Jake Sawyer’s Story
The life of the legendary biker, bodybuilder and bad-ass
by Cliff Gallant
Editor’s note: This is the second chapter of our serialization of Jake Sawyer’s life story. Chapter 3 will appear next month.
The door to Jake’s apartment was ajar again when I arrived for our second interview. This time I gave it a couple louds raps, called out, “How ya doin’, Jake!” and walked right in, like an old buddy would.
“Welcome, sir!” his voice boomed from somewhere inside. As I entered the living room/bedroom, Jake sprang from the couch to greet me. “I thought that since it’s such a lovely June day we might adjourn to my chateau overlooking the Western Mountain Range, if that meets with your approval, sir.”
“Yeah, sure, Jake,” I said, not wanting to give the impression I was at all surprised to hear Jake owned a chateau. “That would be great!”
“Our chariot awaits!” he said with a laugh, donning his leather jacket. “Follow me!”
We encountered several elderly residents on the way to the elevator, and just about all of them greeted Jake like an old buddy, too. I began to feel like I was part of something much larger than one man’s story.
“Hi, Jake!” said a guy dragging a full trash bag down the hallway.
“Pick that thing up and sling it over your shoulder like a man!” Jake responded, firmly but with good humor. “You’ve got to use those muscles or they’ll get soft and they’ll be flushing you down the toilet someday!”
The guy laughed at this and, sure enough, after a little struggle, managed to sling the bag over his shoulder.
“You’ve got it, man!” Jake yelled in encouragement, pumping his fist in the air. “Go for it!”
“He’s in my fitness-training class,” Jake told me as we walked on. “We meet three times a week for an hour in the rec room. I get them moving around and feeling good about themselves, and when they start feeling good about themselves they start getting out and around and doing things.”
The elevator door opened to reveal an old woman inside. She was hunched over her walker, staring down at the floor, but as soon as she heard Jake’s voice she looked up and a big smile spread across her heavily rouged face.
“Doris! Doris!” Jake swooned. “Let’s go to your place and tear our clothes off and make mad passionate love all afternoon! Then you can make some fried chicken and we’ll eat it with our feet up, watching Smokey and the Bandit through our toes on that fantastic wide-screen TV of yours!” Jake seemed so excited by the idea that he could hardly contain himself.
“It’s a date! It’s a date!” Doris gushed. She reached out and took Jake’s hand, then pressed it to her cheek, playfully batting her eyes at him while the elevator descended to the ground floor. When the door opened and we exited, Jake made a big show of reluctantly tearing himself away from her. “Till later, doll!” he called out. “I can’t wait! I can’t wait!”
Jake’s “chariot” turned out to be a very cool-looking black van. He drove it to the top level of a nearby parking garage (the “chateau”) and we sat facing the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the “Western Mountain Range,” its peaks glistening in the far distance beyond the treetops and steeples of Deering.
“Isn’t this grand!” he exclaimed, spreading his arms to take it all in. “I’m absolutely in love with Portland, and one of the best things about it is the views you get from spots like this all around the peninsula. As I’ve told you, my ancestors were among the early settlers of this area, so the place is in my blood. I have chromosomal memories of fighting the Indians, as a matter of fact.”
“The Indians considered this peninsula a sacred place, but that didn’t matter to my ancestors, just like it wouldn’t have mattered to me,” Jake said. “We’re great conquerors. That’s what we do: we take over people’s land. I would’ve picked up a damn blunderbuss and discharged it in the Indians’ direction time and time again, and with great eagerness. When you’re descended from Rollo and Charlemagne, you don’t bother yourself much about right and wrong, you just look for people and places to conquer.
“But let us get to the business of the day, sir,” he continued. “I believe we ended last time with me telling you how I got kicked out of South Portland High for throwing a bully down the stairs. Next stop for me was Kent’s Hill, a prestigious prep school in Readfield, about a dozen miles northwest of Augusta. I spent my junior and senior years there, from 1955 to 1957. It’s a good thing I had a rich daddy or I might’ve spent the remainder of my adolescence at a run-of-the-mill reform school instead. Whatever. Kent’s Hill, here comes Jake!”
Founded in 1824 by Luther Sampson, a Revolutionary War veteran directly descended from one of the Pilgrims who’d arrived at Plymouth Rock two centuries prior, Kents Hill is one of the oldest and most respected college-prep schools in the country.
