Monday Morning Coffee | June 8, 2009

Ben Stein's Last  Column...  

How  Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's  World?

As I begin to write this, I 'slug' it, as we writers say,  which means I put a heading on top of the document to identify it.   This heading is 'eonline FINAL,' and it gives me a shiver to write  it.  I have been doing this column for so long that I cannot even  recall when I started. I loved writing this column so much for so long I  came to believe it would never end.

It worked well for a  long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change  have overtaken it On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no  longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich  people in droves and definitely some stars.  I saw Samuel L.  Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before  that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator,  in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie.   But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it  probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger  change has happened..?  I no longer think Hollywood stars are  terribly important.  They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people,  and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated.  But a man  or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in  front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all  look up to.

How  can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane  luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a 'star' we mean someone  bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?  Real stars are  not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting  trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have  Vietnamese girls do their nails..

They can be  interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.   A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked  his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit , Iraq .  He could have  been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.  Instead, he faced  an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people  of the world.

A  real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a  road north of Baghdad .  He approached it, and the bomb went off and  killed him..

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and  day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a  piece of unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a  station.  He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it  exploded. He left a family desolate in California and a little girl  alive in Baghdad .

The stars who deserve  media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on TV but the  ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies  were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of  trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with  incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines.  The  noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on  guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near  the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.

I am no longer  comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I  do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating  at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in  the American firmament..the policemen and women who go off on patrol in  South Central and have no idea if they will return alive; the orderlies  and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents  and prepare them for surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their  whole spirits into caring for autistic children; the kind men and women  who work in hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every  fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the  towers began to collapse.  Now you have my idea of a real  hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the  only one that matters  This is my highest and best use as a human.   I can put it another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be  as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or  Martin Mull or Fred Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or  Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald.  Or even remotely close  to any of them.

But, I could be a  devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son  to the parents who had done so much for me.  This came to be my  main task in life.  I did it moderately well with my son, pretty  well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with my sister's  help).  I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining  years.  I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis  and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my sister and me  reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point  at which my life touched the lives of the soldiers in Iraq or the  firefighters in New York .  I came to realize that life lived to  help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty, in  return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He  has placed in my path.  This is my highest and best use as a  human

Faith is not  believing that God can.  It is knowing that God  will.

By  Ben Stein 

For  many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column called 'Monday Night  At Morton's.' (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known to be  frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the globe.) Now,  Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things in his life.  Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your time.


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#1 By Red Martin at 9/9/2016 11:19 PM

Excellent posting! Especially after we just celebrated the Anniversary of D Day where so many gave the ultimate sacrifice. I honor you on this selection at this critical time in our History.

Red Martin
First Sergeant U.S. Army (Retired)

#2 By Buddy Blake at 9/9/2016 11:19 PM

Hey Red... thank you for your comment and for your continued service... and you are correct... it IS a very critical time in our history.. we are in a very delicate position.

#3 By Marj Praml at 9/9/2016 11:19 PM

I have forwarded this email to others. How can we bring others to know who our heroes really are? How can we show our children what it is like to possess "the right stuff"? Thanks for sending this article to others...perhaps this is the beginning of what Americans need to come back to reality...

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