I wanted to be an apologist when I was a boy; all of my childhood heroes were apologists and I would have collected apologist bubble gum cards had someone manufactured them in those days. No one did, the times being benighted as they were, and so I had to settle for collecting the baseball cards of players having bad years. If there was a pitcher on a last place team who couldn’t find the strike zone if he was standing ten feet in front of it with a half-blind umpire behind the plate, I had his card; if there was a hitter who couldn’t hit the broad side of a fat babe’s butt with a 2 x 4, I had his card as well. Sometimes I collected good players, but only if they were on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring or a torn rotator cuff. I kept all of my baseball cards in an old shoebox my father called the litany of woes, because everyone in the box had an excuse for why they weren’t playing as well as they might that season.
As you’ve probably surmised by now, I did not get to be an apologist. My parents opposed the idea out of hand, pointing out that apologists, however well they did the job, got paid squat. This was true, of course; apologetics did not pay very well then. In addition to the poor pay, most people in those days regarded professional apologists as little better than sob sisters, PR men, and Red Sox fans. Mindful of these facts, my parents insisted that I find some more remunerative line of endeavor like dope peddling or swindling little old ladies out of their life savings. I apologized for not living up to their expectations, whereupon my father threw a fit and a Fig Newton at me and told me to shut up, he was sick of my apologies. He was like that sometimes. I remember one Christmas where he dressed up like Santa Claus (say what you will about him, Pop could do a mean Santa impression) and came down the stairs to his waiting children with a sack of toys thrown over his shoulder and then threw cans of string beans he’d gotten for half price at us. That was a wonderful Christmas, or so my brothers tell me; I had a pretty bad concussion so my memory of that day is a little fuzzy.
Now, at this point you’re probably wondering why I’m apologizing for just about everything under the son and, I’m sorry to say this, I’m wondering why you’re wondering. Explanations are so last century, after all; there hasn’t been a truly reasonable explanation for anything ever since Calvin Coolidge’s press secretary, C. Bascom Slemp, invented the cardboard tube that toilet paper comes wrapped around in 1897, but this hasn’t stopped people from looking for them. The modern apology, unlike many other art forms, and definitely unlike the classical apology, is about nothing at all. It is, in short, Seinfeldian in its philosophical provenance. You do not need to have done something wrong in order to apologize for it in this our postmodern Great Republic. Politicians spend a lot of time apologizing for one thing or another, especially during an election year, where if pandering for votes won’t work, a pol will grovel for them. I’m especially fond of pols apologizing for events that occurred years, sometimes centuries, before any of us were born. Still, it’s nice to know that their hearts are in the right place, even if all that and a couple of bucks will buy you is a ride on the subway.
In any case, I don’t think I would have made a very good professional apologist. In listening to my apologies on tape, I can tell that I lack the one great gift of the true apologist: sincerity. Yes, I can apologize all day long, and as a part of my work, I’ve often had to do just that, but the people I’m apologizing to can tell it’s all form and no substance. They can tell I am saying, I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience, sir, but that I’m thinking, buzz off, dumbass, and take your ugly wife with you. Sam Goldwyn had it right: if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made. I just don’t have that in me, I guess.