Jake Sawyer’s Story
The life of the legendary biker, bodybuilder and bad-ass
by Cliff Gallant
Editor’s note: This is the twelfth and final chapter of our serialization of Jake Sawyer’s life story. In next month’s epilogue, Cliff Gallant writes about Jake’s life today and shares Jake Sawyer stories he’s collected over the past year.
“So, Jake,” I began as we sat facing one another in his apartment for our next-to-last interview, “the last time we talked you said you were going to tell me something really big, something that was going to have Geraldo Rivera’s people pounding at your door. So, c’mon, what is it?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jake said with a big laugh, “I’ve got something that will knock your socks off, but I’m going to keep you hanging for awhile. You like suspense, right?”
“No, not really” I replied. “But you’re going to get to it today, right?”
“Of course!” he exclaimed, “have I ever let you down?”
I furrowed my brow as though I were giving that question a lot of thought. “No, Jake,” I said, “can’t say that you have. OK, we’ll get to the blockbuster thing later. Now let’s talk about what happened when you were released from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in 1985 and returned to Portland.” By now I knew how to get Jake fired up, so I continued with a straight face: “You would have been almost fifty years old then, so I assume that’s about the time you started to calm down, right? The ravages of time and all that. The years take their toll on all of us, even Jake Sawyer.”
“CALM DOWN?” Jake boomed. “That was more than thirty years ago, man, and I’m still living right straight friggin’ out — no questions asked, no quarter given. So what the hell do you mean by asking if I calmed down in ’85? Haven’t you been paying attention at all? I’m never going to calm down! Hell, I’m gonna go on being exactly who I am for as long as I’m still striding the surface of the friggin’ planet!”
“Let’s get on with it then!” I yelled, thrusting my arm in the air the way he does.
“Right on!” he yelled back, shooting his arm in the air, too. “Here we go!”
Moon and Half Moon
“One fine day as I was wasting away in the penthouse in the sky that was called Metropolitan Correctional Center, my keepers rousted me from my reverie and told me I was free to go. That surprised the hell out of me because I had about six months left on my sentence, but, believe it or not, the system had made a mistake and I was released early. I didn’t take the time to set them straight, of course, and before long I was back home in Portland, keeping a very low profile. I took a job at a lobster company down on the waterfront and pretty much minded my own business, until one day, months later, the foreman told me there were three shiny-shoe guys in the office who wished to speak to me. I knew running was pointless, so I went and greeted them wearing a big smile and holding my wrists together, ready for the prison bracelets I knew at least one of them had hanging out of his back pocket.
“Next stop: Danbury Federal Prison, in Danbury, Connecticut, for a few weeks’ stay on the way to what would be my more permanent placement. Compared to MCC, Danbury was like a daycare center. During my short stay there, I started a weightlifting program for the inmates, the way I have at other correctional facilities throughout my life.
“The most interesting thing about my stay at Danbury was that Reverend Moon, of the Unification Church, was there at the time for income-tax evasion. He was considered to be the messiah by his followers, so he didn’t mix too much with the prison population, except for his Korean right-hand man, who we all called Half Moon. I did manage to rattle Reverend Moon’s cage now and then, though. I’d say all kinds of wild shit to him and he’d always chuckle like hell. I tried to get him to tell his followers that if they believed in him they should overwhelm the place and free us all, but he told me it was just a matter of time before he took over the world anyway, so why bother? Couldn’t help but admire the man’s positive attitude.
“After Danbury, my home for a year was Ray Brook Federal Penitentiary, in upstate New York. Ray Brook was a piece of cake as well, and I like to think the weightlifting program I started there lifted the spirits of my fellow inmates considerably and set many of them on the road to a more satisfying and socially responsible life. One does what they can, whenever and wherever they can, you know?
Jake’s Auto Sales
“When I was released from Ray Brook and returned home, one of the first things I did was open Jake’s Auto Sales over in East Deering. The last time we talked I told you that everything about Jake’s Auto Sales was legitimate and aboveboard, and that I had the great satisfaction of being able to set many worthy people up with safe and reliable transportation at as low a cost as possible. I’ve never done anything just for the money, and the used-car business was no exception. I treated everyone who came through my door as if they were friends of mine, and after awhile it got to be quite a status symbol in certain quarters to have that distinctive red-and-green Jake’s Auto Sales bumper sticker on your car.
“Oh, we had a real show going all the way: banners strung across the lot, big American flag on a pole, all that. But the topper was the six-foot-tall mechanical gorilla we had set up in the front passenger seat of a beautiful ’68 two-tone green Chevy convertible, waving the people in. The first thing I’d do is rush up to them and get ’em excited about having their picture taken sitting in the driver’s seat next to the gorilla, and once they were behind the wheel and we got to talking about cars, they were mine.
