It’s illegal to bicycle while drunk in California. You might think it’s a slap on the wrist but as a misdemeanor it will show up as a criminal conviction on your record. Ouch. It also makes you subject to the provisions of CVC 13202.5, which relates to suspension of your driving license.
There are lots of great reasons not to cycle while drunk, and most of those reasons are because although immensely fun and the source of hilarious stories and the occasional Darwin Award, drunkenness rarely ends well. Still, the enhancement of CWFU to the general experience of riding is without parallel, at least until you get run over and killed.
The first time I ever CWFU I was fourteen or so. It was in 8th Grade. There was a guy in my homeroom class named Greg Choban, who was about six feet tall, which meant that in relative terms he was, like, twelve feet tall, and who had failed 8th Grade and now had to repeat it. Greg was a loner who always wore a big cowboy hat before and after school. He was quiet and standoffish, and no one ever fucked with him because he was so big, and now that he had failed 8th Grade, he was older, too, further making us all afraid of him.
His locker was next to mine and we’d occasionally talk, super briefly. He had a baritone voice and raging beard stubble and towered over me, especially when he put that cowboy hat on. One day, out of the blue, as we were collecting our books to go home, he said, “Hey, man, you doing anything after school?”
“No,” I said.
“Why don’t you come over and check out my treehouse?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Okay.” Mostly I was afraid to say “No.” Treehouses, everyone knew, were for little kids, a few planks nailed to the side of a tree, some plywood in between the branches, and, like, that had stopped being fun in elementary school. The thought of going to play in a treehouse with Wilt Chamberlain was weird, to put it mildly.
We rode our bikes over to his house. His Dad was home, a very old guy, older than old, so ancient he might have even been fifty, sitting in the living room watching TV, which was weird because in 1976 or 1977 there was nothing on TV at three in the afternoon. I’d never met anyone whose father was unemployed, and all the drunks in my family didn’t start getting lubed up until 5:00 or 6:00 PM.
“Hey, John,” said Greg.
I froze. I’d never heard someone call his dad by his first name. The ancient fellow nodded and sipped some more of his Schlitz. I still remember how immaculate the living room was.
We went out the back door. “Where’s your mom?” I asked.
“Oh,” I said.
In the backyard stood a massive oak tree. Indeed, it had wooden steps nailed to its trunk, but there looked like a zillion of them and they went way, way up. Far above my head I could see the bottom of the treehouse, which looked like a small house. So much for plywood planks. Greg disappeared into the foliage.
I followed, soon swallowed by the boughs and leaves. You had to enter through a trap door in the bottom, which I did. When my head went through the floor I looked around, mesmerized. The treehouse had carpet and windows and its walls had incredible black light posters. On the floor were large velour red and purple pillows.
Greg was already seated, his back leaned against the wall, smiling. Even though it was in the high 90’s outside and humid as only the Houston swamp can be, it was cool and pleasant up in the tree, where a light breeze played through the open windows. His treehouse was a hundred times cooler than my bedroom. “Like it?” he said.
“Wow, this is amazing.”
“Settle in,” he said, and put a record on the turntable. It took a few seconds for me to realize that his treehouse had electricity. He showed me the album cover. “Like this?” It was Foghat.
I nodded. “Cool.” I noticed that there was a string suspended from the ceiling, and on the end of the string was a small plastic skull, about the size of a Hackysack, which was still years away from coming to the backwater of Houston. Seated where I was on the velour cushions, the plastic skull was about eye level. As the treehouse gently creaked from the occasional breeze that swayed the giant oak limbs, the skull moved like a pendulum ever so slightly.
Greg pulled out his water pipe. The bowl was massive, and he filled it. The acrid smell of burning leaves filled the tiny space and we took turns, each pull on the pipe causing the water to jump and gurgle and roar. After a long time it was dark outside, pitch fucking black.The only light was the fire from the bowl, and eventually that went out too, and we were in total blackness.
“Kind of dark up here,” Greg said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Better turn on the lights then,” he said, and flipped a switch. In the corners of the ceiling were four small black lights, and when they came on the psychedelic effect of the Hendrix poster, the Jefferson Airplane poster, the Robin Trower poster, and the Zeppelin poster was overwhelming, profoundly stoned as I already was. It took what seemed like hours for my eyes to go over the intricacies of each poster, getting lost in the curlicues and the hair and the guitar strings.
“Hey, man,” Greg said.
“Check this out.” He leaned forward to the dangling skull and grabbed it, pulling it back toward him. Then he let go and it came flying towards my face. He had measured the string so that the skull would get within an inch or so of your head before swinging back, but I didn’t know that.
All I knew was that I was being attacked by a flying skull, and as I violently jerked back my head cracked against the wall of the treehouse. Greg erupted in laughter, then he convulsed, then he fell over. “Oh, man,” he said, “that was the best one ever.”
My eyes were pinned to the swinging skull, stoned-terrified, praying that it would just stop swinging and not devour my face. Robin Trower was singing this, I think, from (what else?) Victims of the Fury.
I’m not sure how, but I stumbled down the ladder in the dark. The last thing I heard Greg say was, “Hey, man, it’s cool, it’s cool!”
I hurried through his house where his dad was still seated in front of the television, a pile of empty cans at his feet. My bike was leaning against the bushes. I jumped on it and rode crazily, drunkenly home, and I never went back. I still think about that lonely giant up there in that treehouse with the swinging skull.
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