Muleskinner Blues
Chapter 15

Copyright© 2022 by Joe J

The clothes Sonja sent over for me were a strange combination of well-worn work pants and about the fanciest shirt I had ever seen. The shirt was made of black silk with three blood red roses sewn on to the front over the heart. In addition, the shirt had spurs, horseshoes and wagon wheels stitched all over it in shiny silver thread. It was beyond a doubt the finest shirt I’d ever seen, let alone owned. To go with the shirt were a faded pair of half overalls made by Levi Strauss that Sonja insisted that I call ‘blue jeans’, ‘jeans’ or ‘Levis.’ The trousers were a bit snug in the seat and legs for my comfort, but the women said they were perfect. I slipped on my boots and grabbed my hat, ready for whatever the women had in mind.

They had in mind me waiting an hour and a half while they bathed and dressed. At least I had a book to read while I waited, because Sonja had thoughtfully sent me a tome titled, “Illustrated History of the United States, Volume Three: 1850 – 1950.” I was up to the year 1862, when one of the women trumpeted their arrival with a loud “TA DA” as they burst through the door.

I immediately forgot the book in my hand as my eyes bulged out of my head. The way the women looked made it so I did not know where to point my peepers first. Sonja and Coleen were also wearing denim work britches that were worn and faded. Now I’ve seen more than one woman working a job that required wearing trousers, but those women had worn pants that had been baggy and ill fitting. That was definitely not the case with the britches Coleen and Sonja wore. Their jeans sure looked good stretched across their bottoms. With the denims, they wore checkered shirts, boots with tall heels and fringed vests.

Helena and Tonya were wearing skirts made of denim. Helena’s skirt was scandalously short, baring her legs up above her knees. Helena wore the same sort of tall heeled boots that Sonja and Coleen sported, but her top was a solid red silky scooped neck affair that almost made me drool. Tonya’s skirt was longer and she wore a much more modest white shirt with a high neck and long sleeves. Even though her boots had lower heels, Tonya still towered over everyone except me. They were all smiles as I stood there incredulously.

“My goodness, you are all a vision!” I finally managed to exclaim.

I guess that my enthusiasm made up for my lack of eloquence, because even Tonya had a smile for their muleskinner.

We traipsed out of the apartment and ended up out on the street where I saw the strange coaches earlier. While we were waiting beside the road, I had my first look at the handbags the women carried. Everyone except Tonya had a small leather bag on a strap slung casually over their shoulder. When I noticed that, I commented on it.

“Tonya, do we need to go back for your purse?” I asked.

Tonya gave me a sly grin, rucked up her skirt just enough that I could see she had a larger model stunner in a holster strapped high up on her long shapely thigh.

“Nope,” she said, “I need both hands free in case you try anything crazy, so Helena has my Omni-card and money.”

I gave her a grin in return and teased her right back.

“Judging from where you hid your shooting-iron, you already know the crazy thing I am thinking of trying.”

We waited for about fifteen minutes before one of the very same locomotiveless railroad coaches glided to a whisper-quiet halt right in front of us. I had my reservations about boarding the strange conveyance, but I was not about to act fearful in front of women. So I hauled my muley butt aboard. It did not help settle my mind when I noticed that there was no one operating the machine. Sonja slipped onto a padded bench and patted the seat next to her. I sat down where she indicated and Coleen plopped herself down on my other side. Helena and Tonya sat on an identical bench facing us and away we went. As we traveled, Sonja continued introducing me to this time.

“Jeremiah, do you recall that we have mentioned that the latter part of the Twentieth Century was the Golden Era of scientific discovery?” she asked.

When I nodded affirmatively, she continued. “Much of our science in this era is recovering what our ancestors discovered. Luckily, there are thousands of hours of audio and video from those times to help us in our scientific inquiries. There are also many thousands of hours of video recordings of the culture from that time, and not surprisingly, much of our culture is a re-creation of what we feel was the best of theirs. The music and entertainment from that era are amazing in their richness and diversity. Tonight we are taking you to one of our favorite clubs, one that features a style of music called country and western. We thought you might enjoy it because it celebrates the cowboy of the old west. That’s why we are dressed like this. As a matter of fact, we bought the shirt you are wearing at the Recycled Cowboy Boutique. It supposedly belonged to a twentieth century country-western musician named Hank Williams.”

Sonja and the women then tried to describe to me other music and forms of entertainment, but most of what they described, I could not even imagine. They laughed at my confusion and told me that I’d have to see rock and roll or disco for myself, because they both defied description. The idea that anyone would want to celebrate the hard, dirty and dangerous lifestyle of cowboys was beyond me. Of course, much of how these future men and women acted was in that category too, so I shrugged and silently vowed to keep my mind open and my opinions to myself.

