Two Trains after the Last Football Game

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 20, 2017, 12:45 p.m.

On Saturday night, something occurred that I had never seen before in my hometown. Maybe it’s because I’m not often out driving on Saturday nights.

By Monte Dutton

I had been at Presbyterian College all day. I brought a pot of chili to the tailgate party before PC ended its season with a 31-21 win over Gardner-Webb. For five years I have been watching the Blue Hose play with a group of alumni and parents of players. Most of those players will be graduating next year. As the season wore on, rumors began spreading that the school was going to phase out the awarding of football scholarships. The rumors became official on the day after the final game, which made it something of a Pyrrhic victory at the end of a Pyrrhic season.

So we celebrated the win of a game and commiserated the loss of a tradition, and when it got dark, and the Georgia game ended on TV, many headed to the comfort of the Hampton Inn lobby, there to sip wine much better than I had the sophistication to appreciate and tell tales regarding the secrets behind several bottles of expensive bourbon. I stuck with the wine. For the bourbon, I didn’t feel worthy, but that’s another tale for another day. I drank for free because the booze was too excellent to buy.

It’s not a world I often frequent. I’m a starving artist, which I wouldn’t have minded when I was 24. I might have idealized such an existence. It’s more complicated and bittersweet at 59.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

I headed from Bailey Memorial Stadium, feeling as if it ought to be Football Memorial Stadium, and stopped for a freight train at the interception of our little bypass and Highway 76. Then I drove on to the Hampton Inn, where I realized I’d left my backpack at Tailgate Central. Tailgate parties have gotten too big for tailgates. We congregated around a motor coach, the type of vehicle I normally associate with NASCAR drivers and bands. Race drivers call them buses, and that’s pretty much what they are, only designed for comfort instead of capacity.

I went back to PC and picked up my backpack. When I drove back to the intersection, another train was passing through. Two freight trains in fifteen minutes! I don’t remember that happening before. My mother doesn’t remember that happening before.

It must have been an omen. I haven’t noticed or figured out what kind yet. The second train wasn’t loaded with football scholarships, as best I could tell.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Advertisements

Playing Music Through the Years

A fake album cover, taken at Vince Pawless’s shop in Gainesville, Texas.
Nashville, 2007
Java Cafe, Mt. Holly, NC, 2009.

It all started with a book, my last non-fiction to date. As I traveled around the country, writing about NASCAR, I started doing interviews with favorite musicians on the side.

By Monte Dutton

Robert Earl Keen in Newberry, S.C.; Tom Russell in Berkeley, Calif.; Pat Green in New Braunfels, Texas; James McMurtry, and Slaid Cleaves in Austin, Texas; Jack Ingram in Fort Worth; Brad Paisley in Las Vegas; Stoney Larue in Dallas; etc., etc. The result was True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed.

The experience inspired me, and, to make a long story short, I taught myself to play basic guitar and started writing songs, which, in turn, led to my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, which was about a pot-smoking songwriter who got himself tied up in a political conspiracy.

Still on the NASCAR beat, I started playing little gigs near tracks in Virginia, Richmond, Michigan, and Charlotte, not to mention the occasional visit to places around town here in Clinton.

Mainly now I just play with friends, whether that’s an open mic in Columbia or the parking lot of Bailey Memorial Stadium before and after Presbyterian College football games. Most of my singing is here in the living room.

I miss it. I’ll play your Christmas party in a heartbeat, but I don’t travel much anymore. My songwriting has slowed to a crawl, too, mainly because my fiction writing has accelerated.

 

Puckett Farm Equipment, 2010

 

Outside Cannon FIeldcrest Stadium, Kannapolis, NC, 2011.
Martinsville Speedway
Study Club, Clinton, 2008.
Book signing, Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg, S.C., 2017.
I haven’t picked up the mandolin in quite some time. Study Club, 2008.
Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

 

Say It Ain’t So, Hose

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 13, 2017, 11:12 a.m.

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast
And just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your lover
‘Cause your heart’s bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town
Can’t you see the sun’s settin’ down on our town, on our town
Goodnight

By Monte Dutton

This Iris DeMent song, released in 1993, always floods into my mind when I get sentimental. This time it’s over our college in our town. Specifically, it’s about football, a favorite topic of my nostalgia glands, which are near and dear to my heart as well as being mythical.

