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Jack is an enigma, a prophet, a whirlwind.
We talk a few weeks after his arrest in Cambodia, a country from which he is now permanently banned for a naked motorbike ride through the streets. The arresting officer filmed the incident; the video made it onto YouTube, and the story into the Daily Mail. Jack persuaded the guards to let him share a cell with his two co-offenders, a Finnish woman and a Scottish man, and managed to smuggle in his cellphone. While the guards were away, Jack and the Finnish woman shot a porno.
“These kind of events,” Jack says, “happen to me all the time.”
I first heard about Jack in 2010—he was crashing at the flat of a friend, one of the global scores pulled into Jack’s orbit. Stories filtered their way to me. Jack the genius. He just won another scholarship. Jack the crazy Italian. He fought mano-a-mano with a crocodile.
Jack talks for hours with little to no prompting. There’s no video on our Skype call, but I remember his face: a thicket of dark hair, a waxed and curled moustache, a beard that’s tending ginger. He speaks at a measured pace. His English is flawless with an accent that’s half-London, half-Continental, his well-practiced stories structured with a novelist’s skill. He paints scenes, he builds dramatic tension, he masterfully suspends punchlines.
Tangents come thick and fast. “I nearly got killed by a bunch of camels once,” he offers.
“I was on this tour in Australia and … for some reason, they went mental. They had this thing that linked all the camels through their noses, and it popped, and suddenly there’s all these fucking camels galloping through the desert.
“Most people lost their grip. I saw these two Thai girls get stomped on by the camels. They destroyed the shoulder of one, and the other broke her arm. Many other people broke legs and arms … and then there was me, by myself, I’d lost all of my possessions, galloping through the desert with a psycho camel. Thinking I was going to die.
“And then eventually it stopped, and a little lady came up, managed to calm him down and I jumped off the fucking thing. And then after, they euthanised the camels, and gave us free camel meat and a refund.”
And later: “For Valentine’s Day this year I took a pole dancer to a swinger’s party on acid.”
And a few minutes after that: “A few months ago a prostitute paid me for sex. This was like one of those escorts who charges five hundred dollars an hour. She paid me a hundred and fifty bucks for half an hour of my time. It was pretty funny.
“The same night I met her, I was massaging her dad’s bum, with her dad’s partner, while she was filming. And we were all on MDMA, including her dad. I had just met her dad, randomly, an hour before, on the dance floor, and hugged him for five minutes.”
Jack was born Giancarlo Allocca in 1985. He grew up in Rimini, a party beach town outside of Venice whose population swells from 150,000 in the winter to three million in the summer.
At the age of 20, he decided to leave. “My life in Italy was already quite eccentric, to say the least,” he says. “And I wasn’t quite relating to the rest of the population any more.
“I was considered a reject in Italy, a bright reject—someone who got through the system, somehow, but had to die in his early twenties.”
Jack applied for various British universities. He was eventually accepted into the hugely prestigious King’s College London after lying about his proficiency in English. “I went to England for a laugh,” he explains. “I could not speak a word of English.” He ended up learning the language in six weeks.
Living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Jack finished top of his class every year and lived off “a lot of money” from lucrative King’s College awards. The prizegiving ceremonies took place in a fifteenth-century museum, “full of babies in bottles and conjoined twins and stuff. All the heads of pharmaceutical companies were there, and all the heads of department.
“In England, the exams are in May. So until April, I would just be waking up in different houses, usually naked, or covered in ketamine or bodily fluids. When April arrived, my existential drive kicked in, and I would study psychotically for fifteen hours a day, for a month. And that was enough and every year, I got these prizes.”
Has he ever had his IQ tested? “So many people have asked me,” Jack sighs. “I have not. Being a neurobiologist I have some issues with the thing that is IQ. Because it only tests a small portion of someone’s intellect, which is actually relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t test social intelligence, it doesn’t test motor intelligence, it doesn’t test wit, or any of that.” After constant badgering from his colleagues, however, Jack now plans to be tested within the next couple of months.
The prizes gave Jack financial security, and he began what would soon become his obsession: travel. Or, as he puts it, “my quirky attitude toward the processing of information that found such a peculiar implementation at university, then started applying itself to strange situations around the world.”
At this point, Jack was still working for a living. “I got a job in America, as the driver of a school bus—with no bus licence. It was weird … I was supposed to be a driver. I thought I was going to drive a car, maybe a small van for supplies and shit, and then I get there and they’re like, ‘yeah, you have to drive this thing, Jack, with forty, fifty kids in it.’ I can hardly drive a car, I even crashed one once real bad, and I thought ‘this is going to be a mess.’ I changed jobs after a few months, because of the terror of being liable for so many young lives.
