Just Trying to Accentuate the Positive

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, June 14, 2019, 12:22 p.m.

Monte Dutton

What is better now than it used to be?

Special K. Remember when kids jockeyed for position to get the best cereal ahead of their siblings from the Kellogg’s Snack Pack? Special K wasn’t special at all. It usually got thrown away. It was supposed to be healthy, which explained why no kid wanted it.

Nowadays, Special K is good. It has different flavors, and the crunchier flakes are mixed with dried strawberries, blueberries, vanilla and almond, etc.

I’m sure it’s not as healthy, but life is fatal. Everything will kill you. Some things slow it down. Some speed it up. Everything leads to your ultimate demise. If you lived a completely healthy life, my suspicion is that the stress would kill you.

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Damn the torpedos. Gimme two hot dogs, all the way.

TV is better, though, again, not better for you. It might reduce the world to chaos and disarray, but at least old movies and sports will anesthetize you as you plunge into that nether world of knowing just enough to be dangerous. Clever, not wise. Mistaken, not ignorant. Glory in the lowest of denominators.

My tastes and preferences are, of course, customized to my life, which has been going on for quite a while and left me resistant to change.

Not only have I never taken an Uber or a Lyft, but I haven’t even taken a taxi in 10 years. I can only imagine how bad air travel has grown. I flew all over the country for 20 years, and it got worse every year.

Worse seems much easier to discuss than better. I’ll try for a few more graphs, though.

Many of the world’s improvements are beyond my ability to comprehend. A fortnight is two weeks; Fortnite is an online video game. Apparently, you can save the world by killing zombie-like creatures. I’ve never killed zombie-like creatures, though I’ve encountered them at Krystal late at night.

Water isn’t better. It just costs money.

Writing books is better. Selling them is harder. In the mid-1980s, when I wrote my first, I spent hours at a library looking at microfilm. Now I can google “Dodge police car, 1940s” and look at one for the hero of my historical novel to drive. I’m mainly modern in the ways of my profession.

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Underwear is better. I still like the briefs to be cotton. I mistakenly bought a large number of boxer/briefs – a truly great idea, by the way – that were made of something like polyester. They still make me feel like I’m wearing panties, but I bought them, by gosh, and I’m going to wear them, damn it to hell, until they’re worn out, and they don’t wear out as fast as cotton, so, by being better, it’s actually worse.

Perhaps the Bellamy Brothers, David and Howard, sang it best:

He’s an old hippie / And he don’t know what to do / Should he hang on to the old? / Should he grab on to the new?

 

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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Twilight Gets Comfortable

Considering options at the taco truck. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, June 7, 2019, 11:49 a.m.

Monte Dutton

Uh, the Red Sox have won four in a row. The Warriors are down. So are the Bruins. Yesterday I asked the governor a few questions. I wrote about a high school graduation. I watched Clemson’s Tiger mascot entertain and pose with elementary-school children. I went to a city council meeting that was three hours total and two in executive session.

That’s just this week.

Life’s a blur. Today it’s going to rain. Tomorrow it’s going to rain. Sunday it’s going to rain. Monday it’s going to rain. Okay, life wasn’t really a blur. My days have been busy, but that’s always true.

Steamers (Monte Dutton photo)

How has life changed since it shifted from national to countywide?

It’s more consistent. Each morning I get up, charge the cell phone, put on some coffee, take some medication, turn on the news (or maybe an episode of Columbo or an old movie), sip the coffee, check the email and social media, and have breakfast. If I have an assignment or appointment early in the day, I eat breakfast at Steamers, but most days I fix breakfast for myself, and it’s almost the same. It’s almost the same at Steamers, too, except that I have a bagel at home and grits there.

In the afternoon, when not on assignment, I look up and edit the day’s obituaries, compile the arrest report and edit news releases so that they are ready for publication at GoLaurens/GoClinton.

In a small county, it’s amazing how often I see some people and amazing how seldom I see some others. Some places I dread, and some I relish.

