Wednesday Dec 10 2008
Obiwan Kenobi lives in Lincoln
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
Usually, restaurant servers don’t say, “May the force be with you,” when presenting the bill. If you eat at Mary’s Pizza Shack in Roseville, though, Lincoln’s own Obiwan Kenobi might show up at your table and express those words. Kenobi wasn’t always called Kenobi; he changed his name from Benjamin Cale Feit because of $1,000, a radio station and an economically minded DMV employee. “KWOD 106.5 had a contest back in April of ’99 when ‘(Star Wars) Episode I’ came out in theaters as a promotion. The first person to come in with a legal document with the name Obiwan Kenobi on it would get $1,000,” Kenobi said. “I was at my buddy’s house listening to the radio and heard about it,” he added. “I didn’t do anything until the next day when I heard it again and it was still going on. I called him up since I didn’t have a car and he took me to the DMV.” The plan was to apply for a motorcycle license and fail, since that would still necessitate the name on a legal document and it only cost $15. When the then 24-year-old Feit told the woman behind the counter what he was doing, he said, she suggested using a change of name form – the same one women fill out when they change their name after marriage – for the smaller sum of $12. “It’s almost exclusively used by women…and me,” Kenobi said. Documents in hand, Kenobi rushed down to the radio station’s offices in Sacramento, told the security guard, “They’re expecting me,” and went to claim his prize. “I’m Obiwan, and I’m here for my money,” the Lincoln resident announced when he reached the top floor. First, however, he had to sit for a 45-minute interview on the air. And that was when Mom found out about her son’s plans. “I was at home when the radio station called,” Linda Feit, Kenobi’s mother, reminisced recently. “My first reaction was total silence. I was sort of stunned, and I said, ‘I have three children but only one who would think about changing his name to Obiwan Kenobi.’ I was surprised.” While Feit said she has adjusted to her son’s unusual name, she’s still caught off guard occasionally. “I get asked a lot if I’m Mrs. Kenobi and I say, ‘Definitely not.’” Legal issues come up, as well. Feit said she and her husband both had to change their wills to legally include Obiwan Kenobi. “The hardest part was with the grandparents,” Feit said. “They really had a tough time. They didn’t see the humor in it like we did.” The contest required Kenobi to keep the name for 30 days and he decided to hold on to the name for a while longer, unaware of the changing identity laws looming on the horizon. In January of 2000, had he wanted to change his name back, it would have cost Kenobi $500 and he would have needed to plead his case with a judge. “I guess I’ll just be Obiwan,” he remembers thinking at the time. His daily life changed once he started sharing the name of the popular Star Wars character. When Kenobi was hired at the Claim Jumper restaurant in Roseville, he told his boss he could go by either Ben or Obiwan. “You’re Obiwan,” his boss replied. Now working at Mary’s Pizza Shack, Kenobi kept the name Obiwan, and most acquaintances don’t know him as Ben. Once, Kenobi said, his father came to his house and asked for Ben. His roommate told him no one named Ben lived there. Kenobi’s manager at Mary’s Pizza Shack, Amy Savage, said he uses his name to entertain his guests. “It’s entertaining and funny. It’s not obnoxious,” Savage said. His chosen name made Amy Flack, also a server at Mary’s Pizza Shack, see “Star Wars.” “He’s really popular at the restaurant, especially with the kids. The name fits his personality. I don’t know anyone else who would do that,” Savage said. There are some tangible benefits to the name. “I think, for the most part, it helps out with my tips,” Kenobi said. “It gives people something to talk about if I take a little longer to bring their drinks, and if I do screw up, I just say something like, ‘The Force is not with me tonight.’ That usually smoothes things over.” There are of course, a number of customers who tease or make jokes about his name. “I always get people asking me where my light saber is. I usually tell them it’s being used to cut their pizza or something,” Kenobi said. “Some people ask me where Luke and Darth Vader are and then I get the people who want to tell me everything they know about ‘Star Wars.’ Most of the people over 65 have no clue about it, though.” Although a fan of the movies, Kenobi said he was never obsessed with them. He remembers seeing “Return of the Jedi” in the theaters, and he read some of the novels growing up but he doesn’t have a Jedi costume. However, Kenobi is proud of his light saber. Kenobi’s true passion is art. Since his elementary school days, Kenobi has sketched, doodled and painted. He has a degree in sequential art, which he clarified as comic books and animation, and a minor in art history. “My dream is to be an artstronaut,” he said, explaining that an “artstronaut” is an artist who paints on a spacewalk, with a canvas in front of him and floating blobs of paint all around in which to dip his brush. “I just wouldn’t want to get any paint on my visor. That’d be annoying.” Kenobi described his artistic style as subjective surrealistic abstract expressionism. With hidden imagery, glitter and various objects painstakingly sewn into the canvas to accentuate his works, it’s best to take Kenobi’s word for it. One of his prints is registered with the Library of Congress and Kenobi painted a few commercial pieces but most of his work is done on commissions. “I don’t regret it at all,” Kenobi said. “I was going to be single anyway.” April will mark a decade since he has lived as Obiwan Kenobi. “I work at the restaurants so I’m not a starving artist,” Kenobi added.