Jake Sawyer’s Story
The life of the legendary biker, bodybuilder and bad-ass
by Cliff Gallant
Editor’s note: This is the third installment of our serialization of Jake Sawyer’s life story. Chapter 4 will appear next month.
When it came time to talk about Jake’s experiences with the Hell’s Angels, I felt it would be most appropriate to have that discussion in a bar. Jake was reluctant. He’d tired of the bar scene long ago, but agreed to meet me at a particular establishment (the name of which is better left unsaid) on a mid-week afternoon, when it would be quiet and we could sit by ourselves in the back room, by the pool table.
Not long after we’d sat down with our beers, Johnny Cash’s voice came through the jukebox in the front room: “San Quentin, I hate every inch ’a you.” We both chuckled, and I asked Jake if he thought one of the guys at the bar played that song in his honor. He snorted with derision and said he didn’t give a shit either way. Such is celebrity.
“That’s why I don’t like going to bars,” he said. “There’s too many hangers-on who treat me with a kind of awe, and I know they’re shaking in their boots when they’re talking to me. It gets old. They always want to talk about this and that thing they’ve heard I’ve done, and they’ve got the story so garbled up that it’s not worth my time to set ’em straight. They wouldn’t understand anyway.
“True and entirely accurate stories are hard to find in a bar, sir,” he continued, “but that’s what you’re going to get from me today. We’re going to be talking about the most important event in my life, which is, of course, when I first met up with my Hell’s Angels brothers. I’ve got every inch of the story etched in my memory.
“You’d better believe it!” he yelled, thrusting a clenched fist in the air. “Hell’s Angels forever!”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to this outburst. Indifference and feigned affinity both seemed like bad options.
“This brings up a point regarding the Hell’s Angels that I need to discuss with you, sir,” he said. Jake stared at me with a stern, almost threatening look on his face, and I got that little quiver in my stomach that I hated myself for. Fuck it! I thought. I put my pen down on my notebook and looked him right straight in the eye. Jake seemed to appreciate that. We smiled at each other and nodded our heads. The damn quiver was gone.
“I’ve had a few concerns along certain lines lately,” he said, then reached into his watch pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. “I wrote something out very carefully last night that I need to have included in whatever publication my remarks might appear in. It’s always a good idea to be as clear as possible about things, so that misunderstandings and unhappy incidents don’t occur unnecessarily, as I’m sure you’ll agree, my friend.”
I certainly did agree. I picked up my pen. Jake unfolded the paper and began to read, very slowly and distinctly, giving each word its proper emphasis: “I, Jonathan ‘Jake’ Sawyer, hereby unequivocally state that I have no knowledge whatsoever concerning any of my Hell’s Angels brothers, or anyone else I’ve ever known, having ever broken any law, or laws, of any kind, in any way, at any time, and anyone who construes that I do have such knowledge, and acts in any way whatsoever on their misconceptions, does so at their own discretion, and at their own peril.”
“I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a paranoid wacko,” he said, refolding the paper and returning it to his pocket, “but as long as the long arm of the law is, there are arms that are longer, and you’ll just have to take my word on that, my friend.”
Also duly noted.
I knew Jake was the first Hell’s Angel from Maine, and had joined them in the mid-sixties, when the Angels were being covered by the national media like they were the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The last time we’d met, Jake had mentioned working at Vic Tanny’s health clubs in California in the mid-fifties, having moved there from Miami Beach. I wondered if he’d first heard of the Angels back then.
“I didn’t even know of the Hell’s Angels’ existence at the point,” he said. “When I moved from Miami to the Los Angeles area, I became totally involved in managing fitness clubs by day, and totally dedicated to raising holy hell with the ritzy people I was training, by night. I really didn’t have time for anything else. The Hell’s Angels were active in the area at that time, but I was into a whole other life.
“It was a helluva life, no question, but it just wasn’t for me,” he continued. “Ol’ Jakie boy wasn’t put on this earth to be any kind of playboy, especially after Kent’s Hill, Norwich University, and the Army Airborne Paratroopers. So I was getting restless as hell, and one fine California morning, without giving much prior notice to anyone, which has been my tendency over the years, I got into my 1950, green-faded-by-the-California-sun, four-door Plymouth sedan, and headed out across America, back home to Portland.
“The trip across America went pretty much without incident, except for my almost freezing to death in Death Valley. The incident is very pertinent to the subject of my involvement with the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. Therefore, I shall relate it to you in some detail.
