Some days at the Elks, you could find Larry Jacobson in the handball court all by himself. Or so it appeared.
A lot of players like to work on their game. They say they are “practicing” or “hitting the ball around” when there is nobody around to play. “Jake,” as everyone called him, always said he was “playing with Darky.”
Jake was referring to Darky White, another character of a handball player who passed away years before. His old pal always got the best of Jake, too, and for good reason.
“How’d you do?” I would ask Jake whenever he told me he was “playing with Darky.”
Jake responded the same way every time.
“Well … you can’t call hinder on a ghost.”
Jake was never shy about calling a hinder, either.
A hinder is when you get in your opponent’s way. So, even if you hit a great shot, you have to play the point over.
Jake was 35 years older than me, but I was a beginning player with limited hand-eye coordination. So, we had some pretty fun matches in court No. 3 at the Elks.
Our work schedules timed up perfectly for afternoon matches when there was nobody else around. Jake, a professor at Montana Tech, was there pretty much at the same time every day, so I knew exactly when to go to the Elks if I wanted a match.
If I did not show up, Jake would just take on Darky.
Easily the best part about playing Jake was that he never said “no” to the questions of a couple of beers after the match.
A true philosopher, Jake was without question the most intelligent person I ever had a conversation with. He never took any question or topic lightly, and he would take a long time to ponder before chiming in.
Sometimes it would be a really, really long time before Jake would answer. He would sit there quietly for a while. Then, sometimes when the crowd was two or three topics down the road from the question, Jake would pipe in with an answer that would blow your mind.
Seriously, Jake would take so long to answer some questions that people would repeat questions to him. They would often think that he could not hear very well or that he was ignoring them before he eventually responded.
I always left feeling smarter after a couple of beers with Jake. He had the intelligence and the sophistication to hang out with the Ivy League elite, but he preferred the company of the Knights of Columbus and the Elks stag bar.
He could have fit in perfectly with the theater crowd, if he was not wearing a rope for a belt on his faded blue jeans.
Most of his friends did not know that he once published a book, and they surely did not read it. They certainly did not know Jake earned a PhD. Most of them probably did not even know what that means.
Instead of a suit and tie, Jake wore a red hoodie.
The only time he did not wear red was when his Minnesota Vikings played. For that occasion, Jake wore a purple hoodie.
He really liked the Vikings, too.
My dad was one of he first guys in town with the DirecTV Sunday Ticket, and Jake knew it. When the Bears played the Vikings and the game was not on local television, we could always expect a call from Jake seconds after the kickoff.
“Sure you can come down, Jake,” my dad would say. “You just can’t cheer.”
Even though my dad was joking, Jake would never cheer for his team during the games.
One game, Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman outfought Vikings receiver Randy Moss for a game-winning interception in the end zone. It was the only time Jake uttered a word that might have been construed as pro Viking.
“Yeeeaaahhh,” Jake said quietly, shaking his head while gritting his teeth. “That … might have … been … pass interference.”
That is how Jake talked. His sentences sometimes included long pauses that almost gave you a glimpse into his thought process.
Jake’s humor was one you had to pay attention to. Many people missed his lines, which made them all the better to those of us who did not.
One time he played in the Bill Ryan handball tournament. As I got to the Elks for my match, Jake was already dressed back in his red hoodie drinking a Lucky Larger after his match.
“How’d you do, Jake?” I asked.
“Well,” he said as he raised his Lucky to take a swig, “I come in second.”
You will never hear a loss described so eloquently.
Once I asked Jake if he was going to partake in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
“Yeah,” he said. “I love … to go out and … look at all the Colleens.”
I laughed at that one particularly hard since I was about to marry an Irish girl whose middle name is Colleen.
We got married in 2004 at the old St. Lawrence Church in Walkerville.
Jake, who used to say “it’s all downhill from Walkerville,” He lived right next to the church in the former priest house. He had four giant dogs who ruled his large yard that bordered the church.
Our wedding present, Jake said, was that he cleaned up all the dog crap the day before the wedding.
Of all the gifts we received that day, Jake’s is honestly the only one I can remember 15 years later.
That is one thing Jake certainly was. He was memorable.
Last week I learned that our good friend has left this world to go to the big handball court in the sky. Jake passed away last month, and he will certainly be remembered for years to come.
He will also be missed.
Those of us lucky enough to know Jake will miss his philosophical genius. We will miss his funny lines. We will miss Jake’s sincerity when he would hold his can of Lucky Larger high and say, “Here’s a go.”
So, here’s a go to Jake, one of the great ones.
Hopefully right about now he is finally getting to call hinder on Darky.
— Bill Foley, who is the walking definition of a hinder in a handball court, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks every Thursday. 1 comment