There exists a support group in Manhattan, Washington and Los Angeles that originally called itself "The Meres." The self-image this represented began almost immediately to pall, and the members became, as a group, Woe Check, after the acronym of their membership: Wives of Colorful Journalistic Copy, or WOCJC, when it turned out to be doubly apropos.

Like Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous and all other support groups, Woe Check meets to give members strength in the face of a common problem, in their case the necessity to remain silent in the face of the roughing up of their husbands by the media. The first Business Week or Forbes analysis of their husbands' companies, the first in-depth treatment by one of The Timeses, The Washington Post or The Journal, the first showcasing of an executive in New York magazine, Time or Newsweek will usually qualify a person for membership.

"Leave the politician's wife to heaven," says Woe Check, since criticism must be her meat and drink, but it warmly embraces the wives of nonpolitical presidential appointees, who may have been in for the greatest doses of shock and pain of them all. On second thought, no. Most vulnerable are those few doctors' and even fewer ministers' wives beginning to trickle into the organization as nothing becomes sacred, who have, at their first meetings, the look of baby seals who have just seen the club start to fall.

All Woe Check wives have this in common: their much-loved husbands have been (brutally? cynically? venally?) attacked, and they are not permitted to fight back on their behalf with their natural chivalry toward men.

The patron saint of the group is Nancy Kissinger, who is famous for laying an intimidating hand upon a person who vilified her husband on his way to an operation. Woe Check members glory in her (for them unattainable) freedom to defend her husband in the natural way, as a nun will benevolently relish the sight of a lovely young girl with a champing swain. Our instincts will always be suppressed, our righteous indignation or grief doomed to fester. We will never be able to "get it all out," off our chests, or up a flagpole, because all our mates have this peculiar platonic relationship to the media: they profess to love them, but they want to stay out of them.

Their attitudes appear to vary, falling into three broad groups that are still being investigated in a continuing (and therapeutic) research project:

A. "Rise above it. Consider the source. Anyone who matters will see the truth. Most of the spouses would like to be considered "A," but really fall more naturally into:

B. "Lie low. Don't make any more 'news,' and it will go away." A radical subset of "B" is:

C. "For God's sake, stonewall. Don't talk to me about justice. If GM had ignored him, there wouldn't be any Ralph Nader. Fight back and you'll spawn some more!"

In the future these types may be further broken down, so to speak, but now it is safe to say that there are no cases of Woe Check spouses who fall completely outside them. All will be heard sooner or later to say, "Never complain, never explain," which is fast becoming a motto of the small universe with which we are dealing here.

Now, think what would become of a mere wife who tried to go public for justice! Woe Check keeps her under wraps to protect her from herself. That it helps her husband to get his way is an unintended byproduct; Woe Check knows that media thrusts can wound him only superficially, in view of his own mysterious institutional supports, but will home directly into the heart of his wife, who can't help thinking of him as just a mortal man.

We do studies in an attempt to rationalize our frustrations, but basically we share experiences. Out of our sharing sessions has emerged a group mythology, which is passed on to new members upon initiation, complete with fabulous benchmark events and characters of our history. The story of one of our martyrs will illustrate. Her husband was savaged in a national magazine by a news viper notorious for his depredations among the Fortune 500 chairmen and presidents. Our Noble One acted according to the code of Woe Check: "Rise above it as he has, pretend it never happened, soothe, be serene, give him interesting alternatives to think about. Give him his favorite foods at dinner, with smiles, and bring your woes to Woe Check at lunch."

A devastating trauma such as this turned out to be--the reporter's magnum opus in the special field of innuendo--can poison wife life for months, setting off spasms of rage and rue that gradually weaken over time but that continue to require Woe Check lunches. The martyr gained 10 pounds, which Woe Check teaches is borderline beyond- the-call. Finally, released to speak by an exhausted support team, she asked:

"Whatever happened about the . . . you know . .. the article?"

"What article?" he said, of her total psychic environment lo those many weeks. "Oh. Oh yes, did I forget to tell you? The fellow was fired. He was caught inventing his sources. Heh, heh, he was his own 'turn quote,' been doing it all along. Finally his boss asked him for some proof and he got caught at it. Good news, eh?"

"But when? said the Legend, weakly.

"Oh, right at the time of the article on us," said the husband. "In fact, we had the honor of being part of his downfall. Great victory; cause for quite a celebration in the office." "But . . . but darling, why didn't you tell me?" the Legend quavered bravely.

"Should have, Old Thing," her husband said. "But let's face it, I don't need you for the good news, now do I?"

Here is the official poem of Woe Check, composed by this martyred woman in response to a (therapeutic))commission by the organization. It was designed to be recited silently by every sister who finds herself in one of our prototype binds.

If you can hold your peace when Story Makers

Invent a scoop and throw it at your spouse;

When "It's Alleged" and "Spokesmen Say" are fakers

You can just smile, and not burn down their house;

If you can steal a page from your own Kipling:

On being lied about, don't deal in lies;

On being hated don't give way to tippling,

Of you they'll never out of get a rise.

If you live camouflaged as dumb supporter,

Can wade right through the waste land, not get mired,

One ear tuned in to news that Ace Reporter

Just interviewed a man your mate has fired;

If you can gaily chaff your man, and grandly

Let stones, unrolled, unthrown, develop moss

When Second-Hand Observer just offhand'ly

Attributes your man's genius to his boss;

If you can stand the heat outside the kitchen

And not creep in there where you know it's cool,

Can praise the press for virtues it is rich in,

While mumbling the Lord's Prayer and Golden Rule,

The sisterhood of Woe Check holds its hands out.

Come, watch the saving remnant as it frays,

Then ravels up the tatters as it fans out

To take revenge in only wifely ways.

By the time these revelations appear, I myself will be long gone from Woe Check, since deep secrecy is its rule. When you read this I will have turned in my stiff upper lip with the merit buttons I have earned throughout the years. I will be lonely out there, and frightened, as (unsupported and unrestrained) I take the occasional unsuspecting journalist by the lapels for a good shaking. In a way, though, it will be a relief. Woe Check studies are beginning to indicate that there may indeed be a limit to every mere wife.