“That was all a lot of fun, but the story of how Jake’s Auto Sales came to be is the most interesting part. It’s one of those Portland stories that happen just because of where the city is on the map, the lay of the land, and because of whatever it is about the place that creates the bizarre individuals like me that people tend to run into when they get here.
“A lot of people in Portland will remember when a man named John Coffin came to town around the time we’re talking about and made a hell of a splash in many different ways. He was about sixty-five years old when he landed here, still filled with piss and vinegar after having lived an amazing life up to that point.
“John was a big, happy-go-lucky guy who’d been a stand-out student and athlete in high school and college, then joined the Army when the Korean War broke out and saw a lot of heavy action over there at the start of it all. He spent three years in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp. He went from 240 pounds, when he was captured, down to 152, when he was liberated. He was all skin and bones and could hardly drag himself around, but he told me the worst part of his ordeal was spending three years listening to his captors tell him that they were winning the war and that he’d never be released. His love of life and his will to survive got him through all the physical and mental torture, though. He told me there were times when he didn’t know whether he was dead or alive, but then came the day when the American G.I.s came busting into the camp, and after going through fucking hell for years, it was finally over. He returned home to Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he married his high-school sweetheart and made a huge fortune rehabbing and selling high-end ocean-front properties.
“There was also an unsettled, kind of angry and resentful side to John, though. Probably had a lot to do with his war experiences — who knows? — but anyway, one fine day he pretty much dumped the glitzy life he was living down in Marblehead and did a belly-flop onto Portland, Maine, which he’d discovered on a weekend trip and had become intrigued by. We’re talking a huge, barrel-chested, brash-talking show-off multi-millionaire looking to make a big impression. The first thing he did was buy the Commercial Street Pub, so he’d have a place to hold court. Then he started acquiring neighboring properties, just so he could stand in his bar and point to a building across the street that he’d recently acquired — you know how that goes.
“Basically, John was having fun ramming it up society’s ass, just like yours truly has been known to do from time to time. He rode around town in a big white Cadillac, wearing an Australian bush hat, with a brightly colored silk scarf around his neck and with a silly-looking blown-up plastic dummy sitting next to him on the passenger’s side. He was putting on quite a show even before we paired up, but when we did, look the hell out!
“When two loud-talking tough guys meet, they usually either become fight-to-the-death enemies or very tight buddies, and the latter is what ended up happening with John and me. I was in the Commercial Street Pub one night, mouthing off about something or other — surprise, surprise — and he yelled out that if I didn’t shut my trap he was gonna take me outside and beat the fuck out of me. Of course, that put a big smile on my face, even though I could see that he obviously knew how to handle himself and weighed well over 250 pounds. At first I pretended to be scared out of my wits, which got a lot of laughs, but then I made a big show of kind of curtseying to him and politely indicating with a sweep of my arm that maybe we should make our way outside to settle the matter.
“When we got outside I planted myself in front of him and jutted my jaw out and told him that, in consideration of his advanced age, I’d give him the first punch, but that he should turn and run after that, because if he didn’t I was going to fuck him up so bad that from then on there would be two friggin’ brain-dead dummies riding around in that car of his. That cracked him up big time, because he wasn’t used to being challenged in any way, so after we traded loud insults back and forth for awhile, laughing our guts out all through it, we went back in and spent the night drinking together. Look out, Portland: it’s the duo from Hell!
“John just loved being seen around town with me, and we spent our time riding around in his car like a couple of brain-dead dummies, dreaming up what crazy-assed thing we were going to do next. Funny how things work out. There I am, fresh out of prison once again, back in Portland and broke as a bastard, riding around town in a new Cadillac with a guy who was easily the most eccentric millionaire in the country. He offered to set me up in any kind of business venture I wanted to get into — the more bizarre, the better.
“When I told him about my long experience in the eighty-percent-discount used-car business, and how my activities in that area had led to fundamental changes in the State of Maine used-car title law, that did it. Setting up the notorious Jake Sawyer, the all-time Grand Theft Auto King, in the used-car business really rang his chimes. When we spotted that lot with a small office building on it, out on Washington Avenue at the corner of Veranda Street, he was not to be denied.
“I wanted the name of the enterprise to be East End Auto Sales, because I knew what the reaction of the police and general public would be to a used-car business associated with me in any way, but John would have none of that. His whole motivation, after all, was to shove it up society’s ass in any way he could, so he absolutely insisted that the name be Jake’s Auto Sales. I had all I could do to talk him out of keeping my last name out of it.
“Like I said before, the great thing about Jake’s Auto Sales was that I was able to set a lot of people up with a nice car who would never have had any kind of ride otherwise. The truth of the matter, though, is that it was John’s generosity and goodwill that made it all possible. He didn’t give a damn whether or not we made money. His whole thing was comforting the afflicted while confounding the comfortable, or something like that.
