Neal Pollack was honorably discharged from the United
States Army on 17 April 1969 after serving a two-year tour in Viet
Nam. Prior to his induction in 1966, he had long hair, tight pants, and was playing
bass with legendary guitarist/song writer, Howard
Berkman, in the Knaves--a
bad-boy Blues/Rock band in Chicago. "Talk about sex and drugs and rock 'n'
roll--we had it all!" he reminisces. His military training provided him
with expert knowledge of the then state-of-the-art genre of light weapons and
his specialty was the M-60 machine gun. Having placed highly in math on his
SATs, he was also trained as a Finance Clerk.
When he returned to Chicago, he knew that his previously acquired skills would be of very little use to him and he drove a cab while trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. An old friend of his, Marvin Berkman, had just opened a "hand-made" jewelry shop in Chicago's trendy Old Town and Pollack stopped by to scope it out. "It was a little 10' x 10' x 10' cubicle with a workbench and some display cases. Just as I walked in, Marv was silver soldering a ring together. It was the closest thing to magic I had ever seen and I was hooked!" Pollack asked Marv if he'd teach him how to make jewelry. Marv told him to sit down and the apprenticeship began. Pollack studied under the old master for 3 1/2 years learning all phases of jewelry fabrication and repair. In May of 1970, inspired by the Kent State Massacre, which was caused by some moron giving the Ohio National Guard live ammunition, Howard decided to "get the old squad together" and we formed The Euphoria Blimpworks Band to play the soundtrack for The Revolution.
In an attempt to improve his skills, he packed up his hand tools and moved to Pforzheim, Germany. He did production work at Güntner u. Cie, designed, manufactured and exported his own line to the U.S., and attended the prestigious Goldschmiede Schule. "I was working about 16 hours a day, but I was inspired and was really developing some awesome chops."
After two years he felt he was ready to return to the U.S. and open his own shop. Having developed the skills, he intended to create fine handmade jewelry in the traditional manner. He opened a shop on Chicago's exclusive North Shore and plied his trade there for 13 years, catering to the desires of a wealthy clientele. After several vacations in Colorado, he found he preferred the mountains to the concrete and in 1987, closed his shop and moved to the Aspen area. He set up a studio in his house, did model and production work for other designers, custom work and wholesale manufacturing and is currently selling his work exclusively from his website, Neal Pollack Goldsmith.
In 1995, he had a revelation, "The jewelry business isn't what it was 500 years ago. It's time for a change. If I don't become computer literate, I won't be able to get into a pay toilet by the year 2000." He signed up for an introductory computer course with Traci Collins at Colorado Mountain College and pursued it with the same dedication and zeal with which he studied jewelry over a quarter century earlier. "Any measure of success I've achieved, I owe directly to Traci. Her knowledge of computers was broad, deep and awesome and her lectures were spellbinding. She took me under her wing and went way above and beyond the call of duty in rounding out my computer education. I continued taking all the courses offered for several more years until I had a broad understanding of hardware, maintenance and repair, operating systems, applications, networking and more." Besides attending school, he spent over fifty hours a week reading, "doinking", building and trouble-shooting old computers. "My first PC was a Tandy 2810HD laptop. It was a 286 with 1Mb of RAM, a 10Mb hard drive, a 2400bps modem, and a mono display. I couldn't run Windows and my only online access was through Compuserve and AOL on a text only basis. I thought it was way cool. I used to run from lab to lab at CMC to use Windows machines. When a class was in session I had to leave the lab, so I'd drive from Spring Valley to Glenwood or Carbondale just to get next to a 486 running Windows."
In January 1997, he started PressPlay Computer Consultants and has been devoting most of his time to that. "I like to think of myself as semi-retired when it comes to jewelry. I still do custom work by appointment, feature and advertise repair and restoration and look forward to creating a small collection of fine one-of-a-kind pieces--just for the sheer joy of it. It may seem strange, after all these years, but I still feel the same magic every time I sit down at the bench. I've also spent the last several years setting up an ornamental ironwork shop almost exclusively from salvage and will be working on a much larger scale as well. After spending forty years working essentially with my fingers, it will be fun to work on things I can actually wrap my hands around that won't break if I drop them."
"Working with computers makes me feel like I'm 9 years old again. Everything is new and exciting. This is the fastest growing technology in the history of the human race and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I'm into this with both hands and feet and love every minute of it."
In 2003, he began to miss playing music and thought it would be fun to form a band playing something other than rock and roll. Toward that end he formed the Bad Habit Allstars with three local musicians who shared his interest in jazz, blues, bossa nova and standards. The band was short lived but, like many things in life, fun while it lasted.
Pollack lives, with his wife Jean Dupré, on 11 acres with a trout stream running through it. Their dependents and neighbors include, but are not limited to five indoor/outdoor cats, a beaver family, a skunk family, a transient blue heron family, a couple of bears, a raccoon gang, a plethora of songbirds and about a gazillion hummingbirds. "All I wanted when I returned from Vietnam was a beautiful wife, a place in the country with a studio, interesting work, some dogs and cats and a car that was paid for and started every day. I've got all that and more. I believe I'm the luckiest man in the world and a roaring success."
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