Mike Watkiss: Confessions of an Ambulance Chaser

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Depends on if you're friend or foe

by Mike Watkiss

Bio | Email | Follow: @mikewatkiss3TV

Confessions of Ambulance Chaser Blog

Posted on July 16, 2010 at 12:04 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 16 at 12:10 AM

I've had a lot of weird celebrity encounters during my career. Pierce Brosnon was a really cool guy. Elizabeth Taylor was a pain in the butt. Sylvester Stallone once tried to drag me in to a lawsuit.

Marlon Brando was charming as he escorted his son Christian out of an L.A. county jail early one morning. Jack Nicholson once ran over the tip of my boot with his car while I was standing in the driveway that Jack and Brando shared high atop Mulhulland Drive.

Comedian Rosanne Barr and her one-time husband Tom Arnold flipped-out--wrongly accused a member of our t.v. crew of trying to steal a coffee cup while we're were attempting to interview the crazed couple at a home the twosome was renting in Malibu. What a comedy that was!

In real life, actor Tommy Lee Jones was scary and intense. He reminded me of the "missing link." Jeff Daniels looked like a big goofy kid in a Halloween costume as he walked around the set of "Dumb and Dumber" wearing his dog grooming outfit. O.J. was a jerk long before he kill Nicole and Ron.

But of all my brushes-with-fame, the one that I still consider the most intriguing and bizarre was a chance encounter with a well-known and well-respected writer by the name of Jerzy Kosinski.

Kosinski is perhaps best known for a wonderful book he wrote called "Being There." It's the tale of a simple minded man who does nothing but tend a garden and watch t.v. Then, because of a strange twist of fate, the man becomes the President of the United States. The great actor Peter Sellers starred in the movie version and was nominated for an Oscar.

For my money Kosinski's best book, however, was a haunting semi-autobiographical novel called "The Painted Bird."
It's the story of a little boy who is separated from his parents as war is breaking out in Europe. The poor child looked like a gypsy and as a result is subjected to one atrocity after another at the hands of the brutish back-country peasantry of Europe. It is a horrifying but stunningly told story of hatred, superstition, prejudice and hard-fought survival.

To this day, the mere thought of some of the book's passages are powerful enough to make my skin crawl.
Let's just say I had read several of Jerzy Kosinski's books and was a very big fan when I spotted him one Sunday afternoon many years ago walking in Central Park with a young pretty woman.

I was certain it was Jerzy Kosinski because I had not only read many of his books, I had also seen the Warren Beatty movie "Reds" in which Kosinski played a small but significant role. It was Kosinski--no doubt about it--one of my favorite authors--right there in front of me taking a stroll through Central Park.

The problem was: I was on roller skates at the time--doing my own little Sunday afternoon sprint through the park. The question of course: Do I skate over and risk appearing like some drooling goof. Would I scare the guy? Do I miss my one chance at telling one of my favorite authors how much I admire him? To add to my dilemma I had read somewhere that Kosinski had enemies--people who wanted to kill him. Wonder if he called the cops?--wonder if he shoot me?

What the hell--I may look like a dork on my skates--but I had to shake his hand.

"Excuse me....are you Jerzy Kosinski?" I asked as I wheeled up along side the author and his female friend.

I would read a few months later that Kozinski committed suicide in his New York apartment. I can't remember the details. He was a talented but haunted man.

Many years have pass since my chance encounter with the author but I will never forget his response to my question "...are you Jerzy Kozinski?"

Without missing a beat, his dark eyes locked on me, and he shot back: "That depends on if you are friend or foe."

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