It’s the World Gone Crazy …

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 17, 2018, 3:02 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I don’t care whether I hear Laurel or Yanny. I don’t know where I go to hear it, or, for that matter, them. Whoever or whichever they are. As I get older, I get less inquisitive about such matters.

I am not without curiosity. I just reserve mine for pressing issues such as how many more KFC commercials I can watch before I snap and go on a three-state rampage.

The truth is that no man knows when it’s coming.

Friday, May 17, 2018, 11:24 a.m.

Yesterday was a no-go. I just didn’t have the inclination to forge on with little on my mind. Sometimes I stumble into coherence. I was sipping coffee uptown. In the absence of anything worthwhile, I did busy work.

The busy life ain’t no good life, but it’s my life.

That’s the way it goes, right? Or is that just the way it is?

The moon may have a little to do with it.

Suddenly there is coincidence in what little I wrote yesterday. Even humor is dangerous. One would think danger humorless.

There’s been another school shooting. Santa Fe, Texas.

A few weeks ago, a kid here was arrested after posting somewhere that he was going to “shoot a school.” His parents turned him in and wrote a statement about how their son had suffered from mental illness for many years.

“Shoot a school.” Forty years ago, someone would have spray-painted the wall of a mobile unit at 3 a.m. before the big football game that night.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

It happens enough now that everyone worries about it. Just not enough to do anything sensible. They get sensible for a few days, but that’s just “fake news.”

One of our candidates for governor was “the conservative buzz saw” until her latest round of ads. Now she’s loading her pistol and shooting a rattlesnake. That makes her “the conservative shot for governor.”

Meanwhile, Catherine Templeton’s campaign (presumably, lawyers are involved) has sent “cease-and-desist” letters to media outlets demanding that they don’t run certain commercials supporting the election campaign of incumbent Henry McMaster. It’s not technically a reelection campaign since McMaster was appointed by President Trump to succeed Nikki Haley.

What’s amazing is that any political ad could possibly go too far. Here. In South Carolina. It’s like finding a snow-cone stand in hell.

But I digress.

I don’t believe anything in commercials anymore. It’s popular to jump up and down about “fake news,” which, generally, in a few days, becomes “news.”

(Steven Novak cover)

I don’t accept George Hamilton as Colonel Sanders. It ticks me off every time Reba McEntire goes “1 … 2 … 3” and doesn’t sing. A lot of commercials have been embedded in supposedly, uh, independent broadcasts. One of these agents is named Michael Waltrip.

Life requires a sense of the absurd. That’s what was required for me to write my latest novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s not a comedy, but it is a comedy of errors. The central character is an out-of-work sportswriter.

If only I knew any out-of-work sportswriters, the novel would be more authentic.

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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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‘I’m Mad as Hell and … So Is Everybody Else’

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:22 a.m.

Sameness has become weird, which is unsustainable because if the weird becomes the same, it will cease to be the weird.

One would think there would be limits. To this point, one would be wrong.

Life reminds me of a Tom T. Hall song called “Everything from Jesus to Jack Daniel’s.”

It’s the all-new American diet / Trying everything from Jesus to Jack Daniel’s / You get on it and your’re on it / For the rest of your life.

On the up side, Hall’s conclusion was that the secret to a better life was trying a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of Jack Daniel’s, and leaving out everything in between. I could see me trying that defense at the Pearly Gates.

It seems as if everyone is just a little bit madder, and a little less reasonable, and a little bit less inclined to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they might be wrong about something.

Curt Sapanaugh and Bobby Austin wrote a song for Glen Campbell called “Try a Little Kindness.”

And if you try a little kindness / Then you’ll overlook the blindness / Of narrow-minded people / On their narrow-minded streets.

This song would not chart today.

On Facebook the other day, someone posted a gaudy missive about how people who drive slow on the Interstate in the left lane ought to be executed. I thumbed down the feed. No one seemed inclined to dissent. Just to make a small, insignificant stand for patience and civility, I posted:

Relax. You’ll get there. Go easy.

