Sunday, October 15, 2006

Herb Gardner, "General-All-Purpose Apology"

I shall now leave you breathless with the strange and wondrous tale of this sturdy lad's adventures today in downtown Oz.

Picture, if you will, me. I am walking on East Fifty-first Street an hour ago and I decided to construct and develop a really decorative, general-all-purpose Apology. Not complicated, just the words "I am sorry" said with a little style.

Sorry for what? Anything. For being late, early, stupid, asleep, silly, alive--

Well, y'know when you're walking down the street talking to yourself how sometimes you suddenly say a coupla words out loud? So I said "I'm sorry," and this fellah, complete stranger, he looks up a second and says "That's all right, Mac," and goes on.

He automatically forgave me.

I communicated. Five o'clock rush hour in midtown you could say "Sir, I believe your hair is on fire," and they wouldn't hear you. So I decided to test the whole thing out scientifically, I stayed right there on the corner of Fifty-first and Lex for a while, just saying "I'm sorry" to everybody that went by. "Oh, I'm so sorry, sir..." "I'm terribly sorry, madam..." "Say there, Miss, I'm sorry."

Of course, some people just gave me a funny look, but I swear, seventy-five percent of them forgave me! "Forget it, buddy." "That's O.K. really." Two ladies forgave me in unison, one fellah forgave me from a passing car, and one guy forgave me for his dog. "Poofer forgives the nice man, don't you, Poofer?"

It was fabulous. I had tapped some vast reservoir. Something had happened to all of them for which they felt somebody should apologize. If you went up to people on the street and offered them money, they'd refuse it. But everybody accepts apology immediately. It is the most negotiable currency. I said to them "I am sorry," and they were all so generous, so kind. You could give 'em love and it wouldn't be accepted half as graciously, as unquestioningly.

I could run up on the roof right now and holler "I am sorry," and half a million people would holler right back, "That's O.K., just see that you don't do it again!"

That's the most you should expect from life, a really good apology.

from "A Thousand Clowns" by Herb Gardner
Available from Samuel French