“It was scorching hot when I arrived in Death Valley and pulled into a rest area to get some sleep in the back seat, but when I woke up in the middle of the night I was so cold I couldn’t move, and I just wanted to go back to sleep. I later learned that people don’t normally wake up when they’re freezing to death in their sleep — they just kind of float peacefully off into eternity. That’s why they say freezing to death is the best way to go. Something woke me up and kept me awake, though, and I know without a doubt that it was my guardian angel. I had felt her warm and gentle presence at many other times of crisis in my life, so it was a very familiar feeling to me.
“As I lay there I became conscious of a battle going on for my soul. My guardian angel was gently tugging at me, urging me to sit up, but there were angels from the dark side hovering over me and murmuring that I should give in to my desire to go into a deep and peaceful sleep. They led me through the events of my life up to that point, praising me for all the wonderful things I’d done, and they assured me that the people in my life who I loved and who had meant the most to me — my mother and the close friends I had made — would always be happy because of all the wonderful things I’d done for them, and it would please them all very much if I took a long and peaceful rest. They said it was my destiny to be with them, and I would have a high standing among them forever if only I’d go into a deep sleep and join them.
“I was incredibly drawn to first one side, and then the other. It was the classic battle between good and evil, the very battle that had been raging inside me all of my life. I’d had a terrible anger in me from an early age, but I also had a great love for my fellow man. So, was I going to join with the forces of evil for all eternity, or would I reach out and take the hand of my guardian angel? Somehow or other, through it all, I knew the final decision would be mine, that I was free to choose either way.
“Something inside me made me reach out to my guardian angel and chose life. But, man, did I have to fight for it! I shrugged the angels from the dark side off, and kept at it, and kept at it, until I was finally sitting up. It was still freezing in the car and I sat there for at least an hour, forcing myself to stretch, even though it was painful as hell and I really wanted to give up and go back to sleep. It was one of the hardest physical ordeals I’ve ever gone through in my life!
“I’ll never forget the sight of that gigantic Death Valley blazing yellow sun appearing over the horizon. As I sat there in that back seat feeling its warmth come over me, I became completely overwhelmed at how incredibly fantastic and absolutely wonderful this life is. I actually felt a glow around me. Man, was I happy to be alive!
“How ironic! I pushed those angels from the dark side away that night in Death Valley, but the greatest joy of my life turned out to be when I found my Hell’s Angels brothers a few years later and united with them for eternity! We’re on a long, strange journey, my friend.”
We’re on a long, strange journey. Those words were scrawled in big letters on the side of a building in downtown Portland many years ago, and remained there for many years. No one cared, or dared, to remove them.
Jake had slumped in his chair, gazing at the floor and slowly shaking his head from side to side, but after a moment he perked up, took a swig from his beer, and jumped back into the tale.
“I got back to good ol’ Portland in the fall of 1961, when I was 23 years old. I knew I’d continue in the health-and-physical-fitness field, but I really didn’t know how that was going to be possible, since there were no health clubs in Portland at the time and I was too broke to start one of my own. Portland was still pretty much a one-horse town back then, but just when I thought I was gonna have to apply for a position at the YMCA, I heard that two guys from Boston were planning to open a health club in Portland, and I scouted them out damn quick. They were absolutely delighted to make my acquaintance and enter into a mutually satisfactory business arrangement. A local boy with connections up the ying-yang, a glistening resume as a health-and-fitness trainer in Miami Beach and L.A., a fantastic physique and oddly entertaining ways — they had struck gold up in Portland, and they knew it.
“Tra-la-laa, ladies and gentlemen,” Jake announced with a laugh and a theatrical sweep of his arm, “let me introduce you to the Portland Health Studio and Figure Salon, the first health club not only in Portland, but in the entire state of Maine, and managed by our returned prodigal son, good ol’ Jakie boy Sawyer!
“The health club was on Center Street, up over DiMillo’s Restaurant, which was where the Asylum dance club is located now. Across the street was none other than the Sawyer-Barker Company, which had been owned by my family for generations. It was one of the state’s largest wholesale clothing manufacturers. The clothes they produced were sold under the name Pine Tree Brand Garments. I worked there a lot when I was a kid. The first time I got drunk in my life was at a company Christmas party there, and now I was managing a health club across the street. Portland can tend to be a small town, and we natives often find ourselves bumping into our past lives.
“The Portland Health Studio and Figure Salon was a huge success right from the beginning. We made fitness fashionable in Portland. All of a sudden it was OK for businesspeople to be walking down Congress Street carrying a gym bag. We introduced the idea that weight-lifting wasn’t just for assorted lunkheads and violence-addicted bodybuilders like me.
“Our ads said that health and fitness was good for ‘every body,’ including female bodies. Notice the ‘figure salon’ in the name. We literally made it OK for ladies to sweat like the men. And I was there to deal with what we called ‘starers.’ Hey, it was OK to glance now and then, but the women we wanted as members weren’t interested in becoming objects of interest. They were looking to get strong and healthy so they could take over the world. Which they’ve done! We started a damn social revolution that’s still going on to this day! Now we could be looking at a woman becoming president!”