“The other used-car lots around town didn’t like the fact that Jake’s Auto Sales was giving people tremendous deals they couldn’t come near to matching. They were all saying that I was selling hot cars, but they were dead wrong. We had proper documentation for every car we sold, and the fact of the matter was that a lot of the cars that I sold were ones John bought from the dealers themselves, on the up and up, and delivered to me for resale. For some reason or other, he liked the idea of acquiring a car from a competitor, then selling it to a deserving person for far less than they could have acquired it from the dealer he got it from. The dealers were stymied as hell because, on the one hand, they liked it when John bought one of their cars, but after awhile the buying public knew that if they liked a car they saw on a lot anywhere in town, all they had to do was wait awhile and it would show up on Jake’s Auto Sales’ lot with a lower sticker price on it. We lost money on many of the cars we sold, but he enjoyed the hell out of upsetting our competitors and making the police wonder what the hell we were up to.
“We were kept under very close scrutiny by the police, of course. Having a notorious car thief and four-time convicted felon — who was currently on parole from federal prison, no less — operating a used-car business in their city frosted their asses big time, but they couldn’t get anything on us.”
I just had to interrupt Jake at this point. I knew he wouldn’t remember it, but I was one of the fortunate many who bought a car from Jake’s Auto Sales. Jake set me up with an immaculate two-tone green 1979 Plymouth Fury at a time when I needed a good car very badly and didn’t have a lot of money to make it happen. I was drawn in by the mechanical gorilla and the rest is history.
“I bought a car from Jake’s Auto Sales,” I said.
“Great! Did you like it?”
“It was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned,” I said. “You saw me hanging around the lot and came out and started to give me your sales pitch, but when you found out that I was a lot of want and very little money, you stuck with me anyway. I’ve always appreciated that.”
“Is that why you agreed to help me write my life story?” Jake asked.
“Partly, at first,” I said. “Maybe.”
The Lowell Hell’s Angels
“All in all, life was very good for me around that time period,” Jake continued. “Not only was I living out my Robin Hood fantasies through Jake’s Auto Sales, but my love life was also going extraordinarily well. After I won the State of Maine Arm Wrestling Championship at USM in 1984, I started working out there on a very serious basis. Oh, did I also tell you that I was the oldest guy in the competition?”
“Yup,” I said.
“Oh, good, we don’t want to miss anything. But I don’t think I told you how I met the most beautiful yoga and modern-dance instructor in the universe at the USM gym and ended up having a two-year relationship with her. She was in her late twenties, had danced in the New York City Ballet, and had such an incredible female presence that every man with any testosterone count at all immediately fell in love with her. It’s not often that one encounters a graceful ballet dancer with, ah, notable frontage, my friend, so she drew a lot of looks. The way to handle that kind of overcrowded situation, of course, is to be the one who doesn’t look. Well, you look, but you don’t keep looking. We used to get ‘starers’ in the fitness studios I managed, and I used to enjoy leading them out the door by the ear.
“Anyway, the gorgeous lady could see that I was there to work out in a very serious and professional manner, and she respected that. I saw her glancing over at me a few times, so I went over and asked her what was up. She said she’d been waiting for me to come over, I took that as very good news, and we started sitting under the apple tree together, you know? I can hardly believe it myself, to tell you the truth, but I was true to her all the time we were together. I was still running around town like a madman on steroids, raising all kinds of hell, just the same as ever, but I was no longer having sex with any lifted skirt that happened along.
“Well, that’s not quite the truth. I did kind of stray when I was down in Lowell visiting my Hell’s Angels brothers, but that wasn’t about the sex, of course. That was just about doing whatever fucking outrageous thing came to my mind to do. Getting it on with a camp follower isn’t cheating on your old lady, it’s just what you do when you’re with your brothers.”
“OK, good enough, Jake,” I said. “But, hey, come to think of it, we haven’t talked about what was going on with you and the Hell’s Angels. What was up about that?”
“Well, I guess the reason I haven’t talked about the Hell’s Angels much lately is that I thought it was understood that I was going down to Lowell to spend time with my Hell’s Angels brothers on a regular basis all the time this other stuff I’ve been telling you about was going on. When I found the Hell’s Angels I found my true family, and there was no way I was not going to keep in close contact over the years, you know?
“When I got out of San Quentin and returned to Portland in 1968, I knew that my parole restrictions weren’t going to allow me to attend club meetings down in Lowell on a regular basis, and that I also wouldn’t be able to ride with my brothers on the required number of runs per year, so I stopped wearing my colors at that time.
“That ‘Hell’s Angels, Nomads Chapter’ patch across the top of my back meant more to me than anything else ever has in my entire life. I was a Hell’s Angel to the core of my being, and taking off that leather jacket was like I was hacking part of my body off, but I knew what I had to do. To represent myself as a patch-holding member of the Hell’s Angels when I wasn’t any longer would have been disrespectful of my Hell’s Angels brothers, and I’d rather die than have that happen. So I placed my jacket in the safe at the Eddie Griffin Club, with instructions saying that in the event of my demise the jacket was to be mailed to the president of the Oakland, California chapter of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. I even included postage.
