George Carlin showed me his lucky penny and a priceless brand tip

My Favorite Carlin quote: “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”

Most businesses start out with the heart of an idealist. You have to. Then some days, the roller coaster ride of reality goes straight down and has you screaming until it loops back up the track again. Our job is to nurture our hearts and hang on to our stomachs. This was a great “up” day:

Six years ago, I stopped for lunch in Santa Monica. I lucked out to get the last seat at the counter, look over and see George Carlin waiting for food at the take-out station. I likely went into a trance as Carlin was and will always be for me the ultimate celebrity sighting. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Finally he looked right at me and said what only Carlin could say without words, “WTF?” I felt my lips say three words back. “I love you.”

“Thank you,” he said sincerely and headed to leave. But he stopped at my chair. “That was a really kind thing you just did," he said.

I don’t remember all I said, but we talked and I still remember how I felt; completely natural. We were connected. I felt like we were peers.

Great brands do that, celebrities or not. They hold up a mirror for us to see who we are and let us know we are part of their brand.

“Take good care of yourself,” he said like a grown-up who knows every moment is precious.

Then he spotted something on the floor.

“Hey, look!” he picked it up. “A lucky penny!”

I thought this was shtick and he’d give it to me. What did Carlin need a penny for?

“Mine,” he said clenching it with the genuine joy of a five year old.

I didn’t get his penny but I got this: Hold onto some joy. It’s not corny idealism. Many don’t know that George Carlin, with his irreplaceable voice and story, who appeared to be a total cynic wrote, “I am in fact a very joyous individual.” And he’s given so much joy back.

It’s our job to be on the lookout for at least a penny’s worth of joy if we’re going to have anything of value to offer. And we can’t give what we don’t have. You can’t inventory this stuff.