The High Side (1970)

Max Ehrlich
Fawcett Gold Medal R2207

Cal McCue is a fully enfranchised and wildly enthusiastic member of Satan's Outlaws, the meanest, toughest, orneriest bike gang in California.  There's nothing Cal loves more than the feeling of freedom that comes from riding his chopper up and down the highways of the Golden State--getting drunk, laying the "Mamas," and beating the shit out of the occasional "squares" that get in their way. 

But Cal has a problem--somehow he's let himself fall for this hippie chick, Marcy, who he met one night on the Sunset Strip.  He's been crashing at her place for the past few weeks, smoking weed, making love, and terrorizing her cat (bikers hate cats--they're a road menace).  It's a mellow vibe for an Outlaw of Satan--but that all promises to change once Cal rides north for the next big meeting of the chapter.

He doesn't know why this girl has messed up his mind so bad.  After all, she's just a stupid hippie who believes in peace and love and all that crap--while Cal believes first and foremost in American patriotism, even as he has contempt for the "99%" out there who get married, pay mortgages, and have to worry about "a rash on the baby's ass."  That's not for Cal.  No way.  He can drop this hippie chick anytime he wants. 

Cal heads north for the big Outlaw meeting.  On the way he scuffles with a blue Cadillac that refuses to stay in its lane.  This leads to a dangerous chase through a construction zone that almost gets Cal killed--but he remembers the car, and the tag: Ellsworth, California.

Arriving at a biker bar near Oxnard, Cal sees the other love of his life: Beautiful Brad.  This is not a name I have made up factiously to imply some form of subtle homoerotic intrigue in the book--all of Satan’s Outlaws call their leader “Beautiful Brad" because Brad is, in a word, beautiful.  Whereas most of the Outlaws are hairy creeps with broken noses and uneven leg bones, Brad is a Norse God--beardless and blue-eyed with long blond locks that flow majestically from beneath his helmet whenever the Outlaws hit the road. He's smart, too, having done two-years of college after he got back from Nam--an education that he uses to blow the mind of the fuzz by using big words like "canard." All the Outlaws think Brad is just dreamy.

Two items of business at the Outlaw meeting; 1). discuss the big July 4th run to Squaw Lake; 2). initiate a new member into the gang.  The initiation proves to be a particularly interesting ceremony, presumably one based on fact.  Every member of the Outlaws pisses, and if possible, shits into a big bucket.  At the appropriate moment, after the initiate has recited the laws of the club, the bucket of fraternal shit and piss is poured over his head so that it might seep into his jeans and leather.  This uniform, we are told, will forever be known as the biker's "originals," and he is not allowed to wash them ever again--they are to absorb even more rotten odors over time until they decay and literally fall away from the body many years down the road.  Even then, the biker should try to incorporate as much of his "originals" as he can into his subsequent gear.  This is one way that the members of Satan's Outlaws embrace their "filthy" status outside the straight world.  They stink and are proud of it. 

With that quaintly infantile business out of the way, Cal tells everyone about the Cadillac that ran him off the road on the way up from L.A.   And here is where you begin to see the allure of biker culture.  No problem, say his pals, Ellsworth is only an hour north of here...let's go finding that fuckin' square and beat the shit out of him because no one fucks with Satan's Outlaws.  And that's exactly what they do.  They motor up to Ellsworth, divide the town into quadrants, find the Cadillac, wait for the guy, and then drive him off the road by beating his car with chains. He crashes into a tree and they leave him for dead.  Now, of course, I'm not advocating such behavior—violence is never an appropriate solution to anything.  But I’m sure a lot of guys in their more lizard-brained moments have dreamed of having a group of pals so loyal that they'd all risk bodily harm and serious jail time, no questions asked, just because some suit looked at you the wrong way.  That is true brotherhood, dude, stronger than any bond in the straight world.

With Cal avenged, the four Outlaws need to head back to L.A.  But then something wonderful happens--Beautiful Brad asks Cal to ride "tandem" with him.  This is a fancy college way of saying Beautiful Brad wants to ride back with Cal only, and so he tells the other two Outlaws to split.  Of all the Satan's Outlaws in the world, thinks Cal, Beautiful Brad chose ME!   And here's where things get interesting.  Beautiful Brad and Cal ride for a while, but then they stop in a field and discuss their "feelings”--when they started to ride, why they hate society so much, how great it is to be in a bike gang, etc.  Beautiful Brad also tells Cal not to get too heavy with the Marcy chick.  He’s seen it a hundred times.  One day a guy is a righteous biker.  Then some chick gets her claws into him and he’s married with kids and a mortgage. “We say screw the rest of the world,” says Beautiful Brad. “They’re the living dead.  They will just have to stay out of our way or we’ll stomp them down.”  Cal concurs. 

