Jan Gilbrecht: Mark Efross

Posted on 16. Jun, 1991 by in Remembering Friends

In Memoriam
Mark Efross
1953 – 1991

Mark Efross was a central figure from Pacific High School’s middle to late years, first as a student and later a staff member. He was a man of humor, warmth and great individual style. He loved music, movies, read widely and always had the juiciest gossip. He was one of the best friends that I will have, and I say this in spite of the fact that he eventually took up golf. He was also an addict who fought a battle with cocaine for most of his adult life.

By the time that I arrived at Pacific in the spring of 1970, it had already become a “national school” with students — many the childrenof the hip and well to do — from around the country. I felt very much out of place as a local and a scholarship student. Mark described his first take on me years later — lonely, looking lost but trying to seem aloof, smoking Virginia Slims and wearing all the wrong clothes.

Mark, on the other hand was always “the man” (as my twenty-two-year-old son would say). Even then he hung out with the staff, acted liked he owned the place. If you were in with Mark, he could get you anything. He had the best pot, or could line you up with a spot in a dry dome. It was a big day for me, a watershed moment, when Mark decided to befriend and watch out for me. From then on I felt that I had a home and a brother in it.

Our relationship was cemented by a semi-apocryphal event that occurred near the beginning of that first summer, when Mark decided he would teach me how to drive in his VW van. We drove up to the top of the ridge road. Mark put me behind the wheel, stuck it in second gear and told me to steer it down to the parking lot. As the speed picked up I lost control around a curve and the van went over the steep side, stopped by a tree about five yards down. I saw it coming and ducked, Mark went through the windshield. He survived that crash with a few scars, but the van was totaled. A meeting was held and a restitution plan was arrived at. The school would reimburse Mark for the value of his van, but he and I would each be responsible for a portion of it. We would both have to work at the school for the summer, and I would commute to my job at a nursing home — a very graceful way to address the fact that neither of us had homes we wanted to return to. (Pause here for a minute for your favorite Mark memory.)

Over the years, I heard the stories about his pre-Pacific years. He had run away from his home near D.C. at fourteen and bummed around the Caribbean. By the time he was found and brought home, his parents were thrilled with Pacific as an option. (His parents are wonderful people who he loved and was close to in adulthood) He always seemed much older than his years. It’s hard to say when exactly he stopped being a student and went on staff. It’s harder to say exactly what he did as staff. He was always just there, taking care of things, sort of like a highly socially adept Radar or Milo Minderbinder.

It was in the later years, when Pacific had stopped paying staff or accepting tuition and become a “self-sufficient educational community” that Mark crashed and burned for the first time. It was discovered that Mark had been putting the proceeds from a school business that he ran up his nose. Many people pleaded for a second chance for him at the community meeting held to discuss the problem. It was hard to imagine Mark without Pacific, or the community without him. But the offense was too large, the betrayal too great and Mark was exiled from paradise. The school didn’t survive for too long afterward, not that there was necessarily a relationship.

After that, Mark evolved a pattern to his life of business successes flamboyantly destroyed. He did have a great business sense, too. His D.C. based answering service called Detente flourished with the end of the cold war, before he poured all the assets up his nose. But he also conned and betrayed many friends. Mark always protected me from his “evil” self. He never burned me for a dime, was careful to be in good shape when he got in touch. Sometimes six months or a year would go by, but I knew I would hear from him eventually, knew the stories would be bad, but that would all be in the past by the time he called.

Our friendship taught me a lot about addiction. He really struggled with it, 12-stepped it, sweated it out, went cold turkey many times, but fell back. A few years ago I started volunteering with the AIDS prevention needle exchange program in Oakland where I live. From that I was introduced to the concept of harm reduction. The idea is to take drug use out of the either/or, black/white, bad/good dichotomy and see it for what it is for a lot of people — a life-long road of peaks and valleys with the hope of some even terrain up ahead.

In the last few years of his life Mark had moved towards some level ground and his own forms of harm reduction. He made amends with most of the folks he had burned over the years. He worked as a telecommunications consultant (his business card had a picture of a large man in a superhero suit emblazoned: THE COMMUNICATOR), so if he fell, he didn’t take anyone else with him. He had a relationship with a wonderful woman who I finally met at his memorial. But he spoke of the fact that he couldn’t “master” coke as a rat that ate at his soul.

I know that some of his friends may be horrified at me talking about his drug problems in a memorial to him. But it was a central fact of his life, just like his big heart, his great sense of humor and his dedication to his friends. To me, remembering Mark without talking about drugs is like portraying Roosevelt without his wheelchair — it may not be pretty but you miss a big part of the picture without it.

Mark died of a heart attack in his sleep in his New York City apartment. He is remembered and missed by family and many friends.

Jan Gilbrecht

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One Response to “Jan Gilbrecht: Mark Efross”

  1. carlos castineada

    22. May, 2013

    Thanks jan for sharing all the best parts of mark.
    Matson man,s got his backbone @michel ryback

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