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Eulogy to Jack Marlowe

Jack Marlowe, Kamares, Sifnos

I was Jack's worst student ever. He told me this in 1972 when he expelled me from his senior English class. Twenty five years later he was still introducing me as his worst student ever. I don't think he really held it against me, at least not for the last twenty years of our friendship. First of all it was my father who had hired Jack to teach at ACS in Athens and like many teachers who had to put up with me I was given a lot of slack. When Jack finally kicked me out of his class I realized I had gone too far and I felt bad because I really enjoyed him as a teacher and a person. Plus it was my easiest class.

Jack was a revolutionary. He was the only teacher at the American Community School in Athens who allowed the students to decide what we were going to learn and how the class was to be run. It was truly democratic. That was probably why my dad hired him. After a group discussion of the classroom rules each student met with Jack and agreed upon their individual objectives for the class and then signed a contract. If you fulfilled so many objectives, for example reading a certain number of books, writing a paper on Shakespeare or a project that showed you understood grammar, you could give yourself a grade. For some students who were self-motivated this was a great system and for others it was a lousy system. For me it was the only system that would enable me to pass 11th grade English.

My best friend was Peter Christ who happened to be Jack's favorite student and one of the best. We were a deadly team and much of Jack's efforts were keeping us from turning the whole democratic process into total anarchy. One of the class rules we had decided upon was that we could listen to music. There was a record player and we could bring our albums and while we each worked on our objectives Elton John or Rod Stewart and the Faces would be playing in the background. That is until Peter and I took over the music and the class was forced to listen to Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica every day until there was open rebellion and a move to eliminate music in class.

Most kids in the class took their objectives very seriously and Peter and I were no different. We told Jack, who we addressed as Mr Marlowe most of the time, that we would make a music and art magazine. We would have a certain number of interviews, articles on various subjects, advertising (not real of course), editorials and whatever it took to make a magazine and show that we understood some of the concepts which were supposed to be taught in 11th grade English. If we succeeded in putting out two issues of this magazine we would each get an A-plus. Jack fought us on the plus, probably realizing how out of place it would look on my reportcard with all C's, D's and F's. Maybe he knew that any administrator reviewing my school records that he would seem like the best teacher since Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love or a total sucker. In the end we did not back down and he agreed to the plus. We spent the rest of the semester bothering the other students, going to the library or getting library passes and going to hang out with Mr Davenport and watch the kids in gym or climbing a tree on the edge of school property and smoking cigarettes. A week before the end of the semester we worked like mad. The day it was due we turned in two issues of our magazine called Blues Scene which was 90% tongue-in-cheek articles about our band CC. Blues King and the individual members, and the rest interviews and articles about and by our friends. We then printed up 50 copies of each and sold them around the school. Later that day while we were sitting in English class basking in the glory of our achievement my father and Mr Ammerman, the principal, appeared at the door holding a copy of our magazine and looking distressed. There were a few problems with the magazine, besides the profanity which I don't believe they read far enough to find. One of their complaints was an advertisement for Kafelon, a low grade over the counter amphetamine, showing a drawing of an emaciated bandmember with bags under his eyes and gaps in his teeth. The other item which they seemed to take more seriously was an editorial cartoon which showed a tank with a flag that had the letters OSI which was the Office of Special Investigations, the arm of the US Embassy which was investigating drug use among the students at ACS. The side of the tank was adorned with a swastika and in the ground below was a cave with stick figures hanging and an arrow pointing to it and the words OSI Torture Chamber. One of the stick figures had some kind of weapon and we went so far as to give him the name of a well-known undercover informant for the military. The OSI tank was rolling over some little stick figure people who of course were meant to be kids. Coming from the stick figure commander of the tank was a big word balloon which said in giant letters. "FUCK THE ANTS". (We may have changed it to 'Death to the ants' because of Jack's insistence) Somehow this cartoon had slipped past our editorial staff and strict censorship. My father and Mr. Ammerman were concerned that this magazine might fall into the wrong hands and asked us to buy back all those we had sold, which we did, and then sold them for even more a day later since it was now banned.

We both got our A pluses.

The following year the gods of scheduling smiled upon us once again and Peter and I found ourselves in Mr Marlowe's senior English class. Actually I found myself in Miss Priles and when she walked in I walked out and straight to the office and threatened to quit school that instant unless I was placed in Mr. Marlowes class. You can imagine his joy when I appeared at his door a few minutes later.