“Taking off my colors didn’t stop me from spending time with my Hell’s Angels brothers down in Lowell. Having former members show up to party and raise hell for a day or two happened all the time. I did kind of take things to extremes, though. I’d been ramming down the Maine Turnpike on my Harley to Lowell in the early morning hours on a fairly regular basis for a number of years, and had bonded big time with most of the patch-holding members down there, but once in a while I’d get some shit about former members not really being members and hanging around too much, and I knew a fight was about to happen. No big deal — when we ran out of other people to fight, we’d fight each other. That was expected. But one night, around the time period we’re talking about today, when I was about fifty years old, I had to take on four or five of my brothers who were twenty or so years younger than I was, and that got a little hairy.
“The problem wasn’t just that I was not a patch-holding member, it was also that I was a lightening rod for trouble. I’d go to some local bar down there and raise holy hell, maybe bust up the place and knock some heads — usually both — and the next day it would be in the papers that the Hell’s Angels were at it again. Of course, I’d never identified myself as a member of the club, but somehow or other the connection was always made.
“So, one Monday morning as I was on my bike leaving the clubhouse lot, headed back to Portland, Irish Red yelled after me that the whole club was very pissed at me over all the shit I’d been pulling. He said I’d better stop coming around and I was going to get banged up real bad if they ever saw me again. Irish Red was a big jolly guy with a bushy red beard that everybody liked and listened to, so I knew what he’d said to me was real serious business.
“That didn’t make my ride home very pleasant, of course. Having your heart ripped out of you is not the best way to start your week off. So, what could I do? I returned to Lowell the following night and rapped on Irish Red’s door. No answer. A bunch of bikes were parked outside, so I knew some of my other brothers were there. I yelled to them that one of their brothers was outside, so would they please open the fucking door. Still no answer, but then Irish Red came to the door and glared at me. I looked straight into his face and said, ‘I’m here for two reasons, man. The first is that I love you, and the second is that nobody fucking tells me where I can and can’t go.’
“Irish Red just kind of snorted and chuckled, like he admired me for saying what I did, but then he shrugged his shoulders like he didn’t have a choice, and told me that if I didn’t leave he was going to have Franny come out and fuck me up so bad that I’d be lucky if I could come back even if I wanted to. Franny was six-feet-nine-inches tall, weighed over three-hundred-and-fifty pounds, and made his living wrestling bears at carnivals and county fairs. To make matters worse, he was a Hell’s Angels prospect, which meant that he would do anything, and in absolutely any manner, that any patch-holding member told him to do.
“‘Bring that big mama bear on!’ I yelled. ‘I love my brother Franny all to hell!’
“Irish Red just grinned and went back inside. Then Franny kind of lumbered through the door and started walking towards me with a very concerned look on his face. Franny and I were tight buddies, after all. He was a little slow and I’d befriended him, but he had his orders and we both understood that that was that. When he got to me he just planted himself in front of me and said, ‘OK, go ahead, Jake,’ in a very calm and resigned voice, like this kind of thing was routine for him. So I reared back and punched him between the eyes as hard as I could. I’ve knocked guys clear across a barroom floor with that punch, but Franny hardly flinched. He just got kind of a sad look on his face, then threw an uppercut to my chin that was so hard it lifted me off my feet. Then, before I could recover, he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed so hard I knew he fractured two of my ribs — and I knew which two they were, from my knowledge of the structure of the human body.
“I thought it was over at that point, because Franny once told me that the fight was over at the carnivals and county fairs when he broke the bear’s ribs. Kind of broke their spirit, he said. He knew I wasn’t going to give up as fast as the bears did, though, so he threw me down on the ground and jumped onto my stomach, three-hundred-and-fifty pounds of Hell’s Angels prospect, ass first, and it felt like my guts were going to come gushing out of my mouth.
“That’s when the real rough stuff started. He sat on me, pounding away at my face and whatever else he could get at, screaming at me to give up. Then, when I yelled, ‘Fuck you, the fucking bears were smarter than you are!’ he started pulling my hair out by bunches and even grabbed my head and bit my nose and both my ears. Franny was sorry it all had to happen, he truly was, and he knew I was only kidding about the bear stuff, but he was just doing what he had to do, and we both understood that.
“He kept asking me over and over, ‘You had enough? You had enough?’ but I’d keep yelling things like, ‘No, you dumb shit! What’s the matter, you lazy bastard, you getting tired?’ Every man there knew that giving up would mean I could never hang out with my Hell’s Angels brothers again. Hell, they’d shoot me on sight if I came back after I gave up in a fight. So, after Franny realized that I’d never give up, no matter what, he started laughing like hell and got off me and threw up his hands and yelled: ‘Jake, I love ya, brother! You are one bad-ass brave motherfucker!’
