Foundered on the Rocks of Paradise

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 25, 2019, 12:52 p.m.

Monte Dutton

I’ve been reading three books at the same time. One is in hardcover. One is in my Kindle. One is in my phone. The last two could be read in either. For no apparent reason, I read one strictly in one and one strictly in the other.

My ninth novel is on hiatus. I think about it constantly. It’s going to take off like a rocket when it takes off at all. I’m very occupied. I have much to do each day. It’s hard to open a manuscript, write three paragraphs, and set it aside. Some people can do it. I need time for at least eight pages.

Soon. When a free-lance assignment is done. When the taxes are filed. Soon. Soon. Soon. When. When. When. It’s. Going. To. Happen.

In the face of all this, I am having a creative awakening. I’ve really enjoyed music. For more than a year now, I’ve had a Facebook Live (Monte.Dutton) show each Sunday night, usually at 8 p.m. EDT. I sing and play guitar. I talk about the NASCAR race. I mention the latest small-town eccentricities. I tell folks where they can find my blogs and books. I encourage them to contribute to my Patreon page.

Mostly, though, I just have fun.

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Have you noticed that people have, in general, become more contentious? Perhaps politics and sports set the tone, but people seem to be willing to argue about anything. They eavesdrop on other conversations, itching for an opportunity to join in.

What? Y’all talking about Trump?

No. We’re talking about trumpets. I like them in “Ring of Fire.” You know. The Johnny Cash song.

Oh.

At an interview the other day, I managed to get in a debate over the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma. We were talking about trumpets, of course, and I mentioned that I wrote novels.

What do you think about the Oxford comma?

I interchange.

What?

I interchange. When I’m writing fiction, I use it. When I’m writing journalism, I don’t.

That makes no sense.

It’s a matter of style. It’s used in fiction. It’s not in journalism.

Oh, okay. It just seems like you should be consistent.

You’re a lawyer. That’s why you like the Oxford comma. I like it, too. I just go by established rules.

With a novel to finish, I spent the weekend on sports rundowns and schedules, reading, and idly trying to find close endings in college basketball games. I edited obituaries, compiled arrest reports, and inquired about the circumstances of various wrecks and crimes. I watched stock car racing more closely than anything else because I like it, I used to write about it for a living, and Martinsville was a track I particularly liked. I liked this race, too, and even wished occasionally I was there.

I’m in the conflicted state of being both content and unsettled. They’re like The Odd Couple, sniping at each other over the weekly card game.

 

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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Oh, Wow

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 15, 2019, 12:22 p.m.

Monte Dutton

Oh, wow.

We say, “oh, wow,” too much.

The last time North Carolina went 3-0 against Duke was 1975-76.

Oh, wow. Wait a minute. The Tar Heels and the Blue Devils don’t play in basketball three times every year.

This is the first Clemson football team ever to win 15 games in a season.

Oh, wow. The 1981 Clemson team also won the national championship and every game. It was 12-0. Back then there weren’t 12 regular-season games, then the conference championship, then two playoff games. It was regular season, then a bowl game, but 12-0 was as good as those Tigers could get.

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Kyle Busch is on the verge of winning 200 races in NASCAR’s “three major series,” tying the great Richard Petty.

Oh, wow. Petty won his 200 in the top series. Busch has 52.

Hudson Swafford has won more money playing professional golf ($5,824,805) than Jack Nicklaus ($5,734,031).

Oh, wow. Swafford won the 2017 CareerBuilder Challenge and earned $1,044,000. Nicklaus won the 1962 U.S. Open and earned $17,500.

We’ve stopped thinking. In part, it may be because we have stopped reading. It seems that we are more likely to accept statements on blind faith when they are told to us.

“Nobody in history has done more than me in his first two years,” Donald Trump says over and over and over, world without end, amen.

Oh, wow.

 

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.

Time Passages

U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, North Carolina (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 10:09 a.m.

Monte Dutton

I guess most people actually do have similar experiences. Class reunions. I’ve only been to one of those, the 10th, and I made a spectacle of myself that I don’t regret much because I was much younger, and it was roughly what I was supposed to do at that age.

My weekend seemed pretty unique, though.

