Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples With a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Timeby Dave Bry
Dave Bry is sorry. Very sorry. He's sorry to Wendy Metzger for singing the last verse of "Stairway to Heaven" into her ear while slow dancing in junior high school. He's sorry to Judy and Michael Gailhouse for letting their children watch The Amityville Horror when he babysat them. And he's sorry--especially, truly--that he didn't hear his cancer-ridden father call out for help one fateful afternoon.
Things are different now. Dave's become a dad, too, and he's discovered a new compassion for the complicated man who raised him. And maybe if his 17-year-old self could meet his current self, he'd think twice before throwing beer cans on Jon Bon Jovi's lawn. Dave's apologies are at turns hysterically funny and profoundly moving, ultimately adding up to a deeply human, poignant and likable portrait of a man trying to come to grips with his past.
Praise for PUBLIC APOLOGY:"
Dave Bry has written a series of witty and poignant apologies to those whom he has wronged over his life. Together, these dispatches build into a wonderful and powerful coming of age story."David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z"
In these funny and heartfelt confessions, Dave Bry apologizes for the mistakes we've all made in our lives-disappointing others, but more often, ourselves. At turns skillful, sensitive and sly, each letter burns a spotlight on Bry's own fateful moments, exploring how to make peace and move on."Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief"
So funny that I laughed out loud almost continuously while reading it. And it's funny in the best way-the way that David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley or Meghan Daum is funny-in that Dave Bry captures certain touchstones of contemporary American life with keen intelligence and genuine warmth."Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age"
Yeats wrote that 'in dreams begin responsibility.' Dave Bry shows us that compassion and maturity start with contrition. If you've ever behaved badly at a family gathering or worn sweatpants on a date, maybe it's time to say you're sorry. With abundant humor, humanity, and a voice all his own, Bry shows the way."Rosie Schaap, New York Times Magazine columnist and author of Drinking With Men"
As you plow through Public Apology, Dave Bry will make you laugh, cry, cringe, and think repeatedly of Bon Jovi."Rodney Rothman, author of Early Bird"
Dave Bry has taken a clever concept and turned it into a hilarious, moving and pathetically honest and I mean that in the best sense memoir. Think of him as suburban New Jersey's answer to Nick Hornby."Jonathan Mahler, author of The Bronx is Burning
"Public Apology is a brilliant slice of memoir: funny, awkward and painful, but capable of making a person misty-eyed now and again."-Donald Powell, ShelfAwareness
"Dave Bry has written a series of witty and poignant apologies to those whom he has wronged over his life. Together, these dispatches build into a wonderful and powerful coming of age story."
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In Which a Man Grapples With a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time
By Dave Bry
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2014 Dave Bry
All rights reserved.
(Or a time in my life that might best be rendered as one long apology to everyone I came into contact with. And also to myself.)
Dear Mike Eovino and Wally Rapp,
Sorry for offering you fake drugs in the boys' room at Markham Place Middle School.
It was not a nice thing to do.
The idea had come to me the day before, after a conversation we'd had—you two and Jeff Cadman and I—on the bus ride home from a class trip. I forget where we had gone. Was it the time we went to see the Shakespeare play at the Garden State Arts Center? A Midsummer Night's Dream, I think, but I didn't understand any of it.
Sitting in the seats behind you, Jeff and I had been talking about what everyone in Markham Place Middle School was talking about that day: the party that had taken place the previous weekend at Chloe Jessop's house, when Chloe Jessop's parents were not there. We had only heard about the party, of course. Chloe was a year older than us and pretty and popular in a way that assured that, even if we had been in her grade, we would not have been invited to her party. I would bet that Chloe Jessop didn't even know our names. We were all dorks, Jeff and I and you two, too. You'll remember, I'm sure, how far toward the front of the bus we were sitting that day.
Somehow, though, you came under the mistaken belief that Jeff and I had in fact attended the party; the truth garbled like in a game of telephone. Things that we had only heard had happened at the party—drinking, make-out sessions, possibly even some pot smoking—you thought we were discussing firsthand. Your eyes peeked back at us through the space between the seats as you eavesdropped. Then your heads popped up over the top as you knelt up and turned fully around.
