By Jack Hunger
Whether it be a passing a torch or throwing down a gauntlet, we all experience those moments in life where a challenge to step up to the responsibility for an experience is passed from someone who has been there, to someone who is going there. I can personally recall working in our family electrical business, as an inexperienced electrician, and my father handing me a set of prints for a rather sizable job, and telling me, “You’ll figure it out.”
It was a baptism by fire, on a technically challenging refrigeration controls job at a supermarket. Suddenly I was stepping away from a job experience had been standing await, at the receiving end of the boss’s orders, performing a task at a time, and stepping to being the boss, responsible for putting together miles of pipe and wire, and tying it all together with relays, fans, defrost heaters, and compressors enough to make an entire market’s cold and frozen food coolers and freezers function. So with a smile on my face, prints in hand, and a huge lump in my throat, I stepped forward, laying out conduit runs, coordinating with other trades, and learning to manage manpower. It was a challenge that made me grow that I had been working towards, still daunting though I knew it was coming; a chronologically career-expected test following a trade apprenticeship, and time as a journeyman.
That experience was expected. Saturday, I was handed an unexpected torch. Or, more accurately stated, I was handed a sign; a good sign. In fact, it was a very good sign.
You may have read a previous article about my relationship with Kevin Lamb, a.k.a. The Good Sign Man, a.k.a. Six Foot Seven Kevin, the mad genius of joviality, the sultan of smiles, the pope of positivity. (if not and you want to, click here). For now, suffice it to say, I was Kevin’s 8th grade basketball coach. Since then, he’s grown to a 6’7” adult, I’ve become a slightly creakier version of my previous self, and we still stay in touch. One meeting with Kevin has been a yearly trip to The Michigan Brewer’s Guild Fall Beer Festival at Eastern Market. So when my wife, Nancy, and I arrived Saturday, we quickly sought out the Stormcloud Brewery tent, where Kevin was assisting the pour of Brian Confer’s handiwork. He spied us as soon as we saw the tent. His waxed handlebar mustache danced atop his laughing grin and we shared hugs, amazing Stromcloud beers, introductions to new friends (ya gotta instantly like anybody you meet whose nickname is ‘Storyteller’), and many laughs. That’s what happens around Kevin, always. As usual, he was sporting a tie dyed cape. An unruly mop of blond hair was being slightly tamed under a wool cap. His ever present yellow diamond, affixed atop a hand fashioned woven wood scepter, declared the sovereignty that could be found in the happiness of five simple words.
“THIS IS A GOOD SIGN.”
And as per usual, at events attended by The Good Sign Man, a steady stream of old fans, and fans to be, paused for questions about those five words, to share more smiles and hugs, and take pictures. The line at Stormcloud grew longer, and Kevin, sensing they could use more help pouring, said he’d better get back to helping. Unexpectedly, before he returned to his ale slinging duties, he thrust his iconic staff and sign into my hands, and said, “Here coach. Take ‘er for a lap!” And poof, he was back behind the bar.
It felt just like the day my Dad handed me that set of prints. Holy shit! I was entrusted with, not just any good sign, but THE Good Sign! Holy shit!
I stood, frozen in the moment. I clumsily moved it from hand to hand, looking for it’s balance. I took a few steps through the crowd. I noticed people looking. I’d pass someone by and invariably, they’d look at me, look up at the sign, and look back at me and smile.
“Do you feel funny,” Nancy asked? “You look nervous.”
“Well, yeah. I don’t know how to do this.”
I thrust the sign high in the air. The crowd noticed and responded. A rumble in Shed 5 started to grow. Glasses were thrust skyward, and the din grew to a cheer. Was this sign magic?
About then, two young ladies in their early twenties approached me. Pointing at Kevin’s sign, one of the girls asked, “What does that mean?”
I was on the spot. This was the moment. It was my ‘Good Sign’ baptism by fire.
“Uh,” I started to stammer. Both of my new friends wore beaming smiles. Unthinking, I blurted, “It’s a device designed to make you smile. See, it works pretty darned good, eh?”
Whew. Where did that come from? Magic?
They giggled, and we talked about how awesome it is to be positive. I was no longer nervous. It felt great. Nancy asked the girls if they wanted her to use their phones to take a picture. They were genuinely excited to do it. My bride snapped a couple pics with the girls phones. Her face was exploding with the smile that I fell in love with, and I chuckled to myself that I was snuggled up to two young hotties, our arms around each other, and my wife was having a blast recording it for posterity. Damn! This sign IS magic!
And so it went for nearly an hour and a half. We talked with old people, young people, drunk people, sober people. There were people in costumes, people in big groups, people by themselves. I was serving as a good sign ambassador, using the the light saber of a Jedi Good Sign master. I was developing a schtick (“What is it you ask? It’s the worlds only machine with no moving parts, that can make you feel good.” That one got me an instant group hug from an adorable senior citizen couple.) Nancy was serving as everyone’s photographer. And what had started out as a nervous stroll that I was anxious to be done, had turned into an epiphany that I never wanted to end. It was fun. It was empowering. It was positively, beautiful.
I was getting reactions, like I had seen Kevin get for all the years that he has taken on the Good Sign Man persona. I’d seen him do it a million times. I had always thought it was about Kevin. I had always thought it worked because you had this imposingly huge man, with an eclectic look, an infectious smile, and a gift of gab, carrying that little yellow diamond. I had always thought that the man had made the sign. But, my aging, beer bellied, everyman self, carried that torch and saw the same magic. And it wasn’t me either. It was the idea. It works because of the fact that it is an idea that every human on the face of this planet desperately needs. We all want to be happy. And so few of us realize that joy is a decision that we all have the power to make. Nope. It’s not any man that makes that sign. That sign makes the man. That sign is an idea; a simple, but often overlooked, idea that can change the world.
And so today is the morning after that I was asked to carry another torch. I’ve grown. It was a case of the coach being coached. I will never discount the powerful person that is my dear friend, Kevin Lamb. No one can. But the message he handed me yesterday, rings loud and clear through every fiber of my being today. It’s no person, or thing, or job, or notoriety, that makes the world a happy place. The secret lies in a simple decision, that each of us has the power to make ourselves. Be positive. Be happy. And share it. We, are the good sign.