How the Checkered Flag Fell at the Beauty Pageant

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 18, 11:57 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

New assignments abound. For twenty years, most of my time was spent writing about race cars. I started writing books. I taught myself to play guitar and found I had “a handy knack for rhyming,” which led to songs. I started writing novels.

I never wrote about a beauty pageant until Thursday night.

The occasion was the Miss LDHS pageant. LDHS stands for Laurens District (55) High School. In fairness, I have also judged a “Puttin’ on the Hits” contest in Joanna, but I don’t think that’s the same category. Miss LDHS probably isn’t the same category as Miss America, either, but the overwhelming likelihood is that I will never have a chance to compare the two. Besides, I didn’t judge Miss LDHS. I just observed and wrote about it.

As a practical matter, the normal rules of journalism are suspended. It’s the same with local drama. If the Little Theater is producing its own version of, say, A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s not likely to be as wondrously performed as it is, or was, on Broadway. George Loomis, by day a druggist at Walmart and by night a would-be Marlon Brando, is not going to like it when some local yahoo calls his performance wooden. He put a lot of effort in that role and takes it very seriously.

Many publications farm this coverage out to some affiliated observer – the director, say – and he (or she) will craft paragraphs that flow along the lines of:

Equally magnificent, in the pivotal role of Claire, was May Livingston, whose performance was riveting …

Riveting. Like Rosie the Riveter of World War II patriotic fame. Ruhruhruhruhruhruhruh …

I thought I could convey a certain lighthearted touch, but I didn’t have the time. By the time I got done processing photos, it was getting late, and I wanted to get the story published quickly. That’s the advantage a website has. It’s the art of the possible, quickly delivered. Write as well as possible within a tight time frame. My earliest experience with this pressure occurred while taking standardized tests. My toughest was the Bristol Night Race back when scribes were scribes and the desks were nervous.

My good-natured amusements didn’t get in. That’s what blogs are for, particularly when the home wi-fi has failed and a writer doesn’t have anything else to do.

Two mischievous boys – I’m estimating middle-school age – were the stage crew. After each competition and especially after each talent competition, they walked out rapidly – that walk that’s just shy of a trot – and moved things around. Mic stand. Wooden box. No heavy lifting. They reminded me of ball boys at tennis matches. They did not take themselves too seriously. It was hard work, but it was fun.

In the talent show, one entrant dressed up in a race-car driver’s firesuit and performed a dance routine. I enjoyed it. The show had a good balance. Violin. Viola. Clogging to a Britney Spears song. A photography enthusiast composing a slide show stressing the inspirational qualities of the Raider football team.

Some time later, the reigning Miss LDHS, now off at college, returned to perform on the piano and had her final sweep around the stage before she handed over her glistening crown to the new winner. As she walked as if balancing a book on her head, smoothly and with impeccable dignity, the checkered flag from the stock car racing routine was trapped under her long, red evening dress for several “laps.” Finally, one of the lads from the stage crew emerged on the run-walk, pursued Miss LDHS 2017 briefly and successfully stalked his prey by yanking the flag loose and retreating from the spotlights’ glare.

These moments make the spectacle better. Small mistakes can be endearing.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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Stop the World and Let Me Off

(Pixabay photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, November 8, 2018, 1:14 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

So much is going on that I can’t decide what to write. I’m suffering from information overload. I’m drowning. Either that or I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

It’s impossible to keep up. With politics. With technology. With violence. With anger. Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the signs?

It’s more difficult to have conversations. That’s why people text and post and tweet. I’m not sure whether lack of conversation leads to tweets or tweets lead to lack of conversation. Last night I ate out. All four people in the booth across from me were texting, regardless of age. I wonder if they were texting each other. That might work at a public library. Then again, someone nearby might text, Shhhhh.

I yearn for the insignificant day.

It would be nice to awaken briefly at 4 a.m., most likely because nature calls, discover, as usual, that I fell asleep with the TV on, and not learn that some nut has shot up a nightclub in California. The darkness of the room is ablaze with the flashing lights of police cars on the news.

Since the World Series ended, it’s been difficult to watch other sports. I half-watch everything. I haven’t seen a basketball bounce yet.

It’s almost as if everything else has become a sport I watch instead of actual sports. Elections are a sport. Politics is a sport. In fact, someone needs to come up with another term for people who hold public office because the world is making politicians of us all.

