Thursday, I’m sure you know, was National Say Hi to Joe Day. This is a great thing about America. Every day is a holiday. Today, for instance, is Zipper Day. I don’t know how you would go about celebrating Zipper Day. And, to tell you the truth, I don’t really want to hear any suggestions.
Saturday is a good day for holidays. It is both Hairstyle Appreciation Day and National Honesty Day.
Gotta be honest: I don’t see how those two can work on the same day.
There are holidays for everything in this great land of ours. In the next few weeks, according to various Internet sites, we will celebrate Lumpy Rug Day, International Tuba Day, National Grape Popsicle Day and, of course, Lost Sock Memorial Day. You know, I’ve been keeping this one great sock in the desperate and pathetic hope that its mate, which has been MIA for three years, would finally be rescued and brought home.
On May 9, I hope I can find the courage to say goodbye.
Obviously, though, I have a special feeling about National Say Hi to Joe Day. The day was invented in Alaska, of course, because many great things have been invented in Alaska such as … well … many great things. According to a fine story in the Kenai Peninsula Clarion, an Alaska man named Richard Martin built a better pooper scooper with a cut-down antifreeze jug.
It is that sort of Alaska ingenuity that led Joe Ewing to come up with Hi Joe Day. He was in a high school class, and the teacher gave everyone a project to write a letter to the president of the United States. Well, while most of the kids spent their time writing letters about minor things like the war in Iraq, Joe decided to launch a holiday.
“The idea is to celebrate the average Joe-ness of America,” Joe Ewing says. He then points out something that all Joes know — we’re everywhere. Average Joe. Joe Schmo. Joe Boxer. Joe Millionaire. Sloppy Joe. Bazooka Joe. Joe Friday. Joe Cool. Joltin’ Joe. Super Joe. Hey Joe, where are you going with that gun in your hand? Set ’em up Joe, I got a little story that you ought to know. And, you know, Cup of Joe.
“Joe is America,” Joe Ewing says. “By saying hi to Joe, we can bring America together.”
Well, the idea so caught the eye of President Bush that he immediately sprang into action and had some low-level assistant send back a form letter (“We will continue to work to keep America safe and free so you can pursue your dreams”). But Joe Ewing now had his mission in life. He promptly wrote to the governor of Alaska, Frank H. Murkowski. But apparently Frank was too busy celebrating the grand achievements of Richard Martin’s pooper scooper to get the ball rolling on Hi Joe Day.
“Since you are seeking a national holiday,” Frank wrote, “the state would not have the authority to declare such a day.”
Still, Joe Ewing went on. He picked the date April 28, because he said that was a good day for Joes, a day Joe DiMaggio hit a bunch of home runs, an important day in Joe Boxer history, and all that. He wrote to newspapers. He put calls into some of the networks. He was Joey Appleseed, spreading the good word of Joe.
And, against the odds, it started to take off. Joe Ewing says he started to get photos in the mail from people who spotted “Hi Joe!” banners. He says Jay Leno told a Hi Joe Day joke on “The Tonight Show.” His Web site (www.sayhitojoe.com) has received more than 600,000 hits in the last month. He says 20 states celebrated Hi Joe Day last year. A college in Chicago closed down the dorms for a Say Hi to Joe celebration, which included, naturally, pie throwing
“I don’t tell people how to celebrate the holiday,” Joe Ewing says.
Joe is at Brigham Young University now, and he says that the holiday takes up a lot of his time. But he thinks it’s time well spent. “Everyone is an average Joe,” he says. “It’s not about the name. It’s about what the name represents.”
I asked him if he would have come up with the holiday if his name was not Joe.
“Probably not,” he said.
“Say Hi to Joe Day” probably sneaked up on you.
Today, April 28, is it, designed to recognize people named Joe and the many roles that average Joes play in American culture. But the holiday doesn’t appear in almanacs or desk calendars. It’s been on national television (thank Jay Leno for that), but President Bush hasn’t decided to make it official yet. And unless you’re a student at Service High, you won’t know the holiday’s founder from Joe Blow.
“Several people call me crazy,” said instigator Joe Ewing, a senior at Service, “but they laugh when they say it.”
