Like many Americans, Karma Lawrence loved Trader Joe’s. It was the perfect place to get all of her favorites including some special snacks and foods that she couldn’t get anywhere else, including a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The 60-year-old, self-proclaimed “fresh format” grocery store is one of the most popular chains in America. It employs more than 38,000 people in the U.S. and one of those people was the last person Karma ever expected to see working at a grocery store.
As Karma brought her cart of food up to the counter, she noticed something peculiar about the fellow manning the cash register. As she stood there, waiting for him to finish with the person ahead of her, she wondered if he just had “one of those faces.” Then, suddenly, it dawned on her.
Is That Elvin?
The guy scanning mixed nuts and gluten-free bread looked just like Elvin, Denise Huxtable’s husband on the Cosby show. He looked a fair bit older, of course, he would have to, since the show went off the air in 1991. But it couldn’t be the man who played Elvin Tibideaux. He was an actor, not some Hawaiian Shirt wearing Telxon jockey.
Then, Karma looked at the man’s name tag which read “Geoffrey.” A quick Google search revealed that the Elvin was played by none other than Geoffrey Owens, now 57. Stunned that a former TV star would be bagging groceries in Trader Joe’s, Karma snapped a picture of him at the register. She even got his name tag.
When she got home, she posted the photo online, letting everyone know that she’d seen famous 80’s-era actor Geoffrey Owens working at a New Jersey Trader Joe’s. A few days after that news went viral, however, Karma began regretting that she’d ever snapped the photo of him in the first place.
This is because, whether she knew it or not, Karma’s post about his workplace could be construed as an attempt at “job-shaming.” She was excited that she’d seen someone she recognized in public, but everyone else thought she’d just drawn attention to a classic “Oh, how the mighty have fallen”-type situation.
She had submitted the pictures on a whim to a number of celebrity websites yet was surprised to find that most people empathized with Owens. The majority of the visitors to those sites believed that she was indeed job-shaming him by making light of his new, slightly less auspicious position working the register at his local Trader Joe’s.
She was unprepared for the negative backlash she received by doing so. In fact, there was so much hate and nastiness that she was forced to shut down almost all her social media profiles because of it. Her critics took particular delight in making fun of her first name by saying things like “Karma’s a …” well you know the rest.
Outpouring of Support
While disappointed to have to deal with the job-shaming, Owens was more than happy to receive the outpouring of support he’d gotten over social media from people like Terry Crews, Blair Underwood, and voice actress Pamela Adlon. He even went on TV to discuss the issue and his Trader Joe’s job.
Owens was invited to speak on Good Morning America to talk about his careers, both in showbiz and otherwise. “I’d been teaching acting and directing for 30-plus years but it just got to a point where it didn’t add up enough,” he explained. He added that the Trader Joe’s job offered him flexibility and allowed him to stay in show business as well.
Not a Secret
“I didn’t advertise that I was at Trader Joe’s,” said Owens. He added that it wasn’t as though he was ashamed of it, he just didn’t want anyone in the entertainment industry to see what he was doing and decide, “Well, he’s doing that; he’s not pursuing acting anymore.” He wanted to be careful of that eventuality.
There was also a pretty good reason that Owens had to keep the Trader Joe’s job as well. It made ends meet between acting gigs. There was also the matter of him losing a good deal of residual income over the past few years thanks to the negative press from the Bill Cosby sexual assault scandal.
Even before Cosby was declared guilty, mounting allegations and criminal charges against the former comedy superstar had already prompted several networks to stop airing reruns of the sitcom. This meant that the flow of residual income had all but dried up.
Owens admitted to being devastated by the unceremonious, some might say cruel, revelation of his side gig at Trader Joe’s. Yet he says the period of devastation was short thanks to the supportive responses that he and his wife saw coming in. The brief shame he felt was gone and he once again felt good about his job.
Numerous actors were among the people offering comfort and support. Many said that there was no shame in being an actor who works a day job. Tyler Perry went a step further than them and even offered Owens a role in his top-rated drama, “The Haves and the Have Nots.”
He made the offer to Owens via Twitter on Tuesday, writing, “I’m about to start shootings OWN’s number one drama next week! Come, join us!!! I have so much respect for people who hustle between gigs. The measure of a true artist.” He was right of course, it’s not easy to work two jobs, especially when one of them is retail. But Owens now had a decision to make.
Generous Offer, But …
Owens went onto Entertainment Tonight as well and chose to wear his Trader Joe’s name tag in the interview; though he opted to leave the Hawaiian shirt at home. He called Perry’s offer, “very, very generous” but said that he’d prefer to book acting jobs because of his talent and not because of some viral news story.
“It would be lovely as one of the results of this, some doors open in terms of giving me the opportunity to audition. That, I would appreciate – always, as all actors do. I don’t necessarily feel comfortable being given things as a result of this,” he told Entertainment Tonight. This attitude proves that Owens is a man of great professional integrity.
Every Job Counts
“It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper, but actually it’s not better,” Owens explained. He added that every job is worthwhile and valuable and that this was what he wanted to get across. That said, he was cognizant of his renewed opportunity as a result of the snapshot.
Owens was also cognizant of the fact that he wasn’t in a position to turn any jobs down at the moment, but he’d like to do it the right way. If Tyler Perry wants to have him in his project, he’d like to go in a room and audition like everyone else, that way he can know for sure if he’s the right one for the job.
This Too Shall Pass
He said that he knows this whole business of being the “Cosby Trader Joe’s guy” is going to pass, and that if it means people rethink what it means to work, it’ll be worth it. Owens hopes that more than anything this makes people re-evaluate the value of having a job, any job, and how important having one is.