Eric Alterman,

Eric Alterman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 22 1998 3:30 AM

Eric Alterman,

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       A couple of friends came over tonight with Chinese food to feed us and admire Eve Rose. As always, the question came up: Do we plan to get married? As always, I answered, "It's up to Newt."
       Diana speaks with typical chick logic on the "to wed or not to wed" question. She doesn't need to be married; she only needs me to want to marry her. It's just as romantic that way and cuts out a lot of the complications. I do want to marry her, and so that takes care of that. Diana says she believes in first marriages, but after that one, well, the actual piece of paper is subject to a sensible cost-benefit analysis. And so far, the costs are way ahead.
       We are both divorced, and so we have few illusions about the alleged stability that marriage brings to a relationship. (We both married our high-school sweethearts; both went to the same high school, and hers was my best friend, in case anyone reading this wants to option our lives.) Having been married and had a baby, in that order, I can tell you that the latter is a much bigger deal.
       The most common argument we hear for marriage is that it will someday matter to Eve. It's a pretty good argument, but how the hell does anyone know it's true? In Manhattan, anyway, children are raised by divorced parents, by gay parents, by adopted parents, by single parents, even maybe by test-tube parents. Christ, even Donald Trump is allowed to be a parent in this society. I hardly think a young girl in this city can be stigmatized by the fact of having loving parents who--unbeknownst to all but the most voracious busybodies--have not had their union sanctified by the state. And if she is, by the way, she can always tell us herself, and we'll get married.
       In the meantime, I'd rather save the money we would pay in taxes and use it to keep a roof over Eve's head. The marriage penalty works like this: If you and your spouse each earn exactly $23,350 a year, your taxes will be $1,001 more than if you'd filed as single. If the two of you each earn $75,000 a year, the penalty goes up to $7,700. If one of you earns $125,000 and the other one earns, say, $40,000, well then, as Donnie Brasco might say, fugettaboutit; the bracket differential is added to the built-in penalty, and suddenly a year of marriage costs the same as a year of day care. Given how unhappy Eve would be if she had to stay home with her married father while he tried to make enough money to pay the taxes on her "legitimacy," I'd say everyone's a winner. Those are real "family values," though I'd understand if Speaker "Divorce Your Wife While She's Still in the Recovery Room and Let Your Children Go Begging" Gingrich were to differ.
       My day ended with a call from a high-school friend who told me that Neil Maloney, our tenth-grade English teacher--the one who inspired us to become writers instead of lawyers and therefore have the money worries described above--has died of a sudden stroke. Just two months ago, by happenstance, we organized a bunch of our former classmates to take him out to dinner and let him know how much he mattered in our lives. It was only the third time in 20 years we had done it, but it sure was lucky we did. Neil had retired this year and lived alone in Yonkers. The lesson, I suppose, is that if you think of doing something for someone that would make them really happy, you ought to just do it. They could die.

Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and MSNBC. His daughter, Eve Rose Alterman, was born on April 6, 1998 (7 lbs., 11 oz.).