“I created quite a stir on campus right from the beginning,” said Jake. “They didn’t know what the hell to make of me. I came from money like the rest of them did, but I sure as hell wasn’t like them, and I wasn’t about to change to accommodate anyone. I expected them to accommodate me. A very fortunate circumstance was having a roommate with whom I had a lot in common. We both got off on doing wild and dangerous things, just for the adrenalin rush.
“My roommate had a black-powder pistol that I really wanted. I convinced myself that an ancestor of mine had used it at Bunker Hill. I didn’t have anything he would trade it for, and he had enough money, so I had to get creative. We agreed that if I could climb to the roof of Bearce Hall and stick an apple on top of the weather vane, he’d give me the gun. Bearce Hall is a very handsome, four-story brick building right in the center of campus, so we knew an apple stuck up on the weather vane was going to get a hell of a lot of notice.
“I was pretty good at climbing — I’d been lifting weights a lot and my arms were strong as hell — but the climb up the side of the building was extremely difficult, because we had to pull this off early in the morning, before anyone was around, and the bricks and gutters were very wet with dew. I made it though!” He starting laughing hard, bending over in the driver’s seat. “Hell, I wouldn’t be here to tell you the damn story if I didn’t make it!”
I smiled to myself, gazing at the mountains.
“We were right — that apple up there had the whole campus buzzing. All didn’t turn out well, though. I fell from the second story on my way down and fractured my ankle very badly. The cast I had to wear left little doubt about who’d stuck that apple up there, which I didn’t mind at all, but I didn’t like the girls knowing I’d fallen off the building.
“Anyway, I had the bad-boy-on-campus role pretty well locked up after that, and I managed to introduce my fellow preppies to a wide variety of petty crimes and misdemeanors. I also introduced them to various means of avoiding detection, of course. I know for sure they’re still getting away with a lot today in their chosen lines of work, and they owe it all to ol’ Jakie boy. I taught them a lot about loyalty too, how important it is not to rat on your friends. Hey, that’s why their parents sent them to an outstanding prep school, after all: to get a superior education.
“I played three varsity sports at Kents Hill. That was kind of an achievement, because I transferred there in my junior year and right away I was a starter on the football and basketball teams, and became a track stand-out in the spring. The problem was that everyone else looked at games as athletic competitions, and I looked at them as take-no-prisoners, fight-to-the-death battles.
“My fondest memory of my football career is being kicked out of the Windham High School game. I wasn’t being a very good sport. I thought the idea was to hurt people, and that’s what I tried to do, any way I could. I guess I got a little too much into it or something, because I ended up knocking out an opposing player after a play was over. They not only kicked me out of the game, they escorted me out of the stadium and made me go sit on the bus. That really fried my ass because I had my eye on one of the Windham cheerleaders, and being made to go sit on the bus kind of tarnished my image with her.
“I’d like to say she came by the bus just before we left and reached up and handed me her phone number through the window, and all the guys cheered like hell, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway, right?”
“Right,” I said.
He chortled at my response, then continued: “Basketball can be a rough game too, if you’re not careful. I was six-two and very aggressive, so the coach made me the center on the team. Basically, I beat people up the whole game. There was this guy from Westbook High, though, who was bigger and stronger than me, and he bullied me through the whole game. You know how I hate bullies, so I was getting madder and madder. Then, out of nowhere, I punched him in the nose, full force, right straight on. I had no idea I was going to do it before I did it, just like when I stabbed that guy in the ass when I was 14. Blood gushed out all over the court and people in the stands were screaming. It wasn’t pretty. I saw the guy on the street years later, and his nose looked a little flat. I suppose I should have felt bad about it, because I was an adult by that time, age-wise anyway, but I didn’t feel bad at all. Man, do I hate bullies.
“On the track team I ran the 100-yard dash in 10.1 seconds. That’s real fast. I also broad-jumped a little over 20 feet. I did well when I competed on my own, when it was all about me, so that’s why I liked track. Sometimes when we ran the mile in practice my team members would hold hands and cross the finish line at the same time, as a team spirit kind of thing, but I never chose to take part in that particular practice.
