Summary: Joe reflects on his first solo excursion to the Barbary Coast.
Rating: K Word Count: 1,519
School of the Dancing Dolphin
What, Pa? Oh, yes, sir, I’m listening. It is kind of hard, the way my head is pounding, but—what? Yes, sir, I know that’s my own fault. Oh, yes, sir; it will be a lesson to me. Yes, sir, you can trust me to go straight to bed. Yes, sir, I’ll stay there. No, Pa! Of course, you don’t have to post a guard outside the door.
Whew! I’m glad that’s over. Did he have to slam the door so hard, though? Yeah, maybe he did. Maybe he had to work off some of that steam he had built up, and better he should take it out on wood than on me! I’ve had an earful already, believe you me. If Pa’s just a small picture of divine wrath, I sure don’t want to ever see the real thing!
Why is it forbidden fruit always tastes so much sweeter, huh? Well, it don’t, really; at least, this one didn’t. Left kind of a sour aftertaste, if you know what I mean, but forbidden fruit sure looks like it oughta taste sweeter. And this one looked real good, to start out with.
I had warning, of course. If Pa said it once, he said it a dozen times: stay away from the Barbary Coast. I’d heard they had spicy shows in some of those places, though, and I just wanted a look-see. I mean, how often do we get to San Francisco? Once, maybe twice a year, and then Pa, and more especially Adam, thinks we got to spend it gettin’ cultured. No spice there. What a pure waste of time!
Had to sneak out, of course. I’d kind of hinted to Hoss about gettin’ us a different sort of culture—gave him a saucy little wink, so he’d know what I meant—but even Hoss went all self-righteous on me this trip. Didn’t want to cross Pa and advised me not to, either. I should’ve listened to you, big brother. Really should have.
We were stayin’ at the Orleans. Real nice hotel with good beds. Clean sheets, soft pillows. Didn’t take much acquaintance with them before Hoss was snorin’ up a storm; didn’t even hear me when I left the room I was sharin’ with him. Pa and Adam were at some business supper that was runnin’ real late, so I knew I wouldn’t have a better chance.
Made my way down to the Dancing Dolphin at the corner of Kearney and Pacific. My pal Seth Pruitt had been there on his last trip to San Francisco, and he said the prettiest waiter gals on the whole Barbary Coast were right there in that dancing hall. And let me tell you, he wasn’t wrong about that. They were mighty pretty and they could sure dance, but they had other talents good ole Seth didn’t bother to mention.
The waiter gals weren’t the only fine scenery at the Dancing Dolphin. It’s a high class place, at least in its furnishings. Long bar of genuine carved mahogany ran the length of the room on one side, and no bad paintings of fat, naked ladies over it, either, like you see in Virginia City. No, sir, this real ornate gold-framed mirror, almost as long as the bar, hung over it. Showed off the real scenery of the place, namely those pretty waiter gals, and I was just standin’ at the bar, enjoyin’ that scenery, ‘til the barkeep came and stood right in front of me and cleared his throat in that real loud, meaningful way they have.
Now, I couldn’t just order plain old beer in a place that fancy, could I? Would have just seemed cheap, so I figured it was high time I sampled one of Pa’s favorite drinks, a brandy squash. Pa can keep it. Maybe it wasn’t made right, but this one burned all the way down my throat. One was enough for me—or would have been if this cute little waiter gal hadn’t sashayed up to me just as I was finishing it and asked how my drink was.
Well now, you know I wasn’t gonna let her think I was some green kid who couldn’t handle hard liquor, so, of course, I told her it was prime, and I ordered another one—well, two, ‘cause she wanted one, too, and I had to be a gentleman, didn’t I? Don’t see how even Pa could argue with that. I think, maybe, he did, though. Kind of hard to remember everything Pa said tonight, with my head throbbin’ the way it started after my second—or was it the third?—brandy squash. It was hard to keep track, with that waiter gal’s pretty legs distractin’ me. She wore her skirts real short and swishy, so a fellow could see ‘most up to her hips, and she had on these striped stockings that just naturally caught the eye and made it go round and round, all the way up her leg.
She asked me to dance with her, and I wasn’t about to turn down that offer. The musicians playin’ on the platform at the end of the room weren’t too good—Adam would probably say they were terrible—but the longer we danced and the more brandy squash I had in me, the better they sounded. Didn’t matter, anyway, ‘cause I wasn’t there for culture. I’d had plenty of that the night before at the opera, and frankly, the guys at the Dancing Dolphin sounded better than that caterwauling, no matter what Adam thinks!
Sometime while we were dancing, that sweet-talkin’ little gal must have lifted my wallet. Leastwise, I don’t have it anymore, and I can’t think where else I might have lost it. I had it when I paid for the last round of drinks, I know that. We danced a little more after we finished them, and then she said it was eleven o’clock now and time for her to get off work, and she asked me to walk her home. No lady should have to walk the streets of San Francisco alone, right? Okay, I can kind of remember my brother Adam saying that was no lady and that I was the one who shouldn’t have been walkin’ the streets of San Francisco alone. That Adam can be real comical sometimes. Maybe he ought to take to the stage of one of these melodeons on the Barbary Coast. A rotten tomato or two in the face might learn him what’s funny and what ain’t, give him a more useful education than he got back East.
Got to admit, though, I was the one that got educated tonight. That pretty little waiter gal sure wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she looked. I was walkin’ her home and bein’ a perfect gentleman about it—except for stealin’ a kiss or two, which she didn’t seem to mind—when all of a sudden she shoved me real hard with her shoulder and I stumbled into this dark alley we was passin’. She took off. Reason was, she’d done her job: she’d got me liquored up, so’s I could hardly see straight, she’d stole all my money and then she’d dumped me right where three thugs were waitin’ for some unsuspectin’ idiot. (That’s Pa’s word, and right now I can’t put up much argument against it. That’s pretty smart of me, don’t you think? Yeah, keepin’ my mouth shut seems like a real good idea, right about now.)
Guess I’m lucky that Hoss woke up when he did, noticed I was gone and rousted Pa and Adam out of bed to come look for me. He had a pretty good idea which direction I’d gone, but them seein’ me get shoved into that alley was another stroke of pure luck—or a case of my guardian angel workin’ overtime, like Adam said, gettin’ comical again. Big brother sure thinks he’s funny, but no one laughed at his little joke, especially not Pa. He said I was lucky I didn’t end up shanghaied, and I guess he’s right, ‘cause that’s probably what those thugs had in mind. I sure didn’t have any money left to tempt them!
Hoss says I’m one lucky little cuss, too, so that makes it unanimous. I played the proper fool tonight, and I am lucky to get away with nothing worse than a bunch of bruises and a bump on the noggin. Probably even lucky I had those or Pa might have given me a few himself, on the seat of learning, so to speak. I did learn my lesson tonight, though, that’s for sure. No more Barbary Coast for me—this visit or ever . . . except I hear the shows down to the Bella Union are even better than the ones at the Dancing Dolphin, and the girls there will perch right in your lap. Better not think about that right now, though. My head’s hurtin’ pretty bad, so maybe it’s time I got to sleep . . . and as older brother might say, perchance to dream.