Thirty-four years ago, I worked in the athletics department of Furman University. Some people kid about being on “the eight-year plan,” but I graduated in four. Then I was a graduate assistant for a year, left for my first newspaper job and returned for three more years. In other words, I was at Furman for eight years in a span of nine.

A highlight of those years was the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament. I went there last Friday and Saturday. It was in the same arena, 34 years after my last previous visit. Perhaps you’ve heard of a sense of deja vu? I spent a weekend of deja vu.

Few were the people I knew. Some could have been children of people I knew. Several I knew from my two decades traveling the country to write about stock car racing.

I spent a lot of time studying. Some people I recognized but couldn’t remember their names. Some I knew the name but wasn’t sure it was the same guy.

Hey, is that so-and-so?

Nah. He’s dead. That’s the A.D. at Samford.

Oh.

There’s that slow realization.

Man, so-and-so’s getting old. Oh, wait. I haven’t seen him in 34 years. I’m getting old, too.

It’s not so bad with people you see every year or five.

One guy definitely looked familiar. I couldn’t tune in, though. I couldn’t get my mind off it. Then I was strolling around U.S. Cellular Center and saw him with a headset on, describing a game, and I realized it was Jim Reynolds, longtime (now) voice of the Chattanooga Mocs. I never got to speak to him. The Mocs lost. I’ll make sure to do so next time I see him. In 34 years.

Bourbon Branch
Bourbon Branch

I can’t remember the last time I went anywhere that wasn’t an assignment. A ballgame. A book signing. I earned my media pass by writing three blogs. I spent a night in a motel room for the first time in a couple years. It wasn’t much of a thrill. I checked in at 2 a.m. and checked out at 9. On Friday afternoon, I left Asheville for Knoxville so that I could drive through fog and rain to see a close friend play with a band. That led to the 2 a.m. check-in. It was a cheap room. All I did there was sleep, shave, and shower.

Mike Young coached Wofford to the SoCon title.

The basketball started at noon. The Paladins played in the last game. Then I repeated the drive through fog and rain, though this time almost completely downhill back to South Carolina. I wanted to stay in Asheville for the Sunday semifinals. I had to get home.

I work every day. I’ve been catching up ever since.

Asheville is a cool city. This was evident when I was looking at it from my truck through the rain. It’s less than two hours away. I should go there for more than just basketball.

The basketball was good, though.

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.

Less Wounded Now

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, March 6, 2019, 12:15 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Treatment is going well.

Not rehab for any addiction. Not radiation or chemo or anything like that. No shrink.

The wound on my leg is almost healed. Soon I won’t have to surround it in clear plastic every time I take a shower. A man reaches a certain age where, at any time, he is one germ away from disaster. He doesn’t just shake it off by putting iodine and a bandage over it. He finds out that the treatments of youth don’t work anymore and, according to online accounts, didn’t work in the first place.

(Pixabay photo)

Imagine abandoning the lessons of youth: Mercurochrome doesn’t burn. Iodine burns a little. Merthiolate burns like hell. That was all a kid needed to know. I spent the majority of my raising with skint elbows and knees. Now it’s a medical emergency.

Learning that I don’t have to go back to the Wound Center on Friday meant that Tuesday was going to be a fine day no matter what else happened. Now it’s an ointment world, a -sporin world. Neosporin. Polysporin. Otisporin. Neomycin. Polymyxin. Cortisporin. Bacitracin.

Whatever happened to Bactine? I miss Aspergum.

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I drove up to Laurens to see what happened in the county’s municipal elections early so that I could go by the Coffee Roost and have Peg Cwiakala fix me up whatever she wanted me to sip and just chat amiably with the other people there. Then I walked down the street to Roma’s, where the lasagna special hit the spot.

I’m going to miss John Stankus, who failed to win reelection as mayor of Laurens. He’s a straight-up guy. I like Nathan Senn, the young attorney who defeated him, but I’m accustomed to Stankus.

John Stankus (left) performing the duties of his office.

“All in favor, say aye. All opposed, like sign.” Seldom was anyone opposed. I always wondered if “like sign” meant those opposed should say “aye,” too. The councilors who were opposed were seldom adamant enough to say it loudly enough for me to tell whether, they voted “aye” or “nay.” I’d have enjoyed the occasional “in the name of God, no.”