Then Beautiful Brad gives Cal some uncut methadrine.  "Follow me," he says.  Soon they are going down a mountain range on a steep incline full of hairpin turns.  Cal knows this is a test.  If he doesn't stay exactly ten feet behind Beautiful Brad's bike--all the way down the mountain--he'll lose status in the club.  And then the meth kicks in.  Together they barrel down the mountain at breakneck speed, taking each curve blind and on the verge of losing control.  One slip, one mistake, one car coming in the opposite direction and they'll both be dead.  But Cal loves it.  Seeing Beautiful Brad's flowing locks ahead of him, high as hell on meth, it's the most sublime, trusting, intimate experience of his life.

They make it down the mountain alive--so to celebrate, they stop in at a roadside diner for some beers and steak.  Could this date be going any better?  No, it could not.  But just then a bunch of assholes from the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) walk into the joint--the AMA are the sworn enemies of Satan's Outlaws because they stand for everything the gang hates--law and order, rules and regulations, etc.  In a fair fight, a handful of Satan's Outlaws could wipe the floor with these punks--but here, Beautiful Brad and Cal are outnumbered 50 to 2.  Tense words are exchanged.  Cal wants to fight, but Beautiful Brad tells him to keep cool.  Finally the two are called "faggots."  Cal wants to fight even more--but Beautiful Brad throws it right back at them, speaking in a high effeminate voice and calling Cal his lover.  They make it to the parking lot and, sure enough, the 50 AMA squares follow them outside.  But Beautiful Brad is always thinking—that’s why he’s the leader of Satan’s Outlaws.  He grabs Cal at the waist and plants a long sloppy French kiss on him.  "Oh my God," cry the AMA guys, "they are faggots!"  "That's right," says Beautiful Brad.  The AMA guys are so stunned at this manifestation of homoerotic spectacle, they can’t even move.  Beautiful Brad and Cal use the moment to get on their bikes and get the hell out of there, thank you very much.

But their dream date still isn't over.  They go to Santa Monica and rip up a golf course, imagining the look of horror on the faces of the squares the next morning when they find their precious greens turned to mulch.  And then they park their bikes and go to the Santa Monica boardwalk...where Beautiful Brad buys Cal an expensive watch.  Cal protests at first about the cost, but Beautiful Brad gets mad and says, "I want to buy you something nice."

Just in case you don't get what is going on here, Ehrlich piles it on a little deeper by having the two end the night at a tattoo parlor.  Underneath the mandatory Satan's Outlaws tattoo on their chests, they get matching inscriptions: "Beautiful Brad" for Cal, and "Cal Forever" for Brad.  Some might find this prudish, the fact that Beautiful Brad and Cal don’t actually end up having sex—but as stated before, no form of sex could possibly match the ecstasy of a meth-fueled tandem ride down a steep mountain pass.  “Sex” sex would just be anti-climatic at that point. 

Well, how is Marcy the skinny hippy chick to compete with that?

Not well, it turns out.  Cal returns to their pad in L.A.  As Beautiful Brad warned, Marcy is pregnant.  Even worse, she wants to keep the baby and move back to her parents' house in Pasadena.  And she wants to get married.  Marcy's dad has even agreed to loan Cal some cash to open his own bike shop.  Soon they'll have enough money to buy a home of their own....

AAARRRGGGHH!  Cal can't take it.  He gets the hell out of L.A. and back to the gang.  He gets drunk and beds as many biker mamas as he can...but somehow he can't get Marcy out of his mind.  That hippie chick has crawled under his skin and there's nothing he can do about it.  So he finally goes back to her pad to talk.  But he finds only a note on the table.  Marcy still loves him, and she understands his need to be “free.”  No hard feelings.  The rent is paid until the end of the month and Cal’s welcome to crash there until then.  Thus begins Cal’s downward spiral into drugs, pills, blackouts, weeping, etc.  And then one morning Marcy is back, cooking him breakfast after a particularly devastating binge.  As it turns out, her parents in Pasadena were giving her the same old shit that made her run away in the first place.   Now that they’re back together, she knows they can make it on their own.

But what about Beautiful Brad?

