Friends and Family Forever | The American Spectator

Friends and Family Forever
Ben Stein
by
The Cosmos Club (Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday

Another perfect day here in Beverly Hills. Not a cloud in the sky. Eighty degrees. No humidity. I am so blessed to live here I cannot even start to say.

How do I get to live here? About 30 years ago, we had a Stein family party at the Cosmos Club in D.C. My father gave a short but memorable speech in which he talked about the trials and travails of the Stein family in Europe. “They made many decisions,” he said, “but by far the best and most important was this one: to come to America.”

You already know most of the details of my life story but you might learn more. Mostly, I eat too much and spend too much and — until recently — worked too much. Now, with the shutdown, the unconstitutional shutdown, I hardly work at all.

How right he was, as always. I have no idea of what my family was doing in Europe in the centuries before they came to America. I just know nothing about them at all. But I am sure they worked hard, without any of the conveniences like air conditioning and indoor plumbing that we take for granted.

Then they came to America. My Grandpa Dave ran away from home in New York at age 15 or 16 and used his older brother’s identification to join the U.S. Army.

He was strong and a good horseman and went into the Cavalry. He was trained at various bases and then at Fort Riley. Then, after the Spanish–American War, he was sent to the Philippines to fight the rebels in the Aguinaldo Insurrection. He fought on horseback and muleback and was awarded a sharp-shooter medal. He fought in jungles and on mountains. He was fearless.

Then he came back to the USA and worked at Ford Motor as a skilled tool and die maker. Then he tried various small businesses like owning something in Gloversville, New York, and maybe some other towns. He did not find himself suited to running a business. He went back to the assembly line and worked again as a skilled tool and die maker, this time at GE in Schenectady, New York. I believe he worked on locomotives, but I could be wrong.

He lived modestly with his wife, who was a clerk at a department store. Then the Great Depression happened. He lost his job and could not get another for most of the decade of the Depression. His family lived meagerly on the wages my grandmother earned as a store clerk. It was hard times, and as my Aunt Pearl told me, “It was very quiet at our apartment.”

My paternal grandfather did not get another full-time job until rearmament for World War II got the economy into high gear.

My father, more or less out of nowhere (although he always said his father was very good at math), was a stone genius from day one. He was a star student and a great debater and speaker. He won many oratory contests. Then, at 15, he went to Williams College, probably the best small college in America. That was a stroke of luck and blessings beyond belief. He got a superb education and several of his teachers befriended him and helped him all the days of his life.

He worked his way through school. Among many other jobs, he worked as a dishwasher at an upper-class fraternity whose president was Richard Helms, later head of the CIA.

He was a super student. He graduated second in his class, just under Mr. Helms. They were lifelong friends despite the fantastic difference in their upbringing. Mr. Helms was rich, and my father was at best lower middle class.

I won’t bore you with all of the rest, but my father had a magnificent career in economics. He was in the Navy in World War II and while in the Navy wrote an essay about how to keep the U.S. from going back into Depression after the war. It was for a contest sponsored by Pabst Brewing. Pop won first prize, which was $25,000, a huge sum in 1944 when my Pop was barely 30. He used it all to buy war bonds. If he had bought the index (which was unavailable at the time), we would be rich now.

After the war he worked in economics as Research Director of the Committee for Economic Development (CED). He wrote many important papers for them about economic and social issues. The trustees of CED were the most powerful business and labor leaders in America. My father wrote major statements for them about labor/management issues, agriculture, tariffs, and anti-trust, and hung around with them. He got a taste for the high life while at work, but we as his family lived a middle-class life. The best part of it was air conditioning. I got a room air conditioner in about 1956 and then soon afterwards, the whole house — a spectacularly well-designed mid-century modern overlooking Sligo Creek Park — was air conditioned. That is a necessity in D.C.

My sister was a cheerleader in junior high school and a prize-winning student and popular girl at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

You already know most of the details of my life story, but you might learn more. Mostly, I eat too much and spend too much and — until recently — worked too much. Now, with the shutdown, the unconstitutional shutdown, I hardly work at all. I’m old now. Seventy-five. And I have known many fabulous women: above all and on a mountaintop of good character is Big Wifey, the saint of saints, beautiful, brilliant, patient, the absolutely most forgiving human being on the planet. My sister, who has been helpful and loving all my life. My mother, who was an angry woman, but who did many good things for me and my sister. She wrote me a letter every day I was at Columbia. I treasured them. Various girls who were close to me over the decades. M., who was my college girlfriend and was a genuinely fantastic human being with every good quality that any human can have. She was the first human being to love me unconditionally, and I was totally changed by that experience. She’s holy to me. P., my girlfriend at a later stage, who was a sweet country girl from Bucks County, and whose loyalty to RN and to me was superlative. My parents did everything a well-connected couple in D.C. could do for a girl, and she never was treated anywhere near well enough by me. I regret that keenly. My biggest regrets of my whole life are the way I mistreated them. I wish I could have that back.

