Although I’ve never considered myself much of a celeb stalker, I have to admit that when I first learned Newman occasionally pops by my place of work, I was ecstatic. The few people I work with that actually cared about that fact told me that he usually comes in about once a year when he’s visiting family in the area, usually around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Even though I’d only worked at Cracker Barrel less than a month when I discovered this, I was already grasping for a reason to hold on. With Newman, I’d finally found it. A month after I was hired, I made it my goal and mission to stay with the job until I laid eyes on Newman.
I’m sure Newman doesn’t like being called “Newman,” because in fact his real name is Wayne Knight. It is my understanding (thanks to a weird kind of picture-shrine at Applebee’s) that he attended Cartersville High School and was raised in sweet lil’ ole Cartersville before he skyrocketed to his D-list fame on Seinfeld. He’s had other roles: a chunky cop in love with an Amazonian-like alien on 3rd Rock From the Sun, a voice in a couple of famous cartoon movies (Toy Story 2 and Tarzan), and my personal favorite- the guy who tried to steal the Dino-DNA from the dinosaur compound in Jurassic Park. I have repeatedly told everyone I work with the details of him stealing DNA in a shaving cream can before being eaten by prehistoric velociraptors and karma kicking his ass, only to have an ongoing debate as to if it really was velociraptors or some other kind of monster that overtook him in the end. That debate has yet to be settled, but one thing is for sure- Newman is continuously type-cast in the role he plays best- the annoying, disgruntled enemy who needles the main character incessantly. In my mind, he plays one prick after another, and he does it well.
The sad thing is, he’s rumored to be a prick in real life, too. Not just a prick, but even a full on asshole in the opinion of many of the people I know who have met him. This revelation shocked me; sure, he plays one on TV, but chubby nice hometown Newman couldn’t be all bad, could he? I made endless excuses for him while I bided my time for a Newman encounter: relentless questioning from strangers probably gets annoying; when he lost all that weight, perhaps his personality followed; people I work with would easily do something outrageous and weird just to piss him off. There were a myriad of reasons and coincidences that could make him seem like a douche bag, but I was hoping they were all wrong.
I was hired in May 2007, and by the time the holidays came around I was ready to achieve my sighting and be done with my job. Christmas Eve is a mandatory work day for the peons at CB, just like Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, and it’s also so busy that there is hardly a second to take a break or chat with other coworkers. It’s the one day a year the restaurant closes at 2 in the afternoon, and it was only at closing that I realized the horrible news. Juanis, a fellow server, had served Newman and his mother their breakfast without even knowing it. I had been scoping the dining room all day, and ironically he was sat on the other side of the trellis wall in the section of a server who had no idea who he was, and I had missed my chance. I had been so close- but yet too far.
I’ve heard contrasting stories as to his demeanor; Rita swears he’s the nicest guy since Mr. Rogers and even signed a menu for her mother. Bobbie Brown swears he’s a douche bag, but I’m not sure her version can be trusted. On said day in December, Newman was shopping around in the store part of CB and she took the chance and approached him. Only a couple of years younger than me, but light years away in personality, she inched towards him with a marker and a piece of paper. In her version of the conversation, she timidly asked him for an autograph and he kind of sighed/ annoyed-grunted.
“I guess so, but I don’t want to make a scene.”
She makes him sound like a huffy diva, and swears there wasn’t a soul paying attention.
“Sir, I really don’t think anyone is noticing.”
At this point he kind of yelled something to the effect of “This is a scene!” or “Yes you are!” and in BB’s version she always flails her arms for amazing dramatic effect.
If this had been me, I probably would have burst out in tears and ran away, but then again I wouldn’t have approached in the first place. I may have been waiting to resign from my post until I saw him, but I didn’t want an autograph- only a glance. I don’t need a conversation, I have no urge to lie and tell him I admire his body of work; I just want to work on my 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon and be able to tell random people I’ve seen Newman.
A lady of my word, I kept waiting for Newman to show up like Big Foot. Christmas Eve ’08, Newman was a no show. His parents came, but without their son and I was extremely disappointed. I resigned myself to pushing the thought to the back of my head until next Christmas when I would maybe have another chance.
Luckily, Newman is not on a strict calendar. It had not crossed my mind that Newman didn’t fly south for the winter or hibernate during the summer in LA. I had no idea that on a sunny June day, (if I typed the date, it would just creep everyone out, but it was also my mom’s birthday so that’s my excuse for still remembering) Newman’s geriatric mother would want to do as all elderly people do and eat at Cracker Barrel. I had just so happened to pick up a morning shift for kicks, and when Rita whispered the presence of Wayne Knight in the building, I literally jumped for joy. He was facing the opposite direction, and I didn’t want to gawk, but it was definitely Newman. A smaller than I imagined Newman with not-so-good posture, but Newman all the same, and in a nearly empty dining room. To my surprise, this also delighted my managers into a tizzy and they paid for his lunch for no other reason besides his being an actor. It was kind of stupid to pay for his meal, but that was nothing compared to everyone else freaking out. While I managed to stay calm after reaching my long-awaited goal, I couldn’t believe how everyone else reacted. Rita got another autographed menu, and so did my manager. Arde told a story about being ten minutes too late to see “Brangelina” in Las Vegas one time, and the flood gates were open for celebrity story telling. My coworkers had transformed out of normal people into paparazzi, and I began to understand why he’d want to be left alone.
Bobbie B. didn’t receive the same vibe, and she bravely approached Newman’s table for round two.
“Excuse me, Mr. Knight, I don’t mean to interrupt…”
Newman smacked Bobbie Brown down so fast it was astonishing. I found it kind of hilarious that it had happened to her again, but maybe he just doesn’t like her. I asked her why she had risked a run-in with him again, and she said, “I just wanted to ask him which dinosaur kills him in Jurassic Park.” After years of ridiculous questioning, I bet he can see it coming. In an attempt to end our years-long debate she had approached him, but you could just as easily look it up on Wikipedia and feel a little less rejected.
Newman came and went, and I’m no longer honor bound to stay at Cracker Barrel. For some reason I stay anyway, there are a million excuses I tell myself, not the least of which is next Christmas Eve when I could possibly see Newman from Seinfeld.