The True Story of “Mr. Apology”

Allan Bridge (pictured below) was an ambitious painter with a few gallery shows under his belt when he moved from Washington, DC, to New York City in 1977. Carpentry helped to make ends meet, but so did shoplifting. Then the guilt got to him. In 1980, he put up flyers in downtown neighborhoods, encouraging people to call and apologize for their wrongs……without jeopardizing themselves. The phone line connected to an answering machine in his West Chelsea loft. Callers were instructed to “not identify yourself and call from a pay phone to prevent tracing.” The flyers made clear that there was no association with police, government or religious organizations. Calls came in immediately: confessions of violence, infidelity, theft, and more. One man called in claiming to have killed his mother, and as expected, someone even vowed to murder Allan. Then there were calls that touched him, like the one from a runaway who said she was sorry for leaving home because she didn’t feel loved. Occasionally, Allan would pick up an incoming call and talk, especially if the caller sounded suicidal. The line grew to include extensions — Press 1 for crime, Press 2 for cheating — and it became all-consuming. In the early ‘90s, Allan slept very little and worked minimally at carpentry. In 1995, after feeling increasingly isolated and exhausted from bearing the weight of "hearing the sins from all humanity,” Allan, who was 50 by then, was ready to figure out the next phase of his life. He was illegally scuba diving in Shinnecock Inlet on Long Island when fate made the decision for him. He was coming up from the water when a jet ski hit him. He died as a result and the jet ski driver was never caught. That begs the question: What would Mr. Apology have wanted from the person who killed him? Right…..he would want the person to apologize, let go, and not carry around the guilt.