Bristol (Monte Dutton photo)

In some ways, the NASCAR circuit I wrote about for 20 years was a traveling small county. One difference is that travel takes a lot of time. Air travel I can do without. Long drives — to Richmond and Martinsville, Va.; Daytona Beach and Homestead, Fla.; Hampton, Ga.; Talladega, Ala.; Bristol, Tenn.; Concord, N.C.; and Darlington, S.C. — I miss a lot. If offered a chance to write about NASCAR from the road and not the living room again, the only way I’d do it is if it were limited to places to which I could drive. I might even throw in Dover, Del., and Sparta, Ky., and the latter is a place where I once vowed never to return.

So I miss it a little.

‘… no more teachers’ dirty looks …’ (Monte Dutton photo)

I do like what I write about now, though. I’ve even cultivated an enjoyment for photography. It’s nice to anticipate what would go well with a story I’ve hardly contemplated. Pairing a photo of a kid getting his diploma, wearing shades and a goofy grin, with a headline that reads “One last walk across the LDHS stage …” and writing a story that fits, too, is a form of satisfaction I hadn’t experienced since I edited a NASCAR weekly in the ’90s.

Photography, in short, has evolved into more than a necessary evil. It’s long been my view that one cannot take photographs of an event and write about it without each detracting from the other. It’s true, just not as true as I thought. Politics is sometimes called the art of the possible. Journalism is, too.

Most of my days afford enough time to write blogs like this one, gear up on finishing that ninth novel, and take a break to play guitar or read a novel.

This year is the seventh since two decades of NASCAR ended suddenly and with little warning. Only now does what has changed seem normal.

 

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.

Up the Down Staircase

Monte Dutton photos

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, 11:07 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I am, under normal circumstances, annoyingly punctual, a legacy of my grandmother and my football coach. Most of my acquaintances are fashionably late. Many are the times I get antsy, complete my work in a hurry and go somewhere 45 minutes early.

It makes me frantic to be on time. Any time I drive somewhere, I factor in the possibility of a flat tire.

I was running at the back of the pack on empty all day Monday.

In the morning, more than the usual amount of news releases arrived to edit and prepare. “Monday, Monday,” as the Mamas and the Papas used to sing. I hoped to get up to Steamers for the debut of the new hamburger menu – this will explain why it was big news in Clinton – by 11, maybe 11:30, to beat what I knew would be the crowd. I got there in the middle of the rush, so much so that parking spaces were scarce. Lots of Clintonians, and a few Clintonians now living a half hour away, were anxious to enjoy again the wondrous burgers they hadn’t had in 20 years.

Me, too.

It was after one when I left for Ford Elementary School in Laurens, there to enjoy the motivational advice of an ex-Clemson football player, the Tiger mascot and a fan apparently well known as “The Hat” because he goes everywhere wearing a big, orange one, festooned with mementos of Tiger greatness.

Fortunately, the speakers were later than I.

I got back home at about 3:15, whereupon I tried and failed to write the two stories, edit the day’s obituaries and compile the list of the latest arrests that my job at GoLaurens/GoClinton requires.

Clinton City Council meetings have turned raucous and snide lately, which have turned them into spectator events. I’ve been to December Presbyterian College basketball games attended by fewer.

It was 10 minutes till the 6 o’clock puck drop at the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center, and I had to park about a quarter mile away. People were backed out into the hall, and a policeman told me no one else would be allowed in. I told him I had to write a story about it for GoLaurens, and apparently he had heard of it. He didn’t say okay, but he didn’t stop me.

In front of an audience expecting several technical knockouts, the meeting turned civil, which is uncommon in our time. I didn’t even see anyone live-tweeting. With the exception of a few hoots of derision – Hah! Yeah, right. Amen! You said it. Damn straight. – that were mostly suppressed and under the breath, I witnessed that rarity: a constructive meeting.

It took me a long time to write it. I didn’t get the first two stories written until I went to bed at about 1:30. This morning I plugged in the stories on cheeseburgers and Tigers, having prepared the photos on Monday, sipped coffee and got around to fixing breakfast a little after 10.