I don’t think anyone even “liked” it. I imagine my grandmother – she’s been gone 15 years now, and thank God she didn’t live to see this – having a noose placed around her neck as she’s being dragged from her Plymouth Reliant.

“I had my flickers on!”

“Yeah, right, Granny. For fifteen miles! You had every chance to mend your ways.”

It seems as if everyone is either mad at Trump or about him. I never hear anyone say, “Well, he is a bit much, don’t you think?”

Everything is becoming a sport, with the exception that little of it is sporting.

I understand this. I’m this way about sports. I love the Boston Red Sox. I despise the New York Yankees. Some Yankees I respect. I am incapable of liking them as long as they are Yankees. Occasionally, I watch Yankee games but only as long as I think they might lose.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

But it’s a sport. It’s a game. Imagine hopscotch played for millions. In spite of the millions, it’s still supposed to be fun.

Kris Kristofferson wrote that “everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on.”

As far as human impulses, ingrained for centuries, toward mindless hatred, sport is a comparatively harmless venue. It’s a rationalization but a fairly good one.

It’s a great time to be a hypocrite here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Hypocrisy is so prevalent and institutionalized that hypocrites are spending most of their time calling other hypocrites out. Haters hate the haters who hate them.

Freedom is going so wild I’m afraid they’re going to do something about it.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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 Right Stuff of the Vanities

By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 3:38 p.m.

For many years, I thought The Right Stuff was the best non-fiction book I ever read. Now I consider it neck and neck with William Prochnau’s Once Upon a Distant War.

When I wrote a novel about a pot-smoking songwriter fleeing the feds, I used The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for reference. I’ve never dropped acid. I’ve been to Oregon. Riley Mansfield ate mushrooms there. I thought reading was a better way to do research than taking hallucinogens.

I’ve gotten old.

When Tom Wolfe died, I lost a go-to guy. John Steinbeck was another, but he was gone before I went. I miss Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Wallace Stegner, Larry Brown and Graham Greene, too. I am a writer, which means it’s hard to like others. It makes me jealous that they’re so great and I’m not.

I liked The Right Stuff movie twice as much because I read the book first. I liked The Bonfire of the Vanities half as much because I read it, Wolfe’s first novel, before I saw that putrescent movie.

Wolfe wasn’t a dispassionate observer. He was a passionate observer. He didn’t party with Ken Kesey or guzzle shine with Junior Johnson. He watched the world around him and then ripped it to shreds.

Has ever there been a great writer who was also so flamboyant?

A deep regret of mine is that I never met Pat Conroy. I should have. I didn’t care enough to make it happen. I’ve never had much interested in autographs. Harry Gant was the same way, even though he cheerfully signed them.

“Beats all I ever seen,” the stock car racing yeoman told me. “I just don’t get it. I loved Elvis, but I never cared nothing for how he signed his name.”

I did meet Wolfe. He and I had a brief chat. It was about Stegner, who helped teach Wolfe how to write and me how to understand my own father. Stegner was an actual teacher of Wolfe’s. I just read his novels.

Wolfe had a marvelous sense of the absurd. Perhaps a fat sportswriter in a NASCAR press box asking him about a Western literary figure piqued Wolfe’s taste for the absurd, but he stopped and engaged me on the subject of Stegner’s differences with Kesey.

It was marvelous. It wasn’t just marvelous. He actually agreed with what I had to say about Kesey, Stegner, the Beat Generation and Larry McMurtry. He seemed to enjoy talking with me, and, if he didn’t, I’m glad he hid it so well.

About all I learned from the obituary was that Wolfe wrote one final novel I haven’t read.

I’ll be on it soon.

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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 Charm of Sports this Spring

In the Upper State, for sure. Alexander Windsor (left) signals No. 1. His No. 2 doubles partner is Kyler Simmons. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 10, 2018, 10:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Spring sports are winding down. Here in town, and throughout this end of Laurens County, all we have left are some girls competing in the state track meet and boys playing for the state tennis championship.

Even football, for which the town is known, rises and falls, and, at the moment, is still trying to rise again. Tennis is always good. While the Red Devils have not won a state championship since 2000, they are in the playoffs every year and won the Upper State championship for the second straight year on Wednesday.

