The Ballad of Crackhead Clint by Thomas Kearnes

The owner of the club had named it Outlaws because he liked pretending we were in the Old West. Never mind that we lived in dead-center East Texas. In the club, a narrow walkway circled the sunken dance floor. Colored strobe lights winked over the men foolish enough to think their dancing prowess impressed us. One bar was located at a front corner of the club while a second loomed in back. The region’s most convincing drag queen, a dude who insisted we call him Nadine, often shimmied inside a floor-to-ceiling cage while we feigned arousal.

Some nights, all we looked forward to was the arrival of Crackhead Clint.

He typically came early. Anticipation charged the club’s smoky atmosphere, bitchy whispers traveling up the line of men awaiting entry. We speculated amongst ourselves what dire act Clint would commit this weekend. Another teary confession to a man who barely remembered fucking him? An offer to exchange a miniscule amount of meth for a blow job, maybe a little anal if the dealer proved generous? When Clint finally ambled across the threshold, we, of course, raised our glasses and shouted a greeting instantly lost in the din. He saw us laughing but never realized why.

Clint was a slender man, probably would’ve remained so even with regular meals. His wrists were tiny, offsetting huge and cumbersome hands. Don’t ask us how he jerked guys off with those paws. He wore pressed khakis and a crisp button-down from Abercrombie or Express, one of those franchises that felt no affinity for the overweight. He kept his coal-colored hair trimmed close, obscuring the growing bald spot at his crown. His wire-framed eyeglasses rested confidently on his nose. When asked why he wouldn’t join this century and wear contacts, he explained that he couldn’t bear to shove a finger in his eye.

He scurried from man to man, stroking a bicep here, a shoulder there. If his target showed interest, Clint stepped up the seduction and grabbed the man’s crotch. A couple of times he went for the ass. We sensed his desperation from all the way across the club. The man was incapable of indifference. We placed wagers on how long before a mark definitively spurned his advances. By this point, usually, we were well on our way to Tipsy Town.

Honesty was a good thing. Here it was laid out: we’d tricked with Clint a few times over the years. Sure, he was a geek, but he possessed this obscure magnetism. He was so indelibly himself, we allowed ourselves, when with him, to believe that the established rules of conduct, constraining all men of our tribe, could be ignored. Also, he had an amazingly long cock. We were talking nine or ten inches. If we bought him a drink, he’d pull open his khakis and let us peer down at his source of pride. We never confessed our crimes to one another. Jason didn’t know about Coby, and Coby didn’t know about Trenton, and Trenton certainly didn’t know about Jason. If news of an afternoon with Crackhead Clint, tryst full of sweating and grunting, invaded our circle, our reputation would shatter like dropped china.

A beautiful blond buck named Duncan did more than one tour of duty in Clint’s bedroom. We couldn’t figure it out. Duncan was plucked from a runway show, complete with bulging biceps and proud six-pack. When he spoke to us, his vibrant blue eyes promised a salvation that most gay men long ago gave up pursuing. In short, he was a catch, and it infuriated us watching him comfort Clint after his latest rejection or humiliation. Duncan insisted they were just friends, claimed Clint was the only queer capable of conversation. Bullshit. With fags, it came down to one of three things: fucking, booze or money.

More honesty: Crackhead Clint was a bit of a misnomer. If he’d ever smoked crack, none of us knew. Speed Freak Clint, though, wasn’t catchy. We couldn’t remember who slapped the label “crackhead” on the poor bastard, but we never investigated.

Clint’s supreme debasement lurked ahead, we discovered.

That August, a week after Madonna’s birthday, Clint breezed into the club with Antoine on his arm. Antoine could get any drug you desired in less than half an hour. He’d never been arrested and seemed to operate in a vacuum. There were no consequences in his universe. We snickered. Imagine what Clint did to earn his keep! Antoine was beefy and tall; seeing the two together was like watching Tom Cruise and one of his quasi-wives. While we recollected our wits, the two men journeyed to the sunken dance floor and flung themselves at one another, bodies melting like ice atop a stove. It was kind of hot. Actually, it was really hot. Like I said before: Tipsy Town.

This routine went on for weeks. The only place those two appeared was Outlaws on weekends. No one knew their routine during the week. What we did know: Antoine hadn’t abandoned his drug business, and Clint worked at a hotel on the bad side of town, giving directions to tourists and gazing dead-eyed over the front desk.

Clearly, Crackhead Clint was showing off his conquest. His dark eyes burned with victory as he trotted around the dance floor. We threw back tequila shots, but the rage wouldn’t abate. We never allowed ourselves to snort crystal unless our companion was snorting, too. It was a rule, albeit a rule no one would name because the next question would’ve been, How did we know that?  There was Crackhead Clint, a man without discretion, flaunting decorum, and he’d won the fucking lottery.

Antoine got busted while making a delivery in some shit-kicker town. You wouldn’t believe how much dope the cops found. It made the news. We told anyone who listened that we knew both him and his boy-bitch. Crossing paths with the infamous bestows an infamy all its own.

The next weekend, Crackhead Clint hunched over a table far in the back, leaving only to get another drink. Duncan tried to comfort him, but Clint shook him off. We thought mourning in public was a little much. Besides, that speed freak wasn’t upset over Antoine—he was crushed to find himself demoted back to Punching Bag of the Greater East Texas Faggotry.

We never expected Crackhead Clint to simply vanish.