Tomorrow night there’s a high school graduation . Yee-haw.

 

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.

They’re Only Words, and Words Are All I Have …

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 1, 11:39 a.m.

Monte Dutton

A half hour ago, I was trying to catch up on email, text messages, posts, tweets – the bare necessities of life – and I heard NASCAR driver Christopher Bell say his car was “migrating” in the turns. I’m guessing he meant it was “wandering up the track” in the turns, though migrating takes a specific course and there’s not much wandering to it.

It’s just the latest word that is charmingly stupid on TV. Another of those words is “stupid” itself. “He’s so talented, it’s stupid.” Pitchers can’t “locate” their pitches. Sometimes they try to “elevate.” Most times commentators speak of “strategy,” they are really talking about “tactics.” Strategy is the game plan. Tactics is what to do on third-and-long.

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My writing colleagues know of my stern opposition to the use of the word “carnage” to describe an auto racing crash. As a part of the dying generation that took Latin, I know the root of the word is “flesh, meat.” Carnage involves massive loss of life, bodies lying on a battlefield, the victims of slaughter. It should not be used for a bunch of modern centurions climbing healthily from their destroyed chariots. I consider such use of the word rather vulgar.

When most announcers say “mano a mano,” they use it as if it meant “man to man.” It means “hand to hand.” They say “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” its opposite.

To each his own. The President of the United States considers “impeachment” a dirty, filthy word. He thinks it so filthy that he screams that it’s “bullshit” on live TV. One of few areas President Twitter and I see eye to eye is that, for both of us, filthy words have changed.

11:53 a.m.

Over time, the pronunciation of words changes, not to mention the meanings. When I was in school, “divisive” was “di-VI-siv”; now it’s “di-VISS-iv.”

If a person was “transparent,” one could see right through him. He was insincere. Now he’s a paragon of openness; he’s “accountable.”

Then are there the changes in meaning of “queer” and “gay.” My grandmother used to say anything she didn’t understand was “awful queer.” Every time I sing the Charley Pride song “Crystal Chandeliers” – … So you traded me for the gaiety of well-to do … And you turned away from the love I offered you … – I am aware of listeners snickering.

Most people care less about words than I. It’s because I am a writer, or, at least, that is my intention. On my good days, I am a writer. Sometimes I’m just a typist.

This is fair. I care less about engines than engineers.

12:03 p.m.

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Which brings me to a final topic. If a person majored in engineering, it doesn’t make him an engineer. He has to put it in practice. The NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is not an engineer. He’s a driver. He majored in engineering at Purdue.

I majored in history (and political science) at Furman. It doesn’t make me an historian. I make use of my double majors. Newman makes use of his, but by trade he is a racer, and that was the right call.

Much of what I know, I learned by trial and error. That’s why writers get gradually better.

 

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.

Just Lookin’ for Some Pic-a-nic Baskets, I Reckon

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 12:55 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

A black bear visited this weekend, which was quite the rage. I’ve lived here most of my life, and I’ve never seen a bear anywhere other than in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It seems that motorists saw the rummaging rascal on Saturday out near our interstate highways, 26 and 385, that come together about a mile away.

Then, on Sunday, the bear ventured into Clinton proper, and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources blocked off Davidson Street until 6 p.m. They did it to give the bear time to wander off somewhere else. The bear didn’t do anything wrong. He probably just got some weird sensation while he was padding along the banks of Duncan Creek or the Enoree River.

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Local citizens have been advised to take down their bird feeders, clean their grills and don’t leave the dog’s food out in the yard. Bears won’t hurt anybody as long as nobody trifles with them. Then again, I heard the same thing about alligators when I was visiting Florida.

Some of the local speculation has been that the bear might have been drawn into the city limits by the delicious aroma of the barbecue being grilled uptown on Friday and Saturday at the Rhythm on the Rails festival. I was there, and the combination of barbecue and good music can be irresistible.

Monte Dutton photo

Naturally, I got to thinking. I’m a writer, and truth often inspires fiction in my mind.

