I bought a box of six generic, Krispy Kreme-like doughnuts over the weekend from my local grocery. Against my common sense and Mrs. B's protestations, I scarfed down every one of those sugary heart disease boosters in just two-and-a-half days. Does that make me an icing addict, a doughnut fiend? Man, I hope not, 'cause I only eat that stupidly every now and then.
But I asked the quiz question 'cause I'm sitting here watching Duane "Dog" Chapman on Hannity and Colmes explaining that the N-word never meant to him what it does to other people, that just as many black guys use it in the context of camaraderie, he meant it in a "brotherly fashion."
Hmmm. I know gay guys who call each other the F-word. If I see two men walking down the street holding hands - an obvious couple - I can't approach them, smile, and blurt out, "What's up, my (F-word)s!" I mean, I could say it. There's no law stopping me. But I have no desire to do something like that. It would be stupid. It could be mean. And common sense would prevent me from doing it, anyway.
Whatever the case, I like to think I'm a pretty reasonable guy. And my friends will tell you that I'm a sucker to a fault for what appears to be a heartfelt apology.
So back to my question. Based on my own experiences over the years with a lots of different people who live by lots of different philosophies, I think the answer is yes...with a couple of exceptions.
If, for example, you occasionally go to a party and someone offers you weed and you try it, that does not make you a marijuana addict or even a user, as "user" is defined in casual conversation. It makes you a periodic risk taker. And if your employer has the right to make you randomly pee in a cup, it makes you an idiot.
I once was at a hockey game with a bunch of managers from a newspaper where I used to work. They had taken me and several other younger reporters to watch the game from the company's luxury box 'cause we were all such arse-kicking writing machines. I kid. We were all wet behind the ears. But the bosses appreciated our rookie effort and decided to reward us. So at the end of the hockey match the WWE set up a wrestling ring on the ice for a 30 minute demo showcase of some of the league's new talent. One of their gimmicks was to have Saved by the Bell alum Dustin Diamond grapple with a real wrestler. I'm told that I was a "little" toasty by the end of the hockey game and that I spent about 10 minutes heckling Diamond by yelling Screech jokes at him from the box. Did that rant make me in need of AA? Nope. It made me feel like a fool at work the next day, after which I went right back to my "habit" of moderation.
Under these mundane examples, I'm convinced that in order to be something your relative behavior must be habitual.
And then there are the exceptions, extremes where one time'll sink ya: Murder someone, and the I-only-did-it-once defense won't get you off the hook. Beat your wife, and the I-only-did-it-once explanation won't get you off the hook.
So, Chapman's mea culpa is over now. I'm still not sure what to think. He says he's sorry. Who am I to question that? Even so, at what point do we tell folks their apologies are accepted, but they must still pay some price? If, as a child my parents let me slide every time I said sorry, I'd have made out like a bandit. I would never have "served" one day of grounding in my bedroom with no comic book or tune or telephone privileges. And I'd never have gotten several memorable smacks on the behind. Punishment does have a purpose.
Chapman also reiterated that he has so many black friends who have used the N-word around him that he's always felt he had "honorary" status that allowed him to use it too, as a friendly greeting.
I could buy that, in theory. Except that his taped conversation was not about friendly greetings. It was an expression of anger. If he really disapproved of his son's girlfriend's character, he could have called her anything, anything at all, crooked, shady, sneaky, vile, skankish, etc., but he chose to use that word. And that word, in a critical, lashing context is about a skin color, a race, nothing friendly. And that's where Chapman hurt himself.
Finally, as this show ends, I feel a little sorry for Dog. Shame on him for using this word in such anger and for not having good sense enough to know not to use it at all. Hell, even when I used to use it way back when to greet black male friends, I never, ever, ever, ever, let it be overheard. That sort of caution is what helped convince me to eventually ditch the word: If I had to be ashamed of it in mixed company I didn't need to be uttering it, regardless of context, I figured. Anyway, shame on Chapman's crackhead kid for selling him out to a tabloid for $15,000. And shame on us all that in 2007 in this country, we still haven't worked "it" out.
I hope Dog finds the peace and forgiveness he's looking for. And I hope we all take his situation as a reminder that no matter how cool or insulated we think we are, some things just aren't cool to say.
Oh, and a programming note to Fox News Channel: Since you guys are in such a forgiving mood for racially charged "slips of the tongue" and angry outbursts, are you going to give an hour long interview to former National Basketball Association star Tim Hardaway? I hear he's seeking redemption too, after being blacklisted and socially excommunicated earlier this year for a sexual orientation bias-charged rant. Hardaway said in a radio interview last spring that he hated gay people and that he didn't think homosexuals belonged in the NBA. C'mon FOX. Prove you're not hypocrites. Put Hardaway on the air...unless, of course, you think he's being a phony in his I-had-a-brain-fart, I-was-just-being-an-idiot explanations.