Smile, There Is No Hell!
2008-2009 was a great year to be on Ring Road asking people to have a nice day. It’s amazing how much that simple action can change the entire dynamic of an event. When I first came to UC Irvine in Winter 2007 from my community college in San Diego I was excited by the sheer amount of activity around Ring Road by Aldrich Hall. Having grown up with my mom working at UC San Diego I was expecting it, but it was stoked to finally be a part of it. This was the quarter I saw the Big Angry Sign Guy for the first time.
We all know who he is. He’s the old dude with a big bushy beard who has this gigantic sign he holds in a crotch-holster. He’s most notable for yelling about how we’re all a bunch of gay-lovers and we’re going to burn unless we turn to Jesus right now. When I first saw him he was surrounded by a crowd of angry students yelling at him. They were either yelling about how he didn’t understand the Bible or how he was just a jackass. “**** you, *******!” was heard rather often and was majestic in its simplicity.
I just snapped a picture and walked on. The next quarter Atheists, Agnostics, and Rationalists at UCI (AAR) encountered Brother Jed. He is most known for thrusting the forefinger of one hand into a hole made by the other while yelling, “Squirt, squirt, squirt!” to demonstrate the only form of Jesus Approved sexual contact and, occasionally bursting out with, “All the women on this campus are whores or dykes!” A real upstanding kind of fellow.
What was abso-*******-lutely amazing about this encounter was that we were having our Atheist Bakesale right next to him. This is an event where we give away free cookies in exchange for signing a soul contract giving AAR possesion of the singer’s soul. Yes, it’s a joke. No, we don’t believe souls exist. Yes, the cookie is free if you sign our silly piece of paper. You’d be surprised how hard it is to give away free cookies on this campus.
This was possibly the event with the greatest potential for sheer hilarity I was ever going to see. Those of us at the booth tossed around the idea of doing something about Brother Jed. He honestly had every right to be there shouting as long as he didn’t target individuals and we certainly believe in Free Speech. So we decided to enact some Free Speech of our own. Rather than do a standard counter-protest I mentioned the idea of doing a happy protest to defuse the angry mob which was rapidly forming around him.
Thus, “Smile, There is No Hell!” was born. The first sign was carried by Paul, our resident ex-Evangelical Christian turned ex-Satanist turned current German-loving metalhead. There were some other signs carried that day, but I had put off writing a paper worth a disgusting amount of the grade for that class and needed to get on it so I didn’t see what exactly happened. I heard later that the mob was mostly diffused and was actually happy to be told to have a nice day and come have a free cookie.
My first chance to carry the sign and be a jovial thorn in the side of Old Angry Christian Men everywhere wouldn’t come until Fall of 2008, but when the chance came it was marvelous. It was the same Angry Sign Guy as my first ever encounter at UCI and he was once again beginning to accumulate a crowd of angry students around him. When I came in with my, “Smile!” sign the mood of the event immediately changed. My most common refrain was, “We here at AAR at UCI would like to ask you all to don’t get angry at people yelling at you, but just smile and have a nice day!” People immediately started laughing and smiling and passersby would smile and walk on instead of stopping to yell at the Sign Guy.
This was about the time he started yelling about how, “This idiot here is the problem with all you people! Just keep walking and smiling and being an idiot like him! You’ll burn!” Suffice to say, this was a goldmine of hilarity waiting to be tapped. See, when he started yelling about me instead of the crowd I just got happier. After all, it’s a lot easier to get people to just smile and walk away when they’re not being yelled at right? My response was, more or less, “Yes ladies and gentleman, I am an idiot and would like to idiotically ask you to just have a nice day! We don’t care what religion you are or who you are, we just want you to smile and enjoy the beautiful California weather.”
Angry Sign Guy left early that day. As far as we could tell, he left about an hour and fourty-five minutes after I showed up with the sign instead of staying until late afternoon like usual. Who would have guessed that laughing about, instead of yelling at, angry people tended to deflate them instead of getting them even more riled up?
The next few times I went out with a sign to ask people to just smile and enjoy the day when an Angry Sign Guy would show up I got at least five or six random hugs from passersby. Most of them were from Christian students who generally said something like, “I disagree with you, but thank you so much for being out here.” There were uncountable random high-fives and thumbs-ups from people who liked my sign about no Hell more than theirs all about Hell. That year was probably one of the happiest in my life and I honestly can’t describe how great it feels turning an event which had generated anger and hate into and event which made people smile and laugh.