This year the class wanted to do something a little different. They wanted to put on a presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar. Peter and I thought this was an awful idea. I don't think Jack was too wild about it either but he was a prisoner of his own democratic process. When it became obvious that we were not going to be able to discourage the other class members from this impossible project we took a different approach. It had been decided in the class objective meetings that if the play were successful everyone would get an A for the semester. Peter and I asked to be released from this and negotiate our own separate contract. In ours, (which Jack fought to discourage) if they were successful and actually put on a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar the class would all get A's and Peter and I would get an F. However if the class failed to put on this performance they would all get Fs and Peter and I would each get an A-plus. Jack finally agreed to this just so the class could get rolling.

I don't know if the rest of the class was aware of our agreement but if they had thought about it hard enough they might have figured it out. By the terms of the class contract everyone had to take part and that included Peter and I and we were opposed to everything. When it was decided that we had to have roles in the play I agreed but I wanted to be a tree. Peter wanted to be a cloud and just sort of wander around the stage. In the end the play never happened and Peter and I got our A-pluses. I doubt the entire class got an F but I remember Jack meeting with each member and explaining that because of the terms of the contract they had agreed to he should give them a failing grade in senior English, almost as passionately as he told Peter and I that we really did not deserve A-pluses.

You might wonder what someone could do to be banished forever from Jack Marlowe's class since he had to have been the world's most tolerant teacher. I think it was not one incident but a series of incidents that led to one climactic encounter. In Jack's class you could ask for a library pass and unless something important was being discussed, by the rules that we all agreed upon he had to give you the pass, unless you had shown that you could not be trusted (like me) and then you had to tell him why you were going to the library. I don't know what I told Jack that day that he allowed me to go but when he went to check up on me I was not at the library but at the pic-nic tables talking to some girls. Jack became very angry and ordered me back to class. On the way I happened to look into the studyhall and saw another girl that I wanted to talk to and sat down next to her. Jack happened to look in and see me and for the first time I had ever seen went ballistic. He took me to the principal's office and refused to have me in his class anymore. This meant one of two things. I either had to take Miss Priles for the rest of the year in order to fulfill my requirements. This I refused to do. Miss Priles was the type of teacher I did not do very well with, the type that actually made students work. The other choice was to drop out because there was no way I would pass Priles class so it would be a waste of time. There was actually a third choice. I would finish up the objectives I had left for the semester and Jack would give me an A-plus without going to another class. This was agreed to except without the A-plus. I think Jack felt he had me this time and he was being generous just letting me have a C and being able to graduate.

Naturally after having Jack as my highschool English teacher and spending all but the last two weeks of my junior year doing nothing, the first semester of my senior year arguing about Jesus Christ Superstar, and the second semester taking another period of art, I became a writer. Maybe not a very good one but that's not Jack's fault.

Though Jack was popular with his students he was the most unpopular teacher ever with the school board made up almost entirely of military and embassy officials with a generous sprinkling of conservative businessmen in Greece because of contracts with the dictatorship. Jack had long hair, a beard and looked like the photo of John Lennon on the Firesign Theater album and it was naturally assumed that he took drugs. Whether he did or not I don't know, but the military men on the board were terrified by what their innocent American children might be learning or doing in his class. They wanted Jack out and in 1972 his contract was not renewed.

For some reason Jack and I lost contact after ACS but many years later we met in Athens. He wanted a quiet place to write in Greece, a place that had not lost the charm and simplicity Greece had in the early seventies. He had tried Ithaki but it did not seem right. I suggested my grandmother's village of Kyparissi in Laconia.

That first year we stayed in the rooms above Katina Poulakis store-restaurant. It was a long hallway with Jack and Sue in the room next to mine and the rooms on the end being taken by a parade of characters who inhabit Jack's stories and my book, Spearfishing in Skatahori. The rooms were awful. Mine was right over the kitchen and overlooked the house that my family had let fall into ruin and I was trying to restore against their will. Jack's room was larger and he had his typewriter in front of the window where he would work with the radio on. Sometimes the whole upstairs would smell of some deadly concoction that Katina was brewing downstairs, a mixture of vinegar and chicken fat that we never knew if it was for eating or cleaning which made the hot rooms even hotter. Despite the unpleasantness of our living quarters Jack and Sue fell in love with Kyparissi and through a stroke of good fortune bought a house for a very good price which they turned into paradise, (while I am still struggling with my relatives and still staying at Katina's only now in much nicer rooms with balconies and air-conditioning).

