don’t drink, but I went with them. One of them gave me his takeout container of steak from FIG. It was heavenly. I ordered a cheeseburger. Fabulous. It was literally the best cheeseburger I have ever had.

All of us at the bar had a long conversation about current events, especially the recession. Then I went to my room, watched some nutty movie about zombies for 30 seconds, and then to bed.

I have to tell you that except for north Idaho, the Deep South is my favorite place in this world. Polite, intelligent people. Great food. No bad attitude. Love them.

Up and down to a café at The Charleston Place to meet some donors to the cause for which I am speaking in Charleston, a hospital and health care environment called “Roper St. Francis.” The guests were all happy and charming. Charleston has a lot of good-looking people, men and women. I found myself sitting next to a super successful property magnate named Jim. By an amazing stroke, he also loves German Shorthaired Pointers. He has a huge farm in North Carolina and many, many, many other homes, but his main love seems to be his dogs, which is as it should be.

I am not sure I have ever hit it off so quickly and happily with anyone else in my life as I did with Jim. It turned out we had met before at a bank conference. He is my new hero.

I spoke a little bit about how life has changed. We used to think the Chinese were hopelessly stupid and incompetent — hence the phrase “Chinese Fire Drill.” Now they are the behemoths of the world economy. We used to think all they could do in Brazil was the Samba. Now they too are a major power.

India was a basket case. Thanks to capitalism, they are now obviously destined to be the world’s number-two industrial power.

And what about South Korea? We thought they were pitiful. Now they are among the world’s top six manufacturing nations.

My dear pal Bethany is in Beijing because her daughter is doing a fashion show for Prada. Beijing! The world center of Marxist power. Now a major fashion destination. And I can reach Bethany by text or voice on a cell phone smaller than a deck of cards. The world has changed. This gives me hope about all of the other problems we face. I wonder how long until we can hope that free markets and free men and women will allow us to have good relations even with the Islamist militants?

Free markets. That’s the key. That allows people to make friends with other people to make money. It is amazing what people can do when motivated by a desire to feed their families…and grow rich. (“I desire to serve God and grow rich,” said John D. Rockefeller.)

After lunch, back to my room for a long nap. Wow, do I love naps. God’s gifts. A nice long nap while listening to Mozart on my headphones. Perfection.

Then downstairs for a very pleasant reception with donors to Roper, and then to speak to a crowd of maybe 800. It was a black-tie affair and the guests were great-looking men and women. Not a mean face in the room. Maybe the closest I have seen to a room of Alex Denmans. No one else could be Alex, but these women are in the same league.

The audience was friendly (that word again) and vivacious. Great people. To speak to men and women like the Roper St. Francis donors is a genuine honor.

Afterward, I talked with my new best friend Jim for a while, then went off to have another great cheeseburger. A young hippie chick came to the table to flirt with me. She told me how much she loved jazz and Rastafarians and didn’t I agree they were the coolest. Uh, no.

So, back to my room, and watching another movie about zombies, and thence to sleep.


Here I am in D.C. I spent the afternoon visiting wounded soldiers at WRAMC. Now, much of modern life is just plain pornography. Plain and simple porn. That’s what it is. Just wicked and dirty.

But real clean beauty is at Walter Reed. The brave man with his beautiful girlfriend who lay calmly in bed discussing where he should go to business school. He had just had his leg amputated a few HOURS before! The man who had fallen from a disabled truck 50 feet into a creek bed and broken six spinal vertebrae and severed his spinal cord, and just kept saying, “I feel so lucky to be alive.” The mothers and fathers. The wives. The girlfriends and fiancées. The astounding man from Arkansas, David, an amputee, cruising about in his wheelchair with a big smile. These people are the fresh water and soap that wipe this nation clean.

By the way, I have a theory about why there are so many suicides of men coming back from the wars. This was suggested to me by my genius pal, Russ Ferguson. The military doses some unhappy soldiers with anti-depressants. Sounds great, right?

But those drugs wreak havoc with the emotions of users. They can cause “paradoxical ideation,” which means the user feels overwhelmingly depressed instead of happy. This can and does lead to suicide. I wonder if the military would study how many suicide victims have been given anti-depressants. These are dangerous drugs and their use should be monitored VERY closely.

I left WRAMC with a huge headache. I just feel sick that these men are not surrounded by throngs of well-wishers praising them and praying for them night and day. (Frankly, I feel sick that we’re in Afghanistan at all.) A bad day for us is bouncing a check. A bad day for them is severing their spinal cord. What the heck can we ever do to thank them enough? What?

When these men wake up in the middle of the night, drugged, confused about where they are, then suddenly remember they are lying there with no legs, where are we? If it’s me, worrying about my son’s education or about whether I should sell an asset or have a colonoscopy. What do these men think about?

And how can we do better by them? How can we tell them we worship them and love them?

We had better fall to our knees right now and figure it out.

I am on my way over to dinner with my pal Russ and my speaking agent, Suzanne. I am zooming through Georgetown like a banshee on my fastest walking — which is still pretty slow — and I notice almost no one smiles when I smile at him or her. Why not? People in Washington were never friendly, but now they are really, really unfriendly unless they recognize me, which many of them do. Is it because of the recession? Because of the Democrats in the White House? Why?

My recently departed teacher, friend, and mentor, Lowell Harriss, talked often about how a smile cost nothing but conferred immense value. He was totally right, of course. If you can’t smile, you should just not leave the house at all. I wonder why people do not smile more. How does it hurt them? What are they afraid of? It will not stop me from smiling. At least not for a while.

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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