When Allensford knocked on Thankless Joe’s door, he had high expectations.  Allensford had woman trouble and Thankless Joe was known far and wide for his songs about gritty love affairs and for the numerous encounters with notorious women he’d met on his hard-partying tours.  Women who’d been seduced by his gravelly blues voice, his surly, large-bodied sexuality and his frank, deep, heavy-lidded gaze.  Surely, Thankless Joe would be a fount of valuable advice on the tribulations of love.

            Allensford knocked again on Joe’s door when the first knock went unanswered.  Then he knocked yet again.

            After several more tries, and a near bite on the shin from Joe’s gray, flea-bitten mongrel hound, he walked around to the backyard and peeked through the kitchen window.  Through the dirt-smeared pane of glass, he saw Thankless Joe’s large, bald head lying on the kitchen table, his hands splayed out in front of him, one large, hairy thumb twitching aimlessly.

            Clearly, Thankless had spent a long night rocking some rough-hewn, seedy downtown juke joint and was exhausted.  It was only two in the afternoon and Thankless was nothing if not a night owl. 

Allensford tried the kitchen door and finding it unlocked, he went in and grabbed a soiled dishtowel from the counter.  Soaking it in cold water, he slapped it over Joe’s sweating head, taking care to first remove the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels from the table so Joe wouldn’t knock it over.

            Thankless Joe shuddered into motion, his body jittering.  The large expanse of flesh that made up his stomach and arm fat jiggled and fluctuated.  He threw the wet towel off his head with a surprisingly vigorous motion and shuffled back in his rickety chair, the kitchen floor creaking.  Joe looked around wildly, his small black eyes blinking in the glaring afternoon kitchen light.

            “What the fuck?   Who the fuck. . . ?” Joe cried.  His voice was hoarse and harsh, ragged from a long night of screaming.

            Allensford was used to Joe taking time to gain a full awareness of his surroundings.  There were days when he visited and Joe was not completely coherent until shortly before Allensford took off at sunset for his night job at the Four Lips Motel.  “It’s Allensford, Joe.   Had a long night?”

            “Jesus Christ, you freaking fuck.  What are you doing in my house?”

            Allensford laughed an indulgent laugh.   Joe was nothing if not authentic, a truly gritty, down-home, plain-spoken, roots-music man like they didn’t make anymore.  “Remember how you told me that if I ever needed some advice, no matter when, no matter what the problem, I should come by?”

            “I say a lot of stupid shit.”  Joe looked around with narrowed eyes.  “Where’s my whiskey?”

            “Well, I’m having woman trouble.”  Allensford gave a self-conscious rueful laugh.   “And if there’s one man I know who knows a lot about a lotta women, it’s you, Joe.”

            “I gotta take a piss.” Thankless Joe stood up and stumbled toward the bathroom.  He tripped over an empty bottle of schnapps and banged his head on the doorframe.  “Goddamn!”

 As the sounds of Joe using the bathroom filled the kitchen, Allensford outlined his romantic situation. 

            “See, I’ve been dating this woman, Alicia.  You’d love her, Joe.  She’s smart, wears these totally cool glasses, makes an awesome patty melt.  Just a real classy, all-around authentic girl.  Totally authentic.  From Idaho.  The problem is, I can’t stand her taste in music.”

            Allensford started to take a seat at the kitchen table, then noticed the unidentifiable green stains on the chair and thought better of it.

            “You know me, Joe.  I’m a roots music man.  It’s gotta be real, or I won’t put it on my stereo.  But this Alicia, she listens to nothing but electronica!”

            Joe emerged from the bathroom and took off his black, tattered T-shirt.  “Where’s the refrigerator?”

            “Right here, Joe.  By the oven.”

            “Goddamn.  Over there.  Hand me a beer.”

            Allensford grabbed a can of beer and handed it to Thankless.  He took a good look at Joe’s face.  As expressionless as it was, as unfocused as his eyes were, as soggy and shapeless as his lips looked, Allensford knew that in that unique head little shards of lyrical greatness were stewing.  Bits and pieces of undeniably powerful, primitive roots-music melody and shards of poetic, hard-luck phrasing were cooking that would soon bubble up from Joe’s mouth, spew out and coagulate like chili in a bowl into a new Thankless Joe song.

            Thankless took a gulp of beer and stared at Allensford.  “Who let you in?”

            Allensford shook his head in amazement.  “When you’re brewing up a new song, nothing distracts you!  Amazing.  But seriously, Thankless, what should I do about this girl?  This electronica chick.”

            “You ever see my chuggy dance?” asked Thankless, his mouth gaping.

            “Only a thousand times.”  Allensford grinned at the memories.

            Thankless did it again.  He stepped forward, shook his belly, stepped back, shook his belly again, and then repeated the whole process, doing two steps forward and back, then three steps, then four.  During the whole dance, he kept up a blubbering beat with his lips and slapped his hands on his bare belly.

            Allensford played along, chanting ‘chuggy, chuggy, chuggy’, just like the grizzled fans always did at Thankless Joe’s gigs.

            Thankless shook and jiggled for a good three minutes, then took another gulp of beer.

            “Is that your answer, Thankless?”

            Joe narrowed his eyes.  “You been at my shows.  You know what it’s all about.”

            “I do.  I do know what it’s all about.  It’s all about the roots music, that’s what it’s all about.”  Allensford shook his head.  How could he have been so shallow?  “I see what you’re telling me.  In your poetic, musical way, you’re telling me it’ll never work out with me and Alicia.  How could I ever trust a girl who listens to electronica?”

            For an answer, Joe slapped his belly again and fixed Allensford with a bleary look. 

            “It’s like you say in that song, Joe.  ‘She left me like the squaw left the papoose.  She left me and she went on the loose’.”

            Joe bit his lip.  “Jesus, some of ’em are just that tawdry.”  He walked into the living room, slumped onto the dusty brown sofa, tossed some dirty undies on the floor and grabbed the TV remote.

            “I’m glad I came by.  Joe, thanks so much for listening.  Really, thanks.”

            “Don’t need to thank me.  That’s why they call me Thankless Joe.”

            “So right,” said Allensford.  A truer statement, he thought, had never been made. 
           “Why don’t this remote work?”

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