Connor Donley, the seventh grader at No. 4.

Hanahan, state champion the past two years, fell in the Lower State finals to Bishop England, another Charleston school, so Clinton will play the Bishops on Saturday in Cayce, which adjoins Columbia and apparentlyhas a nice tennis center.

I have enjoyed soccer and tennis in particular this spring. Clinton is heretofore not noted for soccer, but the team finished second in the region and lost a heartbreaker, 1-0, in the playoffs. The previous leading scorer missed the whole season due to a knee injury, and he will be back next year, and I expect the Red Devils will be better.

Isaac McMillan

The tennis courts have been a comfortable place to monitor the action, probably doubly relaxing due to the usual lack of drama. I saw Clinton lose a team match – a 4-3 heartbreaker to Riverside – but in every other match I witnessed, including the Upper State final, the Red Devils won every single individual contest.

Ike Waldron

The No. 1 player, Isaac MacMillan, is an unflappable senior. The No. 2 player, Ike Waldron, is a freshman whose father graduated from Clinton High with me. Chuck Waldron is a tireless force for tennis, to which he has dedicated his life. He coaches youth tennis and has something to do with why the high school team stays strong.

After the match, I asked the longtime and charming coach, Clovis Simmons, to describe the 6-0 victory over Camden in one word.

“Awesome.”

Clovis Simmons (middle) with No. 5 singles Anders Orr.

I knew it was coming.

“But don’t put that.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Awesome is not something you would ever say.”

“No.”

The success brought with it the Voice of the Red Devils, Buddy Bridges, to begin the matches with stirring introductions of the competitors. Everyone else on the team represented Clinton High School except the No. 3 singles player, Tyler Trevino, who is specifically from Joanna because Buddy is from Joanna and knows it is a place like no other.

Joanna’s Tyler Trevino

This happens to be true. Among its spirited populace lies a disproportionate role in the success of sports teams at Clinton High School. The cotton mill lies in ruins, but the spirit lives on.

The football team is finishing spring practice next week, and the spring game is next Friday night at 6. Last year I got bowled over taking pictures on the sideline, which might make me sit in the lower rows of the Wilder Stadium grandstands so that I can take notes at the same time because what stats I get will be the ones I keep myself.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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.

If Only News Had a Scorebook and a Means of Keeping Score

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, 11:03 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

My preferred form of journalism is sports. It’s the source of most of my experience. Recently I’ve been writing lots of news. It’s interesting. I derive some satisfaction. I’ve done it before from time to time.

On Tuesday night, sitting in the home grandstand of Wilder Stadium and snapping occasional photos of the Class 3A playoff soccer match between Clinton and West-Oak, I felt more at home. Sports involves more human drama and less splitting of hairs and reading between lines.

Outcomes are more obvious. A football player either makes a catch, or he doesn’t. When a basketball player stands at the free-throw line with three seconds left, he makes it, or he doesn’t. Even as thousands watch, it’s a matter of the player, and a ball, and a hoop 10 feet off the floor.

It’s just a game. Or a match. Or a race. The far-reaching effects on the world, or the country, or the state, or the county, or the schools, are usually not directly relevant.

The Duke of Ellington supposedly said, “The Battle of Waterloo was on the fields of Eton,” but he claimed he didn’t. I found an account that the original words were written by Montalembert in something called “De l’Avenir Politique de l’Angleterre.”

That’s Charles Forbes Rene de Montalembert. I can’t say I know anything else of him.

Suffice it to say that sports is way over on one end of micro, and news is way over on the other end of macro.

I’d rather watch a walk-off homer than wonder what really happened in executive session.

But “these are times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote those seven simple words in The American Crisis, pamphlets published at the dawn of the Revolution, long before Trump, nuclear weapons, illegal immigration and the opioid crisis.

I will never get the days of Friday and Monday back, but almost all of them were spent making calls, leaving messages, writing texts, interviewing by phone, writing new information, updating the story each time it arrived, and thinking it was done before it was. Now it’s just done for now. It’s hibernating until next year, when the General Assembly will undoubtedly take it up again.

