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SORRY MAN RETURNS, HAT AND BOOK IN HAND

Dave Bry, below, makes an appearance on the Green to read from his new collection of essays, ‘Public Apology,’ at River Road Books in Fair Haven on Thursday. (Photos by Dan Natale. Click to enlarge)

By DAN NATALE

Have you ever wanted to say “sorry” for all of the dumb, mean, embarrassing, or negligent things you’ve done that keep you up at night, cringing with regret?

Well, a Little Silver native has done just that, and he wants everyone to know about it.

Dave Bry recently released a book titled Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples With a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time, in which he says sorry to his friends and family for as many mistakes as he can muster. Nothing is off limits: he apologizes for everything from selling a classmate fake drugs to throwing beer cans onto Bon Jovi’s lawn to renting the wrong DVD for his cancer-ridden father.

Bry, 42, often posts at The AWL, a pop culture website. Some of the essays from his book are posted on the website, along with his thoughts on Tyler the Creator, Lana Del Rey, Leonard Cohen, and a plethora of other entertainers. Tonight, Bry will be read excerpts from his book at River Road Books in Fair Haven.

redbankgreen spoke to Bry by phone earlier this week.

When did you live in Little Silver?
I was born in Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, and I lived in Little Silver my whole childhood and moved out when I went to Connecticult College.

Just going by the name, Little Silver seems like a place where nothing bad enough happens to require an apology. Is this true?
No. Actually, I think it’s kind of funny, growing up in a town named Little Silver.  You sort of hear little chimes playing when you say the name. The name Little Silver sounded sort of elfin.

Certainly to answer the question it sounds like it was posed in jest… no, coming from a town that is as quaint-seeming and placid as Little Silver might seem doesn’t mean it’s gonna make people that are gonna have to apologize for less. If anything, it’s gonna make people that are gonna have to apologize for more.

It’s a pretty advantaged place to live, and if you’re growing up there, you’re probably having a pretty good start in life. But it makes for – and I don’t even blame people for this, because it’s not so much their fault, and I was even susceptible to it in certain way – but it makes for a feeling of entitlement, it makes for being spoiled, it makes for situations where you’re pretty out of touch with the real world, and maybe out of touch with things that are different for people that are different from you. So there’s lots of embarrassing things that happen, and maybe some offensive things that happen because coming from such a privileged place, we don’t have a good sense of what the world is like for other people and we don’t have a good sense of how we look to other people.

When I look back at it, I probably came off as a spoiled, preppy, drunk jerk a lot of times, and that’s embarrassing to me.

After moving to Brooklyn, would you say these problems from Little Silver are spotlighted a bit more? Maybe you became more aware of it because New York is the most diverse place on the planet?
I just moved to Brooklyn. I lived in Manhattan my first 15 years in the city. Yes, I think moving to New York you learn about the different types of people in the world. I think If I had to answer one reason why I like to live in New York, it’s for that reason. I enjoy living in New York because you see different types of people all day, and I’m interested enough in all types of people. That alone makes it more interesting for me to live here, cause it’s not easy to live. There’s a lot that you give up living here, and it’s a struggle and a challenge to make it every day in New York.

What other jobs have you had career besides being a writer?
That’s it pretty much it. When I was in high school, I delivered pizzas and I was a dishwasher, and when I was in college I worked in a school for emotionally disturbed children. When I graduated, I got an internship at Vibe magazine, and then I began to freelance fact check at Vibe, and then eventually started to write and became an editor at Vibe. So I spent the first eight years at Vibe, and then since then I’ve been at XXL magazine.

Where did you get the idea for your book?
The first time I remember thinking of the idea, I was jogging in the woods at my sister’s house upstate, and I don’t know why I was thinking about this, but I wondered what would be a good magazine to start? I envisioned that this magazine called Public Apology could exist, where people could write apologies and essays and stories that were sort of based on apology. That was the first time thinking that as a thought.

Actually, I think it was around the time I lost my job. Yeah, shortly after losing my job at XXL in 2009, when the market collapsed, and lots of publications closed, and many other publications had to shed a lot of staff. I lost my staff position in early 2009, and so a friend of a friend introduced me to this guy Choire Sicha, one of the guys who started the Awl. She told me, you should send Choire some story ideas, because he’s interested in writers, and I sent him this idea that I had in my head about basically writing essays in the form of a public apology. He liked the idea, and eventually started publishing them in the Awl.

It doesn’t seem like you’ve been an exceptionally cruel person throughout your life. Do you think a public apology was warranted?
I would look at these things more as misdemeanors than felonies. Cruel is a good word. I have never been a cruel person, I don’t think. I mean, there are instances of cruelty when I was growing up, and there were situations where I was bullied as a kid, and other situations where I was the bully. Young people engage in cruelty sometimes, and I probably did at some points. But in general, would I describe myself as cruel? No. I think I would describe myself as a nice person. So in that way, this book is more about misdemeanors than felonies. It’s about the small ways that I look at my life in retrospect and see things that I could have done differently, and ways that I could have behaved better.