“That was nice, but then Irish Red stepped up and said it didn’t matter whether I gave up or not, that I was going to get the same treatment every time I showed up, so I might as well just get on my bike and get the hell out and never come back.
“‘Fuck you!’ I yelled. ‘Any one of you bad boys want to take me on right now? I’m having a great time!’
“They all just looked around at each other and started chuckling. Here I was, this fifty-year-old desperado, all beat to hell, staggering around, blood and snot all over me, asking for more. They went into a little huddle, then Irish Red looks over at me with a big smile and says, ‘Jake, how would you like to attend a New Year’s Eve party with us tonight at the Salem chapter’s clubhouse?’
“Party time! Of course I was all for it! I didn’t even go inside and get cleaned up. I just swung my leg onto my bike and yelled, ‘Let’s go!’
“Being invited to go to a party with the club didn’t necessarily mean that I was back tight with them, though. They were just having fun with me, and I knew that. I am intimately familiar with Hell’s Angels lore, and know that parties in other chapters’ clubhouses always entailed fights between the two chapters. The hit of the evening would be for the Lowell chapter to bring along an old beat-up former member like me who was willing to take on anyone, no matter how big and tough they were, at any time, for any reason.
“Anyway, that friggin’ 1986 New Year’s Eve party at the Hell’s Angels clubhouse in Salem, Massachusetts was the wildest free-for-all drunken bash I’d been to since I partied with my Hell’s Angels brothers out in Sausalito and Berkeley twenty years before. Franny bought me at least a dozen stiff drinks, and I’d gulped every handful of pills that was offered to me, so my wounds weren’t bothering me too much. Then somewhere in the course of the evening one of my brothers from the Lowell chapter introduced me in a loud voice as the current arm-wrestling champion of Maine. Of course, he knew exactly what he was doing, and right off a guy from the Salem chapter yelled, ‘Maine? What the fuck is that? A place where old bikers go to die?’
“‘Hey, man!’ I yelled, ‘you’re looking at the first Hell’s Angel from the great state of Maine right here!’
“Well, as you might expect, one thing led to another and we got into it pretty shortly after our little exchange. Please keep in mind that I had had vast experience as a fighter by this time. I had always taken a great interest in all forms of physical combat, and the young man presented no problem to me. Of course, the Salem chapter wasn’t going to leave it at that — not by any means. I had to fight three more of them before everyone there knew for sure, without a doubt, that I might be an old fuck, but I was still one ferocious maniac who was not at all into losing.
“What you have to understand here is that when Hell’s Angels fight among themselves, there are certain rules that are followed. No eye gouging. No kicking in the balls. No fucking girly scratching — stuff like that. So, I knew that if I kept fighting, I’d survive, and survive I did. I won every fucking fight I was in, come to think of it, except the one with Franny.
“Let me also say that from the time of those incidents to the present time, I have enjoyed the company of my Hell’s Angels brothers, both down in Lowell and when I’ve hosted some of them up here in Portland, and am made to feel most welcome whenever I visit the Lowell chapter for a day or two of hell-raising. I had clearly illustrated to them, once and for all, that I was a Hell’s Angel to the core of my being for as long as I might live. They knew about the suicide charge I led in California, and they saw me be willing to die before I’d give up having the Hell’s Angels in my life, and that was enough for them.
“It could well also be, my friend, that I took my brothers’ concern about my behavior somewhat to heart and started acting a little more civilized. I don’t know. My ties to my Hell’s Angels brothers got so close over the years, actually, that I moved down to Lowell for awhile in 1989 and lived with my brother George Caruso, who was the president of the Lowell chapter. George owned a small construction company and he bought a house in Lowell that no one else wanted because the former owner was a gambler who’d been shot to death in the backyard. George didn’t give a shit about that either way, of course, but I kind of liked the idea myself.
“The backyard was very large, and there was a rumor that the gambler had buried a big bag of money in it somewhere. I turned George on to the idea of locating it. We started by using a metal detector and digging little holes all over the place, but when all we came up with was bottle caps, George brought in a front-end loader, and within a day or two there were deep cavernous holes all around the backyard. When we didn’t find what we were after there, we dug up the front lawn, too. George and I and a few of our other Hell’s Angels brothers spent a hell of a lot of time sifting through all that dirt, but we never did find that big bag of money. The adventure of it all was fun while it lasted, though.
Rocky Mountain Recluse
“Maybe I was going through some kind of change of life. Around the time I came back to Portland after living down in Lowell for awhile, I began to feel the cumulative effect of all the tension I’d created in my life and I just needed to get away from all the bullshit. The wonderful woman I told you about earlier had left me because she just couldn’t take my right-straight-out wild and crazy ways anymore, and I was getting pretty tired of the turmoil that had existed around me over the years. I needed some space to get my head straight, so I decided to sell all my possessions, except my custom-made-for-speed Harley, and head out for a year’s mountaintop retreat in good ol’ Ward, Colorado, where I’d hid out about a dozen years earlier, right before going to Lewisburg Penitentiary.