With apologies to Robert Earl Keen Jr., the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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.

Guilty Pleasure in a Guilty Pleasure

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, 1:25 p.m.

Green Goes Forth. The protagonist and narrator is a guy named Joe Green. He grows “green,” which is one of many code words and synonyms for cannabis. No need to write a paragraph of them. The title is a double entendre.

By Monte Dutton

Appropriately, Green Goes Forth is a relaxed thriller. Green has quite the adventure, taking it as it comes. Not much bothers him.

The strangest coincidence sets it off. Green, a very close to innocent bystander, sneezes in a phone conversation that is being monitored by the FBI. This implicates him with criminals and makes him sought after to rat his uncle out.

He has to bolt. He has to go undercover. The feds definitely want him, and the mobsters might. Green has to give up a college degree and the comfort zone of home in Washington, D.C., a girlfriend and a dog. He particularly misses the dog.

An old compadre takes him in. He arrives in Wine Country. It’s also Weed Country. It’s the late 1970s. They went hand in hand, then as now. Reagan intervened in between. By the way, it’s fun for the reader to compare that time to this.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

If the reader accepts one premise – not only is pot not that bad; it’s good – then Bob Gilbert’s novel is damned near inspirational. Most of the characters are pleasant. Most of the bad guys aren’t so bad. No guilt or remorse is involved when Joe goes into the illegal pot business with his buddy. A man’s got to make a living, even when he’s in hiding.

The cops don’t go after them that hard. They come to terms with the rival dealer. With hard work and a few precautions, they don’t veer too near disaster, though the reader anticipates its approach a few times.

Joe makes his fortune in the Golden State and feels the lure of home. While out west, Joe becomes quite a bit more learned. He develops an understanding of literature he could barely fathom back east. Yet he returns there when the criminal heat subsides, carrying a bunch of cash and a general plan to distribute his Ghani Purp strain to the consumers in Our Nation’s Capitol.

He enters political society, finding the Republicans as likely as the Democrats to value his product. Then Joe opens his own used-book store, having developed a taste for the finer words of art.

Everything gonna be all right.

Green Goes Forth is a quick, casual read, though I didn’t read it quickly because I was immersed in my own writing. It whets the reader’s appetite without keeping him or her up until 3 a.m. It’s a tale to pick up when one’s favorite team is either well ahead or way behind. It’s useful to read a chapter on the phone while a dinner order is being prepared at a restaurant. I hesitate to call it “a beach read” only because that term has become maddeningly cliched.

I’m casually looking forward to another Bob Gilbert yarn about Joe Green.

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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.

It’s Only Words, and Words Are All I Have …

The Gateway Arch. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 25, 2018, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I drove past a message board that read:

FREE BLOOD PRESSURE!

If your blood is running low, they’ll pump it right up.

A government office has a sticker in the window of the front door.

NO CONCEALABLE WEAPONS

Forget about hiding a derringer in your boot, but if you’ve got a rifle that can’t possibly be concealed, come right in.

This is the curse of a writer. Such silly little misuses of the language bother him. Most people don’t put a second thought into flammable and inflammable meaning the same thing, or regardless and irregardless. They’ll nod politely, all the while thinking to themselves, I could care less.

They couldn’t care less. If they could care less, they probably would.

It gets dark later because of Daylight Saving Time. It’s not Daylight Savings Time. Daylight is not a bank.

Few are the times that it is necessary to utilize. Except in rare instances, use works fine. Most people say utilize because they want a bigger, not a better, word.

I hate signage. I prefer signs. If I go to a burger joint and the smallest drink is a large, and medium is big, and large is jumbo, well, the burgers better be good.

It’s a curse, this excessive attention to words. It makes watching sports on TV distracting.

Did you see that catch?

Yes, but the guy who caught it can’t literally fly.

Huh?

He can figuratively fly. If he could literally fly, he would be soaring around the light poles, squawking with the seagulls.

Whatever.

People say whatever to me a lot.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

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 are available for sale here.

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.