OAKLAND -- Several years ago as Tex Allen and his fiancee Cat DuBois were leaving a wedding they noticed the party favors -- spongy red clown noses -- were scattered around the room, so they grabbed a few handfuls and took them home and put them in a jar.

Little did they know that five years later, they would be spreading joy, one red nose at a time.

"(Tex) first put it on to help himself feel playful and silly and then it just engaged other people," said DuBois, a 43-year-old seamstress who designs custom hip holster bags. "You can't take yourself too seriously when someone is laughing at you -- in a good way -- because you are wearing a clown nose."

The couple estimates they've distributed about 15,000 noses at Burning Man, where they are regulars, beer festivals, Earth Day celebrations, BART stations, farmers' markets, city streets and San Francisco City Hall, where Allen handed out many noses during the June weekend that same-sex marriage was legalized and overjoyed couples flooded the venue to get married.

"It's a lifestyle," said the 46-year-old Allen, who hails from Texarkana, Texas, and works in Web design and photography. "I think it's magic. It disarms people and takes them out of their reality."

DuBois, who hails from Arkansas, agreed.

"It's always funny to see the people who crack up and then say 'I needed that today.'"


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But wearing a clown nose around town comes with questions, one in particular "Why the nose?"

"Beyond handing out the joy, this has forced me to be present every moment," said Allen, who does graphic design, photography and other projects to pay the bills. Along with the clown nose gift, Allen now gives the recipient a sticker that says "Why the Nose" on it. The couple estimates they distributed about 2,500 noses at Burning Man over Labor Day weekend and another 1,000 people had brought their own red clown nose to the massive event in Black Rock Dessert. They use their own money to buy the noses, at about 50 cents a pop, but also get donations and contributions from others.

"It's really interesting to see how the nose penetrates into all cultures," DuBois said. "It's one of those universal things that people can relate to as a universal sign of happiness. It gives people permission to be silly and joyful. We experience grief, sadness and sorrow so much, we are inundated by it and if we don't have a glimmer of joy and hope, what is going to make us want to get up in the morning and go to work?"

The couple, who have been together seven years, aren't just about fun and games. Between the two, they have eight children from previous relationships and try to instill in their kids to follow their passions. "I say 'you don't have to go out and wear a clown nose everyday but you should do what makes you happy," DuBois said.

But sometimes even a clown nose can create challenges. "When you are wearing a clown nose, it's just ridiculous. Every 10 minutes you are stopped by someone. Sometimes I have to tell him to take it off so we can get our day done," she said.

Recently, the two strolled around the Oakland Farmers' Market near Grand Lake on a Saturday morning. A man selling drinks from a cart on the corner shouted to Allen, "I love your nose, man."

Seconds later, a little girl with a pumpkin on her T-shirt, came running up asking for a nose. "I like your shirt," said Allen. "You are the cutest pumpkin in the patch."

A few minutes later, the couple encountered a woman, with her boys, ages 4 and 6, who recognized them from Burning Man, and wanted to give them a word of thanks.

"(At Burning Man) we wore our noses all day," said Sej "Violet" Morrice of Oakland. "People said we were the cutest thing on the playa and we brought a couple extra home."

Contact Kristin J. Bender at kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender.