I first met Aram Bakshian in the fall of 1961.
We were both Washingtonians.
He was a senior at a Washington preparatory school about a block west of the White House. I was a senior at a simply wonderful public high school in a suburb of Washington, D.C., called Silver Spring, Maryland.
As amazing as it might seem, our public high school had brilliant students and glorious athletes. We produced Goldie Hawn and baseball’s Sonny Jackson. The school was named for Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s postmaster general and a big power in the Lincoln White House.
Aram and I met in the course of a story that the Washington Star — R.I.P. — was running about public versus private schools in D.C. Both Aram and I were editors of our school newspapers. Both of us knew how to express ourselves, and we gave a good story for the Star.
As far as I can recall back to, I greatly preferred Blair, with its immense rolling lawns, forests, and cute cheerleaders in their short red and white skirts.
Time passed. I went off to college at Columbia in New York City and then (by a miracle) to Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut.
Again, I greatly preferred the semi-forested atmosphere of New Haven to the heavy machinery-shop looks of Harvard Law School.
More time passed. I taught cultural sociology at American University in D.C., practiced law at the Federal Trade Commission, and then taught more mass cultural political psychology (terms I made up myself) at UC Santa Cruz.
I loved college teaching, and I loved being back in Washington, D.C. Time passed for other people as well.
My father, economist Herbert Stein, became distinguished in his field.
When Richard Nixon surprised heaven by winning the election, he made my father first a member, then chairman, of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
I often visited my pop at the Old EOB. That was simply heaven. Huge, ornate offices, fabulous foodand mixing with the powers that be. By a series of great coincidences, I got to be a speechwriter for Mr. Nixon, just two floors directly under my father’s office.
It was paradise. My father and I had always been extremely close. Now I could have lunch with him twice a week. There was one immense fly in the
ointment though: Watergate.
As I enjoyed my work for Mr. Nixon, the omens grew worse every day, as fantasy, imaginary crimes by Mr. Nixon were dreamed up out of thin air.
This was even worse because I had grown fantastically attached to my fellow White House
speechwriters. They were all great guys, especially my old pal, Aram Bakshian, and his old pal, John Coyne.
Aram was still a genius, only even more literate and witty than ever before. Never a college grad, but the smartest man I ever knew.
When a wiseguy writer named Noel Koch made fun of me because I was alarmed at the prospect of losing my job at the White House just as I had bought my first house — Noel
sneeringly said, “I smell the sour smell of fear” — Aram replied, in a firm, angry voice, “Shut up, Noel.” Noel never spoke to me again.
I’d stayed in close touch with Aram all of that time, talking on the phone, often every day. No one has ever been so kindly disposed toward my writing.
Aram had serious stomach problems for about a year. He was diagnosed with the most lethal form of intestinal flu six weeks ago. The hospital gave him six weeks to live if he had palliative care only. Aram was no one’s fool, so that is what he chose.
I came to see him in D.C. Sure enough, when I called him, he said, “I can’t talk. I’m in agony.”
The next morning, his sister called me to tell me that Aram had passed. God bless you, you brave, loyal man.
None of us will ever forget you.
Ben Stein is a writer, an actor, and a lawyer who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes hired him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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