"You guys were there?!"
It was a pretty long bus ride. Jeff and I didn't have anything better to do, so we lied.
"Yeah," I said. "It was wild!"
"Oh, man," Jeff said, laughing in a way that I thought would sink us. "It was awesome!"
But you guys must have been as eager to hear a good story as we were to tell one, because your eyes only lit up brighter.
"Did you guys, like, get drunk?" you, Mike, said.
I said yes. Though I had never gotten drunk in my life.
You were amazed. So I pretended to be amazed at your amazement. "You guys have never gotten drunk?"
You had not. Wally, you mentioned that your dad drank beer and that you'd seen him get "pretty tipsy," as you put it, and that that was funny. (I remember your dad as being a particularly nice guy actually. He was an assistant soccer coach when we were on the Wolves, right? In fifth or sixth grade? Tell him hello from me.)
"Oh, man," I said. "It's the best! Right, Jeff?"
Then we told stories about the party, going into great detail about the wildness and the craziness of all the debauchery we were imagining in our minds. Most of my details were coming from rock star biographies I'd read: No One Here Gets Out Alive, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, Hammer of the Gods. Pure fantasy, as far removed from my life as it was from yours. But you were buying it. So I kept on.
"You've never gotten a blow job?" Again, like I couldn't believe it.
Here's how laughable it was for me to be recounting sexual exploits at that time in my life: do you remember the episode of the TV show Cheers when Diane helps Sam write his memoirs, and Dick Cavett reads it and tells them that they need to spice it up with more salacious material about Sam's playboy days because sex sells, and so Sam and Diane go back into Sam's office to work on revisions and a little while later Diane comes out to the bar and asks Coach for a glass of water, but instead of drinking it she splashes it on her face and says, "Boy, can I write!" Well, that bus ride was bumpy, as bus rides always are, and my blue jeans were snug fitting, as blue jeans in the early '80s always were—as embarrassing as this is to admit, I had to cut short my graphic telling of a fictional seven-minutes-in-heaven session for the same reason that Diane needed a glass of water. Boy, could I write.
"You've never gotten high?"
Jeff and I debated our earlier assertion. Maybe getting high was actually better than getting drunk. And which was the best drug? Pot? Speed? Cocaine? LSD? There were so many drugs we'd never tried that we told you we had tried, it was hard to choose a favorite. We had fun talking about it, though. And you seemed to be having fun listening, too. This was one of the most enjoyable bus rides home from a class trip any of us had had, I'm pretty sure.
So after it ended, after we got back to school, after school let out that day, Jeff and I decided to keep the fun going. We came up with a plan to turn our successful ruse into a more tangible prank. We went back to his house and spent the afternoon making fake drugs, which we would then present to you in a display of the peer pressure we'd learned about from ABC Afterschool Specials and when Nancy Reagan was on Diff'rent Strokes.
Standing by the sink in the Cadmans' kitchen, we spread out our materials on a tray: oregano, baking soda, the kind of ice-cream sprinkles that were tiny round balls of all different colors, Extra Strength Tylenol capsules, tinfoil, and Jeff's stepfather's rolling papers. (He rolled tobacco in them. But thinking back to the groovy John Lennon glasses frames he wore and the enthusiasm with which he showed me his original-pressing vinyl copy of Blind Faith's Blind Faith one night when I slept over there, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that if we'd looked around that house with any serious intent, we might have found some real pot to go with our oregano. Which would have probably freaked us out and ruined our whole gag.)
There was a window above the sink, and I imagined Jeff's neighbors looking in and seeing us rolling oregano into a cigarette, and folding the baking soda into a tinfoil envelope, and twisting the Tylenol capsules apart and dumping out the yellowish powder and replacing it with the sprinkles—which looked somehow "druggier" to us, more like a picture you'd see on a poster in the nurse's office—and sealing them back up with some spit. This would be a stupid thing to have to explain to the police.