And to think: Hillary Clinton owes it all to Jake Sawyer.
“Life back home in Maine couldn’t have been better for me, really. I was working out regularly, had a lot of friends, getting laid at will and making a whole lot of money. The Portland location was going so well that we opened another one up in Lewiston, and I also was selling used automobiles and motorcycles at 100-percent profit, using the business model* I’d developed in Miami Beach and L.A. [*Let’s just say that Jake was offering some exceptionally hot deals.]
But in spite of how great everything was going, I was getting more and more restless. Out of nowhere, the feeling came over me that it was time to move on. As I look back on that period of my life, I realize I had about a two-year span of attention then, no matter how well things were going or wherever I happened to be.
“Ever since I arrived back in Portland, people had been telling me about the Combat Zone, in Boston, and how dangerous and crazy it was. I knew I’d end up there — I’ve always tended to walk into the jaws of the nearest beast, so the Combat Zone was sort of a natural next step for me. Hell, the name alone had me drooling to get there!
“Things were going so well with the health clubs in Maine that we decided to open one up in the Combat Zone. Miami Beach and Southern California had been wild and crazy, but in an innocent, kind of Beach Boys way. There wasn’t anything ‘Surfer Joe’ about the Combat Zone, though. We’re talking hardcore, full bore, all the way, everyday.
“‘The Zone,’ as we called it, was where the famous, the infamous, and all those in between went to be bad, in many different ways, and there I was, managing the Mid-City Health Club, right in the center of it all, on the corner of Washington and Beach streets. The place was so thick with prostitutes that they’d rush your car in a group when you were stopped at a red light, whether your wife or girlfriend was with you or not. Hey, maybe she wants some action too. Otherwise, why would she even be here? That was their attitude. It felt like you were in a third-world country.
“I’ve always been very history-conscious, of course, and I remember thinking of the Combat Zone as being a poor man’s garden of pleasures in the middle of Brahmin Boston, and very much in keeping with the egalitarian principles that this great country was founded on. My world was glistening very nicely at the time, I must say. I was working out regularly throughout the day, meeting some very interesting people, getting laid to my heart’s content and making a lot of money — just like up in Portland, only a whole lot more of everything. And I had Portland to go back and forth to on weekends if I wanted, so life was pretty damn good.”
The waitress brought us another round of beers, compliments of someone at the bar. I told her to tell the guy thanks, but Jake just kind of shrugged his shoulders and kept talking.
“I was really into motorcycles at the time, mostly because I had a good supply of them, I guess. I used to steal them from the Harvard and MIT parking lots. I’d just pull into the lot in my pick-up and load up. Not too many guys can dead-lift a 400-pound motorcycle onto the bed of a pick-up, you know! Hey, I figured I might as well make some practical use of all that muscle I had put on! It was a simple matter, really. I became very good at chiseling identification numbers off motorcycle engines, turning ones into sevens, threes into eights, you know. Then I’d load the bikes onto the back of my pick-up and head up to Portland to find buyers. I’ve always been a big believer in interstate commerce.
“I’d done a number of debt-collection, verbal-warning and pay-back jobs in the Greater Boston area, as a sideline to my used-vehicles sales, so I had quite a backlog of enemies developing, and I started thinking it might be time for me to move on. Hey, even the friends you had in the Zone could turn on you very quickly. People who inhabit the underworld can become very violent very quickly, and often over very trifling matters. A gangster spots you trying to look up his girlfriend’s dress when she’s getting out of a cab, and pretty soon you’re resting in a shallow grave just moments from streets you recently strutted down like a crowned prince.
“At the time, I had been going with this absolutely gorgeous blond goddess named Barbara for about three years, which was the longest either one of us had ever been in a relationship, by far. We were deeply in love, and I still think of her as being the love of my life. My life with her was entirely separate from my life in the Combat Zone, and she was the reason I survived all the insanity.
“Barbara became very intent on getting me out of the Combat Zone while I still had my health and all my limbs. She was an extremely well-educated and highly sought-after private-duty nurse, so she could pretty much call her shots about where she wanted to live. I’d been telling her about how fabulous California was when I lived there, so here we go: She lands a job as a private-duty nurse for Henry J. Kaiser, of Kaiser Steel and Aluminum, and puts a bug in my ear big-time about opening up a chain of Jake Sawyer Health and Physical Fitness Salons all over the state of California. Before long we were out on the open highway in my stolen 1964 black Corvette convertible, pulling my stolen 1965 BSA motorcycle behind us in a trailer, barreling like hell across America, laughing our asses off all the way!