That was my mindset when the trolley, as Helena called it, slid to a stop in front of a large, double story, windowless building. Over a series of doors set in the front wall, a figure of a cowboy, drawn in a garish line of red light, twirled a lasso while his horse reared on its hind legs. Inside the lasso, a blinking blue light proclaimed that this was ‘Pecos Pete’s Saloon, Grill and Dancehall.’ We exited the coach and walked in a gaggle to the door. The way the women were excitedly giggling, you would think it was their first visit instead of mine.

I pushed open the swinging half doors for the ladies, doffed my hat and followed them into the building. We stopped just inside the door so the women could pay a fee for us to enter. The woman who collected the fee was dressed to the nines in a bosom revealing gown much like the dance hall floozies in Cheyenne. She took one of those stiff playing card things from Sonja, stuck it into a slot on some sort of machine and then handed it back. Another similarly dressed woman dabbed a rubber stamp into some Indian ink and stamped the backs of our hands. The woman doing the stamping looked at me oddly and kept holding my hand after it was stamped. I stood there politely until Coleen cleared her throat and said we needed to go find a table. The woman at the table reluctantly released my hand and gave me a smile.

“See you around, Cowboy,” she purred.

Once past the ticket takers, I had my first good look at the interior of the Pecos Pete’s. There was a lot to see, as the building appeared even bigger on the inside than I had imagined from looking at the exterior. The left side of the large open space was the dance hall side. It had a big wooden dance floor and a raised band stand. The right side consisted of at least a hundred drink tables with chairs, and a bar that had to be fifty feet long. The place was also fairly crowded, and surprisingly, I saw more women than men. The women were all attractive and wore very revealing clothing. If this joint served a decent shot of Tequila, this had to be the place that good cowboys went after their last round-up.

Music was playing, although the stage was empty except for some instruments resting on stands. The music seemed to be coming from every direction, but was not loud enough to preclude conversation. A few brave couples were on the dance floor, performing some intricate looking reel, but most folks were sitting at the tables, drinking colorful frothy drinks and talking a mile a minute. I was still trying to identify the source of the music as the women led the way to an empty table not far from the stage and off to the side of the dance floor.

I was fascinated that so many women were there and that they were patrons instead of workers. I did not judge the women negatively because they were in a saloon. As I thought about it, I realized that the situation made perfect sense in a time when women had the same rights as men. Before I could ask Sonja about it, the band appeared and started playing. The women jumped to their feet with a whoop. There was a veritable stampede of women dashing out onto the dance floor, mine smack in the middle of them. Once the women were on the dance floor, they formed up in ranks straight enough to make old General Lee himself proud. When all the women were in line, they clapped their hands once, and commenced to move in unison, first one way then the other.

It took me a minute to catch the rhythm of how they were moving, but I soon figured out that they were only doing about half a dozen steps before making a quarter turn and repeating the steps, facing in a different direction. It looked like fun, so I jumped my big old muley butt up, squeezed in between Helena and Tanya, and proceeded to cut a rug. When I joined the women dancing, a hush fell over the floor and a few of the other women actually stopped moving and stood gawking at me.

When I looked at Sonja questioningly, she gave me a big grin and said, “We aren’t used to men joining us, Jeremiah. In fact, you are the first man I’ve ever seen line dancing in the four years I’ve been coming here.”

Not wanting to offend anyone, I stopped dancing, apologized and started to walk back to the table. Before I could take a second step, Tonya and a woman I did not even know grabbed my arms.

“Don’t go Jeb. We were surprised, not insulted. Stay out and dance with us,” Tonya pleaded.

I looked at the other women and they all nodded enthusiastically, so I jumped back in line and picked up the step.

I do not mind telling you that I am considered in some parts to be a right fine dancer. Dancing was a skill I picked up whilst I was serving in the Glorious Army of Northern Virginia. When I took up playing the fiddle and became proficient enough to sit in with the camp musicians, we always drew a crowd. Some of the spectators were some Scotsmen from North Carolina who showed us flatlanders what clogging was all about. At the same time, Lenora Quigley took it upon herself to teach me the art of dancing the Quadrille. Camille Devereaux and Collette continued my education in dancing during my stay in Boulder. I am proud to say that many a fallen angel in dance halls across the eastern face of the Rockies felt well disposed towards me, just based on my dancing skill.

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