“I was actually a very good student at Kent’s Hill. I was even on the honor roll now and then. Truthfully, I loved it there. My home life had been hectic, and I was a terrible student at South Portland High, but life at Kent’s Hill was serene and predictable, and I prospered as a result.
“When I had to go to his office about punching the guy at the basketball game, the Kent’s Hill headmaster suggested I consider pursuing a military career after graduation, and that seemed like a pretty good way to go to me, considering my preference for violent solutions to any and all problems between other people and myself. My grades were quite good, and the headmaster finagled a partial athletic scholarship for me, so the next stop for ol’ Jakie boy was Norwich University, a military college in Northfield, Vermont.
Established five years before Kent’s Hill, by a former instructor at West Point named Capt. Alden Partridge, Norwich University is the oldest private military college in America. “I’d say Norwich is on a par with West Point,” Jake opined, “but Norwich guys don’t like it when someone says that. They like to think of it as being the other way around. Norwich is a top-notch military school all the way. Military college wasn’t for me, though.”
This time it wasn’t hard to act unsurprised.
“When I got to Norwich I found out that in order to be a military officer you have to set a good example for the enlisted men, which means having a spotless disciplinary record. Yeah, right. I made it to halfway through my sophomore year, by some miracle. Without question, I hold the Norwich record for most demerits for less than a two-year stay. Maybe even got enough to hold the four-year record. Who knows?
“It’s damn cold in the winter in Vermont, and I did a whole lot of marching around the parade field with my rifle on my shoulder as punishment. I would laugh at it, though, just like I always have with anything I’ve come up against, and the training personnel didn’t like my attitude at all. I don’t know how I lasted there as long as I did, actually. I was always marching when everybody else had free time, like afternoons after classes and all day Saturday. That was a real pain in the ass.
“I did get to be the go-to guy for how to survive those hours working off your demerits on the parade field. I’d smuggle a bottle of booze into the dormitory and carry it under my jacket out onto the parade field. Then, when they gave me a break from marching to use the john, I’d stash the bottle in the tank of the toilet. All my friends knew that when they got demerits and had to do time marching, they could always count on finding a bottle of booze in the toilet tank. They were inebriated and numb to it all by the time they marched off their demerits, and they owed it all to me!
“Hey, that’s not much of a legacy, I guess, but I do know there’s a number of retired Army colonels and generals out there today who chuckle when they get together about getting high from ol’ Jakie boy’s booze on the parade field at dear ol’ Norwich.
“The chief adjutant of Norwich and I had a heart-to-heart in which he told me I had a lot of potential for soldiering, what with my ability to bond with other males, but that he thought I might be happier in the enlisted ranks, where I might be able someday to engage with the enemy on an eye-to-eye, one-on-one basis. Sounded good to me, so I said bye-bye to Norwich and became a private in the United States Army.”
An Army of One
“I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training, then after basic I stayed at Fort Dix and attended Advanced Infantry Training. I giggled through everything they threw at me at Fort Dix, after what I’d been through at Norwich.
“After I graduated from Advanced Infantry Training, I was ready for combat, big time. The Army, of course, sent me to Fort Gordon, Georgia, to Army supply school. Nothing is more pointless than being in the military during peacetime. Needless to say, I was extremely bored at Fort Gordon and was desperate for any kind of stimulation I could find.
“Enter The 19th Hole, which was a good ol’ boys’ bar in downtown Augusta, where I was introduced to a bevy of Southern belles that haunt my memory to this day. Unfortunately, my good times in Augusta were terminated when I flunked out of Army supply school. That has to be an all-time low for anybody, flunking out of supply school, but I did it. Good thing, actually, because I might have died from boredom otherwise.
“Next stop: Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to attend Army radar school. That was kind of odd, because radar school was a lot more demanding than supply school was. The Army seemed to think I needed the challenge, though. I did like the idea of radar school, actually, and ended up doing quite well academically. There was something about blowing up enemies of America from a great distance that appealed to me, I guess, even though I generally preferred the hands-on approach.
“Truthfully, though, what kept my head in the game at radar school was that I purchased a two-toned blue, 1954 Oldsmobile 98 two-door, hard-top sedan, and it proved to be an irresistible enticement to the local belles. I had a very satisfying social life going on in Sandy Hook, and I didn’t want to mess things up by getting kicked out of radar school, like I did at supply school in Augusta.