My dear Bethany, whose charms were greater than I could absorb and whom I mistreated. She’s a middle-aged woman now, and I have not seen her in many years, but I miss her every day. She sends me emails that I treasure. She has a fine husband, and he’s blessed to have her. Someday I hope to see her again.

But none of the many, many girls I have known besides Alex has the shining godliness of Alex. Bethany comes closest, and, as I say, I have not seen her in decades.

I am thinking about this subject lately because so many men and women I knew well have died lately. The most recent was Fred Willard, a comic genius whom I met in 1976. He staggered me then with his ability, and he did all of the days of his life. Anyway, I think about death a great deal lately. I think the antidote to thoughts of death is thoughts of love. Now, I have a number of male friends that I love. Just the thought of them rallies my poor aging soul: Phil DeMuth, a genius in many subjects, and a man of the highest possible moral caliber. He’s an investment manager for well-heeled people, and he’s without peer in the field. Ellis Ratner, whom I have known for 50 years and whose insights and wit still fascinate me. Nolan Rappaport, a friend since 1956, whose loyalty and common sense make him a rare bird indeed. He’s a gifted teacher. Russ Ferguson, who is much younger than I am. He’s a brilliant lawyer in Charlotte and has done me many favors. I respect his judgment deeply. He pointed out some of the most basic flaws in my life plan long ago, and I wish I had listened to him. Arthur Best, a retired law teacher in Denver. He was my roommate in college at Columbia long, long ago, and no one could have asked for a better friend. David Paglin, also a former roommate and now a poet, social commentator, and friend. His letters to me cheer me immensely on bad days.

Wlady and Bob at The American Spectator, who are indispensable in my life and have been for roughly 48 years. I love them. They are the best that any editors and friends can be. Bob Noah, a man of the highest intellectual and moral fiber and a real friend. Matt Holt, who encourages me to believe that book publishing will survive, and that I may well be along for the ride.

Judah Friedman, who is a scholar and a political commentator and my Boswell. I had a huge quarrel with him a few months ago, and that was a real crisis. I need him to listen to me and to give me the skinny, as we call it, about what’s really going on in politics and religion. His suggestions to me about politics are priceless.

John R. Coyne, Jr., and Aram Bakshian, neighbors in my White House speechwriting days. They were supportive when I was in panic mode in the darkest days of Watergate (the supreme scam and false conspiracy case of the American republic). They have remained friends since then, which is now roughly 45 years. They are awesomely smart and eloquent and they are far better writers than I will ever be.

My many doctors, Paul Hyman, Bill Skinner, Alan Jason Coe, all vital in my life. Two of them, Coe and Hyman, are MD analysts, and I love, love, love psychoanalysis. Dr. Skinner is not a psychiatrist but a gifted physician, and I always leave his office feeling far better than when I went in. His aide, Lance Hunter, is a talented and supportive medical man as well.

Larry Lissitzyn. War hero in the USMC and dear friend and fraternity brother since 1963. He is a successful lawyer and a man among men. I love him.

I could go on like this forever, and I have not even started with the many women who spend time with me telling me about their problems and listening to me.

Towering above all of them is my wife. An actually superhuman being. It’s impossible to believe she is real. That’s how forgiving and Godly she is. I believe she is the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments in human form. No one could be as fine as she is and be real. But she is.

My advice: cling to your wives if time proves them loyal. I have not always followed that advice, and sometimes that was the right thing to do. Wives are not always right, and I am often wrong.

And after Alex comes Richard Nixon, the best president of the 20th century and the savior of Eretz Israel. He was the most unfairly maligned human being of the century, but I will always love him (and his deity daughter, Julie).

And on a par with my wife, my father, Herbert Stein. Despite a challenging childhood and adulthood, he was always kind to me (except when I woke him from a nap, which made him crazy). Without his help and my mother’s help, I don’t know what would have become of me. He made my life so much easier than most men’s lives that it’s almost unbelievable. I think of him all day and all night. My Pop died in 1999, and I still pick up the phone to call him.

My point here is that friends, and especially old friends, help when the Angel of Death is flapping his wings nearby. And that if you have a great wife and sister and superlative friends and a great life, don’t let it go. God has been good to me giving me all of these people and above all giving them to me in America. I’m on my knees.

Ben Stein
Ben Stein
Follow Their Stories:
View More
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.
o
Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!