Off Limits

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Writer Neal Pollack is not to be trusted. In his first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, the former Chicago Reader columnist takes on the persona of a man with the same name -- one who has led a startlingly full life as a globe-trotting journalist and whose exploits include seducing Grace Kelly and accidentally purchasing an infant son while on the trail of Zapatista revolutionaries in Chiapas, Mexico.

So when Pollack posted a written assault on Mayor Wellington Webb on his Web site, nealpollack.com, last year, fans were wise to take it with a particularly crystalline grain of salt. "That virulent fascist Wellington Webb...must be stopped, citizens of Denver," Pollack wrote. "Sure, Wellington Webb may appear in the gay-pride parade and devote large tracts of public land to affordable-housing developers. In his public rhetoric, he may rail against urban sprawl. But underneath his progressive façade, Mayor Webb has no respect for civil liberties."

These feelings, he reported, were rooted in an incident that occurred in Denver last summer, when, at the behest of the mayor and the city council, Pollack was physically prevented from reading his work at a Green Party Rally held at the Mercury Cafe; the "greatest living writer in America" was then forced to escape after being roughed up by the cops. "After my last reading in Denver, in 1995, had caused the people to rise up and ban smoking in public places," he wrote, "the city council and their mayoral leader...had passed a draconian ordinance... Let me quote from his edict: 'The city will immediately shut down, for health-code violations, any establishment that agrees to let Mr. Pollack read. In addition, we will charge the owners $200,000 and force them to replace their roof, regardless of structural integrity.'"

In actuality, Pollack -- the writer, not the character of the same name -- has nothing against the mayor. In fact, he likes him, which is why he decided to use him in his story. "As big-city mayors go, he seemed like a pretty progressive mayor," Pollack says. "I thought, how funny would it be to turn him into a fascist with his own stormtroopers?"

Pollack, who has a number of friends and relatives in Colorado, says he learned about Webb's politics while he was here doing freelance work for the nonprofit Enterprise Foundation. Still, during a reading at the Tattered Cover's Cherry Creek store on Monday (with fellow McSweeney's lit posse member Lawrence Krauser) Pollack continued his anti-Webb doctrine with a vengeance. "He pretends to be a democratic, benevolent arm of government," Pollack told the audience of approximately fifty readers, "but he rules with an iron fist, and he must be stopped."

 
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