The Elbert Files: Remembering Pollock's wit
Friday, December 20, 2013 7:00 AM
Many of my friends are writers. A few are quite good, but none approach the skill of Jim Pollock, who occupied this space until he died all too soon and suddenly 20 months ago at the age of 59.
Connie Wimer used to compare Jim to the young Donald Kaul.
His writing reminds me of James Thurber, whose signature 1939 short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” is now a movie. I’m pretty sure Jim would not approve.
I’ve been thumbing through “Transitions,” the book that Connie created from Jim’s weekly columns, and I’d like to share some of his musings as the year winds down.
Jim’s Jan. 4, 2010, column is particularly relevant, given this year’s early onset of winter. It offered advice to new Iowans.
“Frostbite is like sexual promiscuity,” Jim began. “You’ll hear a lot more about it on television than you’ll see on the streets of Des Moines.”
TV weather reporters, he said, “worry more about their viewers’ noses and ears than all of the Polk County mothers combined. They believe that leaving skin uncovered outdoors for a few seconds is like sunbathing at Point Barrow, Alaska.”
“This is not to say that you shouldn’t dress properly for the conditions, at least during your first winter,” he said. “As the years fly by, you’ll start to wonder if it’s really necessary, because even on the bitterest days you’ll see lots of people without hats and one or two in shorts.”
“The biggest problem is not cold air or snow, but ice,” Jim said. “Even if you stay indoors, eventually you will become an ice storm victim. Experts tell you to be prepared by owning a couple of flashlights. Unfortunately, after two or three hours with no power, you’ll be using these as clubs.”
Over the years, Jim mused about a lot of things, including:
The financial bailout:
“We tried flinging cash at our troubles, cutting interest rates and bailing people out,” he wrote in late 2008. “Sometimes we bailed out people who were just strolling down the sidewalk minding their own business; sometimes we made would-be bailees do a little dance first, and some push-ups.
“In short. our focus wandered. When a generation is raised on Warner Bros. cartoons and three-minute pop songs and then assumes control of government, this is what you get.”
In October 2008, Jim made several predictions. One was that the Des Moines skywalk system would finally be complete in 2033 with the “grand opening of a bridge linking the Capitol to the airport via Gray’s Lake. . . . Financed by the new tax on cocaine sales, the newest bridges feature moving walkways, handheld GPS units and free snacks.”
In late 2011, Jim wrote of the upcoming crop year: “As usual, weather conditions will haunt the Midwestern corn crop. As usual, farmers will harvest one of the two or three biggest corn crops in history. Then it’s off to their annual convention at a secret tropical resort where the rooms look just like combine cabs.”
From a 2012 column: “Once, I typed Jim Aipperspach’s name, and the computer asked if I meant ‘Jim Hyperspace.’ No, I said, but thanks for the input.”
“We complain about our crumbling roads while voting to crush the political career of anyone who suggests higher taxes,” Jim wrote in 2011.
The Iowa caucuses:
In a Dec. 31, 2007, column, Jim came up with the perfect 25-word description for Iowa’s quadrennial political event: “A small fraction of Iowans decide the future of the United States of America after watching a series of TV commercials paid for by multimillionaires.”
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