Presbyterian College is not my alma mater. Furman University is, and seldom have I been prouder than on Saturday as I watched the Paladins conquer The Citadel, 56-20.

I have fondness for PC, too. It’s funny that the first college football game I remember was Presbyterian at Furman, won by the Paladins, 13-9, at Sirrine Stadium. Thanks to the web that goes worldwide, I know that game was in 1968, when I was 10, but I remembered the score. Maybe that was why I went to Furman. Maybe it was fated, even though I didn’t make the decision until seven years later. I never imagined going anywhere except Clemson until the fall of 1975, when I visited Furman with a high-school football teammate who was being recruited. Oddly enough, my friend, Roy Walker, went to PC. Furman wanted Roy but captured me, and I wasn’t any good at football.

Now, as my alma mater returns to prominence, Presbyterian football is endangered, and my roots run deep at both schools.

Some of the best times my father and I ever had were sitting in wooden stands behind the end zones – inside the track – at Johnson Field, the first Bailey Memorial Stadium and present home of Fighting Blue Hose lacrosse. Kids could frolic around, playing tackle football with miniature plastic footballs and, on occasion, wadded up paper cups, while their fathers passed sage judgment on the games. The names of PC players – Bill Kirtland, Lynn Dreger, Wally Bowen, Bobby Norris — still crackle from the public address archives of my mind.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

Now, it is widely alleged, PC is about to “de-emphasize” football, which is to say it is going to stop awarding scholarships and abandon its thus far quixotic membership in the Football Championship Subdivision. The upgrade to NCAA Division I has not gone well, and it has apparently been a great financial drain on the little liberal-arts college, and the reason I suspect this is that all such triumphs and disasters are ultimately and unfortunately judged and justified on the basis of money.

That’s where the Iris DeMent song starts running through my mind.

The Blue Hose are, at the moment, 3-7, with a game at home against Gardner-Webb left. From 1957 through 1992, Presbyterian College played its athletic contests under the auspices of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). From 1993 through 2010, the Blue Hose moved to NCAA Division II. Beginning in 2011, PC moved into NCAA Division I and, in football, the FCS. Now the alleged plan is to remain there but relegate the football program to what would essentially be a conglomeration of walk-ons. The model, originally, was Wofford College, a longtime rival. Now the model appears to be Davidson College, a wonderful school without a successful football team. Its woeful team undoubtedly costs less than Presbyterian’s.

As I am not imbued by sheepskin with the Fighting Blue Hose Spirit, let me write as a Clintonian. If the people of this little town were asked to recall one annual event they miss the most, it would almost surely be the Bronze Derby football game between Presbyterian and nearby Newberry, which was played every year but two between 1913 and 2006 and on Thanksgiving from 1946 through 1992. The game wasn’t as popular for the students because many of them went home for turkey and fixings, but for the towns of Clinton and Newberry, it was the social and sporting event of the year. It was our version of the Carolina Cup steeplechase in Camden, or the Chitlin’ Strut in Salley, or, in its way, the Southern 500 in Darlington. I went to the game every year I was in college because, in no small part, I was home, and many of the other kids who’d gone to college elsewhere congregated there, too. The game captured the attention of the whole state. Clemson’s Danny Ford came at least one year, and I remember him chitchatting with people on the sidelines. It would be unimaginable today for Dabo Swinney to show up, and not just because there is no Bronze Derby to watch anymore.

It was a different time, fondly remembered.

Men and women who know much more than I apparently believe PC football, at its current level, is too expensive, but let me offer up the intangibles I know against the tangibles I don’t.

Football diversifies a college by providing opportunity to kids who could not otherwise afford a private-school education. One reason that I gravitated toward the football players of Furman was that they represented the students who were most like I, a naïve kid who grew up on a farm in Clinton. Together we all found wisdom, not to mention considerable mischief, in college. The Furman alma mater makes reference to drinking “from wisdom’s fountain pure, and rally sons and daughters dear, ’round our dear alma mater.” There were other fountains, too, often originating in aluminum kegs. We made passage through the various rites, and most of us emerged with what it took to take on a world that was allegedly real.

Let me bring this sentimental tome to a conclusion from another old song, Skeeter Davis’s:

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world

It ended when you said goodbye

From what I read, and what I hear, and what my instincts tell me, and the way the powers that be are acting, the de-emphasis of Presbyterian College football is coming, just a few years after its emphasis.

