By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
After a few minutes of waiting for Polis, whose foundation donated oodles of computers to the project, Summerbridge director Jenn Fitchett decides to get the party started. Hickenlooper takes a seat on the stage of Kent's El Pomar Theater along with other dignitaries and a handful of Summerbridge instructors and students. Several speakers later, Fitchett is about to play a Summerbridge video when loud noises emanate from the theater's entryway. "It sounds like a tornado around here early in the morning," she jokes as she tries to locate the cause of the racket.
Sure enough, it's Polis, clad in his typical sports jacket. He's 23 minutes late and has a shaking-off-slumber look, but the video gives him time to regroup. Afterward, he cheerfully engages in a Summerbridge cheer dubbed "the spirit clap." The clap's pattern gets increasingly complicated as it goes along, and Polis is utterly incapable of mastering it. As he thrusts his fist into the air, crying "Summerbridge!," he snickers at his own ineptitude.
Afterward, the guests are ushered into a classroom to see a Summerbridge math lesson in action. The students, all at their respective desks, have been instructed to keep working, but the appearance of twenty or so big shots shadowed by the media instantly transforms the session into a circus. When Hickenlooper leans over to talk with one pupil, the Rocky's Avila and the Post's Osler get within a few inches of the kid and squeeze off shot after shot in rapid-fire fashion, their cameras' shutters clicking like teletype machines run amok.
A few feet away, Polis glances at a female student's worksheet. He recognizes it as being part of an arithmetic exercise called "exponent bingo," and when he sees that she's got a row of numbers across her page, he tells her to call out "Bingo." She hesitates for a moment before speaking up. In reply, the embarrassed teacher says, "We haven't started to play yet."
Amid the cackles that greet this revelation, Polis asserts that "it's a very complicated version of bingo. It's not like the church version."
After brainstorming with Fitchett about grants Summerbridge might be able to attract, Polis heads to the Navigator and checks his schedule on what must be the most selfless Dell laptop ever made, since it's missing the letter "I." Next on his agenda is a conference call that's about to begin almost immediately, but he wants to take it from an apartment he keeps in lower downtown Denver. With that in mind, he tells me to follow his Navigator in my far less muscular compact car -- a task that isn't quite like a scene from The Italian Job, but close.
The apartment is ultra-modern: wood floors, exposed pipes, industrial lighting and, against a bare brick wall, an oversized photo of Polis in his early twenties, smiling against a backdrop of colorful graffiti. The place is also ultra-slovenly. The kitchen counter is lined with open cereal boxes augmented by a carton of matzoh. The coffee table, which sits opposite a high-tech TV and a pricey stereo unit, is covered with a smattering of papers, publications and, for good measure, a Madonna CD. An end table beside the couch has a hurriedly discarded dress shirt and tie on top of it and old running shoes beneath it, while a desk a few feet away holds the latest in modern communication gear partially illuminated by a digital clock that repeatedly flashes "12:00." The time is close, actually -- a few minutes before noon.
As Polis leaps into the conference call, a slew of people are already talking about The Dwarf, an adaptation of a 1944 novel by Pär Lagerkvist, a Nobel laureate from Sweden. (The dark narrative spotlights Piccoline, a 26-inch-tall misanthrope who commits crimes on behalf of the Renaissance-era royal he must serve.) Those yapping include producer Rosen, Scott Stein, who adapted the screenplay, and Josh Metnick, Polis's partner in January Studios. Polis just returned from a jaunt to Sweden, where he and a Dwarf team led by actor Dink-lage screened The Station Agent, and everyone's thrilled by the buzz the junket generated.
As it turns out, Dinklage was the second diminutive celebrity with whom Polis recently shared time. In June, he attended BookExpo America in Chicago, where he was assigned to assist eminent sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose latest book is coming out under the auspices of Blue Mountain Arts. "She signed autographs for two hours, and I managed the process of people coming for signatures, making sure they weren't taking up too much of her time," Polis says. "And she's very small, so I had to help her get onto things, lift her onto platforms. I was her manservant for the day."
The conference call wraps up just short of 12:30 p.m., and after lunch with friends, it's back to the Navigator for a dash to the New America School's East Denver campus, in the Community College of Aurora facility near the former Lowry Air Force Base. At the time of Polis's 2:30 p.m. arrival, the school's second-floor office is a beehive of activity, with the director, Marla Jacobson, finalizing a class schedule and executive director Alby Segall, the former manager of the Children's Museum of Denver (and a failed Denver City Council candidate last year), checking enrollment figures, which appear to be on track. By early August, New America School board president Richard Garcia estimates that 600 full- or part-time students are committed to attending classes in Aurora or at the Adams County Campus in Thornton beginning September 7.