Jake is trouble. That’s one of his good points.

Jake is the kind of friend who will get you involved in a bar fight. He loves to play pool, and he has a temper. I’m not sure who looks at him with more of a side-eye—other pool players, or the bar owners/bouncers. Get him drunk enough (and you need only give him the opportunity and he will do so) and soon he will be banging his pool cue on the side of the table, annoying his opponent and angering management.

He may disappear in the middle of a night out to pursue some mysterious errand. You may later get a call from the ER from him, or possibly a call from the local hooscow. His body amply illustrates Jake’s love of good beer, his belly contained in a soccer jersey, most likely of German origin.

Jake is a gambler who loves the ponies. He is excitable. He’s also the most loyal friend you will ever have. Jake has your back, no matter what. He will eagerly jump in front of a belligerent stranger to protect you, perhaps in part for the “joy” of busting some heads. This kind of loyalty makes you intensely loyal to him. Jake is a great friend who can get you in great trouble. Calm, extremely rational friends are crucial for a person. But if you don’t have a Jake among your friends, your life is lacking.

All this to explain how I came to be at Belmont Park for the running of the Belmont Stakes one year a good while ago with my friend Jake. Jake and I had the handicapper’s routine of perusing the Daily Racing Form, walking to the paddock to see how the horses looked that day, hurrying back to our seats to finalize our bets, heading to the betting window at the last possible minute to adjust bets according to the latest odds, then hustling to the outside to watch the race.

On this occasion, we were both having a pretty good day at the track. It wasn’t quite a surf-n-turf day, the kind of day that ends with us blowing most of our winnings in a Manhattan restaurant eating steak and lobster, but we were up. I can’t be sure, but I think a Triple Crown was on the line on this Belmont Stakes day. Regardless, our excitement level was high, and the Maker’s Mark was flowing.

The stands were packed, and we had the choice of grabbing a terrible seat or lingering in the aisle to watch the race near the fence. We fought to a good spot by the finish line. The horses were in the starting gate and it was now post time.

Suddenly, a crowd of people shoved in front of us. There were some guys in suits, and there were a few guys in serious suits, and with wires running to one ear. They were surrounding a balding, grinning man with greying hair. It was George Pataki, the then-governor of New York. His entourage was not moving quickly as he shook hands and chatted with constituents. The bell rang, and they were off!… and Jake was not happy. The entourage was parked right in front of us. He started yapping.

“Hey get the fuck out of the way!” he bellowed. Some of the entourage turned to look at Jake. “Get the fuck out of the way!” he yelled louder. The serious men in serious suits swiveled and locked in on Jake. Two moved toward him, somewhat astutely recognizing trouble when they see it. I told Jake it was Pataki. He responded at the top of his voice, “I don’t give a fuck who he is, I’m trying to watch the goddamn race!”

This got Pataki’s attention, he turned around and looked at Jake with a laugh and a nod, and urged his entourage to move along. Pataki knew an honest-to-God New Yorker when he saw one, and he appreciated it.

And that’s how Jake taught me that George Pataki loved New Yorkers. Ω