Allow Me to Introduce Myself…
Hi! If you click on the link Welcome to Nicholas Dollak's Web-Site! you’ll find a little biographical information about me. But that’s just superficial stuff. There’s a lot more to Nick Dollak than a mere handful of sentences.
WHERE DO WE COME FROM? WHERE DO WE GO?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people ask me where I’m from. If you couldn’t care less, do yourself a favor and skip down to “SCHOOL DAZE.” If you’re dying to know, read on. You’ll be sorry. Frankly, I can’t fathom why one’s points of origin would be important; but it must be vital information to a lot of folks, so here’s the answer.
LONG FORM: All over the globe. I’ve got ancestors from many, many lands, and once in a while someone digs up information linking us to yet another country or ethnic group. I have the blood of all races in my veins. Suffice it to say I’m from Earth. Just like you, I presume. The name “Dollak” happens to be Bohemian, which means it's from a bit of Eastern Europe that is now the Czech Republic. It’s pronounced the way it’s spelled, like “dollar,” but with a “k” instead of an “r.”
SHORT FORM: Born in Long Branch, NJ, USA. Lived in West Allenhurst, NJ until 1983, when we moved to Fair Haven, NJ. Attended Glassboro State College (NJ) from 1986 to 1991. Moved back and forth from Pitman (near Glassboro) to Fair Haven, depending on economic circumstances. Currently, I live in Glassboro.
I don’t know if there are any Canadians in my ancestry, so please don’t ask me if I’m Canadian. I don’t know where people get that from; I don’t even sound “Canadian.” My accent probably sounds slightly Midwestern to those who don’t live in the Midwest, but it’s really a neutral-sounding form based on correct pronunciation. I noticed early on that people who didn’t pronounce words correctly were hard to understand, so I made an effort to avoid falling into that trap. Of course, people who are unaware that the correct pronunciation of “crayon” is “crayon” and not “crown” or “cryan,” that this country’s name is “America” and not “Amurka” or “Murka,” that a “county” is not a “cyany” or that “bounce” is not “byance,” often giggle at my pronunciation of those words and many, many more – go figure! In the immortal words of Professor Henry Higgins, “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?”
Which reminds me… I once saw an otherwise excellent stage production of Lerner & Lowe’s My Fair Lady, in which the actor portraying Professor Higgins spoke with an upper-class London British accent. No, No, NO! Higgins is obsessed with correct pronunciation, and thus would not speak with a British accent. He’d probably sound more like Rex Harrison, or like… well, me.
And for those of you who think I’m making a big deal about nothing… When I was very little, I thought All In the Family’s Archie Bunker was “Awchie,” because that’s how “Edit” (Edith) always said it. And I’ve noticed that the people most likely to get into noisy rows about mutual misunderstandings, are people who mispronounce their own language. Contrary to Jerry Seinfeld’s “salsa/seltzer” comparison, such communication breakdowns can be avoided by simply talking right.
Well, enough didacticism. If you were curious about my point(s) of origin, you’re probably sorry now, just like I warned you. And if you really weren’t interested, please accept my apologies for putting you through all that. I get the bizarre “Canadian question” an awful lot, just so you know.
I have nothing against Canadians, by the way.
When I was in elementary school, I was classified as a slow student. True, I was socially inept. I’m still working on that problem, but when you’re really not that interested in people in large quantities, progress is slow. Anyway, in third grade a teacher spotted me reading an unedited translation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as a collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. It was supposed that maybe I wasn’t as dumb as I looked, and halfway through fourth grade I was moved to an advanced reading class. However, nobody explained to me what was happening, or asked me to do any work. Consequently, I failed that subject that year, while my fellow fourth-graders learned the parts of speech (which would later prove necessary for learning foreign languages) and I did not. So in fifth grade I was classified as slow again – or at least really weird. The following year, I amused myself by reading – and re-reading – Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune. (This was years before anyone managed to make it into a movie. I wanted to make the movie!)
Then, in eighth grade, I scored a 190 on the standard IQ test all eighth-graders had to take. Apparently, 100 is supposed to be “average,” so that made me some sort of genius. Okay. This did not exempt me from school, nor did it entitle me to a paycheck. Also, now I had to put up with conceited (and perhaps territorially defensive?) math whizzes “testing” me with math problems, which I could not solve in my head because math never was my strong point (I had actually scored below average in the math section, with the exception of the geometry problems, which I’d found quite simple).
Yes, I’m proud to be a genius. However, I have not let it go to my head. Some of my friends, my brilliant fiancée included, actually did poorly on IQ tests. And no potential employer has ever inquired about my IQ. Yes, I could join Mensa (I passed their test too), but they charge a hefty membership fee and offer no tangible advantages. I often tell students, “No employer is going to ask you how smart you are, and it doesn’t really matter. In school, we expect you to listen, and to do the work. If you’re smart, that’s fine – but we need to see the work. If you find this subject difficult, that’s okay; just do your best.”
You know what bugs me most about attitudes toward intelligence? The hypocrisy – the irrational fear of intelligence by those who claim to cherish it. Take a look at most (not all – there are a few exceptions) Hollywood-type movies, especially Disney movies. Who’s the smartest character in the movie? The villain. How smart is the hero? He usually knows how to throw a punch. He might prove resourceful at some point, but he’s usually kinda dumb and thinks jokes about bodily functions are funny. These movies reflect (and perpetuate) a frightening societal problem: the equating of intelligence with evil. This is where paranoid employers get off with the oxymoronic “over-qualified” excuse for not hiring a qualified applicant. They don’t think, “Hey, this person will be a good worker.” They think, “This person will steal my job.”