FBS hasn’t been a success. I thought it madness from the beginning. Now, I’m told, merely returning to Division II is “not an option.” Presbyterian has a lovely football stadium, so it needs a team to play in it. Any old team. Throw something together.

I love PC home games, even though the Blue Hose don’t win often. It’s almost impossible to park more than two hundred yards away. We eat, drink and be merry. Then we walk across the street, watch the first half, return to the merriment at halftime, and, then, at the end, hopes often extinguished, we commiserate as we consume the remaining refreshments and make future plans.

I wonder what it’s going to be like on Saturday.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Up with Furman

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 12, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It’s not often I feel the joy I felt Saturday. Waylon Jennings once sang that, down in Alabama, “they call me the man of joy.” He wasn’t singing about me. Writing breeds satisfaction, not joy. Life is a struggle as I write and write and write, hoping one day more substantial numbers will appreciate my work.

By Monte Dutton

Karl Marx claimed that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” I don’t believe he was right, but, had he written it about sports, he might have had something.

I sat in Section 7 of Paladin Stadium watching Furman rout The Citadel, 56-20. The first half was almost perfection. While I was in Section 7, with Barry and Dan Atkinson, and Dan’s son, Charlie, and daughter, Nora, the Paladins were winning their seventh straight game, and it was over their (and my) archrival.

While driving to Greenville on Saturday morning and humming the fight song in traffic, I thought of a Groucho Marx line that perfectly depicts my feelings about The Citadel: “I have nothing for respect for you, and very little of that.”

Okay, it’s harsh. But funny. The Citadel does have my grudging respect. To me Furman-Citadel is Athens-Sparta. Liberal arts versus military. It’s overly simplistic, but so, too, is it to those of us who are not scholars of ancient Greece.

David Lyle (left) and Kevin Morgan (Ed Bopp photo).

The Bulldogs had won the three previous years. Some sense of decorum had to be restored. Before the game, in the parking lot, I spent time with old friends who hardly ever lost to The Citadel.

I wouldn’t call 35-0 at halftime, oh, diplomatic, but it was more than satisfying. My ailing knee didn’t hurt. My problems disappeared, “blowing through the jasmines of my mind.” I didn’t need a summer breeze to “make me feel fine.” Really. I was glowing. I felt rosy. It wasn’t a summer breeze at all. It was cold, though I took little notice. I cultivated an unprecedented liking of Seals & Crofts.

Happiness. Happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

When I’m watching a baseball game on TV, if it’s not close, I’ll see what else is on. An old movie, or the news, or an old Columbo episode. If I keep the game on, I’ll read a book. Unless it’s a Red Sox game. The Sox can be leading, oh, 19-1, and I’ll still watch. If it’s the Yankees, I may catch a replay on NESN.

The leaves on Paris Mountain seemed neon-infused. As the Furman football team performed gloriously – almost defying belief – I felt transformed by the sheer glory of it all. As the clock expired, I wished the Paladins could keep right on scoring touchdowns, but I walked out to the truck and drove on home. I listened to the post-game show on the radio, and I switched to the Clemson halftime show, and, by the time I got home, the Tigers and Florida State were late in the third quarter, and I watched the rest of the game, or, rather, it was on TV. Nothing but the Paladins could command my attention. Same with Alabama-Mississippi State. Same with Saturday Night Live. Same with social media.

Nothing mattered but my pride in the Furman Paladins, who are back.

Now I must get back to convincing folks to read my novels and finishing the next one.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

The Glory of the Past and the Unremitting Legacy

Coach Tom Bass FIeld, Bobcats Stadium, Seneca, S.C. (Photos by Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, November 4, 2017, 2:38 p.m.

Since noon, I’ve been keeping tabs on Auburn-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Texas Tech, Syracuse-Florida State, Western Kentucky-Vanderbilt, Florida-Missouri, Massachusetts-Mississippi State, and several others that don’t occur to me now. That’s just on television. Via Twitter, I’ve been keeping tabs on Presbyterian-Monmouth, Chattanooga-Wofford, and Western Carolina-The Citadel.

By Monte Dutton

The Furman Paladins are idle this week. Like Florida.

I like to concentrate on just one game, or, maybe two, but I’m unfocused in the aftermath of Clinton’s 18-14 loss to Seneca. Coupled with Laurens’ playoff loss to Northwestern (58-7) on Thursday, high school football has come to an end in the county. The Raiders went out with a whimper, the Red Devils with a bang.

