Just a Few Little Things I Noticed

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 20, 2018, 11:10 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Laurens Academy is up on a hill on Highway 49, out in the country a ways, between the highway’s intersections with Interstates 385 and 26. The basketball games began at 4 p.m. on Friday, with middle-school girls and boys, and varsity girls and boys, taking on Richard Winn Academy of Winnsboro. The Crusaders won three of the four games, losing only the first, 10-7, in overtime. The game’s leading scorer had three points in middle-school girls.

Ruthie Moore

When I go on assignment, I try to be an observer of more than just points and rebounds. I had never been to basketball games at Laurens Academy. Two years ago, I wrote about a couple playoff baseball games. Perhaps this is why the people were so nice to me.

Travis Plowden

For instance, after the boys’ varsity game – the Crusaders won, 45-33 – head coach Travis Plowden and I talked about books: mine, others, books in general. I told him what makes it difficult is that more and more people write, and less and less people read. This is a view of mine I’ve expressed in other places, but never to a coach after a game. We talked about the game, too, of course.

I try to notice things I’ve never seen before. In this instance, it was the first time I watched basketball games in which all of the officials were black and none of the players were. This was only true of the varsity games, though the officials were all African-American in the middle-school games, too.

What else occurs to me? Prejudice wasn’t an issue.

Taylor Campbell

It’s not an issue frequently voiced in public, but it’s an underlying suspicion that intrudes in the minds of white players toward black officials and black players toward white. It can be seen in the eyes and expressions. I’m not making judgments, just observations. Motives are questioned even when they aren’t publicly disputed. In defense of the officials, motives are often questioned when there is no evidence that they should be.

By the way, three years ago, I watched a college baseball game in which a team with all white players and a black head coach played a team with all black players and a white head coach. Again, no judgment. Just observation. It occurred to me, but I suppose it might not have if I were color-blind. It might not have been worth noticing if the world were color-blind. The world isn’t. It was just something I had never seen, like a left-handed third baseman.

Jason Marlett

The Laurens Academy girls’ team, coached by Jason Marlett, is impressive. It’s the most cohesive team I’ve seen all year that wasn’t on TV. I am positive that the boys’ teams of the county’s two public schools would swamp the boys’ team at Laurens Academy. I’m not sure of that with the 19-1 Lady Crusaders. I’d like to see Laurens Academy play Laurens District High School. I’m not claiming Laurens Academy would win. I’m just claiming it would be worth seeing.

Most of the times I watch girls and boys play back-to back, the most noticeable change is in speed. It looks as if the girls’ game is a record played at 33 rpms, and a boys’ game is at 45. It’s the only comparison I can retrieve, and many people today haven’t ever used a record player, so, okay, let me try another. It looks as if the girls’ game is on cruise control, and the boys’ game has no speed limits. I rarely see officials unable to keep up with a girls’ game, but I see their limits tested quite often in boys’ games.

Jennifer Wu (22)

The Laurens Academy girls and boys play at very close to the same speed. They are both fundamentally sound. When the Crusaders won the boys’ game, I was somewhat astonished because, in the warm-ups, I noticed that Richard Winn Academy’s players were quite a bit larger. Winn took an early lead, and I was paying more attention to taking pictures than notes for a while. Then, all of a sudden, I looked up, and the Crusaders were up, 24-16. It was 26-19 at half. The Eagles made a bit of a third-quarter run, but the Crusaders never lost the lead.

It was impressive.

Blair Quarles (5)

The whole night was impressive. I knew that the LA girls had a senior point guard, Taylor Campbell, who is going to Newberry College next year on scholarship. She played despite an ongoing bout with the flu, but a junior guard, Ruthie Moore, just carried the team, scoring more points by herself, 26, than the total of the opposition. The final score was 41-20.

Here’s my GoLaurens story on the evening.

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The Resistance of the Just Soul

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 15, 2018, 12:15 p.m.

