Should the current nostalgia for the 1960s give way to the next logical step—a plague of mood rings, pet rocks and leisure suits—Bruce Woodbury will be ready. Woodbury, 24, has plumbed the very nadir of the 1970s and come back with smiley faces.
Remember the smiley face? That lip, those eyes, that oppressive feeling of perkiness? Woodbury remembers, lovingly. A San Franciscan who acquired his first grinning gewgaw—an alarm clock—when he was 9, Woodbury now owns nearly 600 of the adamantly cheerful visages. They make him smile.
Someone somewhere might own more, but it would be hard to outsmile the curious range of Woodbury’s collection. He has a smiley pencil sharpener and smiley car floor mats. There’s a string of grinning, blinking patio lights and an irrepressible “Fly the DC-10” smiley button. There are neckties and coffee cups, happy socks and a smiley halter dress. Woodbury wears the socks but not the dress. “It’s a bit small for me,” he says, smiling.
An auto parts salesman, Woodbury got the urge to start collecting a few years ago while hanging out with a pack of Mods, a motor-scooter-riding sub-cultural group with roots in Britain. In Mod lingo, a “face” is someone cool. “I think that triggered a latent fondness for the things,” he says. “But basically, I just really like ’em.” Woodbury scours thrift shops, garage sales and supermarket gum machines to fortify his trove, which occupies most of his upstairs room in an apartment he shares with a roommate. “As collections go, it’s pretty inexpensive,” says the man of 600 faces, who rarely pays more than a dollar per. “But it’s very labor-intensive. You could go to three dozen garage sales and find just one new face.”
With a few exceptions, Woodbury is a purist. Occasionally he buys a frowning smiley, or a smiley with teeth, but he draws the line at noses. “If it’s got a nose, I don’t want it,” he says. “Ears are okay.” If a smile is contagious, do 600 of them cause an epidemic of euphoria? “That’s what I like best,” says Woodbury. “People walk into my room and, instantly, they’re smiling.”