“But extenuating circumstances arose. Through no fault of my own, certainly, I got involved in a barroom brawl in downtown Sandy Hook, and the New Jersey State Police had to be called to break it up. For some reason I was one of the ones arrested, even though I was getting the crap beat out of me when they put the cuffs on. They were told by the bar owner that it might be advisable, I guess. I had pretty much torn up the place, thrown guys through this and that window, despite the fact I didn’t know anyone or have a stake in the proceedings either way. It was a fight and I wanted to be involved in it, that’s all.
“The guy who ended up beating the shit out of me had stayed out of the fight until it was starting to calm down. That’s when I looked over at him and called him a fucking chicken. Right away he got a fire in his eye that told me this was gonna be one helluva fight. It wasn’t. He was on me from the get-go and immediately pummeled me to the floor. I was probably three inches taller than him, about 30 pounds heavier and about twice as strong, but he was madder than I was. I was in it sort of for recreation, you know, but once he was in the fight, he was very serious about it.
“It wasn’t the first fight I’d ever lost, and it wasn’t going to be the last one, either. I’ve lost a lot of fights, but I’ve never backed away from one. Any man who likes to fight and says he’s never lost is a lying fuck. If you get in a lot of fights, you’re gonna lose one now and then. What’s different about degenerate fools like me is that getting beat doesn’t deter us to any degree at all. After we lose we look for somebody bigger than we are to fight the next time, to get our confidence back. When fighting’s in your blood, you keep fighting, no matter what.”
“My company commander wasn’t too impressed — people in radar school didn’t usually get involved in barroom brawls — but he said he’d forgo getting me thrown into Army jail, however reluctantly, if I’d agree to leave radar school and volunteer for paratrooper training, which I did. Soon I was bouncing along the highway in my ’54 Olds to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“They had a sign up over the front entrance to Fort Campbell that said ‘Rendezvous With Destiny,’ but I didn’t find the experience to be all that romantic. I was there in the middle of August, and Kentucky gets pretty hot in the summer, at least for a New England boy. Running 20 miles in the 100-plus Kentucky heat with a parachute rolled up in your backpack was an interesting contrast to marching on the Norwich parade grounds in Vermont in the sub-zero dead of winter with a rifle on your shoulder.
“Paratrooper training at Fort Campbell was on a whole other planet than Army basic or Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Dix had been. They pushed us so hard at Fort Campbell that we all thought we were going to friggin’ die. I’d been lifting weights fairly regularly for about 10 years by then, so I was pretty strong, but they pushed me right to my limit. The rewards of it all were great, though. I made a total of 11 jumps out of Uncle Sugar’s airplanes, and the only time my spirit has been set so free is when I rode with my Hell’s Angels brothers doing 90 miles an hour on a crowded California freeway.
“I took part in a ten-thousand-man jump at Fort Bragg that is still the record for the most people to jump out of a squadron of airplanes at one time. The thing was, though, General Westmoreland, later famous in Vietnam, decided the jump would proceed despite some unusually high winds that day. So to impress some visiting dignitaries, many men were injured. You’d get dragged by the wind when you landed, which is what happened to me, and when I finally stopped my left side was paralyzed.
“The fear was in me, I’ll tell you that. I was absolutely petrified of being a cripple for life. It was only the presence of my Guardian Angel that saved me. I haven’t mentioned her before — yes, my Guardian Angel is a female — because it’s not good to talk about your Guardian Angel too much, but she’s been with me every moment of my life, and we shall talk more about her as we go on, sir, as certain situations arise in our conversation.”
A Kentucky Moonshine Runner
“After I graduated from paratrooper school and was a certified idiot, they just kept me around Fort Campbell until the need for my services arose. With no war going on to be sent off to, and a lot of time on my hands, I got to hanging around a local bar. I made friends with a bunch of the locals and started running moonshine for them in my souped-up Olds. We installed Monroe Loadlevelers so I could carry about 200 gallons of the stuff in the trunk and the ass-end wouldn’t sag and draw the attention of the cops. I made $200 a delivery — easy figure to remember. Made a lot of money and had a hell of a good time at it. The women in the area liked moonshiners because they were gutsy and always had a lot of dough in their pockets. They also got to sample the product upon request, so they were happy all around. They were very charming young ladies and a good time was had by all, as I recall. There is absolutely no woman like a Kentucky woman, period.