I have never wanted to steal a job. I’ve always wanted to be a paid artist, or at least to make a living so I can live long enough to make some art.
“Over-qualified” is not a legitimate word. It’s an oxymoron, like “military intelligence,” “civil war” and “jumbo shrimp.”
Things shaped up a little for me in high school, where I met several people who became lasting friends, including Preston McClear. (More about him later) College was even better, although it was frustrating at times because, despite my perseverance, I still had no girlfriend. Fortunately, late in my fourth year (of five), I met a beautiful young lady named Lily Waters. We were engaged for the next 16 years. While I'm pretty much programmed for marriage, Lily couldn't commit, so I broke it off. I'm currently seeking a wife. Lily and I have remained good friends, though.
MINIMUM WA-A-AGE (ka-RACK!)
I graduated in May 1991 with a BA degree. I had majored in Art and minored in Education. Thanks to the Great Recession of 1987, paying jobs were difficult to find. Schools didn’t even call me in for interviews. Eventually I got a job at a movie theater. (Here’s a funny bit: I look a little like Richard Dreyfuss, and moviegoers often commented on that fact. “Hey, look who’s selling tickets for his own movie – it’s Richard Dreyfuss!”) However, Lily lived in Pitman, while I was living with my parents in Fair Haven – a good two hours’ drive away. I got a job as a janitor at the Aquarium at Camden, which allowed me to live in Lily’s area. Then I got work at a photo lab nearby. Unfortunately, I was making minimum wage, which bothered my parents as much as it bothered me. They made me return to their house (which meant leaving my job) and take computer courses at the local community college. I learned Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and Quark Xpress. I built up such an impressive portfolio that, when I applied to graphic design firms in Lily’s area, I was denounced as “over-qualified.” (There’s that oxymoron again!) I managed to get work with a furniture-assembly company, which paid pretty well, actually. With Lily’s help, I found out how to take the NTE (National Teachers’ Exam, now called PRAXIS) and aced it. I applied all over the state for teaching jobs, and eventually got work as a substitute teacher in West Deptford, Salem, Mount Laurel and Cherry Hill.
MALIBOOKS AND MORE
And now regarding Preston McClear. When I was working at the movie theater, he came in to see a movie and we recognized each other from high school. He said he had written a children’s book and asked if I would be so kind as to illustrate it. I agreed, and we soon had Frannie and Pickles. He sent it around to publishers, who said the story was good and the pictures excellent, but nobody knew who we were so they weren’t going to publish it. We created a slightly more ambitious book called Old Man Brown and His Magic Bike, with identical results. The same deal happened with The Boy Under the Bed. So we decided to put together a sort of presentation package for publishers, which included hand-made self-printed copies of the books. Since I had created the same sort of thing with my first novel The Third Ice Age, I knew how to make books by hand. Before I knew it, Preston had decided to take what I call the “Little Red Hen Maneuver” and set up a publishing company called Malibu Books For Kids (now Malibu Books For Children). Now I was cranking out dozens of copies of the books on my copying machines. This was very expensive, since it personally cost me about $8.00 to make a book. Despite the cover price, I actually lost money on this venture. If Preston hadn’t had a plan of action to improve the system, I would not have continued. Fortunately, he didn’t delude himself into thinking we could hand-make books indefinitely. While we sold the books at sidewalk sales and a few independent stores, Preston did a LOT of research into the publishing business. He set up a Website advertising the books, established links with other sites, sent out promotional packets, and eventually found out about a book-distributing company called Ingram. This was one of the most important advances we made; if one can sell one’s books through Ingram, one can sell one’s books in any bookstore. We scrounged up a pile of money and paid a printer in Hong Kong to make 2,000 copies of The Boy Under the Bed, complete with dust jackets. These were professional jobs, much better, I think, than my hand-made copies (although they lack the quaint, home-made charm). Although we had to spend a lot of money up-front, it’s more economical this way; the Hong Kong books cost us a little over $2.00 per book instead of $8.00.
In 2007 Preston and I set up a small shop in Greenwich Village, New York. After a long struggle, we discovered that "Big Lebowski"-themed merchandise sells. We're now The Little Lebowski Shop! 215 Thomson Street.
In 2011 I retired from teaching to work at our little store. I still assemble furniture, write and draw. The other pages on this site go into details on these activities, and there are links to sites with which I’m affiliated. Just click on the links at the top to see the other pages. Thank you for visiting my Website! I hope you enjoy your stay, and I wish you well.
I also extend thanks to my friend and business partner Preston McClear for his extensive help and great patience in helping me post this Website onto the Internet. Also, thanks to my brother Jordan for his help along those same lines, and to my brother Stefan for his helpful suggestions regarding the "Artwork" page (which was originally a single page of server-crashing size!) and fact-fixing on the "Miscellaneous Stuff" page.
I’m the weird-looking guy in the foreground.
(Photograph taken by my brother Stefan on May 14, 2001 in Asbury Park. There’s a link to Stefan’s Website on the Miscellaneous Stuff page.)
Me, on the old Batman set, apparently. And there I am showing off my spare tire at the Beach in Allenhurst. Anyone have any extra Medifast coupons or an Atkins Diet book?
(Photos by Pat Merlucci [in First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, actually] and Stefan Dollak)
The beautiful nymph is Lily Waters; the lecherous satyr is me.
(Photo taken by myself, with some difficulty, in 1993)
Autographing a copy of The Boy Under the Bed at a school with the author Preston McClear.
(I don't know who took the photo, but it was in early 2003. Yeah, I know; it's a lousy haircut.)