“I became a chef and that was a mess as well. I never ate anything I cooked, but everyone loved it—‘oh, the Italian chef, oh, this is the real deal!’—but it was hideous.”
He returned to England for more study before, at the age of 23, he was headhunted by the University of Newcastle in Australia, who created a brand-new research scholarship for which he was the only applicant. He was considered a major scalp, despite the fact that he still didn’t have a degree: his new colleagues proudly showed off the poached King’s College genius to their peers.
A particular passion of Jack’s is meat. He once featured in an article in Dummy Verlag, a German magazine, in which he claimed to have eaten at least 35 types of exotic animal, including zebra, armadillo, silkworm and locust. That number, he assures me, has now grown substantially.
In Vanuatu, Jack ate an animal resembling a flying fox, but bigger, with a wingspan of about two metres. It had the wings of a bat, the face of a dog and the fists of a human. After he cooked and ate it, he thought the skull looked similar to that of an alligator.
He has eaten whale on two occasions—a meat he describes as “delicious. Extremely rich, extremely tender. It tastes like beef, with a very fishy aftertaste, because that’s what they eat, you know. Very oily.”
He once told his whale story to some people he met on a dock in Tonga. “At the beginning they were somewhat surprised,” he says, “and then they turned mildly homicidal. They were not happy.”
Jack soon realised he had been talking to the crew of the Sea Shepherd, a militant anti-whaling group. “And there I was, flaunting it, saying ‘guys, whale is the shit, some of the best meat I’ve ever had, it’s so good’, and they were about to lynch me … I almost got killed by eco-terrorists.”
In Colombia, Jack says, “I wanted to eat the most absurd animal I could. So for days on end, I was trying to hunt sloths. I found one, but it was dead and rotting, so I left it. But after a few days, I find something else, something even more absurd.”
He tried to enlist the help of locals to hunt this animal, but they refused. That animal is cursed, they told him. If you eat it, the curse will fall on you. Jack tried to borrow a gun to hunt the animal alone. The locals told him, if you shoot it, the curse will pass to the gun, and the gun will be cursed.
Jack paid fifteen dollars to hire a gun, a small fortune. He ventured into the jungle and shot a chunk out of the animal. It escaped toward a river. “This,” Jack told me, “is an animal that knows death.” He followed it there and clubbed it. He had just killed a vulture.
In a surreal epilogue, he took the vulture to the nearest village—“more an outpost, really, extremely poor, fourth- or fifth-world”—in search of someone to help him cook it. “I was walking around with a Coca-Cola in one hand and a dead vulture in a bag in the other, going up to all the women and asking, ‘can you cook my vulture?’ Because it was a cursed animal, people were literally freaking out and running away. For another magic fifteen dollars, I managed to find a woman to cook it for me. She found a surgical mask to do it in, from God knows where.”
The vulture’s skin was yellowish. When cooked, its meat went a pinkish brown, like beef. “I don’t usually dislike things,” Jack says. “I ate a rotten rat in Cambodia. There were maggots in it while I was frying it. And it was shit, but the vulture was real shit.
“Many animals taste like other animals—chicken, or whatever. But no. The only thing the vulture tasted like was death.”
Jack dismisses prevailing attitudes toward meat as narrow-minded and arbitrary, criticising the farm-centric prevalence of pork, beef and chicken. “Every single species tastes different,” he says, “and they’re all pretty good, except for vulture.”
Sampling bizarre varieties of meat is “a journey. It connects you to your original call of survival. It affects the way you think, your feelings, your connections to your environment. I stumbled across this by accident, just because I was curious, and then I realised just how wonderful and exciting it is.”
I suddenly remember the last time he was in New Zealand when, despite strong resistance from even the most morally ambiguous of his New Zealand acquaintances, Jack wanted to eat a yellow-eyed penguin. I’m too afraid to ask if he succeeded.
Jack obsessively documents his every insane experience. So far, his photos and videos comprise around 700 gigabytes, all in low resolution to save space. “There’s a lot of improvised pornography,” he explains. “And dead animals, and terrorists, and war zones.” Long terrified that a single technical glitch could wipe out swathes of his life, he recently uploaded everything to the cloud—a process that took a month.
To Jack, the most important thing is memory—“personal value, to me, is synonymous with the number of things one can remember.” And without the photos, he might forget. Jack regularly conflates forgetting with dying—a deep existential angst that also lies behind his vivacious rampage across the globe.
“I realised at some point that if I can’t remember a bit of my life, I was dead all along,” he says. “You can’t remember brushing your teeth last Wednesday, but those five minutes are gone, like a piece of life never lived. And most people live entire lives like that.