Fritz Kolbe is just a man. He has no yearning to kill and never does so in Andreas Kollender’s The Honest Spy, expertly translated into English by Steve Anderson.

Perhaps because the novel begins in South Africa, where he is assigned a diplomatic post by the German government, Kolbe never adapts to the hate epitomized in the Nazi regime back home. After being called back to Berlin, Kolbe is appalled at the fanatical devotion to Adolf Hitler in those with whom he works. He leaves his beloved daughter, Katrin, in South Africa to protect her, and she spends the story in what the songwriter John Hartford called “the backroads and the rivers of [his] memory, ever smiling, ever gentle on [his] mind.”

By Monte Dutton

Kolbe clings to elusive humanity, and it alone transforms him into a spy in a world where everyone is suspicious. He sacrifices everything except his decency.

He is a flawed hero who falls madly in love with a soldier’s wife. He inadvertently provides information to the Americans that results in the death of his best friend and the suicide of his best friend’s wife. He loses his love and never enjoys a reunion with his daughter. He doesn’t ultimately get enough credit for what he does.

The story switches back and forth between the events of the war and a telling of his story to two journalists.

As the pages wind down, one has a sinking feeling, knowing that the protagonist will survive, but that he will lose the love of his mistress, Marlene, but not knowing how. The ending falls like cruel dominoes. I was up late last night, unable to set it aside without experiencing the fulfillment of the inevitable melancholy.

Kolbe survives by competence and guile. He makes mistakes but somehow manages to survive. His soul? Not so much. He refuses to accept compensation for his righteousness. Profit would undermine the nobility of his motives.

Based on a true story, Kollender fictionalizes what he must and spins a tale every bit as plausible as the real story likely was. The author manages to find a modest humanity in characters who would seem to have none. He depicts a nation driven to madness with as much understanding as is “humanly” possible.

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Sometimes You Can’t Win Either

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 13, 2018, 11:07 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Newberry, a rival of historic significance, won both the high school basketball games played at Clinton High School on Friday night, and I suppose the Bulldogs’ 71-68 victory in the boys’ game was a bit historic in that it ended a 12-game streak of Red Devil Region 3-3A victories over the past two seasons.

The second and fourth quarters were stalemates. Clinton (9-5, 2-1) dominated the first, and Newberry (10-3, 3-0) dominated the third. It was a great game, played at a frenetic pace, and the two teams mainly shot the same, rebounded the same and made about the same number of turnovers. Newberry is deeper and more experienced. Clinton might be a bit more athletic. I hope to see the game the two teams play later in the season in Newberry.

I like both coaches, Newberry’s Chad Cary and Clinton’s Eddie Romines. As I am a graduate of Clinton High School, I would have preferred a Red Devil victory, but it was an enjoyable night on the local sports beat, anyway.

Newberry has a girls’ program that lost in the 3A finals last year, and I suppose the Lady Bulldogs played the kind of game that should be expected of a team that is ranked No. 1 in the state and wants to stay there. The score was 58-26, and, from the perspective of a Clinton program making its way slowly up a comeback trail, it didn’t really seem that disappointing. Newberry pressed from the opening tap until 1:38 remained in the game, and there were long periods in which it was all the Lady Red Devils could do to get it across the time line. Clinton (7-10, 1-2 region) committed 47 turnovers.

The distance between first and second in the region is almost the same as the distance between first and sixth. I think it likely that both Clinton teams will make the playoffs. Last year the boys went 21-4 and advanced all the way to the Upstate finals. Given the significant losses to graduation, this year’s Red Devils are hanging tough.

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The Fog of Doom Descends

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 12, 2018, 10:37 a.m.

I have started to confront the possibility that the world has passed me by.

I am losing touch.

