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Jeremy Pollock portrait by James Iska

Jeremy Pollack portrait made by James Iska two months ago.

Jeremy Pollack lived in a black and white world which fit him just fine.

His love of noir’, a 1950s love song and the smell of fresh newsprint shaped a colorful life. Pollack died on Nov. 17 after a short bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 55 years old.

His death came just two months after he released “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1,” an acclaimed collection of pulp short stories set in Chicago that he wrote under the pen name Ben Solomon. The writing is tight and rhythmic which amplifies the  drama.

Pollack’s characters zigged and zagged around the Panther Room at the Chez Paree, the Club De Lisa on the south side and some looked for clues at the Hart Schaffner Marx factory.

There is no answer for Pollack’s death.

I guess every death could be called untimely, but Pollack’s passing knocked me out.

He was on a roll. “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1 ” was getting good reviews. The self-published book is available on Amazon.com. On Oct. 19 he appeared on “After Hours” with Rick Kogan on WGN-AM. Unlike the majority of his characters, Pollack had a bright future. On Nov. 17 my friend Scott Momenthy told me the news from his home in Florida.

Pollack had finally left his job as department manager at Printing Arts, 2001 W. 21st St.  in Broadview to devote most of his time to writing. Prior to Printing Arts, Pollack and Momenthy designed publications like “The Land Improvement Contractors of America” and “EcoLogic,” a conservative environmental magazine. While working his day shift Pollack was hard-writing at night from his Logan Square home that he shared with his partner Carolyn Smith. In Feb. 2013 he launched “The Hard-Boiled Detective” as a series of stories available through subscription.

“He wrote three stories a month and never missed a deadline,” Momenthy said Tuesday from Florida. “I was a subscriber. He was writing on the fly. He was that good. He wasn’t slaving over edits. He decided he would not name the detective. That was a big one for him. By the detective not havng a name his style grew around certain rules he set for himself about how he was going to write. He didn’t have to ponder it. He just had to adhere to principles and then naturally something unique would grow out of it. It’s a really interesting idea, a lot how you might live your life. You set up a principle, but you do go there according to what it is. It all came together in ‘The Hard-Boiled Detective,’ this guy who lived by a code. He had made up his mind before he walked into a mystery. He didn’t struggle with right and wrong. He knew.”

Jeremy Pollack

Pollack was born in Oak Park. His only sibling Jonathan is a classical pianist who lives in Rogers Park. His late father Sheldon was an advertising executive. During the mid-1970s his mother Lorel Abarbanel was a tireless advocate for Soviet Jews who applied to leave the USSR. She worked from her home and  the Spertus College of Judica in Chicago. She was worried about the KGB, which clearly planted a few ideas in Jeremy’s mind.

Momenthy met Pollack in 1975 in an experimental alternative education program at Oak Park-River Forest High School where classmates included actor Amy Morton and Paul Mertens who went on to join Poi Dog Pondering. “I was writing songs and he was one of the few people who were listening to me,” said Momenthy, who for 20 years ran “The Rhythm and Rhyme Revue” at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.  “I first got to know him as a great listener. He was taking improv classes at Second City. That was his primary interest at that time.”

Jonathan Pitts, Executive Director at Chicago Improv Productions and Improv Instructor at The Second City Training Center was in that experimental class at Oak Park-River Forest. On his Facebook remembrance Pitts wrote, “After I put together my first improv team at Triton College, Jeremy would meet me at Denny’s restaurant to drink coffee while I ate French Fries and we’d talk improv. He’d written some of his ideas into a notebook and he shared them with me. It was like learning the alphabet into a language that I’d been around but didn’t fully understand. I still use some of what I learned from him today when I improvise and when I teach.”

James Iska of the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago was a member of the experimental program at Oak Park-River Forest. In a Wednesday e-mail he wrote, “I’ve never known a more naturally gifted person. By the time I met Jeremy at age 15, he was already an accomplished dancer (having performed with the Joffrey Ballet), painter and cartoonist. He made films and performed music, acted and even formed his own theater-improv company. But I think his greatest passion was movies. At the drop of a hat he could recite entire scenes from his favorite movies. He especially loved film noir which explains this last great pursuit, writing hard boiled detective stories.”

As a teenager Pollack was attracted to the joyful performance style of Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp. Gibson was the house act at the colorful Gate of Horn nightclub on the near north side. When they were teenagers Momenthy and Pollack hitchiked to the west coast to play folk music.  Pollack played ukele, Momenthy played guitar. They sang in double harmony style on the streets of California. They were voices waiting to be heard.