I put the product in a sandwich baggie and hid it in the outside pocket of my knapsack. The next morning at school, Jeff and I coaxed you guys into the boys' room between classes. We didn't know what your reaction would be. Would you fall for it? Would you freak out? Would you tell the teachers? Would you take it? That seemed very unlikely, but hey, we didn't know. Who knows anybody that well, especially in seventh grade? And we'd all heard so much about the irresistible, almost demonic power of peer pressure. I hoped that you'd take some and then experience a placebo effect and start acting all funny, whereupon we would have the chance to say, "Ha-ha—you can't be feeling anything, it's fake!" I was prepared to swallow one of the sprinkle pills in front of you as encouragement.
"You guys are cool, right?" I said, checking the door to the bathroom over my shoulder. You looked suspicious but nodded a yes.
I pulled the stuff out of my knapsack. I took the joint out of the bag and held it out in front of me in my palm. Jeff opened the tinfoil to show you the white powder inside and presented the pills in a plastic bag. We'd done an impressive job. Everything looked very realistic.
Your eyes bugged, and you stiffened and took a step backward and stammered a refusal.
"No, no, no," you said, Mike, holding your hands out in front of you like this was a stickup. "No."
You giggled nervously, Wally, and moved to make an escape. "I ... I ... I gotta get out of here."
This was the same boys' room where Bobby Spano and Joey Figliolia used to pin me to the wall and call me "faggot" and muss up the hair that I'd been trying so hard to comb back in place every day after being out in the wind during lunchtime recess. I was tiny, and my hair was a curly mop, naturally all over the place, but I liked to grow it long because of Jim Morrison. But I also liked (or "desperately needed" is perhaps a more accurate phrase) for it to look just so if I was to be seen by any other people. Because of being in seventh grade. I hated that place a lot. That bathroom, Markham Place, seventh grade, all of it.
My miserableness, I would think, is what led me to play such a mean-spirited trick on you guys. "Shit runs downhill," my father used to say when I'd talk to him about bigger kids picking on me. He'd speak in a tone that acknowledged the sad unfairness of the world, but one that implied sympathy for the bullies, too. Maybe they had older brothers, he suggested, or mean parents who pushed them around at home. I don't mean to excuse myself by saying this. And I'd guess you'd know it already. But it's generally true, right? People who pick on other people have probably been picked on themselves. Bobby Spano took pleasure in seeing me scared in that bathroom—I tried to be as tough as I could, but he was way bigger than me and regularly twisted my arm behind my back until tears filled my eyes and I whimpered some sort of "uncle." I, in turn, reveled in the looks on your faces, your widened eyes and quivering lips, as you backed away from the joint I was offering you. Reveled in the little bit of power I had found.
"Come on, just try it," I said, mimicking the villainous, bad influencers from all the "Just Say No" commercials. "It'll make you feel good."
I was awful.
You pushed past us and hustled out of there. Jeff and I laughed and congratulated each other, but it was halfhearted, anticlimactic. The prank itself paled in comparison to the process of setting it up. What were we supposed to do now, with these extremely lifelike fake drugs we'd spent so much time and care in preparing? And what did it say about us that we'd spent so much time and care in preparing fake drugs just to play a trick on you? We looked at each other warily and walked back into the hallway, off to our next class.
Dear Owner of a Bistro in Paris,
Sorry for spitting a mouthful of hamburger back onto my plate in front of your other customers.
This was the summer of 1983. I was sitting at a table in your restaurant with my father. We had come to Paris with his parents, my grandparents, on our way to Berlin, where we were going to see where they had lived before leaving Germany during the Holocaust. Like a Roots thing. My grandparents were Jewish.
I was twelve years old, which is a weird age to take a trip with your father. (It's probably more accurate just to say that twelve is a weird age.) On the one hand, it was wonderful. Flying in an airplane, staying in a hotel, seeing the different architecture and fashion, it was all like a movie—which is how you want everything to feel when you're twelve, or at least I did. This trip was even more special because we'd left my mom and five-year-old sister back home in New Jersey. My father sent me down to the boulangerie every morning, by myself, to buy us a baguette and cheese. "Fromage," I practiced saying, rolling the r, and made sure to count the change carefully.
