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Jack Smith

A Diamond Is Forever : The Secret of Enduring Marital Bliss May Be a Shared Appreciation for Major League Baseball

June 14, 1987|Jack Smith

According to a survey published in a recent issue of Forbes, Los Angeles is one of the four worst American cities for happy marriages.

The other three are New York, Washington and, improbably, Albuquerque, N.M.

The four best cities are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Orlando, Fla.

Orlando is easy enough to understand. It is populated mostly by older couples whose marriages are long past the crisis point. A marriage based on community life savings and Social Security is relatively safe.

I have no idea what makes marriages last longer in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. If we can believe our myths, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are capitals of banality, and Philadelphia is ruled by an encrusted elite and a corrupt bureaucracy.

Perhaps banality is good for a marriage. Without the excitements and distractions of the more sophisticated cities, the old Good Housekeeping values may prevail.

I have always had the perhaps naive idea that a city with a first-class symphony orchestra and a major league baseball team was a good place to raise a family.

Cleveland and Philadelphia have first-class orchestras, and I imagine that Pittsburgh has, too, though I've never heard it. Also, all three have major league baseball teams, so it should be no surprise that their homes are happy, their marriages stable.

This standard fails, however, when you consider that Los Angeles and New York both have world-class symphonies and major league baseball teams, yet their marriages are said to be in disarray.

Washington's problem is easier to understand. The loss of that city's major league baseball franchise may indeed have shattered its marital equilibrium. Without its beloved Senators, Washington is a city of unrequited love; a child who has lost his teddy bear.

I have no doubt that Washington's marriages would revive if its baseball franchise were restored. A big city without a team has no heart, no core. What chance has a marriage without its spring hopes, its winning streaks, its shutouts, its hits, its runs, its errors, without a team to serve as a metaphor, to resonate to its wins and losses?

Still, both the L.A. and New York franchises prosper. Why, then, are those two cities so inhospitable to married life?

According to the survey, "In New York married couples have time for everything but each other and become two people passing in the kitchen."

That may be true. Everything is so accessible in New York City. All those little delis and art galleries. The bars, the parks, the zoos, the museums, the subways rushing here and there, the off-Broadway theaters, the shops, the teeming sidewalks. So much to do. Inevitably marriages collapse in the kitchens of tiny apartments just as their partners do.

I have an idea that if New York couples went to the symphony once a week in winter and to the ballpark once a week in summer, their marriages would last.

"In Los Angeles," the survey said, "everybody is eyeing everybody else. Too many beautiful distractions."

I suggest the same antidote. The music hall and the ballpark are public places. People are thrown together. But I doubt that any adulteries ever started in one or the other. One concentrates either on the conductor's baton or the batter's bat: One is not susceptible to the meaningful glance, the lingering handclasp.

Coincidentally, I happened to be in Albuquerque when I read about the Forbes report in a newspaper. My wife and I had just driven through the city, and it seemed to be, if there is any such thing left in America today, a pretty, medium-size, stable, prosperous, healthful place to live.

It was smaller than I would have thought, and older, with thousands of houses from the first half of the century enclosing a downtown that is rising from its ruins: a downtown of medium-height new buildings done in the pervasive Southwestern style, looking vaguely like Aztec temples.

A handsome mall had been cut straight through these ornaments, wide and refreshing, with a gushing fountain at its center and a new library on one corner.

It seemed to be a city in which people were trying. I had no doubt that its women were busy behind the scenes in restoration and cultural work, supporting schools, libraries and their symphony orchestra. (It was doing excerpts from "Aida," "Il Trovatore" and "La Forza del Destino" while we were there.)

Yet, the report said, it was the worst of cities for marriage: "Managers (the ones surveyed) feel isolated from its Wild West culture, and notice an undercurrent of rebellion among the children."

I don't know why children would rebel against a Wild West culture, but I can see that women might. There are still a lot of Sinclair Lewis' Carol Kennicotts in mid-America, frustrated by insularity, cultural hunger and the lack of a major league baseball team.

As we flew over the city on our way home, I looked down in vain for some sign of dismembered homes, anguished wives, disgruntled husbands and rebellious children.

They have their symphony, and they have a Triple-A baseball team. What more can they ask for starters?

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