“We’d get off the highway now and then and hop on that BSA and take life-threatening rides up the sides of mountains and down country roads that go on forever! Barbara’s long blond hair would be flying straight back and I’d be howling my fucking head off! We loved each other and we loved the people we met along the way. America is a great country! I could tell you stories, man!”
“Some other time,” I suggested. “Let’s get to the Hell’s Angels.”
“Right. Well, what I wasn’t entirely up-front with Barbara about was that the real reason I was dying to go to California was to hook up with the Hell’s Angels and find out for myself what they were all about. Barbara and I arrived in Oakland in November of ’65. I had attended a motorcycle rally and race the previous August, in Laconia, New Hampshire, and that’s where I first heard about the Hell’s Angels. Basically, the outlaw bikers tore up the town so bad that the National Guard was called in, and the biased and unfair media chose to say the Hell’s Angels were the chief instigators and perpetrators behind it. That was later proven to be absolute bullshit, but there you go.
“The full-page story about the ‘Laconia Riots’ in the newspaper made the Hell’s Angels out to be such dirty, low-down, savage characters that I thought surely such wonderful people could not exist! Motorcycle-riding, thrill-seeking, law-breaking scourges upon society! Lovers of violence! A threat to the sanctity of womanhood! The outlaws of the Wild West ride again! Just the band of men I’d been looking for. These guys sounded too good to be true. But when the writer made a reference to the loyalty and brotherhood the Hell’s Angels felt for one another, I was hooked big-time. That’s what did it.
“The straight world might see it as adolescent gang-mentality carried to its worst extreme, but for me the absolute bond that seemed to exist between members of the Hell’s Angels was the ultimate draw. I really didn’t know it at the time, but I had been looking for my true family my whole life. That’s what had been eating at me all those years, and when I first heard of the Hell’s Angels and what they were like and how they felt about each other, something deep down inside told me I just might have found what I’d been looking for.
“So anyway, there Barbara and I were in California, in the middle of the magical 1960s. Man, it was like walking into another world when we got there! That warm California sun and happy, pleasant people everywhere. We were a hell of a ways from the Combat Zone, in more ways than one. We were in the friggin’ center of the world-wide counter-culture movement! There was a feeling in the air that no one had ever felt before anywhere. Peace and love, hippies, long hair on men, no bras on women, protesting in the streets, the pungent smell of pot in the air — all that shit! The place was even more exciting than when I was there before.
“Barbara was literally on top of the world. Henry J. Kaiser lived in a penthouse apartment on the top floor of Kaiser Center, which was the tallest building in Oakland and overlooks Lake Merritt and Lakeside Park. She spent a lot of time up there with him, and she and Mr. Kaiser became very close. Hey, she liked and respected him, he was very generous with her, and she had a great view. What more can you ask for?
“I was spending part of my days scouting out locations for my health club, mostly so I’d have something to tell Barbara at night, but I think you know what I was really up to.
“It would have been a simple matter to find out where the Hell’s Angels’ clubhouse was and just go there, but that’s not the way it’s done in the outlaw-biker world. It would be like showing up at a lady’s doorstep before you’d been formally introduced to her, or something like that. It’s just not done. Pull up on your bike at an outlaw bikers’ clubhouse where nobody knows you, and you’ll most likely get beat to shit and thrown into the nearest dumpster, with your bike hoisted up and thrown in on top of you.
“I knew that outlaw motorcycle clubs always have a bar in the area they’ve taken over for their private and personal use, and I found out the Hell’s Angels had taken over a bar named The Luau Club, on East 14th Street, which was in a run-down section of Oakland. The guy who told me about it also told me I’d better stay the hell out of there. He got all excited when I asked him about the Hell’s Angels, actually. They were the hottest topic in Oakland, by far. Hell, they were the hottest topic in the country at the time. When he said ‘Luau,’ he raised his voice so everybody at the bar we were in could hear him, and they all backed him up totally, 100-percent: ‘Stay the fuck out of there,’ they all said.
“One guy came over and plunked himself on the stool beside me and said I looked like a big strong guy who could take care of himself, but there were a few things I maybe ought to know if I was thinking of going to The Luau Club. The first thing he told me is the Hell’s Angels love to fight and they don’t fight fair. One of them will pick a fight with you over nothing, then the others will jump in while you’re fighting him. You fight one of them, you fight them all. He also told me that if I went to The Luau Club, I’d be on my own, no matter what happened, because the Oakland Police Department had a habit of not responding to calls made from there, no matter who’s calling or what the call is about.
