IT JUST SO HAPPENS that my uncle, now retired and living in Florida, was married for a short time and went partners with his wife in a tavern. It was a nice tavern, I was told, and every afternoon my aunt worked behind the bar. She mixed the drinks and talked to the customers and stole my uncle blind. This was a major reason for the disintegration of their marriage, and proved, at the very least, that some marital problems have nothing to do with sex.

It proves also that it is possible for a man to know very little about what his wife is doing. Having said that, it still would be interesting to find out how Marion Barry, the mayor of Washington, did not know that his wife, Mary Treadwell, had her hand in the till.

Treadwell and her associates, it appears, took somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million from the various projects she was supposed to administer as the head of P.I. Properties, Inc., an offshoot of Pride Inc., the self-help outfit her former husband, Mayor Barry, once ran himself.The details of this scheme, as reported in The Washington Post, are vivid, but the Post writers stopped where the facts ran out. All they say about the mayor is that he is in no way implicated. No one is saying otherwise, but that is not the same as saying his explanation that he knew nothing makes a lot of sense.

His wife took a trip to Jamaica and stayed at a $1,000-a-week resort and he knew nothing about it. It was the same resort where they spent their honeymoon. He never got suspicious. He knew nothing. She came home in a Mercedes. He knew nothing about nothing. Maybe he thought it was a second-hand Dodge.

Treadwell and her associates took the rent money from poor people. Her husband, who spent a lifetime representing poor people, never heard boo about it. No one said anything. There was never a whisper on the street. Not a suggetion. In the beauty parlor no one talked. The subject was never raised on the bars. It is wonderful how these things happen. My uncle would understand.

Still, my uncle was not in the tavern business by trade. He was a plumber and he did not know how to read ledgers.He did not know that if you order a certain amount of booze you ought to be selling a certain amount of booze and there ought to be a certain amount of money in the till. People came and whispered things to him, but he chose not to listen. He only listened to the accountant. By then it was too late.

But Marion Barry has spent a life-time either working for Pride or for the government. If there is one thing he knows, it is how self-help projects work and how the government works. Where did he think those Jamaica trips were coming from? Where did he think the Mercedes was coming from?Did he think the tenants of Clifton Terrace contributed the car in thanks for no paint and no heat and rats crawling in and out the slats of cribs.

It is hard, of course, to sit in judgment on a marriage. No one knows what the Barry-Treadwell relationship was like. By all accounts, it was no mooshy-smoochy thing and it ended officially during the time Treadwell was administering her projects. Barry never had anything to do with P.I. Properties and had he asked some pointed questions, it is quite possible Treadwell simply would have told him to mind his own business. There is only so much a man can do under such circumstances.

This was the situation for my uncle, too. But my uncle went from the plumbing business to the tavern business to the candy store business. He never became an important person -- a nice guy, maybe, but not important. That is not the case with Marion Barry. He is the mayor of Washington and the appearance of honesty is almost as important as the reality of it.

At the moment, the situation is absurd. We are asked to believe things our own experience tell us are hard to believe. We know something about marriage, about how men and women live together, and what we know tells us, at the very least, that Marion Barry must have had some suspicions. This does not mean that he should have lifted the phone and called the FBI on his wife or turned her into the IRS for a reward. This does mean, though, that he owes us more of an explanation then he has so far been willing to provide.

To the television cameras, Barry says "no comment." To the reporters of The Washington Post, who broke the story, he says he knew nothing -- he and his wife kept separate books. He flings sand in the face of reporters answering questions that were not asked, ducking the ones that are. Maybe there is a way to explain all this and maybe the mayor has given the only explanation possible and maybe things look worse than they really are. All this is possible and should not be ruled out. In the meantime, I have only one question for the mayor:

Would he be interested in going partners in a bar?