To a Vallejo couple, the plastic red sphere is more than a clown nose.
And they said they hope the simple act of passing along thousands of noses to people in several countries will create a better world.
Tex Allen, 46, a contractor for startup companies, and his fiancee, Cat Foshee, 43, a seamstress, began calling Vallejo home in 2010, five years after moving to California from Texas. Coincidentally, three years ago was also around the time the couple began a movement that would later change their lives, and possibly many others.
The couple began Why The Nose? It was born by a simple gesture of wearing a clown nose in public, which works best while doing routine things like shopping at a grocery store or buying a cup of coffee.
"The stories we hear ... they are amazing," Foshee said.
Allen said he began wearing the red clown nose during a drive through a suburb south of San Jose.
"I felt like I had to do something to separate myself from the environment," he said, referring to the big-box store, "cookie cutter" setting of the city he was in.
"You feel completely alone even though you are surrounded by other people," Allen said.
As he stopped for a drink, he put on the nose.
That day, three people came up to him to ask, "Why the nose?"
"I said, 'Just to make you happy, to make me happy. It's fun,'" he said.
And then it began.
Allen, and sometimes Foshee -- but never together -- will put on the nose in public. When people ask about the nose, they will talk with them, give them a nose, and take a photo to post on the Web.
"It's an amazing positive energy," Foshee said.
The nose has not only become an ice breaker with strangers; it also has opened up people in ways that Allen and Foshee said they could never have imagined.
Foshee recalled a particularly powerful moment when they were at a coffee shop and a woman came up to Allen while he was wearing the nose.
"She just learned that her sister was diagnosed with cancer," Foshee said. "She told Tex that he was the first thing she saw after learning that news. She said, 'thank you' ... It happens every single time."
Allen said he has given out about 17,000 clown noses since he began the movement, with "nose ambassadors" all over the world, including in Australia, Korea, Brazil and, of course, in the United States.
A few ambassadors have met Allen personally on the streets or through the annual Burning Man event, while others contacted him online.
One was Shawn Fowler, whom Allen met a couple of years ago at Stinson Beach in Marin County.
Fowler lives in Illinois and was visiting California with his wife, who was reuniting with her father.
"It was a life-changing trip all around," Fowler said.
He said he and his wife were walking on the beach when he saw "this weirdo wearing a pirate T-shirt, with a drawn-on mustache, wearing a clown nose, and carrying a camera."
Fowler told Allen, "Hey, I really dig the nose."
They began talking, and Allen told him about the project.
"At first, I didn't get it," Fowler said. "It was fun, I got that. But I didn't get what the motivation was ... political, religious or whatever. ... But we kept on talking, and he asked me if I wanted to participate. We had a good time."
As they parted ways, Fowler said, "Wow, that was an amazing experience."
"I overheard that, and I knew it was a special moment," Allen said.
Allen went home to blog about the Stinson Beach experience, and hours later Fowler found the blog while searching the Internet about Why The Nose?
"You really meet people you are supposed to meet in your life," Fowler said.
Since then, he has kept in touch with Allen and Foshee and joined their crusade to spread happiness through the clown nose.
Fowler, who is 6 feet 1 inch, 400 pounds and heavily tattooed, said his personality has changed drastically since then.
"I lived a pretty hard life. I was an angry, violent person," he said. "But the nose helped me get over the fact people are judging you ... This nose is much more than just a fun ball to me."
He said he now wears noses in public, to family events, and doing things that he would not have done in the past.
"It started to spread like a wildfire," Fowler said.
As an example, he said he sent a nose to a man who contacted him through Facebook.
"I later got a letter from him telling me that when he received the nose, he was on the verge of committing suicide ... But he said the nose showed that someone cared," Fowler said.
"I have less things than ever now ... but I feel like I have more to give," he added.
'Just do something nice'
Fowler, Allen and Foshee agreed that the nose is a symbol of a bigger thing.
"You don't have to do it with a clown nose," Allen said. "Just do something nice that makes you happy and makes other people happy."
And everyone also agreed that the nose gives them a "superpower."
"You get that childlike feeling," Fowler said. "A child is not racist, a child is not hateful."
The nose seems to have changed not only those on the receiving end but also the givers.
"Everybody wins," Allen said. "It's a fun and inexpensive way to make people happy."
"It's very humbling; it taught us to be patient, since it takes twice as long to do anything when (Allen) has a nose on," Foshee said. "But we are also more conscious about others. Our problems are not the only ones; there are people next to us with other things."