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Smiley on construction instructions September 24, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley.
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Doodle on a “do not disturb” sign. Portland, OR.

I love how the smiley face has become a kind of universal symbol for “I know I sound bossy/mean but I still like you!” We drop it at the end of emails or Facebook comments we worry might get misinterpreted as mean-spirited; we add it to birthday cards whose jokes are (humorously) at the expense of the recipient; and, as this person has done, we add it to signs with strict orders. In this case, it’s a sign on an apartment in our building that the landlord was refurbishing, and the sign was instructing workers to stay off the newly-sanded and waxed wood floors and to leave the kitchen sink alone for a few days. But the first thing I noticed was the smiley face. 🙂


Gas station sign in Texas August 30, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley, Travel.
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Smiley sign on a Texas highway. Photo taken August 2012.

As we wrap up our Texas trip, I have to share this smiley sign for a gas station on a Texas highway. It’s not the first such sign I’ve seen in Texas, and big as this state is, there are bound to be dozens — or hundreds — more, so keep your eyes peeled, Texans! 🙂

Smileys as restroom signs July 16, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley.
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Smiley restroom markers. Bread and Ocean bakery and deli, Manzanita, OR.

My wife and I went to the Oregon coast today. It was GLORIOUS! Most of our day we spent lounging on the beach, listening to the surf while reading our books or watching kite-flyers. But for lunch, we stopped in at Bread and Ocean, this delicious little bakery/deli where we had paninis and cookies.

Bread and Ocean’s logo includes two sets of squiggly lines, three vertical squiggly lines for the heat rising off freshly baked bread, and three horizontal squiggly lines for the waves of the ocean. And on the restroom wall, they repeat the logo lines like hair on two smiley faces, to indicate that the restroom was unisex.

Happiness all around! 🙂

“Smile! You’re at Mr. Smiley’s!” June 14, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Movies, Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley.
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Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in American Beauty.

Oh, Lester Burnham. What do we do with you?

Okay, I know, American Beauty gets a lot of flack these days as overrated, as too tied to a particular moment in the zeitgeist — too tied to the last of the Clinton years, when everything was going fairly well but no one was exactly happy and we didn’t yet have any overt reasons for feeling that way, and how all of us just wanted to cut loose, regress into adolescence, and be free, man! — and so not really the timeless classic we all thought it was going to be. And yeah, there are probably a couple of halfway good reasons for the backlash. But you know what? I don’t care. I still love the movie, and I still love Lester Burnham.

And I really, really love this scene in the movie, when Lester’s wife Carolyn and her lover pull into the drive-thru at Lester’s “least possible amount of responsibilty” job: Mr. Smiley’s. Sure, I love it for the name and all the smiley faces everywhere — the bags, the window, Lester’s nametag, Lester’s face. But I love it even more for the result: busted and desperate, Carolyn begins a sloppy apology, but Lester interrupts her and — sincerely — tells her, “Honey, it’s okay. I just want you to be happy.”

It’s a wonderful prefiguring of Lester’s final words, when he asks his daughter’s friend, “Is Jane happy?” The friend assures him that Jane is happy, and Lester smiles and simply says, “Good.”

So what do we do with you today, Lester Burnham? The same thing we’ve been doing since we met you in 1999: we smile, because you just want us to be happy.

Reader-submitted “smiley dispenser” poster + the “Take a smile” movement April 12, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Reader submission, Smiley.
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"Smiley Dispenser." From the Smiley Company; submitted by Smiley Italia.

My new Facebook friend Smiley Italia sent this to me yesterday. It seems to come from the Smiley Company, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this — I’ve caught sight of posters like this in hallways in real life, and several months ago, another friend of mine, Barbara, sent me a different version that you might be more familiar with as a popular Internet meme:

A quick perusal of Google images turns up several other variations, some of which look like these:

It’s such a wonderful concept, the idea that instead of a phone number for a babysitter or a guy selling his guitar, you can simply take a smile with you. I wondered where it started, but there doesn’t seem to be an origin story for this one — it’s one of those collective unconscious things that dozens of people thought up more or less simultanously and enacted spontaneously. Like the smile itself! 🙂

But while I was nosing around looking for an explanation of the “take one” phenomenon, I found a wonderful story about how “The Smile Experiment” worked in one religious educational community: “I figured, at the very least, that it would bring a passing smile to someone’s face who walked by,” writes Jewish Week online columnist Rabbi Marci N. Bellows. “Within a few days, they were all gone!”

The kids really seem to like them. When my door is closed, and they don’t necessarily know I’m working inside, the religious school students walk over and discuss the smiles. I heard one girl remark, “I took one and hung it up on my bedroom wall!” I heard another student ask his friend, “Hey, did you get one yet?” And other students seem to like knowing that I am smiling at them, even while they are home.

The adults have resonated, as well. After particularly challenging pastoral appointments, where a few tissues may have been used, some of my visitors have liked taking a smile home with them. Some of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah parents like the few moments of relief from party-planning stress that the smile affords. And some of the other staff in the building even take a smile home with them!

It seems like such a simple — even simplistic — idea. It’s just a piece of paper, after all. Why do we take such pleasure in seeing the smiley face up on the public wall? And, even more tellingly, why do we resort to taking one of the little tabs of smiley-face paper with us when we leave?