What if, right in the middle of Lee Roy Parnell’s concert, with West Main Street packed with people, pop-up tents and food trucks, that bear had come trotting down North Broad and hung a right where the barbecue smoke took him?

It might have been similar to the final scenes of Animal House.

Remain calm. All is well.

 

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.

Another Sunday in the Living Room with the Television On

The skies above Rhythm on the Rails on Saturday. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 19, 2019, 10:40 a.m.

Monte Dutton

Maybe it’s because part of my job these days is taking pictures. Maybe it’s some sort of introspection that comes with age. Age wasn’t particularly prominent in my mind until I reached 60. Thirty, 40, 50 … they were just numbers.

Sixty was the most significant checkpoint since 18. When I was 18, it was legal to drink beer. It seemed I was blossoming into manhood. Now it seems I’m wilting into old age. The recent birthday marked 61. I ought to be accustomed to old age. My descent into that good night ought to be gentler.

2:59 p.m.

Fate interrupted at the end of the three paragraphs above.

What I was getting to was not another commiseration of age. For some reason, after a lifetime of basically being oblivious, I’ve started paying particular attention to skies and trees. When I’m on other assignments, I’ll take photos that appear striking. Once I was driving to Laurens for a City Council meeting when I saw a beautiful neon sunset and pulled off the highway, even selecting a place where the view was particularly lovely.

When I was a boy, I used to lie in the front yard and see shapes in the clouds. Maybe in my latter childhood, I’ll start doing that again. People might get alarmed. I would, too, if only because this part of the country has fire ants now.

3:23 p.m.

I didn’t watch so much as a swing of the PGA until today. By word of social media and screen crawls, I ascertained that Brooks Koepka was running away with it. So far today, every time I flip over, someone named Harold Varner III is having a terrible time. He’s partnered with Koepka.

So far I’ve seen Varner miss two short putts and hit a wedge out of deep rough almost sideways. It did bring back memories of my golfing days because the terrain in deep woods, with last year’s leaves lying everywhere and invisible roots to trip over, looked familiar.

If anyone had asked me who Harold Varner was, I might have guessed he was on the chain crew at Broome football games, something like that, but he did just hit a good shot, finally, his fifth on a par-4, and so now I think I’ll go back to the Red Sox, where it stopped raining, but the Astros are winning, and Indy, where the president of the track was climbing into a track dryer the last I looked.

4:35 p.m.

Gosh, I love Indy 500 qualifying. While NASCAR has tried every gimmick not copyrighted by Hasbro, the solution goes back a century at the Brickyard. Four laps on the clock. The total average, not the best lap, is what counts. This format would be perfect at Bristol. If you think it takes too long, make it two laps at Talladega. Four laps would be exciting at any track, though, to me. Wow. What a first lap. OK. Only fell off a 10th on lap two. So far, so good. Ooh. Slipped 2/10ths on lap three. Final lap! Just about the same as lap three. Great job by the driver.

It’s exciting. It’s germane to the race. It makes my pulse race. Imagine the drivers’.

Indy qualifying isn’t as great as it once was. What is?

The Enoree River

5:01 p.m.

The all-star games in most sports are shams, like watching some barnstorming exhibition. The Monster Energy All-Star Race – I think that’s what it’s called now – made a comeback last night. I thought it was the best one in at least a decade. NASCAR drivers will still do in an “all-star” race what Pete Rose was once willing to do to Ray Fosse at Riverfront Stadium in 1970.

The biggest problem NASCAR has with its all-star race is that all the other races have stolen its thunder. It was always tricked up. It was supposed to be tricked up. Now every race is tricked up.

The Red Sox salvaged game three at Fenway against the Astros and ended Houston’s 10-game winning streak.

Fernando Alonso failed to make the Indy 500 field.

It’s a pretty dramatic Sunday.

Not at Bethpage Black, though. Koepka is a strapping lad. For some reason, I have difficulty warming to his name, silly as that is. I mesh with it better than Jazz Janewattananond.