“I ran moonshine for about nine months. I kept my paratrooper uniform hanging in the back of the car, where it was visible, because it threw the police off. They would never suspect a paratrooper would be running moonshine in his spare time. We were very well regarded in the area. The cops knew what it took to become a paratrooper and they accorded us every respect.”
I asked Jake to tell me his best moonshine-runner story and waited, pen at the ready.
“Truthfully, I don’t have any exciting moonshine-runner stories,” he said, and threw his hands up in resignation. “The means to my success as a moonshine runner was my casual approach to it. I had Maine plates on my car, and I’d kind of drive slow and look around, like I was just a paratrooper from way up north enjoying his day off. A lot of people would beep their horns and wave, including the cops.
“There was none of this ‘Thunder Road’ stuff with me. There really wasn’t. The thing to keep in mind about trying to outrun the cops is that if they don’t catch you the first time, they will the next time, or maybe the time after that. They will get an idea of where you’re going to be, and when you might be there, and when they spot you they will lean out their car window and shoot bullets at you on sight. Outrunning the cops was not my idea of a good part-time job, no matter how much it paid. Those country boys sat around all night drinking hootch and telling wild stories about outrunning the cops, but every one of them had been in jail multiple times, and most of them were banged up from major car crashes. No thanks.
“Running moonshine was great while it lasted, though. I remember being in hog heaven, tooling down those Kentucky back roads with the radio playing and 200 gallons in the trunk. ‘Thunder was his engine and white lightening was his load,’” Jake croaked in a tuneless rendition of Robert Mitchum’s “Ballad of Thunder Road,” from the 1958 film.
If I’d known there’d be singing, I might not have signed up for this in the first place.
“The U.S. Army and I parted company in 1961, and I scurried back to good ol’ Maine. As much as I’ve been around the country and had a great time everywhere I’ve been, Maine will always be my home.
“Now the question was what to do with myself. My mother said it was time for me to settle down and get a job that would set me up for life. I knew she was right, so I applied for some pretty good positions and ended up having some attractive options. I chose being an area representative for General Motors. Jacket and tie, the use of a new car, an expense account, a nice leather briefcase my mother bought me, all that.
“I ended up living up in Rumford, Maine, as the representative for that part of the state. I got along pretty well with people up there because I could relate to them. Strictly working class, no pretensions. I was very popular at the new-car dealerships. They liked seeing me come through the door. I had a lot of stories that didn’t have a thing to do with the new-car business and they liked that. I kind of added a little zest to their lives. Whenever I showed up, the receptionists would get on the intercom and the salespeople and mechanics would all flock to the showroom and gather around me.
“The home office liked me too, because I had an incredible capacity for detail. My mathematics and science courses at Norwich trained my mind to memorize sets of facts and figures and connect them to one another, and my paratrooper training gave me the discipline to sit down and do it. I could spout details about every make and model of not only GM vehicles, but also those of every competitor, and I could come up with endless shit about what’s good about ours and bad about theirs. So I wasn’t all personality and charm.
“Everything was going so well that about a year after I started, General Motors decided to have the annual New England sales conference in Rumford, with me as the host. That was a definite feather in my cap, and the scuttlebutt was that it wouldn’t be long before I was general manager for the Northeast District or something.
“One of the functions of the host was to entertain the attendees, so I took a group of GM execs to a county fair, figuring they’d get a taste of real Maine life. We had a great time at the fair. I introduced them to whoopie pies, harness racing, and, of course, we went to the strip show. They had never seen anything like that. Anybody who’d been to a strip show at a Maine county fair in those days knew you couldn’t see a better strip show anywhere. Things got very hot and very down and dirty. I suppose that was because the fair came to town and left shortly after, so the authorities didn’t pay as much attention to them as they did at strip clubs. The shows also drew a lot of people to the fair, and everybody made money, so you know how that goes.
“Anyway, things got really raw up on the stage. The strippers got right down to it right away. No wasting time dancing around waving a veil. The girls came out wearing just panties and sashayed around a little bit, then, when they had the guys worked up enough, they’d stand at the front of the stage gyrating and inviting them to come up and put bills down their panties. When the guys started yelling for them to take the panties off, the girls would tell them that wasn’t gonna happen until there were enough bills stuffed in there. Smart girls. They knew what they were doing, and they knew how to go about it. I had some fairly extensive experience in the sex trade years later and found that women in that line of work are some of the best and brightest people around.