To take very high-minded look at it, it could be seen as an overall effort to become a better person, which I always sort of hoped to try to be. So that’s what I see the book as: a deep, heart-wrenching, self-flagellating apology for the really terrible things I’ve done.

Do you think this is something that everyone should consider doing?
I don’t know if everyone should write them down, or go public with them. But I do think that people should apologize for when they screw up. I know that people have kind of a hangup about it. I remember growing up and watching the Fonz on Happy Days, and one of his social tics was he could never even say the words “I’m sorry,” and he would always stutter.

In politics sometimes you hear that the United States should never apologize for anything. It should never apologize for bombing a wedding full of women and children in Afghanistan? I think that’s bullshit. We should definitely apologize when we’ve done something wrong. And I think that apology is looked at as weakness, when in fact I think it takes strength to apologize. So I think of apology in terms of being a strong enough person to own up to the truth of the situation as you see it, and if you think you’ve done something wrong, it shouldn’t be the biggest deal to say you’re sorry for it.

Who do you think should say sorry to everyone?
Who do I really think should apologize? Well, President Bush. He probably did the most damage that I can think of in my lifetime. He should apologize to the world every morning when he wakes up. That should be the first thing he does.
Everyone should. Everyone does things that they regret. I think apology is a healthy thing for people to do, for themselves and the rest of the world. But if I’m choosing one person, today it’s George Bush.

Is there anything that the state of New Jersey should apologize for?
Well, that show ‘Jersey Shore’ sort of highlighted the most negative aspects about New Jersey, I guess. New Jersey has a lot to apologize for. But at the same time New Jersey has a lot to be proud of and celebrate. Maybe especially in New Jersey those things sort of bleed together and become one in the same.

One of the essays in the book is an apology to Bon Jovi, and I’m not a fan of Bon Jovi’s music and Bon Jovi is something that New Jersey should apologize for. And at the same time, a lot of people enjoy Bon Jovi’s music, and in lots of ways he really represents a lot of what’s great about New Jersey: being loud and brash and not afraid to look dumb. I think a lot of these attributes come from being the sister state to one of the biggest cities in the world, and feeling like the ugly kid brother.

There are lots of negative aspects of this, and a lot of positive ones. The pride in the ugliness and the pride in the underdog status is great in New Jersey. These are aspects that I like about New Jersey. But then, the loud clothes, the boorishness, the trashiness… actually not trashiness, I kind of love trashiness. The dumbness of some of it. Really my feelings on this matter are best summarized in my essay to Bon Jovi At the end of it I provide a long list of adjectives to describe New Jersey, and they’re a real mix. There’s beauty and ugliness. There’s stupidity and intelligence. There’s love and there’s hate. There’s everything, and it’s all mixed together in New Jersey in a way that I think is visible and upfront and honest. I like New Jerseys honesty about stuff. I like the lack of pretension. I like to think of it as a place where people are real people and they’re not afraid to be real people.

Do you think Bon Jovi deserved an apology? You seemed a bit apprehensive to apologize to him in your book. He seems to have it pretty good, and probably had some servants to pick up your beer cans.
Yeah, I don’t think how much money someone has plays into whether or not they deserve an apology. The way I look at these is that I want to own up to what I have done. So it doesn’t matter. Bon Jovi could be a serial killer and he still might deserve an apology. If I do something wrong to anyone else, then I should apologize, even if it was Hitler. The way that other people behave and what they do should not go into considering whether or not I should apologize. I should apologize based on my own behavior and my honest assessment of my failings in a situation. I think it’s wrong to throw beer cans on people’s lawns, so that’s what I’m saying sorry for.

There are a lot of references to Little Silver, Red Bank, and other places in Monmouth County in your book which would probably be nostalgic for your graduating class. Do you think other people find a bit of nostalgia and some familiarity in it?
I would hope so. The word nostalgia is not the prettiest word to me, but I know that I have to kind of cop to nostalgia in the book. I would hope that people in New Jersey would recognize things that they remember and like or at least relate to in their own lives. I like the idea of the book being a document of New Jersey in the ’80s, so the first sections of the book take place in the ’80s, and I hoped that this book would be a document on that. So in that way, yeah ,I hope that people could relate.

Is there anyone you were too nervous to apologize to, and if so, would you like to apologize for your lack of apology?
Umm no. There were a few that I didn’t put in the book, but because I was worried that the people wouldn’t want their stories to be told in a public setting, which doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad. It’s the feelings of other people that I was taking into consideration.

A point that I want to make with this too, is more than the idea of saying sorry for things that I’ve done, I like telling stories, and I try to write essays about what it’s like to be a human being alive in a human being’s body. The apology at a basic level is a gimmick. It’s a way to get into a story. It’s a perspective to tell a story from. It’s honest to me, and I do think about my past and regrets, and think about things in those terms.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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