Though Howard X. Pollock — known affectionately by his former students at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School as HXP — will turn 95 this month, he still lectures at schools, synagogues and churches.
“My lectures are always history as it actually happened, not as we alleged it to happen,” he said as he sat at what resembled a teacher’s desk in his Hewlett home. “I would have loved to teach that way, but they wouldn’t let me.”
Stacks of newspapers and books sat on shelves behind him. The walls were covered with photos, drawings and mememtos, including a New York license plate that read “HXP” and his favorite motivational quote: “He who would achieve success gives freely what costs him nothing.”
Pollock left a large legacy in East Rockaway, where he taught for 25 years. He was born in New York City on Nov. 21, 1923, spent his childhood in Long Beach, Rockville Centre and the Bronx, and graduated from high school in 1951 before attending Long Island University and, later, Columbia.
Though he became a local teaching legend, Pollock was not especially studious as a teen. “I had a lousy high school record,” he said. “I just couldn’t study in high school. I failed a subject every year and went to summer school.”
He began teaching social studies and history at East Rockaway in 1961, and retired in 1986 to concentrate on a part-time tax-preparation business that was taking off. His former students, however, still fondly remember his lessons.
“He made history interesting,” Marilynn White said. “He would ask you or guess your nationality — German, Italian, etcetera — and tell us stories about our nationality, and always made them fun stories.”
Other former students of Pollock’s said they remember him because he spent hours in the school library flipping through The New York Times, played golf, bowled — and once taught for an entire class period while speaking in rhymes.
“He was my social studies teacher, and developed a reputation for being able to write two different questions on the blackboard at the same time,” recalled Karen Anger Hill, a 1961 graduate. “We all learned the meaning of ambidextrous.”
Pollock said he never yelled at his students, and preferred to teach using reason instead of by the book. He also wrote and sold greeting cards, and says he had agreed to help actress Jane Mansfield write a book about women’s empowerment before she died in a car crash in 1967.
In his retirement, he lectured at schools and houses of worship across the Northeast until arthritis forced him to cut back. He still lectures locally.
Once, at NYU, Pollock said, he wanted to talk about how he believed Abraham Lincoln could have prevented the Civil War, but was told the topic was too controversial. “I’m not criticizing Lincoln as a person. He was a great man,” he said. “I’m just thinking he could have done better, because this, to me, is the worst catastrophe in the history of the United States — Americans killing Americans.”
Pollock said that his late wife, Lollie, had another nickname for him: dumbbell. The couple met while Pollock was working at a camp on property that Lollie’s family owned. He took her bowling on one of their first dates, and his future wife grew impatient as he tried to find the right ball for her. She ended up throwing a heavy one down the lane as if it were a baseball, and it landed with a thud.
“The whole place stopped,” Pollock recounted with a laugh. “The manager was tongue-tied. He could only say one word over and over again: ‘Out, out, out, out!’” Despite that misadventure, the couple wed in 1934 and had three children: Nancy, who owns apartment buildings and works for the Directors Guild of America; Howard, a lawyer; and Jane, a gemologist.
Pollock has long been a man of many skills. Despite weighing only 140 pounds in high school, he was a talented basketball player, and set a school record by scoring 39 points in a game — long before the 3-point shot was invented. He was also a gifted welder and worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard when he was 17, eventually getting promoted to first-class journeyman and making $1.27 per hour.
He wanted to join the Navy during World War II, but was deemed ineligible because he was colorblind and underweight. When he was 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Army with the help of a sergeant.
“I was put in charge of the motor pool,” he said. “I never drove a car in my life.” Despite his inexperience, he eventually learned how to drive, and taught others. He was shot twice over the course of two years of serving his country, and received two Purple Hearts.
Once, he was shot while on guard duty at a prison for American military personnel who had committed crimes. A prisoner had escaped and was found on top of a table with a gun. Being a lieutenant, Pollock decided he would be the first one in.
“I saw too many moving pictures about the fearless leaders leading their men and going in first,” he joked. “What a stupid thing that was.” He was shot in the ear, but he and his men eventually captured the prisoner.
After the war, he settled in East Rockaway, where, in addition to teaching, he coached the bowling team to 17 straight division titles. “He really got upset if we missed a spare,” recalled Steve Dwyer, a class of 1966 alumnus. “That poor yellow marker on the sheet got really dark when we did.”
Pollock said that coaching bowling and chaperoning annual student trips to Six Flags Great Adventure were among the high points of his teaching career. He added that he still attends reunions, including, most recently, the 50th anniversary of the class of 1968 this past June. “I enjoy meeting with the people who I remember,” he said. “They still call me here sometimes just to talk to me. . . . I’ve enjoyed East Rockaway very much.”