I watch the weather more, too. Twenty years ago I heard someone say The Weather Channel was MTV for old people. That was before a hurricane started rolling through the neighborhood every few weeks.

President Twitter is the political equivalent of marijuana. He causes short-term memory loss. I can’t watch coverage of the latest crisis without losing touch with the last one. Recently President Twitter couldn’t tell the truth when he was asked about telling the truth.

I’ll probably be tweeted over this. It’s okay. Social media is just freedom gone wild. It’s a crowded theater full of people yelling “fire!”

Before Tuesday’s elections, I knew that things would either get slightly worse or a lot worse. At the moment, I’m leaning toward the latter.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Things that Are Close and Things that Are Far Away

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, November 2, 2018, 9:56 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Election Day is Tuesday, and I can’t remember the last time I ate a McRibs. I don’t think there is any relation between elections and McRibs except that both are being enthusiastically advertised.

The best meal I’ve had in the week to date was a hamburger steak at The Hub in Laurens on Wednesday night after taking photos of trick-or-treaters at “Boo in the Park.”

(Monte Dutton photo)

My viewing habits have changed suddenly this week on account of the end of baseball. From April through October, I watch the Red Sox … a lot. Now, all of a sudden, I’m choosing between old movies on TCM, around-the-clock news, documentaries on PBS and reading books. It’s never a good sign to realize that, while editing news releases, the Accuweather Channel has been droning in the background for an hour.

More changes will occur after the election. In the short run, I anticipate that things will either get a little worse or a lot worse. That’s why every vote counts.

I wondered what it would be like if Oprah came to my front door, and I decided that, after coping with the initial surprise, I’d reluctantly have to tell her this is the wrong state.

(Monte Dutton photo)

High school football is almost over. There are no playoff games tonight. The devastating effect of Hurricane Florence on the lower half of the state caused the High School League to postpone the playoffs for a week so that game that were literally washed out can be made up.

Laurens District High is the only county team that made the playoffs. The Raiders play in Rock Hill next week. The county has been historically successful in football. This year LDHS, Clinton and Laurens Academy combined to go 9-21.

I feel confident in proclaiming that basketball will be better.

A major goal between now and Christmas is to complete the first draft of my next novel, which is about an ex-major league baseball player and scout who finds an extraordinarily talented young prospect and tries to turn him into polished player. Clyde Kinlaw and Taiquon Wattson are presently en route from South Carolina to Texas, where Taiquon is going to play for a semipro team known as the Sherman Bucks. The working title of what will be my ninth novel is The Latter Days.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Style and Sox and Storms, Etc.

PIxabay photos

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 1:57 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

One consequence of working for a news website while writing fiction at the same time is the constant clash of styles.

I even have a style for this blog. If this was on GoLaurens.com, “South Carolina” would have been “S.C.” and “October” would have been “Oct.” My ever-varying sticklishness takes a lot of time, adapting all the news releases that invariably have styles of their own.

I use the “Oxford comma” in fiction but not in journalism.

The styles evolve. Just this morning, after noticing the style of a web story, I succumbed to the pressure to use “from 7-8 p.m.” instead of “from 7 to 8 p.m.,” even though I still think the former reads awkwardly.

As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I’ve felt all day as if the Sox’ 16-1 conquest of the New York Yankees was some kind of demented trick.

If it’s any other game, I switch to something else. If it’s the Red Sox, I hang on every pitch. That’s why I saw Brock Holt do what no one else has ever done: hit for the cycle in the postseason.

I’m scared right now, but last night I slept soundly.

Two storms in three weeks!

The first one wasn’t much of a hindrance here, though it was devastating to much of the Carolinas. This time, we don’t know how much we’re going to get it, but we’re going to get it. Michael won’t be a hurricane by the time it blows through here like a runaway train, but it’ll leave a mark.

If we’re lucky again, the path will take it southeast.

I don’t know what to do but wait.

It would be better if it was called global weirding instead of global warming. No one can deny the weirding.

The older I get, the more I like trees and skies.

My washed-up baseball scout and his otherwise undiscovered prospect are on the way from McCormick, South Carolina, to Sherman, Texas. They’re taking their time. When last I encountered them, they were sitting at a minor league game in Augusta, Georgia.