“The brain is very capable of generating pockets to recycle memories, because it’s very energy-intensive to generate new memories. So it tries to recycle the same ones. And so unless you try to brush your teeth with a toilet brush, you will never remember.
“When I catch up with friends and ask them what they’ve been up to, all they have is these nebulous collections of vague flashbacks that all resemble each other. ‘Oh, I went to work, I went out, I brushed my teeth.’ It’s frightening. The only thing they can do to spice up their lives is to procreate, or change jobs. And then they die.”
One of the many contradictions of Jack’s life is that he lives in the moment, but not for it—it’s the moments after, the reflection and the narrative that drive him. He recently decided to put his meticulous records to use and start a blog: he plans to launch jackulation.com by the end of the month. He also hopes to write books but, he says, writing is a skill that he hasn’t yet taught himself. Writing, he admits, is hard and time-consuming—and the more time he spends writing, the less time he has for living.
Jack’s unusual experiences come so thick and fast that it stretches even his own credulity.
“Sometimes things like this happen to people, and that’s the story they’ll tell repetitively until they die. But these things happen to me every other week.
“It’s psychologically damaging,” he says. “Sometimes I think that none of this is true. It’s too much. And this is why I grew such an addiction to taking photos and videos.
The way Jack tells it, he has no innate grasp of the bounds of normality. Although he openly describes himself as a freak, he is utterly divorced from any freak credo, any conscious rebellion against society’s norms. He just does things. Usually it’s only after the fact, by observing others’ reactions, that he realises just how outrageous those things are.
Jack finds personal interactions useful. Verbalising his thoughts helps him to process them, and telling his stories helps him structure and organise his memories. But a side-effect of his lifestyle is that he finds normal people intensely boring. Being able to relate to others, he says, “has been a life long struggle”.
“I’m still surrounded by normal people, and just talking to them and seeing their face, the contrast is so stark. Literally, I am baffled, I’m bemused at my own self. When most of the people around you talk about music, talk about film, talk about sports”—he spits the word out—“fucking bullshit, about drinking, about whatever. And that is literally all they are talking about.”
Travel has helped immensely. “Eventually I found myself interacting with a wide spectrum of people, including the very weird. And now, these are almost the only people I’m surrounding myself with.”
Talking about his circle of freaks, Jack suddenly begins to sound almost like a cult leader. He aims, he says, to “make myself into a catalyst for other people, people who if submerged into social norms would be unremarkable”. He prides himself on recognising people with hidden “talents and skills”, even if these talents seem largely to revolve around helping him act out the latest outlandish escapade.
But Jack is far too transient to ever found a genuine cult. Besides, he makes no demands of his followers, and has no discernible interest in control. When Jack talks about the way people have helped him, he sounds genuinely humbled. He recognises, though, that his stories are a form of currency, and he isn’t afraid to spend it. When Jack tells his stories, he finds that people tend to give him things—food, accommodation, knowledge, sex—and as a result, money no longer plays an important part in his life.
To Jack’s disappointment, most people—with a few exceptions—tend to go back to their old ways after parting with him. “They revert because it’s safe, because it’s easy, because you can always get drunk at the weekend and you don’t think about existential pain,” he says.
“You can still watch TV, and see the people on TV have their own problems and they live a similar life to yours, and then you get a partner that will completely annihilate both his or her self-development and yours into this nest of complacency and ageing. People just don’t do shit, anything, it’s too easy and they don’t have the same drive as me to go out of their way to make their life memorable.”
Jack’s life is a dichotomy. “I’m studying a PhD in neuroscience at one of the most prestigious universities in Australia,” he says. “I also shot a porn in prison and killed a crocodile with a stick. All the intellectual people I know, all they have done is study and do intellectual work. By the same token, Bear Grylls and all the other freaks around the world don’t have a PhD. I have to be both.”
Suddenly, Jack sounds exhausted. “At the moment, I am generating an artificial intelligence based on machine learning to analyse automated brain activity in rodents … this is hard, Sam. This is really hard. And it doesn’t have anything to do with screwing midgets in Rotorua, which I also did. I can’t just be a freak or an academic. To be happy, I have to be both.
Jack takes fifteen, perhaps sixteen weeks off every year. Doing so has required him to “stretch everything that can be stretched”—all part of a precarious balancing exercise between the two raging extremes of his personality. The way he sees it, he doesn’t have a choice. “I simply have to be an intellectual freak. Otherwise both ends of the spectrum collapse, in their own unsustainable manner.”
As Jack cheerfully tells me during our next conversation, he wouldn’t have it any other way.