“Oh my fucking word! Those GM guys couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They didn’t believe the strippers would really take their panties off. They’d never seen that happen at any of the strip shows they’d been to in the Midwest. Hell, you didn’t see much more at those shows than you’d see on the beach. Not only did the girls take their panties off, they friggin’ stayed there with their snatch hanging out, inviting the guys to come up and get a closer look! The GM execs were fucking amazed!
“After they saw the locals going up to the stage and maybe getting a little feel here and there — of course, now that the girls didn’t have their panties on they were raking in the bills by hand — the execs were freaked out big time and scoffed at the idea of going up to the stage themselves. After a couple of small plastic-cup draft beers, though, they were daring each other to go up, and pretty soon they were falling over each other to get in line, money in hand.
“There was this one girl who was the most beautiful stripper I’ve ever seen. Flowing red hair down to her ass, big blue eyes, and curves you wouldn’t believe. She and I got into an eye thing right from the start. Just one of those things that sometimes happens between two people. Things took a nasty turn, though, when one of the locals leaned in to get a closer look and snuck a little feel without coming across with the dough. Right away she got real offended, like where did he get the idea she was that kind of girl, and she gave him a little slap.
“The guy turned ugly at that pretty fast and grabbed hold of her wrist like he was going to pull her down from the stage. So, because I’ve got this Sir Galahad fucking personality, I immediately stepped up, wrapped my fingers around the back of his neck and asked him politely if he had a problem with the young lady. He said he didn’t, I loosened my hold, and he headed for the door.
“That impressed the GM guys. They respected me for having the balls to stick up for a stripper, I guess. Even though she was a stripper, she was still a woman and their Midwestern values kicked in or something.
“So after I grabbed that guy, the stripper got an eye-lock on me and started breathing so hard you could hear her in the back row. She was after my body big time, humping in my direction, darting her tongue in and out, licking her lips, that kind of thing. She had my complete attention.
“What could I do? There it was, staring me straight in the face. I jumped up onto the stage and picked her up by the waist and laid a smackeroo on her that lasted for about five minutes. At least it seemed like it did. I just kept going right at it, and she sure wasn’t pulling away or anything. Of course, I’m a big ham, I just love all the attention I can get, so I really got off on the crowd cheering me on. With all that encouragement, I wasn’t about to limit my experience with the lady to a friendly little kiss. [And indeed, he did not.] Like a prison psychiatrist was to tell me some years later, I’m somebody that tends to gravitate to extremes. He had that fucking right.
“Well, the proceedings made quite an impression on the GM execs at the time, but the fallout from the little show the lady and I put on wasn’t very positive. Evidently, when they got home to East Oshgosh, one of the fucking pussies shared his account of the proceedings with his loving wife, she repeated the tale to the wife of the chief executive of General Motors at a frigging whist party or something, and ol’ Jakie boy had his tenure with the company terminated. I guess the sales figures I generated got trumped by the exuberance of my extra-curricular activities. I was deemed to be bad for the company’s image, and was given my walking papers.
“You know what, though? I’d do the same fucking thing all over again. That red-headed stripper was one helluva woman. I can still feel what it was like to get her off like I did in front of that fucking crowd, and I wouldn’t trade that moment for all the commission checks I could cram up the ass of the chief executive’s mincy little wife in the course of a long summer afternoon.
“So much for my one-year career with General Motors. I don’t get much of a retirement check from them today, but I have a lot of fond memories.” Jake paused. “Well, at least one anyway.”
“So, I had pretty much figured out that the jacket-and-tie world wasn’t going to work out for me, but I had no idea what my next move would be. Here I was, in my mid-twenties, in optimum health, and free, free, free to do whatever. The severance check General Motors gave me matched very nicely with the price of a beautiful forest green Triumph sports car a friend of mine had for sale, and when I saw that baby all I could think of was cruising down the East Coast to Miami Beach.
“Miami Beach! I had some fun in the sun, and things were even more fun in the nighttime! The women were pretty much already disrobed when you met them, day or night, and things went on from there. But even Jakie boy has to work for a living. I was a kept man for a few months — you know, why not? — but it got old, and I needed something to do.