Scott Momenthy (L) and Jeremy Pollack contemplating the future of the newspaper industry in 1986 (Courtesy of Scott Momenthy)

Scott Momenthy (L) and Jeremy Pollack contemplating the future of the newspaper industry in 1986 (Courtesy of Scott Momenthy)

“He began to get involved in noir’ back then, too,” Momenthy said. “He was dressing like that, writing like that, even the songs he was writing was a throwback style from the 1940s and 50s. That was consistent with him right from the start. He was always Chicago. ‘Chicago this, Chicago that.’ He took great pride in Chicago. For him to start getting recognized by Chicago people and to be thought of as a voice in Chicago was huge to him.

“He’s looking to what’s the next step. He doesn’t feel good. And ten days later he’s dead.”

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In mid-August Pollack–as Ben Solomon–approached me for a blurb for his book. I saved his notes because I knew there would be more from this gifted author. “Very old-school stuff,” he wrote to me about his work. “Call it retro-detective. After 18 months with 54 stories in the bag approaching 400,000 words, I figured it was time to release a book. And volia….Merely your intention means a great deal.”

I had to deliver. I loved how Pollack put a face on sense of place.

His characters were able to breathe and move between his jazzy cadence. Pollack wrote with the detail and punch of a grizzled crime reporter.

Here is his scene from “G-Man” of walking down Lower Wacker Drive:

Lower Wacker’s a cavernous throughway, a subterranean crazy house. For mirrors, chutes and rails, it’s filled with limestone, green lamps, echoes. You’re never certain about the reverberations you hear in Lower Wacker. Maybe they belong to you, maybe to something unseen up ahead, maybe something after you from behind. Or maybe something on another level. Or maybe it’s your pulse beating in your ears like an oil derrick from lugging a satchel filled with pig iron.”

“Jeremy was into newspapers very much,” Momenthy said. “In 1984 he published No. 1 of the Chicago Sheet literary magazine. It was called ‘Chicago’s Finest Print.’ He edited it. Ben Solomon first showed up there. It was a broad sheet. It was beautiful. He was a cartoonist and his first cartoon characters showed up there. (Songwriter) Dan Bern wrote a piece. Jonathan Pitts did a piece.”

Jeremy Pollack would pick up stacks of The Chicago Sheet at the printer and strap them to the back of his scooter for delivery.

Jeremy Pollack would pick up stacks of The Chicago Sheet at the printer and strap them to the back of his scooter for delivery.

At the same time Momenthy and Pollack were working at the Wednesday Journal, which was Oak Park’s alternative newspaper. Pollack did production work at the journal. “I was working the boards,” he recalled. “We did the Chicago Sheet on the side. We were practicing guitars in the offices of the Wednesday Journal at night. He was doing so much. He was always laughing off talent. He said, ‘It’s not talent, it’s work.’ Jeremy painted, he wrote, he designed, he edited. And he produced.”

Momenthy paused. The phone line crackled like the last sparks from a candle. “I’m really torn now,” he said. “He was very humble. I feel I should have just told the guy when he was 25, ‘Do you know who you are? Do you know how much ability you have?’

” I don’t know if he ever knew.”

A semi-private memorial service for Jeremy Pollack will be held Nov. 22 at his Chicago home.

July 4, 2011-

The essence of music is deep and free.
Like sprinkles of dust underneath blasted firecrackers and cherry bombs there is a distant salsa beat.

An old blue bicycle takes you to a group of men in Humboldt Park on the west side of Chicago. They are across the way from the 16-inch softball players with the sweeping uppercut swings and the pregnant woman with a light white smock snapping in a gentle breeze.

It sounds like the old bicycle needs oil.

The men are huddled under a tree that shades them from a bright blue sky. No  barbecue, no beer; just their drums, congas and heart beats. No tip jars.

Just commitment, a promise to keep on playing.

You rewind  24 hours when the Iguanas got up at 6 a.m. in El Paso, Tx. to make a 11 p.m. gig at a Fourth of July festival in Berwyn, Ill. They played on and as did Jon Dee Graham who sang about freedom and Muhammad Ali in a green shirt drenched with sweat. These moments become your own, like a lyric in a song that always makes you cry.

The  men under the tree could be playing something from Willie Colon.
Is it  ‘Calle Luna Calle Sol” ?
No one is there to translate such things for you.

You guess  “Silent Sun, Street Moon” That would be perfect.
The men have jerry rigged their speakers to the engine of a white  low rider.
The music jumps starts your heart.

