Friday, May 05, 2006

Love means never...

Here’s what an apology for misbehavior used to look like:

I’m sorry.


Gosh, I’m terribly sorry.

Or even:

I’m so sorry, it won’t happen again.

Notice how the speaker is taking responsibility for the action which required the apology, and for any effect it might have created.

Here is what now stands in for an apology, but is not, in fact, an apology:

I’m sorry you feel that way.

That’s not an apology for misbehavior. That’s the speaker feeling a certain regret you are feeling a negative emotion which you have irrationally tied to something they did. If I drop a frying pan on my foot and start screaming at Consort for having caused that by merely being in the same house as I am, he would be well within his rights to say “I’m sorry you feel that way”.

[He would also be within his rights to say “Go live under a bridge, you insane troll, until this mood passes”, but he would never say that, because he’s kind.]

“I’m sorry you feel that way” sounds sincere without acknowledging any culpability in the misadventure. “I’m sorry you feel that way” makes me want to fill an athletic sock full of quarters and warm up my pitching arm.

Here’s another modern non-apology apology:

I’m sorry if that’s what you thought I said/meant


I’m sorry if that’s what you thought you heard

Isnt’t that one nice? The other person is gently forgiving you for misunderstanding them. So, when your cousin told you everyone dreaded your cooking and company and the case of strep throat which kept you away at Thanksgiving was a gift from God, you simply misunderstood! She meant that in the loving way! It has nothing to do with your being a terrible cook and all of your jokes sucking; it’s just that you’re incapable of understanding English!

What’s nice about that non-apology is that if you try rebutting with actual facts (“…But you said my pumpkin pie reminded you of a catcher’s mitt, only less appetizing…”), she will counter with “I’m sorry if you heard that, but that’s not what I said”. Which then means you’re either forgetful or insane and she’s sorry you’re either forgetful or insane.

Here’s another new way to apologize and take responsibility for nothing:

There was no way I could have predicted that. I didn’t see that one coming.

Perhaps, but there’s still the matter of, say, your MixMaster dropping two stories onto the hood of my car. Are you apologizing for your lack of pronosticatory skills or my car’s stubborn refusal to deflect a Kitchen Aid meteorite?

Oh, wait. You’re not apologizing for anything at all.

And there’s always my favorite:

I was joking. Don’t be so politically correct.

Is that the adult equivilant of “take-back”? Does this allow us to say any hamster-brained thing which occurs to us just so long as, if called to task, we utter the magic words: “Oh, lighten up”? And here’s a news flash for those people who proudly declare themselves Not Politically Correct -- what you really are is Colossally Rude. Every single person alive has beliefs which might hurt the feelings of those around them and, somehow, most of us manage to keep them to ourselves.

As usual, I have an example of this behavior from my own past. Unlike 99% of my previous examples, however, this time the jackass in the story isn’t me.

I think.

I’ll let you make the call.

About six years ago, at the height of the Dotcom frenzy, I took a job in San Francisco. After several weeks of dead ends, I left Los Angeles without a place to stayin San Francisco. I figured I’d get there, stay in a hotel for a few days, find a sublet, and move in. Sadly, it worked nothing like that. There was, quite literally, no housing to be had in the entire city.

I gave up quickly on finding a whole apartment, then on finding a room in a house, then a spare bedroom in an apartment. I was down to begging strangers to let me drop an air mattress in a hallway and contemplating the more picturesque dumpsters near South Park when a Los Angeles friend called with an offer. His cousin and her girlfriend were going to Europe and needed someone to watch their apartment and take care of their cat for two weeks.

Thank you, GOD!

The apartment was a sweet, run-down sort of place, covered in cat hair and directly behind San Francisco General Hospital, thus assuring me a constant wail of sirens. Then again, it wasn’t the back seat of my car and it bought me two more weeks to try to find a proper sublet. My responsibilities as temporary tenant were simple: bring in the mail; answer the phone as needed; give the cat her i.v. drip.

I’m sorry, what?

How to explain this…The couple had tried for several years to have a child. When it didn’t appear this was going to happen their cat became their beloved offspring. Unfortunately, the cat was now very elderly, and every major organ system was fading like a Hawaiian sunset. Her eyes were cloudy. Her hearing was shot. Her kidneys were failing by the minute so unless she was rehydrated and given twenty dollars worth of heart medication twice every day, she would die.