Stankus-led meetings were seldom long, and the issues were seldom difficult to understand.

Gerald Abercrombie

I’ve also enjoyed my monthly assignments at the Commission of Public Works. Commissioner Gerald Abercrombie and I talk stock car racing. General manager John Young couldn’t be more helpful.

As I tell people often, I know Clinton. I’m learning Laurens.

The school boards are a little more complicated. There’s a lot of song and dance, and it’s difficult to separate the school wheat from the school chaff. I grew up with the Clinton (District 56) superintendent, David O’Shields. I often talk everything but school business with the District 55 superintendent, Stephen Peters, particularly when I see him away from the board meetings. I’ve taken notes at Raider basketball games sitting next to three different board members at various times.

The 19 percent of the registered voters who chose to do so unseated Stankus and the eight-term incumbent of Gray Court, John Carter.

One Clinton councilman I’ve known most of my life, Jimmy Young, lost, and a councilwoman I’ve known that long, Shirley Jenkins, won. Shirley used to work with my mother. She’s a nice lady, and it’s reassuring to know this is why she got 57 percent of the vote in a field of five.

This beat – all the news and sports, or as much as I can get around to, in Laurens County – isn’t different from two decades of stock car racing in all ways. Most of the people I like, and the few I don’t like, I have no animosity toward. I just don’t like them. I don’t dislike them, either.

Familiarity may breed contempt in a failing marriage but not in this job.

Or, at least, that’s the way I see it today.

My wound’s almost healed.

 

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 Might Have Been

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 2, 2019, 3:13 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Friday, I was in a prospective episode of Seinfeld.

The basic premise of the long-running show, now commonly syndicated, is “one thing leads to another in the darndest ways.” Such as, what if Cosmo Kramer hit a golf ball that landed in the blowhole of a whale?

Hilarity ensues.

I had a doctor’s appointment, which mainly consisted of a change of bandages on my slow-healing leg. I don’t get out much, other than to a meeting or a ballgame, so I’ve become quite the personality in the cafe booths, waiting rooms and grocery-store aisles of the county. A waiting room is not the place to ask someone “how you doing?” because it’s entirely possible he or she will tell you.

So a lady told me about how much pain she was in, and how her mother had always told her that God would punish her for her sins, and she couldn’t understand what she had done that was so bad for God to treat her this way.

I was in a great mood, but it wasn’t the time or place for humor. I nodded solemnly and wished I had just rested in the comfort of social media on my cell. I could have read a chapter of a novel that is approximately a teen-aged version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest instead of asking a lady in a wheelchair how she was doing.

It would have been better, and funnier, if she had said, “I’m in a wheelchair. I’m thinking about running a marathon tomorrow. How do you think I’m doing?”

But no.

The lady, who was accompanied by her apparent husband, received her call for treatment. Her husband sat his coffee mug on the table and said he would pick it up on the way out, and I admired him because I knew that if I left a mug in the waiting room, there’s no way I would have remembered to get it after seeing the doctor.

I got to use my sense of humor with the other woman in the waiting room, and then my summons came, and I got back to my joke-cracking self while I was told my wound continued to shrink, and I probably wouldn’t have to come twice a week much longer. This didn’t prevent me from pretending I was in a war movie when the doctor came in.

“I can take it, Doc,” I said. “Shoot it to me straight. Is it going to have to come off?”

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“Your shoe is already off,” he said. “In a minute, you can put it back on.”

Deadpan. Doctors are deadpan.

On the way out, the lady in the office, who always reminds me of my next appointment, handed me the coffee mug.

“Did you leave this coffee mug in the waiting room?”

“No, this isn’t mine,” I said. “The fellow sitting next to me put it on the table and said he’d pick it up on the way out.”

I believe I was gone before the man and his ailing wife came out, but it occurred to me that it could have been a Seinfeld episode. If they had gotten through before me, he might have thought I’d stolen his mug, and the older I get, the more I understand the importance of a good insulated coffee mug. I have two and definitely prefer one to the other, even though all the print has been rubbed off the metallic favorite and other one was presented to me as a modest gift from my alma mater.