Neither is playing anymore. Soon I’ll notice basketball out on the horizon.

The moon may have had a little to do with it.

Despite a 4-7 season, Clinton never gave up. It led a region champion Seneca team until there were 37 seconds left. It took a sequence of events (my story is here) to defeat them. But a win is a win, and a loss is a loss, and never the twain shall meet.

Last night I interviewed Clinton coach Andrew Webb with anguish scattered all about me. The kids aspired to greatness and fell short. I still do that today as I crank out novel after novel, hoping for a breakthrough beyond the modest monthly royalties. What keeps me going might have originated on football fields more than 40 years ago.

Clinton’s quarterback, Konnor Richardson, is a sophomore.

The hardest part of the trip to far Seneca – it’s on the other side of Clemson from here, about 90 miles – was having all the time to think on the way home. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. First I had to process all the photos, then type in the stats, then write the story, and then I watched a late game from the West Coast.

I had a high school coach who never accepted the existence of luck or the respectability of an excuse. We won because we deserved to win, and, on those rare occasions when we lost, it was 100 percent our fault. We believed we were supposed to win as much as we believed the sun was supposed to rise in the east.

It’s not easy to do. We lived on the far side of the hump the present Clinton football program is trying to get over. We were there when we arrived, and we built a settlement and left it for those who came next. We had a sense of belonging that this generation thus far lacks. It slipped away. Times changed. Odds that favored us have turned against our descendants, and the pedigree doesn’t make it any easier.

Like every coach worth his salt I’ve known, Webb doesn’t blame luck or make excuses. What he needs to build is a team that doesn’t make it as tempting.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.
Senior rushers Mark Wise (5) and Kris Holmes will be sorely missed.

I don’t mean to be negative. I don’t think I am. I grieve for those kids, sitting on the turf, and crying at the sad ending. They stuck it out and never quit trying. I can’t imagine that because I never had to experience it. Last night it was on the road. In two years on the varsity, my team never lost a single one. We lost two at home. One was for the state championship. I wasn’t an important part, but there were no parts. It was a team, made up big parts and little parts, all well oiled and whirring together.

More than anything, I wish for these kids that kind of heady experience.

Then, perhaps, one day, they can grow up to be failing novelists.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

 

This Too Will Pass … Or It Won’t

Clayton Kershaw. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 26, 2017, 11:03 a.m.

It was 100 degrees in Los Angeles for the first game of the World Series. The president is Donald Trump. A hurricane hit Ireland. Puerto Rico is still an American wasteland a month after Maria. I thought, oddly, about an old pop song.

Take a letter, Maria / Address it to my wife / Say I won’t be coming home / Gotta start a new life.

By Monte Dutton

Okay. So it’s not a precise match.

Did I mention the president is Donald Trump?

These times are affecting me. Last night the World Series game was a classic. Half of it I spent watching the news on other channels. Until recently, that would have been unthinkable. Until recently, I could depend on hell waiting ten minutes before it broke out.

Funny thing is, most of the constant motion is Trump running in place. Or tweeting in place.

I go about my business in grim resignation. I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon. Genghis Don got elected. He’s in cahoots with Attila the Russian.

My Republican friends have gone soft on Russia. I never saw that coming. They engage in whataboutistry. Hillary did it too! They ignore all the facts that matter and ignore the ones that don’t. They have the permission of Kellyanne Conway to believe “alternative facts.”

I write. It’s all I know to do. I keep my head down. I try to stay out of trouble on Facebook by holding it down to a few comments a day. Sometimes I can’t help it. I like Twitter better because it doesn’t provide as much room for meanness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.
(Steven Novak cover)

I’m winding down the next novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I’m rewriting the ending to account for current events. I spent the first half of the year writing two fun, funny, irreverent, first-person novels about stock car racing. I sat Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell aside for them. Now I’ve edited, pared down, and proofread the first 39 chapters, and they’re ready to go. I’ve just got to finish the ending. It’s mapped out in my outline and clear in my mind. It’s a matter of doing it, and I’m saddling up my writing horse to gallop into Chapter 45 as soon as this blog comes to a stopping point.

Meanwhile, down the line, I’m pondering a baseball novel. Maybe a few more baseball fans still read more than 140 characters at a time.

Okay, that’s the stopping point. It’s the best I can do at the moment.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

The Years Disappear, If Only Briefly

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, October 22, 2017, 11:20 a.m.

