The remembrance below was presented at a memorial service for my friend Steve Pollock who passed away much too soon at the age of fifty, almost ten years ago. Steve was not just a dear friend, but also a caring husband, father and high school english teacher who left an indelible impression on those who knew him. I thought it was fitting to include this with my other articles in this month’s newsletter that speaks to the importance of close relationships and having compassion towards others.


Those who had the pleasure of being in Steve’s company were privy to his gift for gab, so if I seem to be rambling on here, so be it. I think it’s only fitting and fair that we pay tribute to our dear friend with a healthy dose of his own medicine. However, when it was administered from Steve Pollock, it was medicine worth taking, because he always left us feeling good about ourselves and life in general.

It’s my feeling that not too many people, and especially men, go through life experiencing a close friendship that’s sustained over decades, where hardly a month goes by without contact or a meet-up to pursue shared interests. I was fortunate to have such a friendship with Steve. We met at Harbor high school when I was a senior and he was a junior after he moved to Santa Cruz with his family that year. My first personal encounter with Steve gave an indication of his compassion towards others and a genuine lust for life. Needless to say it seeded our friendship.

We were both on the varsity baseball team, traveling back on the bus after a game we lost, mostly on my account. I believe I set a school record for most errors in one inning at shortstop. Anyway, he was the new kid at school, eager to fit in and make new friends. He sat next to me and tried to console me as I was apt to beat myself up over my miscues (a common interaction we had throughout our relationship). He told me to forget about it, made a few kindhearted jokes about my errors, and assured me that I was going to make up for it the next game… then proceeded to tell me, in animated detail, his life story, much to the amusement of our teammates at the back of the bus. Those who were snickering at us were not used to seeing two guys talking incessantly about topics that didn’t have anything to do with sports, partying or infatuation with the opposite sex. It just wasn’t typical male bonding behavior that guys normally demonstrate in high school.

During that bus ride conversation he told me about growing up in Ventura CA, and the warm summers that appealed to him, and his many sporting interests he shared with family and friends. Then his family moved to Shaver Lake where the Sierra Mountains left a lifelong love affair with the great outdoors and a bonding with his dad. They spent the summer months fishing nearby streams and in the winter time skiing Mammoth and other Sierra slopes. He mentioned that he was a Catholic who sometimes nodded off during the sermon (I witnessed that on a number of occasions), that he was mostly liberal minded, and he told me about all his varied interests including sports, fishing, music, movies, and books, and by the end of the bus ride we both realized how much we had in common, except he talked a great deal more than I did.

Throughout our friendship Steve’s unbridled enthusiasm towards his interests and life had a profound influence on me. I can still remember the time in high school when I was going through an easy listening phase of soft rock music, when Steve denounced my “wimpish” music infatuation (he actually had a few more choice words). He was determined to snap me out of my music torpor, as he demanded that I sit in his room and listen to repeated plays of early Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Clash, and of course Bruce Springsteen. When he put the album Born to Run on his turntable and turned the volume up to speaker quaking decibel levels, Steve’s face glowed with pride as his fist pumped the air at the crescendo of his favorite song. It was a persuasive performance, not just from Bruce, but from Steve’s passionate display for music that he described as soul stirring, life affirming rock and roll.

As our friendship evolved, I picked up on his devil-may-care attitude towards life and we celebrated it with vigor whenever we had the chance. The after-hours shenanigans at Adolph’s Restaurant where we both worked as busboys during high school. The numerous concerts and night club hopping and dancing we did with friends during those soul searching years of our 20’s. Celebrating New Years and other holiday revelries, attending sporting events, playing tennis and golf together, as well as just time spent talking and reflecting on life and the complexities of women over a drink in a bar. But the get-togethers I cherished most were our summer fishing trips where we often set out on an unplanned adventure. If there was ever a person who liked to wing it, Steve was the champion of spontaneity. He would often show up late without an excuse or remorse, and we set off to the great unknown in the wild Sierra’s searching for that hidden stretch of water that we hoped held an unlimited number of wild trout.

Steve once told me that he hated sleeping because it interfered with his interests and his engagement with life. I wasn’t surprised, because I never met a person with more dogged determination to try and squeeze and savor every ounce out of his life. Whether it was fishing for hours on end (he always caught the biggest, and more fish than I), playing tennis or golf (rarely did I win a match or game against him), or teaching and mentoring his high school students. He spent countless hours after school helping them with homework or personal problems they were having at school or in their home.

Steve was not motivated by money or personal achievements that many people are drawn to. I believe he was purely driven by his desire and intuition that life is short and you can either “get busy living, or get busy dying”. This was evident even during the last year of Steve’s life while he was going through numerous treatments for his cancer and his prognosis for recovery was slim. That last year we still met up for our summer fishing adventure, went to a Springsteen concert, played golf and tennis and hung out at our favorite watering holes whenever our schedules permitted.

The day before Steve died, we played in a golf tournament with my dad in Santa Cruz. I could tell he wasn’t physically right. He was a bit ashen and moved slower, and his usual steady golf game went south on him. It was one of the rare rounds that I played better than him. However, he was still his jovial self. Cracking jokes and poking fun, usually at my expense, but always leaving smiles on those keeping company with him. At the end of the round we were going to grab a beer and have lunch with my dad, but Steve remembered that he promised his son Sammy that he would spend the day with him. Before he left, we made plans to meet the following morning to play tennis before I had to drive back home to Davis.

That morning I drove over to the tennis courts at the high school that we both graduated from years ago. As usual, Steve was late but I didn’t think much of it. I waited about a half hour before calling him and leaving a message to let him know I had to get back to Davis and that we would reconnect soon. When I was about halfway home I received a call from Steve’s phone that I couldn’t take while driving. I pulled off at the next exit to listen to the message; however, it wasn’t Steve but his wife Liz crying while telling me that Steve had a heart attack and died that morning. My heart sank and my world became a lot smaller learning I just lost my best friend.

I believe with Steve’s passing he gave us one last lesson, and that is to teach us how to live – not alone in “quiet desperation” on our digital devices with inconspicuous Facebook friends, but engaged in life and sharing it with others to the fullest of our capacities. Let us all pay honor to him by seizing the rest of our day(s), being more humanly connected and showing compassion towards each other… albeit with some good-natured ribbing.

two men dancing

“Dancing Fools” – Steve B. showing Steve P. how to waltz at his wedding rehearsal dinner in Santa Cruz, early 1990s.