Today marks the second year that Ewing, 17, and a handful of other Joe namesakes will celebrate. Participating Joes wear name tags; others observe the day by saying hi to the Joes in their lives. Supporters have grown from five Joes last year to 22 this year, with more than 100 non-Joes falling in line.
What inspired Ewing? Ask, and the fast-talking teen launches into a minute-long spiel — in perfectly rehearsed deadpan — about millions of Average Joes who head off to work each morning, drinking cups of Joe while reading about the G.I. Joes fighting overseas. At night, Ewing says, they come home to watch “Joe Millionaire” and eat sloppy Joes for dinner.
Its origin dates back to a school assignment. Ewing and his classmates were assigned to write a letter to President Bush addressing an issue important to them.
“Everyone was pro or against the war in Iraq,” Ewing said, “but I thought we have to have something that unites us.”
“Say Hi to Joe Day” was born, and Ewing made his pitch to the president. He even picked a date. Searching the Internet for a “significant Joe date,” he came across a site that listed April 28 as, Ewing said, “the day the first cup of Joe was brewed in New York City.” Ewing couldn’t find additional information to back up the claim, and he isn’t sure what year that cup of coffee was served, but he ran with it anyway.
And he’s kept up the pace since, turning the project into a passion to get “Say Hi to Joe Day” recognized nationally. Full of booster-ish bravado, he sees it as the next rite of spring, celebrated like Easter and Mother’s Day.
“Realistically, I think it will take two to three more years before it will be an official national holiday,” Ewing said. “Thirty-seven states will celebrate the holiday in 2005.” Asked to back up that number, Ewing laughed. “That was a completely random guess.”
Ewing plans to attend Brigham Young University next year to study foreign relations and international diplomacy. Thinking strategically, he says the key to holiday acceptance is getting corporate backing. He has targeted popular undergarment company Joe Boxer as the official apparel of “Say Hi to Joe Day,” and he hopes Hunt’s Manwich will provide the sloppy Joes. He has pitched card ideas to Hallmark and requested calendar companies to include his holiday on their products.
A big boost to Ewing’s holiday spirit came recently from Starbucks after Ewing asked the company to provide the official cup of Joe. He got an enthusiastic callback from a Starbucks executive, though no official business proposal is in place.
Still, he works diligently on his campaign. He has sent letters or emails to Oprah Winfrey, Dave Barry, David Letterman, Gov. Frank Murkowski, Mayor Mark Begich and senators from Alaska, California, Utah and Washington. He has also tried to contact a famous Joe, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. He has heard back from some, though few promised support. President Bush actually replied with a form letter, but it never even mentioned Joe Day.
Ewing did get one breakthrough, when Jay Leno made a joke about the holiday on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“I was going, ‘Yeah, go Jay Leno!’ ” Ewing said.
But in most cases, it’s just a quick and friendly brush-off. Which only makes Ewing want to send another e-mail. “It’s tough to be patient,” he said.
Despite his lack of celebrity backing, his is not a lonely crusade. Ewing has a staff — the National Say Hi to Joe Commission — with “representatives” locally, and in Washington and Utah. Most are friends from Anchorage away at college. One young associate is a local 12-year-old named Joey Coon.
“He’s got boundless energy,” Ewing said of Coon, who helped create the National “Say Hi to Joe Day” Web site (www.hijoeday.co.nr).
The only official merchandise for “Say Hi to Joe Day” this year will be the 53 T-shirts Ewing and his mom, Lucy Hannigan-Ewing, printed up.
“It seems like there was more than (53),” said a weary Hannigan-Ewing, who spent a recent Friday evening ironing logos onto shirts. “He asked if I could spend another day doing that.”
She said ‘No’ to Joe.
Ewing is fine with that. Keeping with the spirit of the holiday, he’s content simply meeting people and saying hi to all the Joes he knows.
It’s the most common of names–and the most appealing too. There’s no name like Joe–from GI Joe to Trader Joe’s to Joe Schmo–the appeal to the everyday Joe. The Social Security Administration perennially lists “Joseph” as one of the Top 10 baby names for boys. If you combine that data with that fro Jose, Joe’s Hispanic equivalent, it’s the No.1 name for boys in America.
How did that happen, and why don’t restaurants say, “Eat at Melvin’s?”
Dan McQuiston, a marketing professor at Butler University, says he knows why American culture is infatuated with “Joe.”