So, a la Seinfeld, he might have held a grudge against me, much like the Soup Nazi, and at the worst time, he would get a chance for the big payback for a slight I didn’t know I’d rendered.

Hilarity would ensue.

But it didn’t. It’s just a blog.

 

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.

Home at the Waffle House

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 16, 2019, 12:14 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Waffle House was hopping this morning. I could barely hear Olivia Newton-John over the din.

You’re the one that I want, you’re the one that I want, uh, uh, uh-uhhhh …

Keith and Robert Wooten – for some reason, everybody called Robert “Dan” in high school – were finishing up, and Keith and I talked about the 1977-78 reunion of two of Clinton’s state championship teams, both of which he was on.

When the Wooten brothers left, an elderly lady replaced them on the stool around the corner from mine. She was a woman I know but not by name. When I said hi and she said hi back, I think both of us had that feeling. We knew we were supposed to know each other. What I’m guessing were her granddaughter and significant other arrived soon to relieve the mild tension of name non-recognition. It’s always easier among men. That’s because it’s awkward to refer to an elderly lady as “bud” or “big time.”

Have you noticed that people who call you “pal” usually aren’t?

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One waitress with one kind of red hair delivered my ham-and-cheese omelet. I was still getting the grits just right when another waitress with another kind of red hair dropped by and asked, “You done?”

I didn’t say, “Ma’am, I haven’t even started,” but the look in my eyes said it for me. She just wanted to leave the check, and I got a prompt coffee refill out of the deal.

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Most days I fix breakfast at home, but I like to have it at a place where a man can take his time and chat with passers by. As a general rule, when I have work that takes me out of the house in the morning, I stop somewhere for breakfast first. Usually it’s Steamers on the Square, but it’s not open on Saturdays and Waffle House is a similar, if noisier, alternative. I like Waffle House. After a long night of sportswriting and picture taking in a somewhat distant town, I got up earlier than I should have and decided to go on a late-morning expedition that ended up with me test-driving a vehicle. I ditched the grocery store even though there’s almost nothing at the house.

Now NASCAR coverage of some sort is on TV and I’m paying attention to this blog instead, but I think I’m going to watch the race this afternoon, even though the nation’s leading scorer is playing for Campbell at Presbyterian College. That way I can chip away at work – people don’t stop dying and getting arrested even when the nation’s leading scorer is in town – and wait for the wrecks on TV.

A hometown is a place of soothing consistency. I must have said this a hundred times. It’s not that I love Clinton. It’s that I know it.

 

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.

The More the Change, the More It Remains the Same

Clash practice. (NASCAR Media)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, February 10, 2019, 11:47 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The season is here. In just a few minutes, Fox will inexplicably place Daytona 500 pole qualifying on network TV while relegating the Something Something Something Clash, an actual race, to Fox Sports cable/satellite/etc.

Okay, officially it’s the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, descended from Busch.

Qualifying is often tedious, particularly in Daytona Beach and Talladega, which are known as “restrictor-plate” tracks, even though the latest round of rules changes have apparently been transacted with the intent of making most of the races that way.

Kyle Busch has criticized the changes. (NASCAR Media)

The Daytona 500, on February 17, and the Clash are unlikely to be much different. Have you noticed that when NASCAR changes rules, it rarely changes them in a way likely to affect Daytona and Talladega? Sometimes they do, but it’s not the plan. Changes are generally designed to make everything more like Daytona and Talladega. Even the playoffs (nee Chase) were designed to turn the season into a gigantic plate race.

NASCAR considers the Daytona 500 to be its ideal.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 last year. (NASCAR Media)

The season’s first and biggest race often has little to do with the rest of the season. Austin Dillon won it last year. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second. Both drove Chevrolets. Dillon, Wallace and Chevrolets were seldom heard from again.

Perhaps all that will be different this year. Plate races will be more important because there are going to be a lot more of them. Do the fans rally around races with closer finishes, or do the changes cost Daytona and Talladega their uniqueness?

In answer to fans who complain that more and more of what they see is just alike, NASCAR officials are making even more of what they see just alike. It’s been the master plan since the 1980s. It just took a few decades for it to really kick in.

They’ve got a lot of smart people working in Daytona Beach and Charlotte. Maybe too smart.

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.