By Monte Dutton

When I write about high-school sports, it makes perfectly good sense that I don’t understand the kids. Their music. Their clothes. Their tastes. Hell, I remember when the first pizza parlor came to town. I remember when every Braves game magically became accessible via the Superstation. I remember when we all sat in the porch swing at my grandparents’ house, watching all the people go by on the way back from town.

In the unlikely event that someone under forty is reading this, I’m satisfied he or she is chuckling.

I try, of course, to stay in touch with all the changes. It reminds me of what a colleague said when a race-car driver complained that he couldn’t possibly write about what it was like to race a stock car because he’d never done it.

The eclipse.

He replied that he’d never died, but that didn’t stop him from writing obituaries. Life is one long obituary.

In conversations, I’m constantly realizing that I’m talking about someone of whom none of the young folks has ever heard. I just rearranged that sentence to prevent it from ending with a preposition.

Nowadays, it’s not a problem.

I have devoted most of my life to writing for people who, more and more, don’t read. I keep on writing because it’s all I know how to do. More and more people write, and less and less people read. This creates a fundamental problem in market economics. It’s not exactly a boost to self-esteem, either.

The place this is most evident is right here in my hometown. Few read my books. Few care to listen to my music. I have no social life other than hanging out in stores and at ballgames. I think I’ve become something of an eccentric. They won’t love me till I’m gone.

The main reason anyone reads these blogs is when, by little more than coincidence, someone important tells them, via retweet rather than word of mouth (because hardly anyone talks anymore), that it’s worth reading. Over the weekend, thousands read a blog about Dale Earnhardt, principally because Dale Earnhardt Jr. retweeted it. During the same period, nineteen people stopped following me on Twitter.

I appreciated Junior’s endorsement, but ultimately, it just called attention to the problem.

Why would anyone pay for writing when so much of it is free?

Nothing. Ever. Works.

That’s my problem. Resistance is futile. Still, I persevere, knowing full well that the dwindling number of people who think I’m good at what I do are still worth serving.

I’m not giving up. I’m just resigned to relative failure.

Depressed? Not clinically. I’m depressed for a damned good reason. Changing times are putting me out of business. It’s not just being a writer. It’s not just living in a small town. The world is changing too fast for many people to keep up. We’re always behind the curve. The money has been made before we get there.

My training is in the description of what already happened. I didn’t major in prophecy.

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The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)


At the Risk of Being Taken the Wrong Way …

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 5, 2018, 8:49 a.m.

At some point, this feeding frenzy has to run its course. As with all feeding frenzies, some good has been achieved. Tides of frenzy sweep along with them some rampaging tyranny.

By Monte Dutton

To this very day, I am kind to women who wait on me at restaurants because, when I was a boy, my mother waited tables at the steakhouse our family once owned, and I watched her being tormented by patrons who were snide, belligerent, and drunk, most often all three. If I get poor service, I usually, unless I’m in one of those rare bad moods that afflict me, keep my silence and don’t go back.

I’m getting a bit more cranky as I grow older. About a month ago, for the first time in my life, I refused a prime-rib dinner because I ordered it medium-rare and, if it had been any more well-done, it would have come with barbecue sauce instead of horseradish. The manager came, I told her I wasn’t paying for it, got up and left, and had a seafood special, for which I was not in the mood, at the next exit.

I think I was particularly annoyed because my finances do not allow for many steak suppers, and I wanted it to be perfect. To me, well-done is not well done.

Thank God for small favors. Were I not poverty-stricken, I’d probably be eligible for sexual misconduct charges. I’ve noticed that one does not even have to have sex for there to be misconduct. A woman I know recently asked if she could touch the fluffy white hair on the beard I am now wearing for the first time in more than thirty years. I told her she could ruffle my beard any time, and, immediately, I wondered if anyone could detect any innuendo in that.

