With so many the self-aggrandizing forms of social media at our immediate disposal, the need for an "Apology Line" may seem an unnecessary cherry on top of a self-expression cake. And yet, after laying fallow for several years after its creator was killed in a scuba diving accident, another artist is picking up where the project left off.
The Apology Line was conceived by conceptual artist Allan Bridge in 1980. At the time, it was simply a message system, a place in which callers could anonymously confess just about anything—murders, scandals and an entire pantheon of offenses in between. One man, whose tape was aired on an episode of This American Life, started his apology out small: He was sorry for breaking some windows at town hall. Then it got bigger:
"I’m sorry for harassing the Republican officials, making the bomb threats and the death notices," he stammered. "I’m sorry for the terrorism, and the firebombing… the guy paid me to do to some guy's house."
The guilty used the line as an outlet for 15 years, and the messages, which were recorded, were used as fodder for various other artistic outlets—performances, documentaries, film. The best confessions were compiled four times a year into Apology, a magazine started by Bridge in 1993.
Bridge's death in 1995 marked the end of the Apology Line. But recently, a new Brooklyn artist has relaunched the project, posting flyers around the city notifying passersby that if they have something to say, they can say it here.
According to the Times, the number has received fewer than 200 calls, and most of the messages lack the weight of the Line's predecessor. But the artist, a recovering addict who opted to remain anonymous, said his discovery of the project dovetailed nicely with his 12-step recovery effort, particularly Step 9—making amends. “It’s an outlet, and some people need that outlet,” he told the paper.
Flyers for the service have been popping up around the city for months, but perhaps the Times coverage will be the boost it needs to get rolling. Who knows? If you feel like confessing your darkest secrets to an anonymous voicemail, call *67 (347) 201-2446 and leave a message. The "*67" is intended to prevent your number from being traced, but even the least paranoid government skeptic will wonder whether pressing a couple of buttons will really protect callers from the meddling arm of the NSA.
The original Apology Line is a relic from a different time—a time before Twitter, selfies, YouTube, Craigslist. Hell, in 1995, we didn't even have LiveJournal! But perhaps that's precisely why New Yorkers need the Apology Line now more than ever. While our online identities revolve around presenting our ideal face, shouldn't there be a foil, an outlet which promotes not just the best side of ourselves, but maybe our worst?
“I wanted to apologize to a friend of mine I yelled at in my building the other day...we kind of both went at it for a while," one man reportedly said in a message. “I’m sorry, Alexis. I shouldn’t have left you,” said another. Really not the kind of thing you put in an Instagram, is it.