Since then I have tried to build my summers around Jack and Sue's dates in Kyparissi, sometimes successfully and others not. It was probably in 94 or 95 I came to Kyparissi and rented a house in the valley behind my grandmother's ruin only to discover that the day after we arrived Jack and Sue were leaving for a month. It was in this void that I wrote most of SPEARFISHING IN SKATAHORI and created the foundation for what would become my GreeceTravel websites. Jack returned in time to play a leading role in the story though his spirit haunted that month he was away as it will when I go back to what was once my Grandmother's village but which I now think of as Jack's Village.

I guess it was three summers ago that we planned to spend the summer again in Kyparissi and actually coordinated our trip with Jack and Sue so we would be there together. Jack had told me his stomach had been bothering him and that he was going to see a doctor. I had an ominous feeling and when I saw in my mailbox an e-mail from him a few days later I knew that it was going to say that he was not coming to Kyparissi. I guess I knew he had cancer before he did.

Jack seemed to handle his illness like a hero and defied projections of how long he would live. I remember meeting the owner of the Hotel Adonis where Jack and Sue would stay in the Plaka and he shook his head sadly telling me how when he and Jack said goodbye he realized he would never see Jack alive again. Jack returned several more times on his way too and from Kyparissi. I probably read all of his e-mails to Dr Volpe, the first doctor who told Jack he only had a few months to live. Each began "Dear Dr Volpe, Fuck You" and then went on to tell of the events and thoughts of a day that he was not even supposed to be alive according to the doctor's prediction. These e-mails went on for about a year, maybe more. They became such a familiar site in my mailbox that I realized when they were slowing down, and when they stopped altogether I was worried so I asked my sister-in-law Pam to ask Peter to call and see if he was OK.  

The last Sunday in July I was on the island of Mykonos. Andrea and I were taking our daughter to see the caves we had slept in back in 1972. It was the year Peter and I graduated and Mykonos was our last hurrah before we went back to the USA, Peter for college and me to enter a world of cars, girls, concerts and when my money and desire to work ran out, college as well. Our caves overlooked Paraga beach which in the age before mass tourism we had pretty much to ourselves. Now the beach was full of umbrellas and beach chairs and cafes. The peninsula with the caves were now inhabited by overweight, gay, male, middle-aged German tourists, lounging naked reading the paper, the kind of people Jack loved to make fun of. As we were leaving my cell phone rang. It was Pam telling me that Jack had died on Friday. Here I am making fun of German tourists in this once remote place with my daughter and the phone rings to tell me Jack is gone. Jack would have loved it.

Jack was an amazing story-teller, especially when they were about his experiences. I have my favorites as many people do but the one I liked most was the time he left his house in San Francisco and saw his cat outside, where the cat was not supposed to be. When he went to pick up the cat and bring him into the house the cat ran away. He ran after it and chased the cat through backyards and alleyways, climbing over fences and through hedges of stickerbushes. He finally cornered the cat and grabbed it. The cat began screeching and scratching and biting but Jack held on and carried it back to the house. When he got home Sue was at the front door wondering why Jack's car was halfway out in the street and Jack nowhere in sight. "What are you doing with that cat?" She asked. When Jack told her what he had gone through to catch it she told him. "Our cat's in the house".

Jack loved a good joke and there was no better feeling than to tell Jack a good joke. The last joke I sent him I had a feeling could be the last. I didn't want to send him a letter telling him how he was my hero and the way he handled his illness was an inspiration to me, because I had already written that a month before. I wanted the last thing he heard from me to be something funny because I wanted to imagine him reading it and laughing. So the last thing I sent him was a joke. I lost it but it went something like this. (If you don't like dirty jokes you should probably stop here.)

A man and his wife were driving down the highway arguing about his infidelities. The argument become so heated and intense that the woman reaches into her purse and pulls out a big knife and cuts off the offending organ and throws it out the window.

In the car behind them a father is taking his 8 year old daughter to a birthday party when the organ lands with a splat on the windshield and then flies off.
"What was that?" asks the daughter.
The father very concerned about her innocence tries to downplay the incident. "Oh it was just a bug." he tells her.
The daughter sits quietly for a few moments reflecting on this before finally responding.
"It sure had a big dick".

I hope you got that last joke Jack and I hope it did not hurt too much to laugh.
See you around...

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