“Man, it sounded like such a fun place! I couldn’t wait to get there! How it was all going to come down was the question, though. If I just walked into the place without some kind of plan, I could end up as road kill. I took a long motorcycle ride around San Francisco Bay, trying to decide, and later that night, at home, Barbara could see that something was going on with me. A good woman sees into your heart and tells you like it is, and that’s exactly what she did. She told me she knew long before we left Boston that the Hell’s Angels were always on my mind. She saw it in my eyes when I got back from Laconia, she said. The whole Henry J. Kaiser thing was about her desire to go out to Oakland to be with me, because she knew that was where I was headed, with or without her. Damn, I didn’t even know it myself, but she did.
“Then she did something that shocked the shit out of me, something that was completely unlike her. Out of nowhere, she jumped up out of her chair and ran across the room and started screaming in my face. I remember exactly what she said, too: ‘Get this damn thing settled! Go right for it and take whatever happens, either way! That’s what you’ve always done, so do it now! Walk into that low-down, dirty, stinking place and tell them you’re half in love with them and you’re there to find out if it’s the real thing!’ Man, that lady could tell it to me like nobody else has before or since.
“When I pulled up across the street from The Luau Club in my stolen Corvette, pulling that trailer with my BSA motorcycle loaded on it, I could see a couple of guys staring at me out a small side window, trying to figure out what I was all about and what the hell I was doing in that part of town. They disappeared from the window, of course, when I got out and started to cross the street. Hell’s Angels aren’t gawkers, especially on their own terrain.
“When I went through the door and looked around, I saw immediately that the place was as dingy and run-down as I was told it was, but I knew for sure it was the Hell’s Angels’ bar, alright. There were about a dozen guys around the room, most of them wearing sleeveless denim vests or shabby leather jackets with ‘Hell’s Angels Forever’ written across the back, all of them smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, some of them sitting at tables and some milling around the room, singing along with the music on the jukebox.
“I remember very well what song was playing on the jukebox. It was ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking,’ by Nancy Sinatra, and the guys up dancing and singing their heads off were yelling ‘stomping’ in place of ‘walking,’ and when they yelled it they’d crash their boots down on the floor so hard that dust would rise from the cracks and had filled up the place and made it very hard to breath.
“When I went over to the bar and ordered a beer, the bartender shot a quick glance over at a big guy with a thick beard and long black hair sitting at a table across the room. The guy looked over and gave me the up-and-down, then nodded his head to the bartender, and he got me a beer. So I knew who was calling the shots in the place. I didn’t know whether or not the guy was [Oakland Chapter leader] Sonny Barger, though, because I didn’t know what Sonny looked like. All I knew was I admired the hell out of everything I’d ever heard about him, and was most anxious to meet him.
“The one hook I had going for me was that I was buddies with a guy in the Combat Zone, named Arty Doherty, who said he was a friend of a very prominent member of the Hell’s Angels named Tiny. When I told Arty I was going to Oakland to maybe meet up with the Hell’s Angels, he gave me his number and said to have Tiny give him a call and he’d put in a good word for me. I’d even called Arty earlier that day, just to be sure he’d be around later to take what could be a very important telephone call. No matter who you are, or what you’re like, you don’t get anywhere with outlaw bikers without a good personal reference.
“So I walked over to the big guy across the room and said, ‘Hello, my name is Jake Sawyer. I’m from Portland, Maine, and I’m looking for a guy named Tiny.’ The guy I was talking to wasn’t Sonny Barger, it was Terry the Tramp, I found out later. Terry was next in command to Sonny Barger in the Hell’s Angels, and he was an exception to what Hell’s Angels generally were like, just like I was. He came from a good family and was very well educated, and was also very physically fit. We were later to become good friends, but he wasn’t very nice to the new kid on the block that day at The Luau. He didn’t even look up at me when I asked him about Tiny. He just looked over at the guy sitting next to him and said, ‘Portland fucking Maine?’ Then he yelled ‘Tiny!’ and this guy who had to weigh at least 300 pounds stood up from a table across the room and yelled back, ‘What the fuck?’
“So now I walk over to Tiny and tell him that Arty Doherty from the Combat Zone says hello, and that he can call him and Arty will tell him all about me. Right away, Tiny sits down and says, ‘I ain’t calling fucking nobody! Why should I give a fuck who you are?’
“While this was all going on, I could see that all the other guys around the room were starting to get very interested in the proceedings. Whenever a stranger walks into an outlaw biker bar, good times are usually right around the corner. A lot of guys think they can hang in with outlaw bikers, buy them a few beers, shoot the shit a little, and right away they’re an old buddy. Not even close. The reason outlaw bikers have their own bars is the same reason they ride fast motorcycles and live like fucking savages. The only people they like and feel comfortable with are other outlaw bikers.
