About New York; Some Are Made In Heaven, Some Elsewhere
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
First, there was the invitation to the 65th wedding anniversary celebration of Samuel and Miriam Salitan. It came from Lucille, their daughter. She wrote, "It is testimony to living by what the yuppie world would call old-fashioned standards and values, and in the end they proved to be their own reward."
Second, there arrived a press release with a most alarming headline: "Adultery on the Rise." It said two private detectives, who operate a business called Check-a-Mate, calculate that spousal cheating, even in this age of AIDS, is increasing. Specifically, by 5 to 10 percent a year.
We arrived at the Salitans' Upper East Side apartment last Saturday afternoon in need of reassurance. Champagne was flowing, and the honeymooners, he 93 years old and she 91, were seated in a happy circle. Mr. Salitan's two older sisters, one 97 and one 96, chatted spiritedly.
Mr. Salitan ambled through a life's story. His father owned a stationery and live-bait store at 125th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. He remembers the excitement when the subway made it to that northern latitude. He also remembers serving in the Army during World War I, then going to high school and college at night while building a career in finance.
Marriage, he said, is give and take. And something more. "I wouldn't say we were ever bored with each other."
Romance? Ask Mrs. Salitan. "I don't feel any different than I felt 65 years ago," she said, her eyes gleaming like diamonds.
The view on matters matrimonial seemed a tad more skeptical in Check-a-Mate's office in Washington Heights. The firm's principals, Tim Bartlett and Jerry Palace, both retired police detectives, sat waiting for the phone to ring. The scene was Raymond Chandler-seedy: A dartboard dangled from one wall, a portrait of Sherlock Holmes presided over an other, a pile of detec tive novels lay strewn on a chair.
"We've heard all the stories 1,000 times," Mr. Bartlett growled. "A to Z."
Some stand out. A woman inexplicably wanted the detectives to find a blonde bombshell for her husband to meet and have a videotaped tryst with. (The detectives respectfully declined.) Another asked them to follow her husband, whom she had met at a club for people weighing over 350 pounds. (He was losing weight and she suspected the worst.) Still another was a triangle involving three police officers. ("Great," Mr. Palace said. "Everybody has a gun.")
Some of the best tales concerned the firm's hot new sideline -- investigating potential spouses. An investment banker found that the girl of his dreams was a prostitute. A man and a woman, unbeknownst to each other, each hired the detectives to vet the other.
Mr. Palace said most of their adultery jobs come from wives. And he reports that many are considerably savvier than cheating husbands imagine. Most have used phone records, re-dial buttons and such to ferret out unpleasant truths. They then hire investigators to confirm them. "Nine times out of 10, they're right," Mr. Palace said.
So it was that we found ourselves last Friday evening with Mr. Palace staking out an errant husband. The gentleman, his wife had reported, was in the habit of leaving for work Friday morning and not returning until Monday evening, resolutely refusing to explain the roamings.
Mr. Palace's car was positioned so he could watch both the door to the man's office and his van, a shiny blue model with a Playboy bunny decorating the spare tire on the back. The detective would move the car occasionally. Sometimes he watched through his rearview mirror. He also changed his hat frequently.
All this surreptitiousness was unnecessary. After long hours, the unsuspecting suspect strolled out, got in the van and left. Mr. Palace followed. Driving on the wild side of reckless, he often seemed in danger of losing the bunny. But he was determined to follow it to the other woman.
The van finally rolled into the parking lot of the man's own apartment building. Mr. Palace called his client from a car phone and told her who was coming to dinner. "You're kidding," she stammered. The case remains open.
There are several ways to end this account. One could quote Mr. Bartlett on his continuing belief in the institution of marriage, albeit with successive mates: "I keep doing it, so I guess I'm not that cynical."
Perhaps one should relate Mrs. Salitan's prescription for marital bliss: "We give each other space to do what we want."
A contrarian just might recall the immortal words of Mae West. "Marriage is a great institution," she purred. "But I'm not ready for an institution yet."