I never took a note. I never snapped a photo. I didn’t bring any business cards. I went to a football game.

By Monte Dutton

None of the above is unusual for most people. Oh, wait. Maybe it is. Sportswriters, or writers of any kind, for that matter, are not alone in writing, or taking pictures, or spreading the words and the images as far and wide as possible, anymore. Everyone knows the art of 140 characters. I just know the art beyond a little better.

It was Furman University homecoming. It was the first time in a while I’ve been back to clap to the fight song and sing the words I remember to the alma mater. A mountain city is her home / A mountain river laves her feet! Campus, beautiful though it be, is nestled in the foothills, and the mountain river, the Reedy, winds its way through downtown Greenville, where the campus was well over half a century ago. A manmade laaaaake laves her feet!

Most people maintain rich, loving memories of their school, and rally, sons and daughters dear / ’Round our dear alma maaahhhhter! Coincidentally, they are also prone to eating, drinking, and being merry.

One of my more impressive decisions was the realization that, though I loved it, I was really over my head playing football in high school. I was at Furman, first as a student and then working in the sports information office, for most of a decade that was well over three of them ago. It was the golden age of Paladin football, and I was fortunate to be friends with many of the giants who come back to walk the campus now. Mostly, they treat me as if I was somebody, too.

It’s been my impression that, at large schools, homecoming is, yes, a grand event, but still just another home game, the stadium no more packed than usual, though the big schools typically tilt the odds by playing a school they anticipate defeating, and homecoming may pack a house that otherwise might be fringed with empty seats.

The schools that I frequent – Furman, my dear alma maahhhter, and Presbyterian, the hometown college – are populated on homecomings with throngs of people who don’t get back every week but do so diligently for homecoming.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

The Paladins, coached now by Clay Hendrix, played the Mercer Bears, coached by Bobby Lamb. Clay and Bobby once played guard and quarterback, respectively, for a Furman team that advanced to the Division I-AA (now FCS) national championship game in 1985. They also played guard and quarterback, respectively, in high school down in Commerce, Georgia. Bobby is a former Furman head coach. Clay is in his first year, having been lured back to dear alma maahhhter this year from the Air Force Academy, where he coached the offensive line for 10 years and was associate head coach for seven.

It was a marvelous game. Furman won, 28-21, and it was in doubt until the final desperation Mercer aerial was intercepted in the end zone. Clay lost in the final seconds of each of his first two games as Furman head coach. Then North Carolina State throttled the Paladins, as expected. Now the team has won five straight games and is 4-1 in the Southern Conference.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Many drinks were hoisted. Many tales were told. The day was long and rewarding. Fifty-somethings became twenty-somethings. This the grueling nature of the weekend required.

I hesitate to mention names because I would leave some out, and I’m sure I’d have to mention a hundred to do it justice, plus, there’s the matter of my not taking any photos. I was weary when I got there because I had tramped around covering a fruitless high school game on the road the night before and didn’t get much sleep ruminating about it. My right knee and leg were acting up, so it probably helped, if not medically then subconsciously, to lubricate them. Perception may not be reality, but it helps.

Many tales, some with a considerable degree of truth, were told. I, in fact, told many of them. I renewed acquaintances with people I saw last month and people I saw last century. I drank beer from Costco and beer from Germany. Though the exemplary young men of today gave a concerted effort on offense and defense, Mercer’s fate was superstitiously sealed in a ritual imbibing of purple shots before the kickoff about two hundred yards from the sacred grounds of Paladin Stadium.

Clemson, South Carolina, and, yes, Presbyterian, were all off renewing their vigor for the succeeding weeks. Robbie Caldwell, now Clemson offensive line coach of growing legend, and I became friends when he was a Furman graduate assistant coach and I was an equipment manager. We hardly talked at all about the Tigers. We talked about the time we had to hot-wire the van to get back from Appalachian State.

The first time I met Sam Wyche, I was picking up a box of chinstraps from his (and Billy Turner’s) sporting-goods store on Poinsett Highway. He went on to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. Jimmy Satterfield, the coach who led the Paladins to the national championship in 1988, was there, and it was the first time this century I talked to him.

Good friends. Great oldies. I could have walked up the hill and partied all night long, but I opted for the security and predictability of home. I wouldn’t trade the day for a literary agent and a publishing deal, but it’s the day after now, and they sure would be nice.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.