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CORK BOAT by John Pollack

CORK BOAT

By John Pollack

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-42257-9
Publisher: Pantheon

The whimsically strange story of 165,321 corks, 15,000 rubber bands, and their co-evolution into a 22-foot Viking longboat.

As he tells it, former White House speechwriter Pollack had always been a builder of curious boats. One, made of orange crates, firewood, and political campaign stickers, went straight to the bottom. Another, the S.S. Milky Way (made of milk cartons), was seaworthy but had a problem with mold. Here, with a sincerity that is at once this account’s principal strength and its puling weakness, Pollack writes of becoming demoralized and exhausted by the trench warfare of politics in Washington, where as a staffer for Congressman David Bonior he was repulsed by the city’s caste system and relentless power-slinging. He chucked it all to pursue a childhood desire to build a cork boat. This meant obtaining a lot of corks and a design, enlisting friends, taking time off to make a little money here and do a little networking there, making new friends in the cork and rubber-band businesses, suffering the inevitable setbacks and slowdowns, and reveling in the breakthroughs and the acts of kindness. Among the gestures of support, both hands-on and purely verbal, Pollack includes getting tapped to serve Bill Clinton as a speechwriter and making a voyage to Antarctica as a glorified publicity man. These episodes, though they may burnish his liberal/quirky-adventurer credentials, bog down the cork boat that is the real object of fascination for readers. A labor of love and fine madness, too ungainly to even make it into the water at first, the boat had a curved prow resembling a fist giving a one-finger salute. Pollack concludes with its crazy journey down Portugal’s Douro River, a trip sponsored by his cork supplier that gave him a chance to let the boat show its stuff.

A childhood dream realized, and an engaging story well told.