After the third or fourth weekend, we flagged down Duncan. The blond man insisted that Clint had cut himself off from everyone, himself included. He’d even deleted his accounts on Adam4Adam and Facebook. After two months, we called the hotel that employed him, and a snooty girl informed us that Clint quit weeks ago. We swung by his shitty apartment and looked for his shitty Mazda. We knocked and knocked. We peered through a window. There was no furniture, the space clean and empty. The last time we’d left the place, after a trick, we’d tried to conjure a compliment for Clint, about his décor or hospitality. We’d tried and died.

Maybe you were expecting Outlaws to never recover from Crackhead Clint’s disappearance. Would’ve been touching, we admit. Instead, we honed in on a new guy who started coming that winter. He was oddly attractive and insanely aggressive, just like Clint. It wasn’t the same, though. As we soon learned, this guy wasn’t afraid to confront anyone who spread shit. We slammed another shot and reflected on this. His dick wasn’t noteworthy.

Several months later, Duncan dropped out of sight, too. We heard he had the virus, which surprised; he looked healthy enough. We congratulated ourselves for never allowing the deviant to charm us into bed. We knew he would’ve tried sooner or later. Madonna turned another year older. A year later, she did it again. Sometime during a megamix of her greatest hits, Nadine approached us. We almost didn’t recognize her outside the cage.

Crackhead Clint was a motherfucking drug counselor, she said, adjusting her wig. He worked for an agency in Dallas. It catered exclusively to gay men, specializing in crystal meth addiction. We gaped at Nadine until she sulked back to her cage, miffed she hadn’t won a more amusing response. After she left, we ordered shots for everyone at the bar. We raised our glasses to Crackhead Clint. No one heard our toast over Madonna’s nasal whine.

With a little help from Google, we found which agency Clint worked for. We made an appointment for Monday afternoon. Almost as an afterthought, we called in sick to work. During the drive, we rehearsed what we’d say after he recognized us. It would be a beautiful moment. We’d insist he share how he escaped East Texas, escaped the grind of Outlaws. We’d demand he illuminate how one goes about living a life worth more than dung.

The agency’s waiting room was plain, furnished with castoffs from other offices. The chairs didn’t match and the television image kept disintegrating into pixels. A muscled man sat next to us, his impressive calf jiggling inside his slacks. Could he tell we were nervous, too?

The buxom young receptionist had to call our name twice. It wasn’t our true name. Discretion was essential for men like us. Clint would surely recognize our face. The receptionist gestured for me to continue down a hall, our old friend’s office the last on the left. When making the appointment, we’d confided that Clint had been recommended by several friends. The young woman on the line had cooed her agreement. He knows what’s at stake, she’d added. He fights for these boys.

His office was cluttered but friendly. On the wall, along with his diploma from a two-year program, hung a needlepoint sign declaring that a messy home indicates a creative mind. The first thing we noticed, before we sat down, was how much weight he’d gained. In fact, a small belly peered over his khakis. His face had filled out. His gaze still penetrated, and we recalled why he spooked us during his days at Outlaws. When faced with a long-ago acquaintance, it was awkward feeling both intimidation and superiority. He asked what brought us to his office. He assured us everything would remain confidential. The degree on his wall indicated that he’d graduated with honors.

Units of silence accumulated between us. He had no idea who we were. None! The blank look on Clint’s face couldn’t be explained away. Didn’t he remember those nights, high and naked? Our skin felt hot, and we gripped the chair as if we’d been cast adrift on the Atlantic. Finally, we reminded him who we were. Even then, Clint did a double-take before stumbling through a perfunctory greeting. He shook our hand and smiled, but it didn’t feel personal, didn’t feel specific. No doubt every client received the same look and gesture.

He told me the bad news: since we were friends, it was unethical for him to counsel us. Dual relationships were forbidden. His colleague Jamal was a wonderful counselor, however, and Clint would personally introduce us.

As he circled his desk to escort me from his office, we noticed a framed photograph beside his laptop. Clint and Duncan stood side by side, both immaculately groomed and handsome in their tuxedos. They posed under an archway made of white wicker, silver and gold ribbons weaving through it. The two men looked happier than they ever did at Outlaws. A banner reading Together Whatever the Weather stretched across the archway, its shadow falling across the two joyful men.

We slammed Clint into the wall and pinned him there by forcing our elbow against his throat. We pushed him toward the ceiling, until his toes barely touched the floor. It was difficult for him to speak, but he managed to stutter, demanding to know our problem. If you’re angry, he said, let’s talk about it. We didn’t want to talk. We wanted a happily ever after with the hot blond guy who never looked at us twice. We wanted Crackhead Clint zipping from one unlikely prospect to the next, horny and lonely, always so lonely. We nudged him higher against the wall, his toes leaving the floor. He gasped, trying to speak. We reminded him who we were and, more importantly, who he was. We made sure he’d never forget.



© Thomas Kearnes, 2015

Thomas Kearnes holds an MA in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. He recently won the 2014 Cardinal Sins Fiction Contest. His recent fiction has appeared or will appear in Night Train, BULL, Vending Machine Press, Punchnel’s, Existere, 5x5, Big Lucks, Split Lip Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Spry, Litro, The Adroit Journal, The Ampersand Review, Word Riot, Johnny America, Five Quarterly, Sundog Lit and elsewhere. His work has also appeared in several LGBT venues. He is studying to become a drug dependency counselor. He lives near Houston.

The Ballad of Crackhead Clint was read by Jeff Wills on 7th October 2015 for Crimes & Misdemeanors