“After gunning it across the country on my Harley in record time — damn, I covered more than 2,000 miles in less than 48 hours — I arrived at the trail at the base of the mountain that led up to Ward. At that point I decided what I really needed was complete solitude, so I bought an old school bus for next to nothing and somehow got it to the top of a two-mile-high mountain across the way from Ward. I parked the bus in a beautiful little pine grove there, where it was protected from the wind, and lived in it all alone for almost four years.”
“What?” I said, throwing down my pen and looking over at him in disbelief. “Jake, did you just say you lived like a hermit on a mountaintop in Colorado for four years?”
“Yes, sir!” he bellowed, laughing his head off. “Ol’ Jakey boy’s got one surprise after another for ya, huh?
“As I said, my original intent was to spend a year in Ward,” he continued, still chuckling to himself, “but once I got out there I decided to live apart from civilization altogether. I got accustomed to the peace and restfulness I was experiencing living in that old school bus all alone, and I just couldn’t bring myself to leave after the year was up. Part of that was due to the break I was getting from the excitement and danger I’d always invited into my life, and part of it was due to the taste for being alone that I’d developed during my various times in prison. Please keep in mind, my friend, that at that point I had spent almost ten years of my life, in total, in one lock-up or another, and at least three years of that time had been spent in solitary confinement. That’s a lot of time spent in your own company.
“I built a fourteen-foot-by-twenty-foot wood shed attached to the back of the bus, and I had my domain. It wasn’t as if I was entirely alone, though — not by any means. I took in every living creature that happened by, and before long I had about a half-dozen wild dogs, assorted raccoons, and even an eagle with a broken wing as companions. I’ve never had better friends in my life, really. The truth is that I was as dependent on them as they were on me.
“The solitude I experienced camping out on that mountaintop was the most restful and enriching period of my life, but I don’t I want to give you the impression that I was entirely without human company. Over the course of the four years I ventured down the mountain on a number of occasions to go over and visit my neighbors in Ward, and we enjoyed many festive times together. I obviously couldn’t be that close to my Hell’s Angels brothers in Oakland and not make the trip now and then, and I also made the trip across country a few times to visit my Hell’s Angels buddies in Lowell and my friends up in Portland.
“‘Where ya been, Jake?’ my friends all said to me. Well, there are some questions you just can’t answer in a way that people understand, so you just don’t try, you know?
“Oh, and it wasn’t as if I had no social contact at my campsite, either. I actually had a couple of visitors from Portland. One of them was a beautiful blond former girlfriend of mine who showed up in Ward one summer day looking for me. My friends there told her what was up with me and accompanied her up to my encampment. She wanted so much to look good upon her arrival that she walked the two miles up the mountain in the bright shiny green dress and high heels she’d arrived in Ward wearing. She did look good, too, believe me. When she arrived it was as if a radiant goddess had appeared out of the sun.
“We had some wonderful days: the fine lady, my dog Shawn, and me. I do have to mention Shawn here. He was a beautiful pure white Pyrenees who’d been mistreated and abandoned on the mountain. When I first took him in he was very fearful of me, but as time went on we became great company for each other, and I’ll never forget my old friend.
“The lady had come to talk me down off the mountain, but when she saw that there was a calmness and contentment about me that she’d never seen in me before, she backed off that and we parted with big smiles and hugs — and with me slapping her on the ass and telling her to come back soon.
“My social activities also included accompanying mountain climbers up to tall peaks now and then, and that was something for a cloistered monk like me to look forward to. The picture I’ve provided to you is one such group, and I remember having a very good time with them. I was about thirty years older than any of them were, and they probably thought I was daft. All I wore on my feet was a cheap pair of sandals, and halfway up the mountain I veered off to rougher terrain and told them I’d see them at the top. They all said I wouldn’t make it, and when I arrived up there only ten minutes after they did, they were amazed. Damn, except for the thin air, I would’ve beaten them.”
The others were breathing different air? I said to myself.
“Oh, I also had another visitor from Portland, and you might know him, my friend. His name is Steve Luttrell.”
“Yes, of course,” I said. “Steve’s the publisher of The Café Review and a former poet laureate of Portland. He told me he grew up with you in South Portland.”
“Right! Well, Steve had come to Colorado for a poetry festival that was being held in Boulder, and he decided to visit me while he was there. We got to talking about the festival, and when he mentioned that Allen Ginsberg would be there I got all excited and decided to go along with him to the festival.
“You remember that I met Allen at Sonny Barger’s house way back in 1966, when he and Neal Cassady visited Sonny for the purpose of explaining to him that the hippies marching in the streets of Berkeley loved America as much as the Hell’s Angels did, and were just being patriotic by protesting the war in Vietnam. Sonny and the rest of us didn’t completely buy that particular line at the time, but as time went on we began to see the light, and in the end the Hell’s Angels and the hippies bonded big time. You will also remember that I encountered Allen again when I got out of San Quentin a few years after that and attended a hippie wedding in a field somewhere in New Mexico on my way across the country back to Portland, so I was excited to meet up with my ol’ buddy Allen again.