They’re waiting on me. I created them. I determine their story. I know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

I have to write it down.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 23, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I fell asleep with the TV on last night, which is not unusual, and it awakened me this morning, when I wanted to sleep longer, because, in a semi-conscious state, I got irritated.

Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

He wasn’t the first to say it. Twain credited it to Benjamin Disraeli. He said it enough times and was suitably famous to receive credit for it, even though he didn’t actually try to take the credit.

Mark Twain (Pixabay)

What got me ruminating were references to football games. In the third quarter, according to the glib promoters of ESPN SportsCenter, Oregon had a 99.3 percent chance of winning the Ducks’ game against Stanford.

Stanford won, of course.

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The recent hurricane that weakened its way through the Carolinas to the point where it was a breeze when its remnants tottered through here was described by prominent politicians repeatedly as “a thousand-year rain event.” By the way, I don’t mean to downplay the suffering experienced by more than a million fellow residents of the Carolinas. It was a devastating storm. The crawl across the bottom of the Fox News screen said that 500 million people were without power. How that storm cut the lights out on parts of India and Brazil is beyond me.

Three years ago, in the Midlands of this state, hardy citizens (no doubt subsisting on hearty soup) experienced “thousand-year flooding.”

The silver lining is that we must be good to go for the next 2,000 years, at least.

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It’s a statistic. It must be true.

I really prefer descriptions of the poetic beauty of sports – whether it’s a ball (football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, etc.), a race car or a hard right cross – to descriptions of algorithms and sabermetrics.

Some people are obsessed with such numerical puffery. Many of them play “fantasy sports.” Somewhere there are fantasy weather leagues, I expect. (“I’m deactivating the Tropic of Capricorn this weekend because I’m playing a hunch on the Indian Ocean.”)

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I love baseball, but I don’t have a clue what all the acronyms and initialisms mean. (Strictly speaking, an acronym must be pronounced as a word, but an initialism or an alphabetism is just a collection of letters derived from the first letters.) “Scuba” (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is an acronym. AFL (American Football League, or, American Federation of Labor) is not.

Some are used because they are deemed acceptable by society and the actual words are not. People say “that’s B.S.” because “bullshit” is deemed as too harsh. Why? It’s not actually cursing, apparently. Some people apparently think it won’t bring with it a demerit from the Almighty.

“A sign from above … on the wings of a dove” (Pixabay)

God knows. He (or She, or an omniscient spirit that transcends gender, or It, which would not be popularly accepted) probably doesn’t care. Oh, He cares, I suppose. He gave us this wondrous occupation of the universe, and if it brings with it enough rope to hang, well, I expect He/She/It is justifiably preoccupied with Syria, suffering, sunlight and many words that do not begin with “S.”

In college, I was always an essay-question, not a multiple-choice or true-or-false, kind of guy. Hence, today, many years later, I write essays.

Pixabay

If the sons of bitches (SOBs would, of course, be acceptable to a God with a lot less sense) would just let us know what the letters mean by using the full name on first reference, then I might care. As it is, I am frequently assaulted by the confusion of all the new lies, damned lies and statistics.

“But, don’t forget, Elroy, Smithers ranks higher in PQX, TLZ, and BADASS than Bumstead.”

Right. Gotcha.

Sometimes, on assignment, I ask what an ASPIRE grant is. Or a QUIKSTART program. What, pray tell, do the letters mean? Invariably, the people who have been talking about it for five minutes haven’t a clue.

“Let me get back to you on that.”

I expect some people who spout statistics don’t actually know what they mean. Me? At least I admit it.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

What do jury duty, a broken tooth, a peanut butter shake and Lindsey Wilson have in common? Me!

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, September 20, 2018, 11:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I had jury duty but wasn’t selected. Since every day, I put together arrest reports and talk to law enforcement officers about various crimes, I suppose this is hardly a surprise.

In this part of the state, Florence, which hit the Carolinas coast as a hurricane but staggered through here like a tottering drunk, luck was with us. My electricity didn’t ever go out.

Who ever broke a tooth while eating a soggy bowl of Raisin Bran? It happened while I was writing about a football game at 1 in the morning. My first thought was, I’m suing Kelloggs because there’s a human tooth in this box of cereal. Then I realized it was mine. Sorry, Kellogg’s. I only thought it for a few seconds. I’m not in pain. I don’t even bleed when I brush my teeth. It’ll be next week before my dentist tells me what has to be done about this.