“No matter how tough a guy is, or how much of a good guy he tries to be, he usually gets the living shit beat out of him if he wanders into an outlaw biker bar. Hell, outlaw bikers like to fight so much, they’ll fight each other if there’s no one else around, so why the hell wouldn’t they beat up on a friggin’ stranger, especially one driving a nice car with a fantastic motorcycle on a trailer behind it?
“So here I was, well dressed and clean-shaven, walking into their bar and making unreasonable demands on their brother Tiny. I could almost hear the wheels turning in their heads, thinking they might end up with a convertible Corvette and a BSA motorcycle, since I’d have no use for either one after they got through with me. I couldn’t get Tiny to get up off his fat ass and make the call to Arty — I knew that — and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask him again, so I got the bartender to put the phone on the bar and I made the call myself.
“As I stood there listening to Arty’s phone ring and ring, I became very anxious thinking about what a crazy fuck he was and how foolish I was to put my fate in his hands. He was the wildest, most crazy-assed biker in Boston, and I wasn’t at all surprised that he was tight with one of the Hell’s Angels. He had the first chopper in New England, as a matter of fact, and he loved to go out to the airport and race airplanes as they were taking off. He was in the newspaper for it, and was becoming some kind of cult hero. Now he wasn’t answering his telephone.
“Then he did. Hallelujah! Right away he’s all happy to hear from me and tells me to put Tiny on, no problem. I had to go through some shit to get Tiny to come over to the phone, of course — he was quite comfortable where he was, and, like he said, what the fuck did he care one way or another who I was? But I bought him and every guy at his table a beer, so I did manage to get him over to the bar and on the phone with Arty. I was very relieved, but I was not at all prepared for what happened next.
“Arty told Tiny that I was a fucking asshole and that they had me chased out of the Combat Zone! He told him every outlaw biker in Boston had been screwed over by me in one way or another, and that my life wouldn’t be worth a pile of duck shit if I ever returned anywhere near the East Coast!
“Tiny looked over at me with a very mean and menacing look in his eye and told Arty that if there was anything left after they got through with me, they’d mail it back to fucking Boston for a proper funeral. When he said that, everybody in the bar laughed like hell, but I wasn’t too fucking amused, especially when some of those guys started stomping on the floor again and grinning at me through the dust that came up from the cracks.
“Holy fuck! I knew that asshole Arty was just screwing around — that’s what friggin’ half-wits that hang around the Combat Zone do, everything’s always a big damn hilarious joke — but this was no time for joking around! I grabbed the phone from Tiny and, sure enough, I heard Arty on the other end laughing his stupid ass off!
“I put the fear in him real quick, though. He knew what I was capable of, and when he heard how friggin’ mad I was he started to get real sorry, real fast. I told him I was going to be a passenger on the next fucking plane he raced at the airport, and when the plane stopped I was going to step out of it and chase him down and throw him into the fucking Charles River, after I broke his neck and crammed his entire customized chopper, piece by piece, up his lying friggin’ ass! He knew damn well I wasn’t kidding, and asked me very politely to please put Tiny back on the phone.
“After our little chat, Arty had a much different tune to sing to Tiny, you can be sure of that. Now I was this big macho hero who was everybody’s friend to the end and could do no wrong. Arty definitely didn’t want to see me coming back to the Combat Zone, so he laid it on real thick. Tiny was looking over at me with, well, almost admiring eyes by the time Arty got through telling him about me. When he gave me back the phone, so I could say goodbye to Arty, and I slammed the fucking thing down in Arty’s ear, I could tell by the look on his face that Tiny and I were going to be friends someday.
“Of course, when Tiny told the guys all the groovy things Arty said about me, I expected they would hate my guts even more than they would’ve otherwise, because now I was not only a very good-looking, very well-dressed, extremely well-built stud who was driving a fancy car and hauling a high-end motorcycle behind it. I was also a hero of the Combat Zone fucking underworld. That’s the way it usually is with men, after all. Any man who tells you he doesn’t resent the abilities and achievements of the man standing next to him is probably a liar. It’s just the way most men are put together. I’d been dealing with it all of my life, believe me, and I never expected anything else.
“That wasn’t the way with the Hell’s Angels in The Luau Club that day, though. There was an integrity about them that really impressed me. They knew what kind of balls it took for a man to walk into their bar like I did. And they could also see I wasn’t some kind of wacked-out freak who didn’t give a shit if I got beat up or not. I was completely fucking sane, and they could see that. I only acted insane, just like they did.
