It happens every ten years to the day. Every decade since 1982 when I first met Dustin Hoffman in Vail, Colorado, I run into him on the streets of New York City.
The first time was on an early, cold winter's day when I was tasked by the manager at the ski shop where I was working to outfit the famous actor. This frumpy looking guy in a tattered green army coat came up the stairs to the ski department. I knew he was coming and I was excited and nervous as hell. After all, I'd been a fan of his for years and had done some acting myself by that time. The night before, Little Big Man was on T.V. and I couldn't wait to meet jack Crabb in person. I acted professional and nonchalant, as not to seem too excited. Mr. Hoffman seemed as if being outfitted for ski equipment and clothing was last thing he wanted to do and as it turned out it was. His wife prompted him to do it and he was being a big sport about it all. After skis, boots and poles where decide upon I summoned up the courage and asked if I could join him the next day on the slopes. He happily agreed and we arranged a meeting point.
Promptly at 8 a.m. I met Dustin, his family and a ski instructor at the lift ticket office. As it was Christmas time my employee season ski pass wasn't valid and I had to fork over $65 for a day's ticket. As I reached for my wallet, Dustin stepped in and paid the cashier. "Wow! What a guy!" I thought to myself. We rode the lift together to the top of the hill and I was so dumbstruck or just plain dumb that I couldn't speak. I was unable to ask him about acting, his life, his thoughts - anything! My muteness lasted for most of the day, even at lunch where Dustin held court at a mountaintop restaurant and told a rapt audience of how he lost his virginity and at the same time decided to become an actor. "Wow! What a guy!" (Again) It wasn't until we were prying ourselves out of our boots did I open my mouth to thank him for the day where he invited me to his condo to join him and his family for drinks. "Wow! What a guy!"
I did manage to speak when I was with the Hoffman Family and asked Dustin his advice on what I should do if I seriously wanted to pursue acting. "Move to New York." That was it. "Move to New York." So I did. Not right away but I did eventually and every ten years since I first met Dustin I see him on the street. The first time was on the corner of 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue walking with my friend Rick. As I approached Dustin to ask, "remember me?" a group of tourist pounced on and encircled him keeping him captive. My muteness returned and I walked away a bit deflated telling myself all the things I could have done or said. "Idiot! You're an actor in New York City now and He told you to come here. Maybe He would have put you in a movie or arranged a meeting with his people. Idiot, idiot, idiot!" Oh well...
Ten years after my missed chance at 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue I was having lunch with Rick at an outdoor cafe on Amsterdam and 71st Street and who walks buy our table? Yes, it was Him. My brain started to overheat with stimulation. That was Him. Get up. Get up now! Muscles, I'm commanding you. Move this instant and take this idiot to one of America's greatest contemporary actors who told him to move to New York. Move arms! Push up off the chair and catch up with Him and remind Him of who this idiot is! Not one muscle in my body twitched to respond. I just sat there and said to Rick, "That was Dustin Hoffman." To which he replied, "Hey, he lives around here." Deflation crept in once again like a fast moving storm until I realized that I'd see Him again in ten years and when I do He will be as old as Jack Crabb and He'll probably say, 'what the hell did you wait so long to talk to me for, you idiot.'
'Six degrees' you're probably thinking and I agree. The same thing happened with Harry Smith from CBS News. I sold him ski boots in Denver where I moved to after leaving Vail. Ten years after that encounter I ran him to him at Time Warner in Manhattan where I worked part-time catering events. Harry remembered me and it wasn't lip service. He remembered the name of the ski shop, Aspen Leaf and the color of the boots. I was impressed. As I served him a beer I asked him about CBS News and CBS Sunday Morning to which he was open and candid.
Yesterday, Sunday October 28th I went for a 12 mile training run in Central Park. I was approaching a hill near the Metropolitan Museum of Art when this guy strides past me. I decided to draft him up the hill until my competitive spirit kicked in and I pulled up beside him. I don't know why but I turned to him and asked him how old he was. It was an impulse. He looked at me and answered, fifty seven. "Harry?" I asked. "Ya'?" "Harry, it's me, Bruce Katlin." That's right, it was Harry Smith ten years to the day.