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I had a checkup on Wednesday. I’ve lost 12 pounds. I felt about the same way about the scale that I did about the cereal, but I’m glad whatever I’m doing has worked. Sweaty football sidelines must have something to do with it. I celebrated on the way to Lake Greenwood (to shoot a video) by enjoying a peanut butter shake on the way. Thus have I probably lost 10 pounds now. I’ve never understood how a person can gain more weight than what a fattening food weighs. I don’t doubt the science. I accept climate change, too.

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West Nile Virus has appeared in the county at both ends, in the southern (“Southeast Quadrant”) end by a person and in the northern end by a dead bird. They’re spraying the pusher mosquitoes who spread the poison. West Nile cannot be spread by human contact, so I don’t have to worry about falling in love, which has happened as recently as a decade ago.

Tonight there’s a candidates’ forum for those who seek to join the school board in District 55. My plan is to stop off at Clinton Middle School, which is here in District 56, to shoot a few photos of the high school tennis match, on the way.

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I’ll miss the Presbyterian College football home opener because it conflicts with the NASCAR race in Richmond, which duty calls me to watch on TV. I’ll get another shot next Thursday night, when a school in Kentucky called Lindsey Wilson College plays the Blue Hose as a replacement for Stetson University. PC’s scheduled game with the Hatters was doffed by Florence the Rapidly Diminishing Storm last Saturday.

The opponent this Saturday night is Bluefield (Va.) College, which is across the state line from Bluefield State (W. Va.) College. The team venturing here is known as the Rams. The team arriving Thursday night is known as the Blue Raiders. Lindsey Wilson College is named after the late son of Catherine Wilson, whoever she was. The school has been around since 1903 and started requiring four years to graduate in 1986.

I hope Lindsey Wilson brings Blue Raider Bob. He’s the mascot, according to Wikipedia.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Who’ll Stop the Rain?

PIxabay

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, September 13, 2018, 1:55 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Florence is coming to town. In fact, it looks like it’s going through Florence (the city) on the way.

Not Florence Nightingale. Not Aunt Florence. They are both no longer with us. Hurricane Florence is very much alive, but I hope it’s on its deathbed by the time it reaches here.

It’s apparently going to go crazy near the end. The best “prediction” – hah, it wasn’t too long ago it was going to churn up through the Atlantic without hitting land – is that it will hit the North Carolina coast, catch its breath, hemorrhage energy as it staggers across the state line, turn inland (thus bringing havoc to its namesake), wrap around Columbia and totter just a bit west of here before returning to the Tarheel State via the mountains, and leave its crooked path of principal destruction in the Carolinas.

Pixabay

I’m still hopeful it won’t be too bad. If it is, oh, well. Oh, hell.

I had a busy day doing the same thing over and over on Wednesday. Presbyterian College’s football game was first moved to Deland, Fla., home of its opponent, Stetson, and then canceled. Rather than switch location, the high schools switched days. Laurens District High School was first and most decisive. The Raiders’ game against Wade Hampton moved to tonight at 7. Laurens Academy announced it would remain on Friday. I spread the word on GoLaurens.com. Then I got an email asking me to delete this because now the Crusaders were thinking about switching to Friday. Then I got an email that they were going to move to Thursday at 7 p.m. Clinton High School stuck with Friday until about dusk on Wednesday, then moved to Thursday at 7:30.

Multiply this across golf, tennis, volleyball, cross country in varsity, junior varsity and middle schools, not to mention events of other kinds, businesses, classes, and God knows what else.

(Monte Dutton photo)

This meant, for a while, that I was writing about Laurens football tonight and Clinton tomorrow. This is no longer the case for I have the excellent excuse of being unable to be two places at once. It will be a busy night, though, and tomorrow night I won’t know what to do.

Georgia State is at Memphis. Hum, baby. Who am I kidding? The Red Sox are at home against the Mets. The Odd Couple is on TCM. The picture will be frozen on DirecTV.

Uh, don’t tell me … I’ve nothing to do. Then again, my walls have no flowers.

I’ve got new batteries in my flashlights. I hope that storm loses a lot of starch. I hope enough people hang around Clinton to keep the electricity running or restore it without much loss of contact with the outside world.

But I really can’t do that much about it. My house is on a hill. It’s not going to flood. A tornado? Uh, hope not. I hope my only exposure to the wind is hearing it howl.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.