According to Rabbi Bellows, it’s about community — about communication and about communion. “I think that, at the risk of over-generalizing, the smiley-face pieces of paper symbolize the comfort and optimism that we find among the Jewish community.” Or, I would extrapolate, in any community to which we belong or want to belong. Knowing that someone, somewhere — even a perfect stranger — has a little happiness to spare and wants to share it with you, and you, and you over there, can have a fantastic emotional impact. Which is, after all, the point of this blog: the share the happiness!

“I pray that we each find something this week that will give us even the smallest bit of comfort, or even the tiniest hint of a smile, when we are otherwise feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the challenges we face,” Rabbi Bellows concludes. “May we remember that we are never alone, and that there is always someone out there who can help us, who can be with us, and who can remind us how to smile.”

My friends Smiley Italia and Barbara — and other regular smiley sharers like Crystal and Debbie and Dylan, and my friends at SmileyStore.com, and my relatives, and you readers, and so many, many others! — are out there, ready with a smile to share with you.

Do you have a smile you want to share with us? Find us on Facebook or leave a comment here!

Sonic smiley tot March 29, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Food, Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley.
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Sonic smiley tot. On an order menu at a Sonic in McMinnville, OR. March 2012.

I love this happy little tot. At least, I assume it’s a tot. It looks a bit like a marshmallow. A golden, red-footed marshmallow.

But whatever. He’s happy, and I’m guessing he’s on the menu to make kids smile, because he’s in the kids meal section of the menu. So whether he’s a marshmallow or a tot, I love him — he makes me smile too! 🙂

Orange juice sign + bicycle (and 10,000 hits!) February 16, 2012

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley, Travel.
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Orange juice sign. Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand, November 2010.

Ever since I stumbled across my friend Dena Rash Guzman’s photo essay about Phuket, Thailand at Luciole Press, I’ve had Thailand on the brain. And having Thailand on the brain is just a small step away from having smileys on the brain — after all, Thailand is the Land of Smiles. They even have smile bikes you can rent:

Bangkok Smile Bike, Bangkok, Thailnd, November 2010.

Also, as I hoped, today the Smile! blog surpassed 10,000 hits! Thanks, happy readers! You all make me smile! 🙂

BookSmile sign in Thailand December 29, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Smiley, Travel.
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BookSmile sign. Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand, November 2010.

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, so it’s no wonder I found so many smiley faces there. This one was a sign for a Thai bookseller, BookSmile. Apparently, they’re pretty widespread, but they’re not a huge bookstore like Barnes & Noble or our massive Powell’s Books here in Portland. They’re more like the Starbucks of books, small operations that can stand alone but are perfectly happy to tuck into corners of other businesses. This one was in the back of a convenience store. Which was very, well, convenient!

Smiley simulacrum: Arabic “smiley” in holiday lights December 15, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Simulacra, Smiley.
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The Arabic letter "ta" in lights, outside the Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 2010.

Back toward the beginning of the year, I posted an example of how the Arabic character “ta” resembles a smiley face. It’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts! So now that it’s December, I thought I’d post another version of the “smiley” Arabic letter. In the United Arab Emirates, where we used to live, December 2 is National Day, which commemorates the founding of the country, and every year they light up the whole nation in elaborate decorative displays. And they leave the lights up for most of the month, so for my wife and I (and hundreds of thousands of other expats), the December atmosphere feels a bit Christmasy!

This sign is outside one of the malls in Abu Dhabi, and the character, “ta,” forms part of an Arabic word for “sale.” You can see that word — and this “smiley” — on loads of signs inside the mall, but I wanted to make sure I snapped this photo (which is pretty poor quality because it’s a camera phone image) to capture the happy holiday spirit in the city! 🙂

Barge on the Columbia River November 28, 2011

Posted by Samuel Snoek-Brown in Public art, signs, & graffiti, Reader submission, Smiley.
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Back at the end of August, my wife and I went for a stroll in Kelley Point Park, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in Portland, OR. While we were wandering the sandy river bank, Jennifer spotted a large Tidewater barge floating down the Columbia and at about the same time, we both noticed a giant smiley face toward the rear of the barge!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, so all I could do to capture the photo was to whip out my cheap cell phone and hope for the best.

This was my best:

The best, on my phone, is not so good.

You can sort of make out the Tidewater name and the vague yellow blot on the front of the barge (on the right), but it’s really, really hard to see.

Maybe if I cropped and enlarged the image on my computer….

Or maybe not.

The image is just too grainy and watery to be any good. And who knows when I’ll be lucky enough to catch a barge like that, giant smiley face and all, drifting down the Columbia again?

Fortunately, Tidewater sends barges like this down the river fairly regularly, and I’m not the only one who’s seen one and wanted to photograph it.

Enter Nick Adamson, aka “Dances with Phalanges” on Flikr, who, almost two years ago, saw the same barge on the same river (presumably from the same park? or perhaps he was over on the Washington State side of the river) and was lucky enough — or smart enough — to have his camera on hand. He was also kind enough to allow me to share his photo of the smiley face barge here!

"Barge on the Columbia 01-18-10," photo by Nick Adamson. Shared with permission.

Thanks, Dances with Phalanges! You rock!

Better still: you’ve made us smile! 🙂