He seems like a nice fellow, though.

I’m glad Kyle Larson won the NASCAR All-Star Race because it’s incredible he doesn’t win more often. As Barney Hall used to say, “I b’lieve that young man is driving the wheels off that car.”

 

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.

My Own Private Elba

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 17, 2019, 10:42 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Realistically, there’s not much else I really want to do. At this point, a bucket list is kind of silly. It would have been worthwhile when I was young. Maybe if I’d decided back then I wanted to go to Venice – or the Knoxville Nationals – or Scandinavia – I would have.

But the coast of Oregon was nice. I really would like to go back there. It’s possible. One factor that militates against it is that I have no desire to fly. I’m not afraid of flying. I just think it’s a colossal pain in the ass that got more painful every year I was flying back and forth across the country to write about NASCAR. For 20 years, I probably averaged, oh, 60,000 air miles a year. Since 2012, I’ve flown to Cleveland once. I miss Cleveland much more than the airlines.

I’d love to take my time and drive diagonally across the mainland, but it’s unlikely, and I’m busy, and no matter where I go, as things now stand, I’d have to set up my laptop and see who died or got arrested in Laurens County.

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For the time being, my road trips will be to places like Greenville, Asheville, Charlotte, or maybe some place really radical like Kentucky, or the various and sundry places where Blue Hose, Crusaders, Paladins, Raiders or Red Devils might presumably play. The most appealing aspect of most of my current road trips is the potential for a unique place to eat before the ballgame. I’m starting to collect off-the-beaten-path burger joints in Seneca just like I used to on Seneca Lake (near Watkins Glen, N.Y.).

I had a doctor’s appointment in Greenville on Wednesday, and, man, I enjoyed the pregame (uh, pre-examination) meal. Then I discovered I’d lost 10 pounds and knew they were legit. Probably would have been 12 without that “heaping helping of [their] hospitality.”

Hills, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars. Fortunately, by and large, the people who don’t understand the above phrasing don’t read me anymore. I’ve lost the young … unless I took a picture of them.

A shame. I like the young. I want to be like them. Old is old, and young is young, and our twain no longer meets.

I love what I do. I enjoy covering the SCISA state girls’ basketball finals as much as I used to enjoy the Daytona 500. It’s still what ABC’s Wide World of Sports called “the human drama of athletic competition.” I like sports better than news because it’s my field of expertise, not to mention my body of work. It’s what looks good on my resume. I wonder if I still have a resume. If so, it won’t require much updating and it’s unlikely to be requested.

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Most people don’t know I wrote about NASCAR for 20 years. They don’t know about the eight novels, or the writing awards that are probably in boxes in the utility building. They just know me as an old fat guy who takes pictures and scribbles on tiny notepads. It’s not all bad. I’ve always hated getting my ass kissed. I don’t get much of that anymore.

I hate to schmooze and hobnob and chitchat. I may be a bit forward. I tend to say what I think, and that’s often counterproductive in a setting where folks mostly want conversations to be predictable.

Things that are important to me aren’t important to others. For instance, if I’m writing a story and taking photos, it’s important for me to have a place to sit while I’m taking notes. I tend to have difficulty reading my own writing when it’s written without a table upon which to bear down.

Last night I staked out a nice, unobtrusive spot in the back of the room by placing my camera on the table there. When I returned and started to sit down, a man told me that Wynonna (not her real name) had staked out the place with her camera and a bottle of water. I told him that was odd, since I owned a camera just like that one with which I had staked out such a place.

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Later on, I won a door prize that was a gift certificate at Chick-Fil-A (its real name), and I gave it to the one prominent citizen there who had briefly allowed me to sit down.

No respect. No respect at all. Saw my kid with the milkman. Asked him where he was going. He said to a father-and-son dinner.

Anyone can write. It’s pretty obvious. An old fat man like me can write … or fancies that he can. If I was any good, I’d be younger and make more money. That’s the way capitalism works.

So what do I do? I prove them wrong by writing a blog, but in their minds, it only proves them right.

 

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.