by Stuart Sweeney

jake.jpgJake’s brother Sam, his cousin Lucas, and five
of his close friends — including my son — recently came together at
the Boysels’ house to reminisce. In their words, Jake was “a funny,
long-haired, easy-to-have-fun-with, easy-to-make-friends-with
person with a big heart. He was good at everything, but always
found time for fun. He was always laughing, always about anything
and everything, and he’d all of a sudden find ways to make other
people laugh. If he wasn’t laughing, he was making someone else
laugh. If you were sad, he’d always find ways to cheer you up. It
was not an option to be sad around Jake. He was like a brother to
all of us.” Indeed, Jake was always in the thick of it whenever
laughter, fun, and creativity were afoot. Where was Jake? Look
toward the laughter.

Many of the stories Jake’s friends recalled revolved around the
Boysels’ yard. Stretching up a long hillside, the lush
gardens — including tall stands of bamboo, fruit trees, and myriad
flowers and vines — evoke Neverland. Sam described the two brothers
as young kids, tearing around the garden playing “The
Game” — which, judging from other stories of the boys’ athletic
adventures, must have been a close relative of Calvinball: If you
fall behind, change the rules.

“I remember having lemon fights in the backyard!” one of Jake’s
friends interjected. Peeking out of the Boysels’ garden hillside
stands a fort topped with a lemon catapult. Everyone remembered
playing with Jake in the fort and launching volleys of lemons down
the hill.

Jake was also remembered for his animals. In class recently, the
teacher asked about how many and what kind of animals students had
at home. Jake’s classmate recalled, “I thought I would have the
most pets, and then Jake was like, ‘Well, I have 11 chickens, and
um, a dog, a cat, and two lizards.’ I was like, ‘Lucky guy.’”

“I remember we all had to draw the feet of everything in our
family and Jake had a whole bunch of chicken feet,” one girl
recalled. It also seemed a fairly frequent event that Jake and his
buddies would end up accidentally locked in the chicken coop. All
those animals certainly seemed to seed Jake’s imagination and
quirky humor. “I remember when we went into the coop the first
time, and he was like, ‘These are my citizens, and up there is the
evil chicken, the queen chicken; she has the whole chicken coop to

Jake’s early take on his chicken citizens later grew into a
fascination with making up his own pretend civilizations, complete
with a monetary system; in one case, he even worked out his own
language. One of the larger running civilization projects occurred
at school. “I remember he always tried to build his civilization at
the very, very furthest corner of the playground. And when he
succeeded, sometimes he would have guards. He hired everyone, but
he told people he didn’t want to be near his civilization to be
guards way over there. The money was these little berries that came
off a bush. He called it the money bush.”

Jake loved to learn and would launch himself completely into
school projects. While studying Egypt last year, he decided to make
a mummy complete with a sarcophagus. He researched the real
dimensions of burial chambers, and then, ever resourceful, set to
work with the materials he had at hand. He designed and built the
sarcophagus out of wood, and then carefully embalmed a chicken,
curing it in salt, rubbing it in oils, and wrapping it in
cheesecloth. His friends were impressed, but totally grossed out:
“I sat next to it in class and it did not smell good.”

Jake had a knack for making others convulse with laughter. He
had natural comedic timing in writing, speaking, and acting.
Ordinary conversations became hilarious when he’d throw a funny
twist on a situation with a single insight. Like a sage, he divined
humor from the stuff of everyday life. Being with him meant
laughing so hard and for so long that it was impossible to sit or
stand. In a recent poem that was otherwise serious, Jake started a
new stanza with, “I once made a bowl of macaroni; it was a
disaster.” All his friends remember him wearing an orange and white
hat akin to that of the Cat in the Hat, which he sometimes wore
with a rainbow-colored wig. He once told his brother that he
thought Quizno’s double BLT sandwiches were great, but wished some
restaurant would start offering a BBB — a bacon, bread, and bacon
sandwich. Jake wished for a world full of more bacon.

Younger kids — including his nine-year-old cousin Lucas — also
loved to be around him. He was inclusive sometimes to the
frustration of his friends. His unwritten rule was that younger
siblings should be included — the more the merrier. Some even sent
him fan mail.

This past summer was a great one for Jake. He traveled to Costa
Rica with his family, went on a special birthday camping trip with
just his mom, started to play water polo, took a beginning fencing
class, and did both sessions of UCSB’s Campus Point Junior
Lifeguards (JG) program. He was just coming into his own as an
athlete, crossing the critical junction of believing he could
compete with the best. Everyone fondly remembered the critical leg
of a close paddling race when he dug deep and gave it everything he

His forts and civilizations came to the beach, too, though on a
reduced scale. “I remember me and him started this fort during free
time; he would draw a circle in the sand, put down a bunch of
sticks, and say, ‘This is my fort,’” his friend recalled. At the
end of the JG session, he was given the Ring Leader award by the
instructors. He graciously accepted it with a smirk on his face,
and gave the audience a deep, theatrical bow.

Jake has left us now, and he is so, so sorely missed. “These are
sad times,” was the sentiment echoed by those who gathered to honor
Jake last week. We do have our memories, and we still feel his
laughter beyond the grave. The world was a much better place when
there was still the potential that he might rise up to lead us into
a new civilization, having vanquished the evil queen chicken with
the orange and white hat as his crown, a rack of bacon as his
miter, and his money growing on shrubs. We would have stood before
him with his other loyal chicken subjects. What a great world it
would have been.


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