“‘Jake!’ he said when he saw me, ‘you still raising holy hell?’
“‘Naw,’ I told him, ‘I’ve turned into a meek little ol’ mountaintop mystic and all I want to do is sit around communing with my higher being and chasing after little boys in my spare time like you do!’
“That got a big laugh out of everybody, especially Allen, and when it came time for the poetry reading he insisted that I get up and do something. I’m not one to shrink away from the limelight, of course, so I was happy to oblige. I can still recite the poem I made up for them if you’d like to hear it, sir.”
“Fire away,” I said, motioning for him to take the floor the way he did that evening in Boulder. Sure enough, Jake got up from his chair and let it fly:
Rotting fish and stinking ham!
Son of a bitch!
Here I am!
“Of course, I finished it up by raising my arm in the air and yelling, ‘Hell’s Angels forever!’ and they loved it! All those renowned poets from all over the country gave me a standing ovation, and it was the first poem I had ever written!”
“OK, Jake, here we are,” I said. “We’ve got you down off the mountain, so it’s time to let loose with the big story you’ve been holding onto. Let’s have it, sir, if you’re ready.”
“Yeah, man, here we go,” Jake said, gleefully rubbing his hands together. “What this involves,” he began, “is some very explosive insider information on a subject of national interest that I came by when I was at Lewisburg Penitentiary in the late 1970s.
“First let me say, my friend, that the reason I haven’t told you the story before is that my instincts are to never, ever comment on anything pertaining to any acquaintance of mine that might involve them having broken the law. But after I thought the situation over, I realized that all the people involved would be well over a hundred years old by this time and, even if they are still walking the planet, I know they’ll get a big laugh out of the whole thing when they read about it, or have it read to them, and they’ll swear every word of it is true.
“As I’ve told you, I earned the confidence of a very close-knit group of Italian Mafia bosses at Lewisburg after they realized I’d been set up by the feds to be murdered there and I refused to go into protective custody. I went from less than zero to their all-time hero when they saw that I was willing to die rather than use the prison authorities to shield me from my fellow inmates, even though the rumors planted among the prison population by the feds of my having ratted on someone for a lighter sentence were absolutely false.
“I’ve told you that what turned them around was when I produced the Press Herald story about my having been sent to Lewisburg because I wouldn’t rat on my accomplices in the Coast Guard–base pot bust. But I haven’t told you about an incident that took place inside the prison after that — an incident that endeared me to my fellow inmates even more.
“You have to understand that after the feds sent me to Lewisburg to have me killed on the yard as a rat, and that didn’t happen, they became obsessed with getting the name of the guy I’d sold the pot to out of me, to the point where they had the warden physically torture me. The warden’s name was Charlie Fenton, and he was one ruthless motherfucker. Ol’ Charlie was well aware that he had to proceed with extreme caution when it came to torturing the inmates under his charge, but he had a self-developed technique that had worked admirably for him with a number of other people, so he thought he’d give it a go with me.
“Doesn’t seem like much of a deal to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but what the righteous warden did was have four guards hold me down while he beat the bottoms of my feet with a yardstick. Never have I come close to experiencing such pain in my life. The bottoms of your feet are super-sensitive and full of nerves that have a tendency to deliver excruciating pain all throughout your body. Believe me, every time good ol’ Charlie smiled and took a whack, I was turned into a world of hurt. I never knew that getting whacked on the bottom of your feet can make you feel like your head is going to explode, you know?
“What you also have to understand here is that I wasn’t even particularly close to the individual I was refusing to rat on. Truthfully, I didn’t even care what happened to him — I just knew I wasn’t gonna rat on anyone, no matter what. After each whack, Fenton would ask me for the name of the guy I sold the pot to, and I’d give him the name of a movie star or some politician, and he’d get more and more pissed off, especially when the guards who were holding me down started giggling. After awhile, though, I made Fenton think I absolutely couldn’t take the torture anymore and was ready to cooperate.
“‘OK, Jake,’ he said, “I’m not enjoying this any more than you are. Just give me his name and we’ll get you out of here and you’ll get deluxe treatment all the rest of the time you’re with us. Might even get you paroled a lot sooner than you might’ve thought. So, just give me his name and we’ll all be happy.’
“I started kind of sobbing and whimpering, like my spirit was completely broken and I could barely talk, so Fenton had to lean over and put his ear close to my mouth. When he did, I screamed, ‘I sold the pot to your fucking mother and she turned out to be the best blow job I ever had!’