You know, like Nature intended.

I had a swooningly vivid demonstration of how to pick up the cat (which resembled something you pull out of a lint trap), pinch up the skin on her neck, and plunge in the needle. She let out a weak but truculent mew. I let out a half-choked whimper. I was next taught how to pulverize her heart pill, mix it with water, put it into a syringe and jam it down her throat.

For the next two weeks, I awoke at five every morning and, before I went to the gym, stumbled around the apartment trying to find Linty the cat. Sometimes, I would grab her under the bed only to find I had snatched up a dust bunny instead. Eventually I would always find her and she would emit this little moan which said plainly “Crap. Still alive”.

Every morning and every night, I would insert the i.v. line and wait for the bag of fluid to empty into her. Every morning and every night I would watch her minimal life force come back as the fluid rehydrated her. Every morning and every night I would remember that she hated her heart pills and that I should have given them to her first, when she was still walking toward the light. Every morning, I would leave for the gym with paper towels worn like blood-specked dropcloths around my arms, absorbing the reminders Linty gave me of exactly how much she hated heart pills.

It is a testimony to the housing situation in San Francisco that I still considered myself lucky.

During this time, I had found a longer-term temporary housing situation (the housemate of a high-school friend’s ex-girlfriend had been popped for shoplifting for the third time. He jumped bail. His room was free. Whee!) so when Linty’s parents returned, I had moved out that afternoon. As I was packing, one of Linty’s moms invited me back that night for her birthday party. I didn’t really know anyone in town besides the twelve year-olds with stock options with whom I was working, and I was still terribly thankful they had taken me in, so I gladly accepted.

When I arrived that night, the apartment was full of women. I smiled politely, slid through to the kitchen, got myself a drink. Coming back into the living room, the girlfriend of the birthday girl grabbed me by the wrist and tugged me toward the birthday girl, who was standing by the fireplace. Assuming she wanted me to wish her girlfriend a happy birthday, I went along with no hesitation.

Once I was standing between the hostesses, the birthday girl called out, “Excuse me?...Everyone?... Be quiet!”

The rest of the women in the room quieted down and stared expectantly at their hostesses, and at me in between them. My stomach sank.

“I’m sure you all remember ‘The Goodbye Girl’…”

No, I’m thinking frantically, she’s not going to do this.

“…the little know-it-all on ‘Family’, you remember that show?”

The women started conferring. Some remembered it, some needed their memories refreshed, some had no idea what the show was. All of them, however, were staring at us with great interest. My expression was probably similar to the time I stuck my foot in my rollerblade and found half a lizard Lulabelle had secreted in there to eat later.

“Anyway, here’s our friend, the little child star, Quinn Cummings!”

She hugged me, and then stepped back a bit, so that her friends could fully appreciate my former child star aura.

One woman brayed, “So, who did you work with who was lesbian? Is (the name of an actress I knew socially) a dyke?”

The women chorused “Yes! Who’s gay?”

I was near paralysis in horror and anger at this behavior, but I managed to come up with a nearly Victorian “I’m sure I wouldn’t know who is gay or lesbian. It wouldn’t occur to me to ask”.

[Lies, lies, lies. I know all sorts of things about all sorts of people, and many of them are deliciously scandalous. And, yes, some of these people aren’t “out”. But if you think I was about to deep-dish on someone for the satisfaction of these nattering harpies, you are painfully mistaken.]

Once everyone figured out that the former child star wasn’t going to do some adorable tricks, the interest faded in me a bit. I took this opportunity to slither out of the room and make a break for the front door. Sure, it was rude not to say goodbye to the hosts, but they started it.

I got to my new apartment and went back to unpacking when a horrible thought occurred to me. I checked the bags. I checked my car. I checked my bags again. Oh, hell, I had left my good winter coat at the Cat House. I had to go back for the coat, and if I saw these two women again, I was going to say something. I wouldn’t mean to. I wouldn’t want to. But once I saw their silly faces, something hot and sticky was going to come hurtling out of my mouth.

An hour later I was back in their house. Coat over my arm, I recited the little speech I had prepared while searching for a parking space in their neighborhood. And being as the entire city of San Franscisco has only two parking spaces available at any given time, and they are both where you are not, I had plenty of time to practice it.