“After a little while, Terry came over to me and we shot the shit about this and that. Then he asked me if I’d ever done any arm-wrestling. That made me smile. I’d been arm-wrestling since I was a young teenager. I could beat kids older than me even before I started working out, but after I lifted weights for a while, no one could beat me.
“A few short years after this little trip to The Luau, I finished as runner-up to the arm-wrestling champion of the world. I was a contestant in the New England Armwrestling Championship Tournament twice, and I beat 18 regional champions in a row, two out of three, both times. Then I lost to the same guy both times. His name was Maurice Baker and he worked for a stove foundry in New Bedford, where he carried large pieces of steel around all day. Anyway, ol’ Maurice was the only man in New England, and maybe in the world, who could put my arm down. So I was pretty sure no one in The Luau Club was going to beat me that day, and, in fact, I was quite happy that Terry had brought up the subject of arm-wrestling. I told him a friendly bout would be most welcome.
“Terry and I walked over to the pool table, with all the other guys following us. We plunked our elbows down, grabbed paws, and got ready to go at it. The way it’s done is that another guy puts his hands over both of yours, and when he lifts his hand, the bout begins.”
Jake jumped up from his chair, hustled over to the pool table, plunked his right elbow down on the felt and excitedly recounted his bout with Terry the Tramp half a century ago. “As soon as our grips tightened, I knew Terry was no match for me. He was a strong guy, no question, but I’d beaten many men who were a lot stronger. Someone more mature and sensible than I was would have made it look like more of a match than it was, I guess, just for diplomatic reasons. But, of course, I chose to show him up big-time, instead.
“I let him put me about three-quarters of the way down, with a worried look on my face all the way. Then I stopped him cold, looked over at him very pleasantly, and told him it was now time to go the other way. Before he could react, I yanked his arm all the way to my side and suspended his hand for a moment or two about an inch over the green felt of the pool table. I nonchalantly looked around the room, gave Terry a silly smile, then slammed it down.
“Right away he accused me of cheating, of course. That was Terry. He was a self-obsessed Adonis who hated losing, just like I was, so I didn’t expect anything else. He said I ‘jumped,’ which means I threw my body weight into my arm, which you are not supposed to do. In a certified competition bout, the put-down has to be ‘clean,’ meaning by arm power only.
“Instead of challenging him to go at it again, like I had to prove what everybody just saw to be the truth, I looked him right straight in the eye and told him he was so fucking weak that I didn’t need to cheat to beat him. Then I backed away from the table and went back over to the bar.”
The “match” concluded, Jake came back and sat down at our table.
“Those guys didn’t know what to make of me or what the fuck to do with me. They were all giving me dirty looks, of course, just because they didn’t know what else to do. I did see some flickerings of admiration thrown in there, though. Damn, I had come into their bar and put the strongest guy in the bar down, their friggin’ leader, and I didn’t give two shits whether they liked it or not. Out of nowhere, somebody — I think it was Dirty Delbert — yelled, ‘Portland, Maine! What the fuck is that and who the fuck is this guy?’ It cracked everybody up.
“After that, things were different. Everybody got a lot looser and guys started coming over and asking me all about myself. You have to understand that I didn’t look like I had anything in common with them at all. I had a clean, pressed shirt and a pair of nice jeans on, I was clean-shaven, and I was even wearing penny loafers, if you can believe it. Hey, it was 1965, and penny loafers were in — at least where I came from.
“What impressed my brothers that day, though, was that I didn’t pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Hey, I could have scrounged up a worn leather jacket and a pair of old motorcycle boots. I could have grown a beard for the big day and gone a week or two without taking a bath. That’s what guys who wanted to hang around the Hell’s Angels usually did. We could spot them as soon as they came through the door, and they generally left all bloody and whimpering like kicked dogs.
“I didn’t do that shit because I wasn’t going to kiss anybody’s ass, for any reason whatsoever. They could see that and they respected me for it. I told Arty Doherty over the phone exactly what I was going to do to him, he knew I’d do it, and so did they. They recognized the tone of voice, and are familiar with the nature of the animal. And I could have slacked off on beating Terry at arm-wrestling as bad as I did, but I didn’t, and when I beat him I could have been a hell of a lot more humble than I was, but I wasn’t. I just fucking wasn’t. Because I didn’t want to be, that’s all, and they respected the hell out of that. You have to know the breed.
“They were fascinated with me, to tell you the truth. They were just kind of looking at me, shaking their heads, and pretty soon we got into telling war stories about this and that. I bragged like hell about all the marvelous things I had done, of course, because that’s just who I was, and they got a big kick out of that.
