The day carnivorous reptiles almost ate me in the skin bar in Austin was hot and breathless, with a relentless sun hanging over the city as if ready to drop. It was maybe 1971. I’d hitchhiked in from New York or maybe Minneapolis to see my friend Carol, who lived in a shack on Montopolis. Her boyfriend, a psychology student of some kind, suggested that we grab a cold beer, and several of its friends and neighbors, and grandchildren and second cousins, at a girly bar he knew.
Cold anything worked for me, though I only went to girly bars to read the articles.
The brew and view, which was on a densely trafficked main vein through town, was called the Wigwam or Tipi, or anyway one of those Indian worlds you live in.
The place was a certifiable western bar that could have gotten a USDA stamp: dim, smoky, with sprawling curved longhorns mounted on the wall, a cherry-red Bud sign that looked as if it meant it, and cowboys. A purple jukebox twanged about how momma done got runned over by a damn ol’ train. The cowboys were big, rangy, and broad-shouldered, like Robocops in Stetsons. Texas has never quite figured out unisex. They were hootin’ and hollerin’ and swilling cold ones and telling lies. It was, like I said, Texas, than which it don’t git no better.
Pretty soon the bartender got on the stage, which was six inches high, and said that now the “internationally known exotic dancer Kandy Pie” would entertain us. I think that was her name, though I once knew a stripper named Noodles Romanoff. You can’t strip west of the Mississippi if you’re named Mary Lou Hickenlooper.
Anyway, this clippity-clop music started and Kandy Pie came out wearing a horse. I guess it was plastic. It looked like she’d stolen it from a merry-go-round and had a hole where the saddle was so she could wear it around her waist. That horse was about all she was wearing.
She wasn’t too exotic, but she was pretty near nekkid. I had to give her that.
Which had its appeal. Kandy Pie was a bodacious blonde who looked like a watermelon patch in Georgia, except she wasn’t green. She was also on the wrong side of thirty-five. The make-up didn’t hide it. She drooped where she should have perked, and had a few more pounds than she needed, and just looked tired. The cowboys didn’t like it. Catcalls erupted.
They were louts, I guess, but they weren’t really mean-spirited. Thing was, they hadn’t paid to see an enactment of the Onslaught of Middle Age. Yeah, they should have been more gentlemanly. She should have found another line of work five years earlier. Fact is, Kandy Pie seemed to be on the receding cusp of her international career. Which probably spanned three cities in central Texas.
She clipped and clopped and the horse grinned its idiot’s grin and the catcalls increased. She bore up under it, but you could see the pain in her face. It wasn’t fun being laughed at for fading looks when looks were all she had. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for knowing when to quit.
She clopped and bounced and hollered things like “Yippy Yi Yay” and “Kyocera,” and then pulled cap pistols and fired them in the air.
Kandy Pie froze. I believe she thought a cowboy had shot at her. Actually a light bulb had fallen form the stage lighting and exploded.
That was all for dancing in a horse. She stepped out of ol’ Trigger and just walked off the stage.
And came back with a cobra.
About two feet of cobra, gray, with hood flared. It had cold black eyes that augured nothing good and a low, empty forehead like a network anchorman. It wasn’t a happy cobra.
Dead . . . silence . . . fell, thump, like a piano from a tall building. Nobody had expected a cobra. I supposed a sign somewhere averted to Kandy Pie and Her Merry Scary Animals, but I hadn’t seen it, and apparently neither had the cowboys.
Kandy Pie was suddenly a different woman. Sort of goddess-like. She held that death-rope up and peered into its eyes, let it wrap around her neck, and peeled it off. A confidence had come over her, as though she were somehow in her element. Then she put the cobra on the stage. It set out toward the cowboys. Apparently it had plans for them.
Thirty chairs scraped simultaneously. Another second and those cowboys would have climbed the supporting poles and hung there like bananas. I planned to exit through the nearest wall.
Sure, I knew the beast had been defanged. So did the cowboys. Probably, anyway.
Just before that length of gray extinction left the stage, Kandy Pie put out her foot and gently pinned its tail.
“Anyone wanna hold it?” she said softly. It was a challenge. My turn now, she was saying.
Cowboys have their virtues, such as courage, and they really weren’t bad people. In fact, they were actually pretty good people. One said, “Shore.” He did hold it. You could tell he thought it was a really fine snake, even if it looked like Dan Rather. Others followed. Soon Kandy Pie was surrounded by masculine hunks who had decided she was quite a lady. I thought somehow of Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence.
Turns out she was an act unto her own self. Soon she took the cobra backstage and returned with a boa constrictor. I won’t tell you it was 400 feet long. I’ll tell you it looked 400 feet long. A lot of fire trucks would have envied that thing. We all took turns draping it around our necks. About sixty pounds of it.
“Whatcha feed it?”
She smiled. “Yep.”
The final act was a tarantula, big hairy orange-and-black sucker, like a yak hair pillow on stilts. Did I want it to crawl up my arm? No, but I said yes. It was a manhood issue. She put it on my wrist. Those rascals are heavy. She poked it so it would crawl. I knew it was going to bite me and carry me off to a hole to lay eggs on me. The cowboys clustered around, enthusiastic. They wanted a tarantula to crawl on them too.
I don’t think it could have happened, except in Texas: One bearded long-haul road freak, buncha cowboys in dressy boots, large blonde in, if not the altogether, at least the mostly together, and a sprawling tarantula the size of a tennis racket. It was splendid, I tell you.