December 12, 1988 12:00 PM

Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” What a whopper that was—as anybody knows who ever spilled floor polish on a sister’s wig, rammed a police car with Papa’s Ferrari or just failed to remember an anniversary. Being in any relationship means at least occasionally having to patch the punctured balloon of affection with an apology. But, like the Fonz, too many of us just can’t bear to say the S word.

Now you don’t have to. A 26-year-old Californian named Loren Harris has founded a company that will apologize for you. Apology Accepted, Harris says, provides “the tailored approach to saying I’m sorry. We’re the Pierre Cardin of apology. We’re the locksmiths who reopen the doors of communication. Whatever it takes, we provide—from a box of chocolates to a yacht.”

Weird idea? Granted. But it’s one whose time has apparently come. Though AA opened for business less than two months ago and has served only 30 clients, all who could be reached were delighted with the experience—which usually unfolds as follows. “When a client calls,” says Harris, “I try to make them open up on the phone. A lot of people won’t admit they’re calling for themselves. They say, ‘I have a friend who….’ So I have to dig.” Once the problem is laid out, Harris and his 19-year-old partner, Brian Brasher, offer three levels of solutions: budget, moderate or deluxe. The client chooses, the partners work up a proposal, call the client back to refine details, then show up at the offended party’s home or place of business and deliver the apology in person.

Apology’s first client was a young woman named Doreen who had offended her boyfriend, Steve, by keeping an innocent rendezvous with an old flame. Harris proposed a budget apology: 20 roses in a crystal vase. Of the 20, he suggested, 17 should be white (to signify contrition) and three red (to indicate how many months they had been together). When he delivered the apology, Harris instructed Steve, “Every day replace one white rose with a new red rose, to show that your love is growing and your pain is dwindling. As for the vase, its shape is solid and masculine, and you’ll both know what it stands for.” Reduced to tears, Steve rushed to the phone, called Doreen and told her she was “definitely forgiven.” AA’s fee: $100.

Business clients, Harris says, usually go deluxe. “They want to give expensive gifts,” he says, “but they don’t want the recipient to feel bribed. So I try to develop a theme.” A TV producer was offered an assignment by a top executive but couldn’t do the work right away. So he asked AA to devise an apology that would stroke the great man’s ego—and put the job on hold. “What I saw,” Harris says, “was a solid relationship with a time problem. So I scouted up a clock embedded in a block of granite and delivered it with an apology that ended with this thought: ‘Our relationship is as solid as granite, and a brief passage of time won’t damage it.’ The guy loved it. He carried the clock around like a kid with a new toy.” AA’s fee (the highest yet): $470.

One of AA’s most gratifying successes involved the case of a 24-year-old aerobics instructor named Lori. “She really loved her boyfriend, a musician named Michael, but she compulsively mistreated him,” Harris says. “When she realized the damage she had done, she felt too ashamed to say she was sorry.” Says Lori: “I knew a mere apology wouldn’t be enough, so I called Apology Accepted. We spoke for a long time. Loren really listened to me and helped me realize things I hadn’t before. I felt completely confident with my heart in his hands.”

Harris showed up without notice at a studio where Michael was recording and handed him one yellow rose and a teddy bear—Lori’s favorite love token. Then he said: “Lori wants to be with you and you only. Do not let her get away with what she has been doing. She has been mistreating you because she is beautiful, and macho guys have taken advantage of her. But she wants only you. This is the only way she can say it.” Overwhelmed, Michael instantly called Lori and thanked her. “Then,” he says, “I hid in the men’s room and got a little misty.” Lori adds, “We’re more demonstrative now than we’ve been in a long time.” AA’s fee: $33.

Such successes have a more-than-monetary meaning for Harris. “When I see the desperation on my client’s faces,” he says, “I feel like Miss Lone-lyhearts. I’ve just got to come through for them. And besides, by helping others I’m helping myself. I’ve always had a hard time apologizing too.”

In fact, Harris had a hard time—period. Born out of wedlock in Berrien Springs, a small town in Michigan, he was adopted by a single mother who died when he was 13. For the next five years he was shunted from foster home to foster home. “I saw ugly things,” he says, and he called them as he saw them. “I had this mouth on me,” he remembers. Four years in the Air Force taught him to zip it, and at 24 he arrived in L.A. “all naive and bottle-eyed.” He was managing an apartment house in Hollywood when he dreamed up Apology Accepted. The notion hit him while he was watching Punchline and heard Sally Field apologize to her husband for spending too many nights at comedy clubs. He offered a partnership to Brasher, who was then his assistant manager, and put an ad in L.A. Weekly. The phone has been ringing ever since. To cut costs, Harris is still running AA from his home, but he’s already weighing offers to open franchises. “I don’t just see dollars stacked up,” he says. “Millions of people could benefit from this. Even if an apology isn’t accepted, the client wins. He can say, ‘There’s nothing more I could have done. Now it’s the other person’s problem.’ And then he can quit walking around with all those ghosts inside.”

—Brad Darrach, and Stanley Young in Los Angeles

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