“…It was very nice of you to invite me to your party and I think you were just introducing me to your friends, but when you brought me up in the front of the room like that, and introduced me as a former child star, I felt like the evening’s entertainment. Not to mention how that part of my life was nearly two decades ago, and when it’s the first thing someone finds worth mentioning about me, I start to feel as if I have done nothing else of any consequence in my life...”

The birthday girl protested, “But we’re interested in Hollywood…“

Her girlfriend lay a protective hand on her shoulder.

“Honey, let Quinn vent.”




Venting is something you do when traffic is really bad and you come home and yell for fifteen minutes at your spouse about how you want to live in a city with two thousand people where you walk to work.

is something you do at a bar after everyone has watched the Presidential debates.

Venting is something you do when the person venting is being slighly irrational and the person being vented at is blameless.

Her girlfriend all but had me tap out my age with my hoof for the entertainment of her friends, and I was VENTING?

Neither of these women, who between them had five Master’s Degrees, thought the situation merited “I’m sorry”. I didn’t even get “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I gripped my coat and said icily “Guess my venting is done.” I spun on my heel and left.

By the front door was the dispirited balding lump of fur which was my former charge. I leaned over, scratched her head and said softly, “I’m sorry these people won’t let you die with dignity”.

She purred softly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a lovely article. I am sick to the bloody teeth of the "non apology" apology.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

You are so right, and have put it so eloquently - and shame on those girls for "using" you like that to make themselves seem so important. And for them to think they were "letting you vent" - well, I'm sorry they felt that way....

10:02 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Yikes! My blood pressure went up just reading about it!!! I suppose the only good thing about it is that they so completely exposed themselves so you could quickly and easily move on to better people.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cant believe how rude and stupid some people are. I always wish I could come up with snappy comebacks when people do rude things. I think being a "celebrity" would be very difficult. I would always wonder if people liked me for just being me. So many don't seem to realize that even the famous faces belong to real people with real families that have the same concerns as the rest of us mere mortals :)

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, does this mean you aren't available to rent out as the evenings entertainment at my next party? Dang, I was hoping to have someone talk about their 25 year old accomplishments.

It must be frustrating to have people instantly associate you with something you did as a child. Especially in an age where people might have seen the DVD last night and it's fresh in their head... they expect you to have the same approach to it. But, come on... how often are you going to watch The Goodbye Girl? Granted, it's one of my favorite movies, but I certainly don't expect it to be one of yours!

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love your blog. i wish i knew you so i could talk to you about these stories. i can offer you praise higher than that expect for the fact that the first comment here begins "so youre that....." life is so so beautiful, isn't it?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Joie de Vivre said...

My Beloved is an Olympic gold winner in the non-apology event. I always get "it's not about an apology with you, it's about accepting blame and I'm not to blame for you're being pissed". I always respond with "I wouldn't fight with myself if I lived alone so *obviously* you're to blame for my being pissed". We go 'round and 'round until I lose steam, now exhausted and pissed. Really, if an apology can make an argument evaporate, why would anyone begrudge it?

2:37 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Ohhhh, yes. We call those "pseudo-apologies" around my house. I have been guilty of more than one of them myself and I'm sure there is some karma out there waiting for me as a result.

(p.s. I'm here from...Unretouched Photo, I think. But I'm not sure. I kept seeing your comments and links around and about, so finally clicked out of curiosity and have been reading the archives for much! too! long! now, instead of making lunches. Dang. you're good.)

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People. Sometimes human beings can just be the biggest jerks. Between you and that poor cat, it really sounds like those to had no idea that anything beyond their personal enjoyment matters at all.

But good for you for sticking up for yourself. So many people, especially women, wouldn't have said anything to them. IMO, you should be really proud of the way you handled the situation, even if it didn't get you the result you were hoping for.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my God, Quinn, brilliant post that made me stand up and scream, from the utter truth of your faux apology rant to the description of the birthday party that was a true horrorfest.

On the other hand, I plan to handcuff you to a radiator one day and withhold the keys until you spill some of those "delicious scandals." Yum.

P.S. Putting an IV drip in your own beloved cat is bad enough, but asking a stranger to do it? OY! Put that poor kitty DOWN!

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow ironic! My downstairs neighbor who is fromerly a pop star of some note (and now a CPA) told me today her cat needed a radical mastectomy...I never thought about a cat needing a mastectomy! Well difference between you and she is that she has told me some doozies about some stars!

5:47 PM  

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