Bill and Hillary, Woody and Mia

RICHARD REEVES

April 01, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

NEW YORK — New York.--The first fight I had with my wife was in Paris in December of 1978. I have forgotten what it was about or what harsh things were said, but I do remember that one of us was holding a hair dryer and plugged it in while the shouting was still going on. It blew out the lights in our hotel room. Then I looked out the window and saw that every light in the city was out.

I thought we had done it. The whole city! That's a fight!

It was a coincidence, of course. A power station blew up or something. But I didn't know that, because I didn't know much about fighting at home then -- in the privacy of your own bedroom. Or hotel room. I had been married before, but we were both people who did not argue in public, certainly, or in private, for that matter. WASPs of a certain kind.

I learned quickly -- it was as simple as marrying a girl from County Cork. The Irish, they're different, at least from what I had been used to.

We do fight now and then, and if anyone overheard, I think it would sound pretty awful. But we have a very good marriage. Devoted, loving, loyal, respecting -- all those good things. You have to take my word for it.

I say that because one of the things I am most sure of in this world is that you never know what really goes on between couples unless you are one of the two people coupling.

I learned that lesson, as I'm sure many other people did, during that part of a life when your friends begin separating and divorcing. It's a terrible time, and you learn the hard way. One partner, in the anger of the moment or the year, tells you how terrible the other one is. Because you don't know any better, you sort of agree, trying to calm down one of your two friends. Maybe you do it with the other one, too.

Then they get back together (or they don't, but they keep talking) and start telling each other about what so-and-so (me) said about each of them. Two friends lost, whether they stay together or not. You never know what's going on.

Unless you read the papers. Last Tuesday I picked up New York Newsday, a good paper, and this is what I found out -- or, at least, read:

* Hillary Rodham Clinton throws lamps or Bibles at her husband, my president. She also lights up cigarettes at home because he's allergic to smoke and just about everything else. And they call each other names that you try to keep from your children.

* Woody Allen rolled around on the floor crying, ''No! No! Don't tell Andre! Don't tell Andre!'' when Mia Farrow called her former husband, Andre Previn, to say that Mr. Allen was sleeping with his daughter, Soon-Yi.

Do I need this? No! No!

Did I read it? Obviously. Do I believe it? No, not really. It belongs to some gray genre of apocrypha, where there is no important truth and there are no lies, only good punchlines. Even if the stuff is literally true, it has no meaning to anyone except the people saying it or having it said to them. Or, in some cases, throwing it or ducking it.

It is true that I have feelings about these people, but they were established before these incidents. I hope Mr. Clinton becomes a great president. I think Mrs. Clinton is an admirable woman trying to make the world a better place. I think Mr. Allen is a jerk because he thinks he is the most interesting spot on the planet. I would not like to be married to Miss Farrow.

Those impressions have not been changed by recent throwing and rollings. If I am angry or disappointed by any of them, it would be Mr. Allen. As a New Yorker, I joined in giving him a kind of artistic latitude to define this town. Thanks a lot, fella.

''Character'' is the high journalistic defense for reporting the private doings of these public folk -- as opposed to the obvious entertainment justification. ''Good character'' is what we want and need in our leaders and role models.

But what is good character? Perhaps it is something that exists only in the eye of the beholder. But, whatever it is, who cares -- unless you are married or otherwise related to the human in question? Was Julius Caesar of good character? Napoleon? Plato? Shakespeare? Galileo? Pasteur? Thomas Jefferson? Lincoln? Martin Luther or Martin Luther King?

Many of us would be well-advised to remember some of the dumb, cruel and foolish things we have done in private. Enjoy, as we say here, but judge not lest ye be judged.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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