July 4th weekend rolls around-- time for the big run to Squaw Lake.  Marcy convinces Cal to take her along.  "You wouldn't like what you see there,' says Cal—drinking, puking, wanton screwing.   But Marcy insists:  If the Outlaws are so important to Cal, then she wants to understand his world by seeing first hand.  Cal reluctantly agrees.   

Arriving back at Outlaw headquarters, Cal introduces Marcy to Beautiful Brad.  At first Brad seems furious (after all, he did just buy Cal a fancy watch and tattoo his name on his chest.  WTF, Cal?)  But he quickly regains his composure and tells Marcy she is of course most welcome to make the run up to Squaw Lake.

I should also tell you at this point that there is this policeman named Joe Scully.  He can't wait for the Outlaw run to Squaw Lake because, about a year earlier, four Outlaws cornered him in a field, beat him up, and stole his clothes.  And because the Outlaws enjoy pissing on things so much, Beautiful Brad pissed on Joe before leaving him naked and abandoned in the field. Yes...Joe the cop can't wait for these scumbags to come back to his county.

So now we're at the lake and the gang is in full-on Satanic Outlawing mode: drinking, fighting, fornicating.  Things are on fire.  Bikers on acid run around yelling gibberish.  Men throw piss, shit, and beer cans at each other.  One biker has been inexplicably strung up in a tree, while another guards a six-pack by swinging his chains at imaginary thieves.  There is vomit aplenty.  Marcy is speechless.  It is without the doubt the most revolting spectacle she has ever seen.  She wants to go home…NOW!  But Cal tells her chill-out, the guys are just blowing off a little steam.

But then Cal commits a transgression of the Outlaw code—he falls asleep. The by-laws of the gang clearly stipulate that if a member falls asleep on the first night of a big run, he is to be punished in a manner determined by the leader---and that would be Beautiful Brad.

Suddenly Beautiful Brad appears from the bushes with two henchmen.  Cal’s punishment for falling asleep?  Beautiful Brad is going to make it with Cal’s “old lady.”  The two henchman are hesitant—biker lore has it that you never mess with another guy’s “old lady.”  But Beautiful Brad has spoken.  They drag Marcy off into the bushes on the other side of the camp.

A few minutes later and another biker shakes Cal awake.  Dude, Beautiful Brad is making your old lady into a mama!  Cal can’t believe it.  He runs towards Marcy’s screams and finds Brad raping her.  He pulls Brad away and the final fight begins…

Cal almost has Beautiful Brad completely stomped when he notices Marcy is missing.  In a panic he hops on his bike to find her.  Two cops tell him she came by their checkpoint and fainted—an ambulance has taken her to the hospital.  Cal rides on to find her.

But here comes Beautiful Brad on his bike.  A cop radios ahead that Beautiful Brad, leader of the Satan’s Outlaws, is coming full throttle toward the highway.  Only one cop stands in his way—Joe Scully, he who Beautiful Brad once voided his bladder upon.  Scully slowly and methodically spreads a deadly sheen of slick motor oil across the highway.  Beautiful Brad rounds the corner, hits the skids, and crashes into a rock.  Lying on the road near death, Brad looks up and sees Scully.  “Remember me, punk?” says Scully, unbuttoning his fly.  Beautiful Brad struggles beneath the powerful stream of Scully’s piss.  His urinary revenge complete, Scully picks up a rock and crushes Brad’s head…no one will ever know it wasn’t an accident--they all smell like piss anyway, reasons Scully.

But what about Cal and Marcy?  Cal finally makes it to the hospital.  But Marcy won’t see him.  He calls her room.  Marcy’s father answers.  “If you ever try to see her again, I will kill you!” he says.

A few days later: The Outlaws throw a righteous funeral for Beautiful Brad.  Afterwards, they beat the shit out of Cal.  As they see it, Brad was trying to catch Cal to “forgive him,” so deep was his biker love for his brother.  If Cal hadn’t “sold out” for a chick, none of this would have ever happened.  He can be an Outlaw no more.

Cal tries to join a couple of other gangs, but they won’t have him.  They know what he did.

Cal has no future, no choice.  He shoots-up a double-dose of meth and returns to the mountain summit of he and Brad’s magnificent tandem ride.  Only this time he aims for “the high side” of the curve.  Tears in his eyes--but laughing--Cal sails his bike over the edge and into the void.


If you frequently find yourself full of urine, testosterone, and a desire to destroy golf courses on a motorbike, or if suppressed homosocial/homoerotic tension has turned you into a human rage machine, you will greatly enjoy this novel. 

Popular Posts