All Apologies

The United States has one wretched president--and 6,000 ways to feel sorry about

Thanksgiving week, and still no riots in the streets. Still no fitting expression of the collective dread, embarrassment, and anger that nibbles at the margins of objectivity and four more years and business as unusual. Nothing that gets to the ennui and loneliness that, overnight, replaced all that Pollyanna-by-the-Pompeii-lights hope and camaraderie. And then, a quiet riot. Hundreds of thousands strong. In an e-mail.

It comes from Theresa in Minneapolis, amid all the other e-mails, all the mutilated red vs. blue maps, the wiseass PDF files, the mustn't-read op-ed pieces. It says, "For you!" And the attachment says, "Sorry Everybody." And the attachment (www.sorryeverybody.com) opens and there is a picture of a bald and bearded man holding a beer, and his photo is autographed as follows: "Dear world, please forgive our inappropriate erection." The word "erection" is crossed out then and replaced with "election," and the man's message concludes, "A lot of us don't understand it either--Jon."

The photo looks as if it was taken in the wee hours of November 3, 2004, perhaps in a college dorm room somewhere in the heart of the beast, in the Midwest, and Jon's photo is followed by another photo of another bearded man, probably Jon's roommate, who looks like a speedballing John Belushi or sedated Jack Black, and whose hastily scrawled-on ripped-out notebook page says, "I'm so sorry. I did everything I could." An unlit cigarette hangs from his mouth and the lighting is harsh. The moment has been captured forever in all its weary defeat--an onscreen time capsule that scrolls past and then is gone.

www.sorryeverybody.com

The next photo features a bereaved, bespectacled man, and his hastily ripped-out notebook page reads, "49 Percent of Us Didn't Vote for Him Either." The penmanship is sloppy and the words reveal a decided desperation and lack of premeditation. And the next photo presents a dishy, wild-eyed guy with short, cropped hair and his words, Yo so apesadumbrado, muy muy apesadumbrado! Sono spiacente! Molto molto spiacente! IK verontschuldig me! And the shot after that is of a mysterious lass with splintered fingernail polish holding a computer-generated printout over her face that says, "Two Nations Under Bush's God. Sorry everyone!--New England."

That one yields to the visage of a wry-eyed, purse-lipped woman who would be a supermodel in a much smarter universe, and whose red-marker message goes, "Believe Me, About Half of Us Are Very Goddamn Sorry." And a few pictures below is a photo-shopped portrait of two panda bears, the first of whose voice-bubble says, "Sorry world, I was eating bamboo and forgot to vote." And the other panda says, "It's not our fault. It's really good."

And that is just the first page. Five-hundred-plus (at press time) pages from every state in the union and most every country in the world follow, all stuffed with self-portraits inspired by the first few. Six thousand photographs in all, and thousands more on the way. It is an internet virus of the most inspirational order, started by a USC student. The fact that he ("James") and his nationwide collective of renegade webmasters aren't cockily claiming credit gives legs to the idea that this is the most perfectly organic reaction to Mission Unaccomplished yet.

What's more, it is a phenomenon that transcends the makers' original intent of blowing on the post-election bruise, having evolved into the best singular expression of how it feels to be walking the planet right now. It is thousands of voices describing the collective soul-sickness that was so apparent even before 11/02, and searching for what might come next. It is the dead and buried Kerry lawn signs reincarnated as redemption songs. It's not, "We Are the World." It's, we are the world.

There are cartoons, quotations, Jesuses, calls-to-arms, dogs, cats, fish, straights, queers, groups, singles, couples, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, families, kids, teenagers, middle-agers, seniors. There is an extremely pregnant belly Sharpeed with, "My Mom is sorry in MN." There is a sepia-tone portrait of two precocious young men and a curt, "That's me on the left. I'm 88 now. A WW2 vet. Not only am I sorry, I'm PO'ed. And if my brother on the right were still alive, he'd be PO'ed too!!"

The apologies are spelled out in Halloween candy, on a Scrabble board, on laptops, hands, chests, Post-It notes, cardboard boxes, legal pads. There are poems, profanity, prayers, at least one pirate, and several promises to "fix it in 2008."

There are genuine boo-boo lips, tears, and guilt. One woman writes "sorry" a few hundred times on a sheet of paper, like Bart Simpson doing penance at the chalkboard. A young marine and, presumably, his sister pose with ashen faces and a sign that reads, "Sincere apologies from Evanston, IL and Fallujah, Iraq."

And for every heartfelt "I tried really hard," and "I did everything I could," and "Sorry does not say enough," the guilt-wracked faces suggest that the subjects realize that they did not, in fact, do everything they could. Just in case, there are tough-lovers who remind us, "Make sure it doesn't happen again" and "It's not just Bush, it's the system" and "WAKE UP!--Austria" and "Don't go quietly."

And finally there is forgiveness, ping-ponged from all ports, telling the apologists that their messages have been received, reminding them to keep the faith. There are sweet salutations, such as "Hey, Canada, can I come crash on your couch for the next four years?," "Wanna go get a beer sometime?," "Love," "XOXOX." And then there is Ervin from Hungary: "They say apologizing is not a matter of self-abasement, but a matter of pride. You are the best examples of the truth behind these words."

And so, Thanksgiving 2005. The morning papers, year in review:

All agree that the end of the Iraq, Iran, and Syria wars came in large part from the Sorry Everybody movement, which started as a website but whose creativity fed on its own creativity and soon grew into a benefit album, a hit Broadway musical, and a chain of vegetarian restaurant/music clubs. It is no overstatement to say that, much like the Vietnam War protests of the '60s and '70s, www.sorryeverybody.com was the beginning of a new way of thinking and doing things.

The tipping point officially came when President Bush posed on the White House lawn in a T-shirt that read, "My Bad. Father, forgive me. I will now go clean up the mess I made."

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or jwalsh@citypages.com .

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