I got a job in a fitness studio, through a paratrooper friend of mine, and I have never done any other kind of work since. I got my start as a fitness trainer in Miami Beach and have spent a lifetime turning others on to the great glories and benefits of fitness training.”
When I asked Jake to tell me his favorite fitness-training story, he cupped his chin in his hand and thought for a moment, then erupted in a big laugh. “Drinking cow’s blood with Bruce Chambers!”
“There were a lot of celebrities who came through the doors of the various health clubs I’ve worked at, managed and owned over the years, but the one I remember best is Archie Moore, the great middleweight boxing champion, who used to come into the Vic Tanny health club I managed in Pasadena, California. He liked working out with us because I kept him laughing. When he went to other places, the trainers were so thrilled to have him there that they were uptight around him — ‘Mr. Moore’ this, ‘Mr. Moore’ that. Hell, I called him Archie right from the beginning and offered to set him up with a nice little white college girl if he wanted, or even with a tight-assed frat boy from U.C.L.A., if that was his preference. That broke him up.
“Anyway, Archie really got a kick out of me. He laughed his ass off about me being willing to do anything to get stronger, and had all kinds of suggestions for me. One day he took me aside and put his hand on my arm and whispered that he’d tell me something if I promised to keep it to myself. Of course I agreed.
“Drink cow’s blood, he said. The fresher the better. No boiling it before drinking it or anything like that. He said he learned the secret from an African tribal chieftain years ago on a trip to the land of his ancestors, and that drinking cow’s blood was what made him a champion. Before he started drinking cow’s blood, his boxing career was kind of stalling, he said, but the cow’s blood kicked it into high gear. He’d been winning his fights, but he sensed he was loosing his edge. After drinking cow’s blood, his energy surged. He told me he could actually see his muscles enlarging.
“After a couple of years I left California and managed a fitness club in Boston, in the middle of the Combat Zone. At the time, I was going up to Portland on the weekends because I had a lot of friends up there, and it gave me a break from the insanity of the Combat Zone. One of my all-time most favorite running buddies in Portland was a fellow weightlifter by the name of Bruce Chambers. He was a frigging animal. Weighed over 300 pounds and was all muscle. He had a warm heart, despite his menacing appearance, but, like me, he loved to fight and would do anything to get stronger.
“One of the things you find out when you lift weights is that at some point you seem to hit a brick wall. At first you grow and grow, but after a while you don’t see any change, no matter how hard you work out. It can become frustrating as hell and you’ll do anything to experience the kind of growth you had in the beginning. That’s where Bruce was at. When I met him, he was a fat guy who didn’t like himself, and I made him into somebody. He felt great mentally and physically, and was beginning to get somewhere in weightlifting competitions, but no matter how hard he worked, his body wouldn’t grow any more. So this news about drinking fresh cow’s blood sounded fan-fucking-tastic to Bruce!
“I looked in the phone book and found there was a slaughterhouse out on Presumpscot Street, not too far from downtown Portland. Bruce and I couldn’t wait to go out there. When the supervisor of the place saw two humungous weightlifters walking through the door and I told him what we were after, he about fell on the floor laughing his ass off! He kept asking me over and over if I was serious, so finally I told him what Archie Moore had told me. That got him laughing like a bastard again, but after he got himself together he said, ‘OK, follow me,’ and brought us into the next room, where his crew was on break. I repeated everything to them and they were tickled pink. They acted like this was the biggest treat they’d had standing up in a real long time. Not a lot happens by way of excitement in a slaughterhouse, I guess.
“One of the guys gave Bruce a bucket and told us to follow him. We did, of course, with the rest of the crew following right behind. When we got to where the animals were kept, the guy who gave Bruce the bucket made a big show of letting us choose the cow we wanted slaughtered. The rest of the crew got into it too. Everyone was very helpful and forthcoming with their knowledge. They talked about the characteristics of this and that breed of cow, and what they knew about the diet of each of the cows we had to choose from. They also had a lot to say about the spirit of this and that one, because we’d told them that Archie said drinking cow’s blood had a big effect on you psychologically, as well — made you more aggressive, according to the personality of the cow, so obviously you wanted to choose the most spirited one of the bunch.
