Here he comes just’a walkin’ down the street, commanding the space he occupies. The swagger, the sculpted body, the outrageous clothes. It’s gotta be Jake Sawyer, and it is. Jazzed about something, as usual. Whatever Jake’s into, he’s into all the way. He’s got a way of meeting life head on and going for it, consequences be damned.
There’s a lot of stories about Jonathan “Jake” Sawyer around, but my favorite goes all the way back to when he was fifteen years old, in the late 1950’s, and went into Grant’s department store, on Congress Street, and opened the doors of all the bird cages. At first none of the birds flew out, then one did, and then a couple more, than no more did for a while, so Jake broke into a bag of birdseed and scattered it all over the floor. Then they all flew out. People freaked out because, after they had eaten their fill, the birds flew all over the store and did what birds do shortly after they eat. Took weeks to capture them all and the whole city was tittering about it.
As a direct descendant of William the Conqueror — he’s got the documentation to prove it — there was something stewing in Jake innards from the very beginning, but, alas, he was an awkward skinny kid from an upper-tier family in South Portland and got picked on a lot. Until he discovered weight lifting. Bad guys, watch out, friends take solace. Hate your enemies, love your friends.
Brotherhood and loyalty. Loyalty and brotherhood. The two words reside directly at the core of Jake’s being and constitute the code he has always lived by. At Kent’s Hill prep school and at Norwich University, a top-flight military college where he studied chemical engineering, he is fondly remembered by classmates as a tight-lipped co-conspirator. Following those academic stints, he became an Army airborne paratrooper and acquired the reputation of one who always had the backs of his fellow soldiers. Sometime later, he became a guest of the U.S. government at Folsom, San Quentin, and Louisburg prisons, and in each of them he did hard time in maximum security, surviving, he says, mainly by virtue of the bonds that existed between him and his fellow prisoners.
Never was the code of brotherhood and loyalty the man has lived by more in evidence, though, than when he was a member of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. People who live as Jake does have a way of finding one another, and after a full-throttled trip to the West Coast, he was united with people he calls family to this day: Sonny Barger, Terry the Tramp, Buzzard, Little Jesus, and Mouldy Marvin, to name just a few of the Hell’s Angels he rode with.
His Hells Angel’s brothers called Jake “Bonecrusher,” with very good reason, and with the greatest of admiration and affection. For interest sake you might refer to the book “The Hell’s Angels” by Jan Hudson. Contains an amusing anecdote about Jake’s appearance in a court of law where he was officially queried about how he might have acquired such a quaint nickname.
We’re talking vintage 1960s Hell’s Angel’s here. A thousand bikes roaring down a California freeway weaving in and out of traffic at ninety miles an hour, never breaking formation. Out-of-control week-long partying, epic battles with the “pigs,” and no-holds-barred slash and burn show-downs with other bike clubs. Fight one Hell’s Angel, you fight them all. Right or wrong, fair or unfair. Wear that black leather jacket with “HA” proudly emblazoned on the back and you are telling the world that you are willing to fight any man on the planet to the death, and are ready to prove it at any moment.
As for Jake’s association with a couple of the country’s better known crow bar hotels, we won’t go into particulars here as to the whys, just let it suffice to say that loyalty and brotherhood sometimes mean that you don’t give your brother up to avoid extended stays, snitching being the worst behavior that can be attributed to any man. Same code inside “the joint” as out. Brotherhood and Loyalty. That’s how you get through it with your head held high. ‘Nuff said.
What he was jazzed about when I met him walking down the street is the exercise class he’s leading in the activities room of the downtown Portland building he lives in.
“Fourteen showed up! Got ‘em moving around and feeling good about themselves!” he yelled, laughing and thrusting a clenched fist up into the air in triumpth.
“This is great for them! I love seeing it! When they feel good about themselves I feel good about myself!”
This is nothing new for him. He’s been a physical fitness guru to countless people over the years, having owned gyms in Oakland, California, in Boston’s Combat Zone, and, of course, in Portland. He’s trained some of the premiere body builders in the country, and was one himself. Beat eighteen heavy weight arm wrestlers in a row once and finished as runner-up to the New England champion. Not bad for a skinny kid from South Portland.
All this calls for a book, and one’s in the works. If you have a good Jake Sawyer story and want to see it in print, send me an email. If you have old pics of said subject, even better.
“I don’t make champions! Every one of you was a champion before you even came to my class! I just give you the chance to be who you really are!”
That’s Jake, after all these years.
“Go for it man! Right #*#* on!”
(Cliff Gallant of Portland is a regular columnist for The Portland Daily Sun. Email him at email@example.com.)