If it hasn’t already happened this week, sometime soon a politician or a celebrity (or, as we are in the Franken/Schwarzenegger/Trump era, the politician slash celebrity) will step up to a podium and make a public apology. I don’t have any issue with a person asking or granting forgiveness. I think forgiveness is the most revolutionary concept introduced in human history. My problem is the way they choose to word their public mea culpa. It is usually phrased as a un-apology, prefacing their remorse with pithy words like, “If I have offended anyone…” Right.
As if someone rents a hotel ballroom, or schedules a Senate meeting room for a press conference because someone might be offended. Dozens of photographers and reporters show up because someone might be offended. Maybe the truth is in the eyes of the penitent at that moment, but you probably won’t see their peepers for more than a second…their gaze is fixed on the meticulously composed statement in front of them, admitting to nothing more than momentary poor judgement, bad advice, the sun was in my eyes, my suit didn’t come back from the cleaners…you get the idea.
Maybe it’s my background, perhaps it’s my age, but I really love it when someone steps up and says the PC equivalent of, “Hey! I fucked up. Sorry, folks. I’ll do better next time.” And if it’s a sex thing, for goodness sake, don’t drag your spouse or significant other out there with you. They didn’t screw anything up. They merely had the misfortune of being aligned with you at a bad time. Admit, as when you admitted you were wrong, that “Yeah, my Honey’s pretty pissed at me right now.”
Still, I believe any apology is better than no apology when you feel you’ve done the wrong thing or when that is the public perception. I have apologized for things I didn’t think were wrong in the interest of keeping the peace. Word to the wise, an apology does not have to be sincere…it just have to have a sincere appearance. And, as I said, there are times when it MUST be offered.
A pretty good example of this occurred to me recently. There was a time in my life where I was prone to pulling pranks. They were gags that ranged from the benign to downright cruelty. It was largely in my late teens or early twenties, but the occasional idea would pop into my head even after that. One day when my kids were small, the impulse overtook me.
A longtime friend was at the house for his weekly visit and had brought a disposable camera (this was years before digital cameras were around, or at least affordable) to take pictures of my pre-school aged children, whom he adored. After a family dinner and baby baths, the children were shuttled off to bed as my friend and I repaired to the basement to work on a theatre project.
When I came back upstairs an hour or so later, the disposable camera was sitting on the dining room table, unattended. I grabbed it and showed it to my wife, who was reading in the living room. I said, “He left his camera on the table.” Kath just looked at me, uncomprehending. “Don’t you think it’s REALLY irresponsible to leave your camera out like this?” I saw a flash in my wife’s eyes.
“What do you want to do?” she asked. I told her. A canary feather practically fluttered from the mouth of Miss Kitty. She was a willing co-conspirator.
In keeping with the theme, I posed as one might have posed my youngest child, naked, on a blanket. Nothing obscene, more of a bearskin rug kind of thing. Totally nude, yes, but stomach down, ass up. When my friend left that night, I knew it would be a challenge not to look at him expectantly on each subsequent visit.
I wasn’t worried about his reaction. It was quite the fad at the time to put a disposable camera on every table at a wedding reception, the better to capture the random moments the newlyweds were too busy to see. What they likely didn’t want to see were the shots captured by a random party boy shoving the camera down his pants and hitting the button. What I had done was positively vanilla in comparison.
Or so I thought. Upon his return visit, I could tell by the look on his face that he had developed the pictures and that he was none too pleased. “I believe these belong to you,” he stated churlishly, handing me a small envelope before handing prints of the children to my wife. I lifted the flap and laughed despite the gravity of the situation. I was a good twenty-five pounds overweight at the time, exhibiting what no one in their right mind would show for free, prank be damned.
What I hadn’t counted on when I got Kath to take the ‘illicit’ picture was the innate cheapness of my friend. Years after working at a movie theater, he was still friendly with ticket takers who would allow him in for free to see the latest releases. For picture developing, he’d found someone who would run his film through the machine during the slow hours. He didn’t understand his friend’s curt manner when he came to collect the pictures, nor the unusual look on her face when she said she didn’t have time to talk. When he got back to his car and saw the picture I had engineered, he was livid.
The outcome was NOT what I had intended. If anyone should have been embarrassed, it should have been me, for exposing my fleshy expanse to silver nitrate. But that wasn’t the way it worked out. I apologized. I didn’t qualify my apology…I KNEW I had offended someone. We got past that unfortunate incident and remain friends to this day.
We never spoke of the incident again. Which is not to say it was over. Months later, when my birthday rolled around, there was an extra present under my pillow at the end of a day-long barbeque. It was a gift for me, from both my wife and her best friend. I removed the wrapping paper and found a calendar where I was the cover boy for every month. It was the bearskin rug shot, photo shopped with a green top hat for St. Patrick’s Day, bunny ears for Easter, a pilgrim’s hat for Thanksgiving, a little addendum for each holiday. As I looked at their work, Kath watched me carefully with a side-eye glance, wondering if I would be angry, but I laughed. I had to. When you pull a prank, you have to expect one in return. Those are the rules.
No press conferences were called.