Many of us had the day off on Monday, thanks to the efforts of either Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire, two men who both had the idea of creating a day to pay tribute to the achievements and accomplishments of the American worker. According to the US Department of Labor, some historians credit McGuire, a leader in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, with establishing a an official day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” Others give the credit to Maguire, a different union man, who served as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.
Regardless, more than 120 years after it became a federal holiday, a 50-year-old New Jersey woman started her long Labor Day weekend by taking a picture of a former sitcom actor working at her local Trader Joe’s, sending it to a handful of celebrity-focused websites and ultimately selling it to the Daily Mail.
The story about Geoffrey Owens’ supposed ‘fall’ from playing recurring character Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show to bagging groceries and wearing a nametag went viral—except the backlash, outrage, and secondhand embarrassment was directed not at him, but at the woman who took that photo. Less than a week later, Karma Lawrence (yes, her first name is literally karma) says she’s sorry and that she’d like to take it all back.
“It wasn’t malicious,” she told NJ.com. “That’s on my kids, my grandkids, my parents. I’m not that type of a person. I’m not the monster they’re making me out to be.” Lawrence says that she has been on the receiving end of hate and “so much nastiness” since she attempted to exploit Owens for making an honest living in-between acting jobs.
But Lawrence said she wasn’t trying to job-shame him. She said she only took the picture because “everybody does it.” She said she has “turned off” her social media profiles because of the negative responses she has received, including countless reminders that “Karma’s a bitch.” (Here’s where we point out that Lawrence’s photo was so widely condemned that even Dana Loesch—yes, the same Dana Loesch who serves as the NRA’s shiny-haired Cerberus—said that there was “no shame” in Owen’s side gig.)
During an appearance on Good Morning America, Owens said that he’d been working at Trader Joe’s for more than a year, and the only reason he didn’t publicize it was because he didn’t want casting directors to think that he was no longer interested in acting jobs. He said that he hadn’t had an acting job that lasted “longer than ten weeks” since his appearances on The Cosby Show, and that he’d taken several other jobs since then, including teaching acting at his alma mater, Yale, and, yes, working at a supermarket.
"I was really devastated," he said of his initial response to the attempted online shaming. “But the period of devastation was so short because so shortly after that, my wife and I started to read these responses, from literally all over the world. Fortunately, the shame part didn't last very long. It hurt, but then, it's amazing.”
Owens said that he’d had “a great life and a great career”—although he has since quit his job at Trader Joe’s as a result of Lawrence’s photograph and the unwanted attention it brought him. (He told CNN that the grocery chain told him that he should consider it a “temporary leave of absence” and that he could return to work any time.)
“What I hope continues to resonate is the idea that one job is not better than another," Owens said. "A certain job might pay more, it might have better benefits, it might look better on paper, but that essentially one kind of work isn't better than another kind of work, that we reevaluate that whole idea and we start honoring the dignity of work and the dignity of the working person.”
Neither Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire could’ve put it any better.