“When we finally made our choice, the guy who’d given us the bucket threw a rope around the cow’s neck and led it over to the other side of the room, where the slaughtering area was. What a brutal fucking operation! Bruce and I thought of ourselves as being real tough guys who could take anything, but we weren’t quite ready for this. Right away the guy wraps a long chain around the cow’s back legs, hits a switch, and the cow gets yanked up by the ass-end and hangs there upside down, mooing its fucking heart out.
“‘Stand over here with the bucket!’ he yells at Bruce, then he picks up a meat cleaver and, after making a big show of running his thumb along the cutting edge to test it for sharpness, takes a helluva whack at the cow’s throat. Immediately blood starts gushing out and Bruce jumps back, horrified as hell, but the guy motions for him to hold the bucket under the cow’s throat to catch the blood. So Bruce kind of stumbles forward and holds the bucket at arm’s length, looking over at me like he’s thinking of getting the hell out of there and calling the whole thing a draw. He stuck with it, though, and after the bucket got filled up the whole crew started cheering like ol’ Bruce had just scored a touchdown in the big game or something. Bruce stands there holding the bucket full of blood and smiling, of course, because he likes any kind of recognition.
“So then we all trooped back to the other room and the crew gathered around Bruce and me, waiting for us to drink the blood. We’d made the mistake of telling them that Archie said it had to be fresh cow’s blood to have the desired effect, so we had to drink it right then, instead of taking it with us. I had my doubts, I really did, after the brutality of the slaughter and everything. The romance of the whole thing was wearing off. Added to everything else is that fresh blood from any frigging mammal has an odor that is very unpleasant. The crew was used to it, of course, but I was starting to feel a little queasy and my mind was working overtime trying to figure a way out of this.
“Bruce wasn’t into it all that much either — you could tell by the way he kept glancing at the door and then looking over to me with his brow all wrinkled up. But when one of the crew suggested that Bruce might be chicken to drink the cow’s blood, that was it. Bruce wasn’t about to be called chicken any time about any thing. So up went the bucket to his mouth and he took a helluva long drink. When he lowered the bucket, his face was all white and he just kept staring straight ahead all beady eyed, like something was going on in his stomach that was confusing the hell out of him.
“Aw shit, I said to myself, my turn. There was no getting out of it, so I grabbed the bucket from Bruce and held it up to my mouth. I didn’t take a drink, just couldn’t bring myself to do it, but when one of the guys yelled that he wasn’t seeing my Adam’s apple move up and down like I was drinking, I knew I was a goner. I took a big fucking drink that I can still taste to this day. I thought at the time that it was going to destroy my appetite for eating or drinking anything ever again, and I knew I’d have to get nourishment somehow, so I figured it was Intravenous City for me from then on.
“Bruce wasn’t saying or doing a damn thing. He was just standing there trying to look like nothing was the matter, but every once in a while his eyes would glaze over and I thought I’d be picking him up off the floor. He drank a lot more than I did, so I can imagine what he felt like.
“The guys were laughing so hard they were falling over each other and leaning up against the walls for support. ‘How’d you like it?’ they kept asking us over and over.
“‘Great! Great!’ we said. ‘Hey, do you have a jar we can put some of this in so we can have more later?’ I asked.
“‘Sure!’ one of ’em said, and ran to another room and got a big jar that he filled with blood from the bucket. ‘A little something for the road!’ he said, offering it to me.
“I took the jar and we said our goodbyes, then I threw the fucking thing away as soon as we were out the door. I’m pretty sure the crew was watching through the window, but by that time we didn’t give a shit.
“I have to say that neither one of us felt any stronger. In fact, we felt weak for quite a while. That stuff raises hell with your digestive system. And it’s not like they make a special medicine to treat people who make the mistake of drinking fresh cow’s blood. You just kind of have to wait until the effects wear off by themselves.
“Archie Moore is gone now, but I just know he’s up there in the big ring in the sky somewhere, leaning back against the ropes and laughing himself silly thinking about those two dumb-ass white boys down there drinking fresh cow’s blood because he told them it would make them bigger and stronger.
“Hey, I’ve been called a genius, but no one ever said I had any sense!” Jake laughed hard and looked at me. “Had enough for today?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s plenty.”
Next month: Hell’s Angels.