Since I work for myself and not very successfully, I think I’m in the clear. I’ve not yet seen this on the CNN “crawl”:


When I was seven years old, in the playground of Hampton Avenue School, I struck a little girl on the shoulder. My timing was imperfect as my father pulled up at precisely that moment. He tanned my hide in much the same fashion as the prime rib fifty-two years later, but I learned a lesson and didn’t do it again until I was in college and very drunk, and it was a reflex action, because a young woman slapped me and, before I thought about it, I slapped her back. I regret this incident deeply. I’m cringing right now, just thinking about it. As incredible as this may seem, I cringe about many episodes of my collegiate youth.

Two days ago, in a phone conversation, a friend remarked that I should run for Congress. I told him that no one who has read one of my novels would vote for me. Characters in my fiction have been known to use vile language, partake of illegal drugs, and, occasionally, even have … sex.

Commit murder? Not a problem.

If I had a lick of sense, I’d scrub the hard drive of this laptop because, on occasion, people have taken what were then known as “gag photos” with me in them. Many people don’t get such gags anymore.


“What did you mean by that?”

“I meant to be funny.”

Al Franken recently resigned from the United States Senate because – I’ve heard this term over and over – he was accused of “sexual misconduct.” The most damning evidence was a “gag photo” in which Senator Franken, before he was a senator, posed next to a woman who was apparently sleeping. In my opinion, based on carefully looking at the photo, he didn’t touch her. Somehow this was “sexual misconduct.” To me, it seemed more like poor judgment.

Surely this will run its course. Surely, before every male anyone has heard of has been told he “will never work in this business again,” regardless of the business, some reasonable boundary will be established. I’m all for reasonable boundaries. I’ve no desire to defend Harvey Weinstein. I feel sorry for Al Franken. My reasonable boundary is somewhere between those two.

Jesus preached the doctrine of forgiveness. If he espoused zero tolerance, I can’t find it in the New Testament.

As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “What would men be without women? Scarce, sir … mighty scarce.”

(Monte Dutton sketch)

I shouldn’t divulge this, but, on rare occasions, I have known women who were, and I write this with the full knowledge that someone will deem it sexist, flirts. Some of these women were capable of getting me to approve of almost anything they asked. Nothing scandalous, mind you. Nothing more untoward than agreeing to edit their copy, or give them advice, or provide a source, or pump their gas at the Gate station.

By “pump their gas,” I mean, literally, pump their gas. Into their car. Gasoline. At a pump.

That doesn’t make me a monster. Does it?

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The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

Getting High on Jaymo and J.P.

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 24, 2017, 11:17 a.m.

I’ve never been anywhere near the same distant universe as J.P. Dooley’s Getting High: The Jaymo Chronicles I, and I haven’t really read another novel like it.

Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Maybe, though it wasn’t a novel.

I’ve written about the dangerous release of post-war depravity in Cowboys Come Home, a novel set at the end of World War II, but that war had little to do with Vietnam, and the two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly had even less to do with Jaymo and Tooker. Becky Middlebrooks, whose wild rebelliousness originated back home in Texas, is slightly closer, but it was a different time. Becky was reacting to the release of homeland sacrifice. World War II was ultimately triumphant; Vietnam was ultimately futile and needless.

By Monte Dutton

How could the world have changed so much? Oh, maybe because Jimmy Mahoney, a.k.a. Jaymo, is a denizen of almost five decades ago. He and his contemporaries live by Hippie Law, which is rather simple: “Whatever you have to do to get high.” It’s more absolute than Libertarianism ever thought about being.

I don’t remember why I bought it in June. It could have been for research. That’s why I read Wolfe’s tale of the Merry Pranksters, but I was already a fan of Wolfe’s revolutionary non-fiction. Some influence came from the writing of fellow Clinton native Joey Holland. Getting High almost got lost in my Kindle. I sampled the detective classics of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett for much of the summer and fall while writing about a stock car racer I invented named Barrie Jarman and trying to rewrite the ending of a manuscript that will soon be out as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

When I finally embarked upon Getting High – not a double entendre – it seemed entirely possible that I would only sample it and set it aside.