At the same time, there was a lot of push and pull between me and my father that summer. Our relationship, which had always been very warm and pal to pal, was changing. Rock 'n' roll had replaced baseball as my principal obsession; I had recently come to an understanding of the notion of coolness and that this ran counter to enjoying time spent with one's family. And cool was something I very much wanted to be.
So Paris was a week of sightseeing and museums and walking around with a vague awareness of being in an in-between state as a person. I remember being bored, and complaining about being bored, and wishing that I could just stay in the hotel and work on lists in the spiral notebook I'd brought, wherein I obsessively ranked and erased and reranked again the things that were important to me: rock groups, rock songs, rock albums, singers, guitarists, drummers, bass players. Even Jim Morrison's grave, which we visited on my insistence, was a disappointment. It looked pretty much like all the other graves in the cemetery—just with some graffiti and a little two-foot-tall statue of his head. I was expecting something more along the lines of the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty.
But the buzz and excitement of Paris at night! It really is a beautiful city. I can see why you've chosen to live in it. After my grandparents had gone to bed, my father took me out walking to look at the lights and the cars and the glamorous people in fancy clothes. I felt very grown-up and cosmopolitan. Swashbuckling even. Like we were a pair of playboys out on the town, staying up late, cruising the streets. We came upon a building with a façade of red panels with silhouettes of naked ladies on them—like the mud flaps behind the back wheels of eighteen-wheeler trucks. My father noticed me looking at them. "The world-famous Crazy Horse Saloon," he told me, with a devilish, man-to-man sort of wink. "It's a strip club."
I'm not sure why this struck me like it did. The year before, he'd taken me to see Porky's, the first R-rated movie I'd ever seen, and a very dirty one, filled with nudity. And we'd enjoyed it; we had repeated the jokes to each other for months afterward. (Especially the one where the guys are at the diner, being interrogated by the police because one of them, the big football player named Meat, is drunk, and they're all lying to protect him—"No, no! He's not drunk! He's just tired!"—until the policeman threatens to arrest anyone who doesn't tell him the truth, and so they all immediately turn rat, and the little guy, Pee Wee, blurts out an overly enthusiastic, "The son of a bitch does it all the time!" We really liked that joke.) But as I said, my relationship with my father was changing that summer, and at that moment, out front of the Crazy Horse, realizing that just beyond that door there were women, real live women, on a stage with no clothes on, I felt a twist in my stomach and suddenly much less okay about being there with him. Swashbuckling with one's father is not swashbuckling at all. I stepped away to put more distance between us on the sidewalk. There could have been no sidewalk wide enough.
The next night, on a dark, crowded, stone-paved path that spiraled down a big hill where we'd gone to see the Basilique du Sacré Coeur after dinner, a strange man with a beard and foul breath lurched out of the shadows and grabbed me by the arm and said something loud and aggressive into my face in French. A quick blur later, before I'd even really registered what was happening, my father had grabbed the guy and slammed him against the wall on the side of the street hard enough that he crumpled to the ground. (The guy was likely headed in that direction already, drunk or drugged or both.) There was shouting and commotion and my grandparents hustled me away.
My father caught up to us a minute later. I don't remember exactly what my immediate reaction was. I don't think it was a major one. We walked back to the hotel like normal. I was perhaps experiencing some shock.
Later, in our room, as we were getting ready to go to bed, I pestered him into letting me turn on the TV. He'd said no at first—all the shows were in French; what was the point, other than to zone out? But eventually, he relented. I found a Japanese movie that looked interesting. A detective thriller, like a James Bond movie. A cool guy in a slick suit was searching an apartment for clues. Downstairs, we learned, an enormous thug—a sumo wrestler basically—was on his way to come kill him.
The thug burst in on the cool guy and there was a terrific, extremely violent fight. Furniture broke, glass shattered, the cool guy being beaten to a pulp. A bloody pulp. There was lots of blood. It was very graphic.
"Come on," my father said, putting his dopp kit back into his suitcase. "Why do you want to watch this?"
Excerpted from Public Apology by Dave Bry. Copyright © 2014 Dave Bry. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dave Bry is a freelance writer and editor. His writing can be found at The Awl, True/Slant and BET.com.
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