“That sent him over the edge, of course, and he went wild with his friggin’ yardstick, but at that point he knew no amount of physical torture was going to work with me, and he had the guards drag me off and throw me into solitary. While I was locked away, though, a couple of the guards who’d held me down were impressed by what they’d witnessed and spread the story I have just related to you throughout the prison population. When I got out I found that I was now held in even higher esteem than I’d been before, especially in the eyes of the Mafia bosses, because they were always looking for guys who would be loyal no matter what.
“When I played bocce with my Italian friends now, they tended to be more at ease around me, and we became closer and closer. Bocce is a game that tends to bond people. There’s no hurry or pressure about it, and there’s free and easy conversation throughout the game. Once in a while, when we were playing, I could see warning glances between them when the talk got too close to certain subjects, though, and they’d all clam up. But after the incident with the warden I didn’t see that kind of thing anymore.
“The godfather of the Mafia bosses at Lewisburg was Anthony Provenzano, who was called Tony Pro. Tony had been the vice-president of the New Jersey Teamsters Union, and had been very close to both Richard Nixon and Jimmy Hoffa over the years. A couple of weeks after Nixon resigned, he made his first public appearance playing golf with Tony — that’s how close they were. Tony was always making little jokes about how Mafia money got passed to Nixon, even while he was in office, but Richard Nixon’s desecration of his high office is not what this story is about, sir.
“What I have to say concerns Tony’s other little buddy, Jimmy Hoffa. Tony Pro has always been the FBI’s primary suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance, and I’m here to tell you that they are definitely on the right track. The word among the Mafia dons in the prison was that Hoffa’s elimination occurred because he insisted on reassuming the presidency of the Teamsters after he got out of prison, and the Mafia preferred Frank Fitzsimmons in the position. Fitzsimmons was in the Mafia’s pocket one-hundred percent, and Hoffa was in only seventy-five percent, so there you go.
“Hoffa was last seen at a restaurant outside of Detroit, and there’s never been any doubt that the Mafia had him killed, but the huge question that no one has been able to answer is where his body was buried. Intensive investigations have taken place — damn, they even dug up Giants Stadium once — but no one has been able to find where the body is buried.
“That is what I have to tell you today, sir! I know where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried!”
Right away I’m thinking that maybe I can go online and find out how to send Geraldo Rivera’s people an e-mail; maybe even call them.
“What brought up the subject of Jimmy Hoffa was when I mentioned to Tony that I’d spent the year before I was sent to Lewisburg hiding out in Ward, Colorado,” Jake continued. “Right away, Tony says, ‘Hey, that’s in the Rocky Mountains.’ He was all excited, because Tony wasn’t a guy anyone would expect to know that kind of thing.
“‘Right, Tony!’ I said. ‘How the hell did you know that?’”
“‘Because some guy I knew spent some time hiding out in Ward,’ Tony said, ‘and we got to talking once, and he said there was a lot of great places in towns around there to hide bodies. I knew they’d be hot after finding Jimmy’s body, so I had the boys stuff him into a plaid sleeping bag I had hanging around my place, throw the sleeping bag with Jimmy in it into their trunk, and head for the Rocky Mountains.’
“Tony gave me a big smile and said he couldn’t remember Jimmy’s last name — that he was just some guy — but he knew damn well that I knew who he was talking about. I didn’t want to seem too interested in what he was telling me, so I waited a few days before I asked him, very casually, if he could remember the name of the town they brought the body to.
“‘Sure!’ he said. ‘It was Neverland, Colorado! It’s a place full of old gold mines, and my guys dumped the plaid sleeping bag with Jimmy in it in one of them. They’re never gonna find him there!’ Tony yelled, laughing his head off. He was pleased as hell with himself over that line. I almost think that’s why he told me the story, actually — so he could use it. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Tony, though, that the name of the town is Nederland, not Neverland. Nederland is about a dozen miles or so away from Ward, and I used to go there to lift weights with a guy who lived there.
“Tony didn’t say a thing about how Hoffa was killed, or what his last words were or anything like that, so I can’t help anyone there, but I can assure the whole damn world that Jimmy Hoffa’s body is resting in an old abandoned gold mine in Nederland, Colorado, stuffed in a plaid sleeping bag.”
“OK, Jake,” I said, “the story was worth the wait! Damn! You just keep ’em comin’!”
“Well, my friend, I try,” he said. “So next time we’ll pick up at about the middle of the 1990s, when I was about sixty, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, “we should just about wrap things up in the next issue. For that epilogue, we’ll bring things up to the present, talk some about what your life is like these days, and get some people from around town to tell a tale or two about you. Since we started this little project, I’ve had a bunch of them come up to me and tell me some amazing stories about you. Maybe I’ll tell you some of them the next time we talk and you can tell me if there’s any truth to them, OK?”
“Always happy to straighten out the record, my friend,” Jake said, getting up from his chair and coming across the room to shake my hand. “We sure as hell don’t need anybody’s fantasy memories to add to things. My life has been interesting and eventful enough just as it actually happened, know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I sure do,” I said as we shook hands. “I sure do.”