“After a while I figured it was time to leave, so I left. I didn’t go around trying to shake anyone’s hand with a lot of happy-to-meet-you bullshit thrown in. I just left. Social niceties aren’t received well at outlaw biker bars, and such a misstep at the end could have doomed me forever. But I knew sure as hell I’d be back! The drive home from The Luau Club will live in my mind forever, man! I was so fucking empowered and bursting with confidence and joy that I thought I was going to explode!
“Of course, I became a regular at The Luau Club. Within a couple weeks of my first visit I had purchased my own Harley. I worked out in the morning, then I’d throw my leg over the bike and be at the bar by early afternoon. And if I got a chance to ride with the Hell’s Angels, I went with them to wherever they were going, and stayed with them for however long they were going to be there, no questions asked.
“I have attempted to describe for you before, my friend, what it feels like to ride on a customized-for-speed motorcycle doing 90 miles per hour through heavy traffic on a California freeway in the company of my Hell’s Angels brothers, have I not? It was the single-most thrilling and absolutely transporting experience I have ever had in my entire life, and you’re talking to someone who has jumped out of airplanes, rappelled down mountains, and done every crazy and extremely dangerous thing that was ever put in front of him to do!
“If you want to understand how powerful my attraction to the Hell’s Angels was, consider that I had all of sunny California and everything it had to offer to choose from. I could have had any lifestyle I wanted. I could have associated with anyone, and done anything I wanted to do, but I chose to hang out at a bar on East 14th Street, where I’d maybe get a chance to ride with an outlaw motorcycle gang now and then.
“Now here I am, a 78-year-old, very physically fit, absolutely loony, very happy former Hell’s Angel, and I’m here to tell you that I wouldn’t change a damn thing about what I did then! Uniting and bonding with my Hell’s Angels brothers was the best damn decision I ever made in my life! It wasn’t even a decision, really. It just took me over. When I was with my Hell’s Angels brothers, I felt like I was with the family I’d been looking for all my life. I felt just the way I knew I would when I first read about them in that newspaper story. There was absolutely no phoniness between us. We could see right through each other, just like that, so nobody even thought of trying to put anything over on anybody else.
“Things were not going well with Barbara, though. We had been together for four years, through all of that Combat Zone insanity, and we still loved each other very much, but we were growing apart. Well, she was growing, maybe I was regressing. I don’t know, but it wasn’t a good situation. She didn’t pull the screaming-in-my-face scene this time, though. We talked it all out very calmly. She was getting more and more involved in the upper-strata social life in Oakland, mainly with the people she was meeting through Mr. Kaiser, and I was hanging with the Hell’s Angels all day. That should tell you something.
“On the outside, it was the same scenario as when we lived in Boston, actually. She was prominent in the straight world and I was entrenched in the underworld, but the difference was that I didn’t love the Combat Zone like I loved the Hell’s Angels, and she knew it. She saw it in me as soon as I walked through the door after I got back from The Luau Club that night.
“I know how strange and far-out it sounds, but I literally found a new love when I found the Hell’s Angels. They replaced Barbara in my life. I was more in love with the Hell’s Angels than I was with her, and a fellow’s life can be very dramatically affected by things he does in the name of love.
“The precipitating event of our break-up occurred about three months after my first visit to The Luau Club. The problem arose when Barbara informed me that if I didn’t cooperate with a police investigation, she would leave me. She was asking me to rat on my Hell’s Angels brothers, though, and that was never going to happen under any circumstances.
“Barbara knew I had a clean record, and even though I was facing a charge of armed assault, I would most likely be given only a slap on the wrist if I was willing to talk to my captors about the activities of my associates. No way. I am not a rat. I would rather spend my life locked in a cage, surrounded by the fiends of hell, than be a rat, and I proved it. I ended up being given a very serious long-term sentence in one of our nation’s better-known penitentiaries — I believe there was a song playing on the jukebox referring to that very institution when we first arrived at this establishment.
“As you know from our previous conversations, the incident I’m talking about — the one that most endeared me to my Hell’s Angels brothers, and led to my being accepted into the club as a full-fledged member in record time — was the ‘suicide charge’ I led into the living quarters of some enemies of the club. I shall relate the details of that entire tale to you at our next get-together, my friend, if that meets with your approval. And we shall also discuss my time in prison and all the nifty adventures I experienced there.
“I look forward to telling you all the gory details. The ‘suicide charge’ was either the bravest or the dumbest thing I have ever done in my life. I really haven’t decided which — maybe it was both. It sure got a lot of attention, though.
“All of a sudden there was Jake Sawyer, the mayor’s son, the preppie military school officer candidate, U.S. Army Airborne Paratrooper, General Motors district manager and fitness trainer to the stars, pictured on the pages of True Detective magazine with blood streaming down the side of his face from a bullet wound to the scalp he received after leading an armed assault against enemies of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club.”