But it is well-written. No. It is exquisitely written.

The author is a self-professed graduate of Vietnam and psychedelics, and whatever their deleterious effects, they did not leave his writing skills impaired. Jaymo follows a terrain common to the roads traveled by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, a classic movie. The interstates have replaced those roads. Dooley’s prose has not.

(Monte Dutton photos)

Kindle is a useful reading vehicle because Dooley’s skilled words are sprinkled with words I do not know, and Kindle allows the reader to look them up instantly where once I kept a dictionary at hand for such knowledge. Some of his words occur in no dictionaries, at least not the ones downloaded into Kindles, but he writes so well that the reader is able to figure them out.

It’s left me contemplative. Yesterday I was as irreverent on Twitter as if I’d been stoned. I was, but on non-stop football. For the last few days, I read it as if I were on one of Jaymo’s benders, jangled in the flow of Dooley’s elegant, if often fragmented, sentences.

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The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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Love Among the Ruins

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 20, 2017, 3:30 p.m.

One characteristic of most ivory towers is that they are imaginary.

By Monte Dutton

Last night, I was on the top floor of an ornate Greenville building, nibbling away at finger foods and hobnobbing with former football players and coaches who served at the foot of the inimitable Cally Gault.

It was a privilege, particularly since I didn’t even attend Presbyterian College and was there because someone invited me. I have merely known Coach Gault for almost my entire life. What made the affair, held to honor Cally for reaching the illustrious age of 90, so meaningful was at least a dozen ways he represents the declining nobility of intercollegiate athletics.

Cally Gault

Today PC football is under siege and bound for planned oblivion. Most everyone there had this on their minds, but they commiserated among themselves in private because they didn’t want to detract from the grace of the affair and its honoree. Everyone there loved Cally. Most everyone there wanted to attest to it publicly. No one wanted to dwell on the sordid and disgraceful present. What Cally devoted his life to building is being euthanized.

Cally defines the word “affable.” He played for the Blue Hose in the 1940s, coached them in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, kept on running the athletic department for many years afterwards, and still attends football and basketball games. Many legends have passed through PC athletics. Not even Walter Johnson and Lonnie McMillian stood the test of time like Cally. In 22 seasons, Cally’s teams won 127 games, lost 101 and tied seven.

I’ve never known a coach exactly like Cally, though he and Art Baker, once Blue Hose teammates, are pretty close. Art was there. So were Stanley Gruber, Bobby Norris, Herman Jackson, Jimmy Spence, Elliott Paulling, Derek Wessinger, Elijah Ray, Bruce Ollis, Keith Richardson, Del Barksdale, John Perry, John Cann, Robbie Strickland, Sandy Cruickshanks, Ronnie Hollier, Mike Turner, and so many more I wish someone had provided a roster.

(Monte Dutton photos)

Most of them poked fun at Cally, who can still roar with the best of them in laughter. Much of the humor originated in the days when he roared on the football field, occasionally a bit too vehemently to make sense.

Toasts were raised. Meanwhile, Presbyterian College football is being toasted. Who knew? Not many of those present knew until it became a fait accompli.

Now PC is adding wrestling for men and women. And acrobatics, tumbling, and competitive cheerleading. How can that be competitive with nothing to cheer?

It occurred to me, observing all the love in the room, that it wasn’t directed at the ivory tower and the latest master plan that originated there. It was for people – Cally Gault, Bob Strock, Billy Tiller, Marshall Brown, Jim Skinner, Bill Cannon, Tom Stallworth, Ed Campbell – who aren’t on the faculty and staff anymore. The love for PC is not unconditional. It isn’t automatic. It is being torn asunder.

In the ivory tower, they believe what they are doing is wise. It’s hard to find anyone outside the ivory tower who believes a word of it. The people outside the ivory tower think those in it have lost their damned minds.

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The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)