It really became popular…during the Second World War,” says McQuiston. “Everything was Joe at that point. There were so many infantry people, and it was, ‘Hey, Joe,’ and all that. It was such a popular boy’s name, and it was easy to call everyone Joe. It grew from there.”
The biblical roots of the full name, Joseph, are clear. In the New Testament, Joseph is the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Old Testament, it’s the “Joseph of Egypt” narrative. The etymology of the name is the Hebrew Yosef, which translates as “He (God) will add,” according to several sources. It’s a reference to the biblical promise that the ancient Hebrews would prosper and multiply.
The Arabic equivalent, usually rendered in English as Yusuf or Yusef, is credited as a prophet’s name.
That’s a profound heritage for a name that is so commonplace today.
Average Joe should be Extraordinary Joe.
There’s “Joe Dirt,” the scurrilous 2001 movie starring David Spade, and “Meet Joe Black,” the 1998 film in which Joe Black, played by Brad Pitt, is really death itself.
Then there’s Joe Boxer shorts for guys, and sloppy Joe sandwiches–nothing inspiring there. Joey from the popular “Friends” TV show is getting his own program this fall. It’s called, uh, “Joey.”
Jimi Hendrix sang:
“Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
“Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
“Oh I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady
“You know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man.”
It’s downright sacreligious, but powerful.
Football fans will remember “Broadway Joe” Namath, the New York Jets’ ostentatious quarterback who guaranteed a victory against the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
“Broadway Joseph” wouldn’t have worked.
The commercial uses of the name “Joe” are bountiful. There’s Bazooka Joe, the bubble gum comic guy, and Joe Camel, the controversial cigarette-puffing dromedary.
Joe’s Crab Shacks are owned by Landry Restaurants of Houston. Trader Joe’s (no known relation) also is cashing in on the popular, ubiquitous nature of the name. Trader Joe’s was founded in California by Joe Coulombe.
“He was a Joe, and this company was going to find food and beverages from all over the world,” says company spokeswoman Pat St. John.
Butler University’s McQuiston says it is just that common status of the name Joe that makes it successful commercially.
Well, whad’ya know, Joe?
Americans really like their holidays, and anything can be a cause for celebration, it seems. We remember presidents, honor our parents and get into a complete cupid frenzy on Valentine’s Day.
But why stop there. Here’s a new twist. Lots of people in our country are named Joe, and we have a lot of sayings, objects, and even underwear named after “Joe.” Is this enough for a new holiday?
Service student Joe Ewing, 16, got the idea for a “Say Hi to Joe Day” when he was instructed to write a letter to the president about an issue–any issue–for his English class.
“It was kind of a class project, and everybody was writing blase letters to the president, so I decided to spice up the mailbox by writing that we should have a Sah Hi to Joe Day,” Ewing said.
Joe permeates American culture–from Joe Boxers, to Joe Millionaire, to the phrase “your average Joe.”
“This is such a big part of our culture. If you look around, the ‘average Joe’ wakes up in the morning, puts on his Joe Boxers, drinks his cup of joe and then goes and hangs out with his other friends named Joe,” Ewing said.
Even after the letter-writing assignment was over, Ewing didn’t drop his dream for a Say Hi to Joe Day. He mailed his letter to the president. And he talked up his idea among friends, adults and family.
“There are a lot of kids who are supporting this,” he said, “I have been talking to kids from other schools, and they think it’s a good idea. I talked to some adults that I know named Joe, and at first they laughted, but then once they thought about it they thought it was a good idea. Some kids have been putting up signs around school for Say Hi to Joe Day for April 28th,” Ewing said.
As for the president, Ewing is not expecting much of a response from him. However, he is hoping he can make an impact at the local level. He says other students who’ve written the president never heard back either, so he’s undaunted.
As for his own family, Ewing says they support him every step of the way in his campaign.
“They think it’s hilarious,” he said.
Ewing realizes that his idea sounds strange, but he believes it will help people open up and step out of their everyday lives to show some kindness to the average Joe.
2003″I know it sounds pretty crazy, but I think it’s one of these things that you could have a lot of fun with. It’s not just about saying hi to Joe, it’s about stepping out of your comfort zone to say hit to the average Joe.”