As the Thunder Rolled and the Lightning Struck

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 2, 2018, 11:02 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I thought I had plenty of time to get to Clinton High School’s graduation ceremonies. I got my hair cut, and I didn’t make myself an appointment online, and the lady said it would probably be at least a 40-minute wait. Haircuts are spur-of-the-moment decisions for me. I can’t imagine making the call with time to make a reservation. I read a novel on my phone while I waited.

Then I decided to use an Arby’s coupon and eat before the assignment. While standing in line, I heard the manager say they were out of roast beef.

Arby’s. Out of roast beef.

I went back to the truck and fetched another coupon. It took what seemed to me an unbelievable amount of time for my food to be prepared. This led to my latest blanket observation. Alleged “fast food” joints have diversified too much. Employees whose wage is for making burgers – or roast beef sandwiches – have a hard time adjusting to what is sometimes absurdly referred to as “artisanal” food.

An artisan is a worker in a skilled trade who makes things by hands. Artisans don’t make minimum wage, and the trade should be more advanced than sandwiches or anything deep-fried.

On Thursday, I had a hamburger steak plate at Wilson’s Snack Bar. That’s the way fast food is supposed to be prepared and served. Damn coupons. I’d probably never go to food franchises if coupons didn’t exist. I can’t remember the last time I ate at Hardee’s without using a coupon.

Five paragraphs ago, I set out to write about a high school graduation.

I barely got there in time for the ceremony and was just ahead of a fierce thunderstorm that started pelting the parking lot as soon as I got under the roof out front of Clinton’s gymnasium. At first, I couldn’t remember whether I’d been at a high school graduation since I was in one, but then, I instinctively walked past the band – I guess when it’s a commencement, it’s an orchestra – and in front of the grandstands, and I got a sense of deja vu because I sat in exactly the same place I had sat when I wrote about the ceremonies a year earlier. I started chatting with my old football coach and the daughter of my old line coach, who has died in the intervening year, and this was exactly what I had done the year before, as well.

A senior named Kymaih Cherbrell Fant sang the national anthem with the orchestra’s accompaniment, and at precisely the time she sang about “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” thunder from outside rumbled and led me to think of Garth Brooks singing about when “the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes.”

Were I a Clinton High senior now and not 42 years ago, I would probably consider that some kind of omen. What kind of omen, I would have no idea, but I would have thought there was something significant to it.

The valedictorian and salutatorian wore white “stoles,” and the high honor graduates wore gold ones. When I wore a gold one, I didn’t know it was a stole. I might have called it a sash. Now it looks more like a tie President Trump might wear, lying over his shoulders until he ties it.

I studied my program. For a moment I thought one of the graduates was named Converse “I Can” Grant, but then I realized that was a grant from Converse College earned by Ny’Kera Hall. Among the graduates was an Elizabeth Jones and a William Scott, but also an Aerial Nicole Pagano and a Markevius Dyshavion Dandy. The class had a Kayleigh, a Haleigh and a Hali. I wish there had been a Rayleigh because my class had a Ray Lee. Other notable names were Janevelyn, Jermainia, Vontavius, Ta’Volice, Deopaleak, Quintarius, Jamieyon, Aquivius, Jaqueria, Adre’vious, Tyrekkus, Clairemeshia, Tytrevious, Rodkeidrick, Marke’Quis and Myasia.

Sportswriters, in particular, take note of exotic names because they have to type what are known as box scores. These kids have to write their names most every day. The least journalists can do is get them right once.

In spite of the fact that high tech in my high school years was a pinball machine at the bowling alley, I somehow feel as if I can relate to seniors of today. Observing them at close range leads me to believe that kids really only change about 10-20 percent from any given generation to another. The difference is exaggerated in the idealized vision each generation has of its own.

I want these kids to hustle it up. I want them to take over the world. They can’t possibly screw it up as much as we did.

Here’s the story I wrote at GoLaurens/GoClinton.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at 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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