Me & Minette Goodman

Oct. 11, 2010

Let me take a minute to write about living in the moment.

Sunday 10/10/10 was a remarkable Indian Summer day in Chicago, something like the 11th straight day of clear blue skies. People were running around—literally-to soak up the sun. Even by dusk I saw folks from the Chicago Marathon strolling around north side streets with medallions around their neck. There always is a finish line, but no so much if you are truly in the moment.

My weekend was filled with thoughts from Chicago past. On Saturday night I began reading “Royko in Love,” (University of Chicago Press, David Royko.com, a collection of 114 love letters the gritty-on-the-surface Chicago newspaper columnist wrote to his future wife between 1954 and 1955 while stationed in the Air Force. In his introduction, Royko’s son David write tht the tone was from “…the pain of self-doubt and the fear of losing what is so close, but literally so far.” Royko’s wife Carol died suddenly in 1979 of a cerebral aneurysm on Mike Royko’s 47th birthday. She was only 44.

“They say that a sincere love increases with time,” Royko signed off June 11, 1954, “So until tomorrow when I’ll love you more than I do today.”

Mike Royko with sons Rob (left) and David at the Chicago Daily News-Sun-Times Building in 1968. The Trump Tower stands at the old S-T site (Courtesy of David Royko)

While stationed in rural Washington state, Royko writes of his desire to go to the Edgewater Beach Hotel and walk along the lakefront. Edgewater Beach is a place that was special to my parents and in recent summers have provided scenes of my own. “I’ve never been to most of the so-called better places in Chicago because there has never been anyone that I wanted to go with,” the 21-year-old Royko writes.
I’ve been to that place.

On Sunday afternoon I dropped in on the ceremony to rename the Lakeview post office the Steve Goodman Post Office Building. The beloved Chicago singer-songwriter/Cubs fan knew he was living on borrowed time. He packed two lifetimes in one before dying of leukemia in 1984. He was 36. Eight days after his death the Cubs won their first post-season game since 1945 on a sun-drenched north side not unlike Sunday’s weather. This was not lost on me.

I was in a hurry to get to the wedding of Alice FitzGerald, the daughter of my friend Bill FitzGerald. But my compatriot Diane talked me into stopping at the post office. We slowed down. (I figured that a post office event probably wouldn¹t start on time.) While driving around in my timeless Pontiac of 104,000 miles we had been talking about this theme of not worrying about the future. The Goodman detour was a good call.

The dedication was playful and touching, illuminating Goodman’s spirit.
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley introudced to the bill to rename the post office and I loved his comment about how our cars were getting towed by Lincoln Park Towing (a Goodman song topic) during the dedication. I was in such a good mood I didn’t lay all my issues about the 2010 Cubs on Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who stood near me.

Bonnie Koloc tore my heart out with a searing take of Goodman’s “I Can’t Sleep (When I Can’t Sleep With You)” and Michael Smith and his wife Barbara Barrow delivered a weathered version of Smith’s “The Dutchman” that was popularized by Goodman. The crowd of more than 200 friends and family gently sang along on the chorus:

Let us go to the banks of the ocean/ Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee.
Long ago, I used to be a young man/ And dear Margaret remembers that for me.

So the next gotcha moment was during Bill FitzGerald’s speech about the love of his daughter.
Bill was nervous and was overcome by emotion a couple of times during his comments. They were moments of truth.

He spoke how FitzGerald’s nightclub was being scouted for the 1986 Paul Newman film “The Color of Money.” The film’s art director Boris Levin liked FitzGerald’s because of “that baby” in the adjacent front apartment. That baby was Alice.

—I knew the bride when she rock n’ rolled (Photos by Diane Soubly)—

Bill stopped to compose himself and wiped a tear away from his eye. Like a shoebox full of snapshots sliding off a shelf, I’m sure a collection of moments overwhelmed him.

Scott Ligon’s wonderful Western Swing/honky tonk Western Elstons played songs like “Sentimental Journey” with former NRBQ bandleader Terry Adams sitting in on piano. Zak and Alice’s wedding song was the Beach Boys ballad “God Only Knows.” Love doesn’t exist in the future, which sounds like a Buck Owens song the band could have played.

—Western Elstons with special guest Terry Adams on piano—-

At age 80, Bill’s mom Margaret proved to be a fantastic dancer, Kate and Diane were keen photographers and guests played souvenir harmonicas with “10/10/10 Zak & Allice Kloska” inscribed on the side.

We danced, we drank and we toasted—not so much to the future, but to moments like these.

l to r: Cindy/Rosie, Diane, Dave, Bill Fitz