Less Room to Wiggle

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 15, 2018, 9:31 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Earlier today, I came across a quote from the great Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who once walked out to the mound to counsel an ineffective Ross Grimsley.

“If you know how to cheat, now’s the time,” Weaver is alleged to have said.

I remember Weaver, and I remember Grimsley. He was a lefthander famously slovenly in appearance. I think of him as a Cincinnati Red and a Cleveland Indian as well as an Oriole.

I’ve been thinking about how attitudes have changed. Once upon a time, it was considered the business of the umpires or referees to keep athletes from stretching the rules.

When I played high school football, I was aware that I wasn’t very good and needed every advantage I could finagle. I was painfully aware that I wasn’t exactly lightning-quick, and I tried to get every advantage I could. I had read Jerry Kramer’s books on life with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, and, like Kramer, when I was outfitted for pads, I tried to get the smallest shoulder pads I could, though the coaches often stood in my way. I also went on the field on Friday nights without any hip pads on, which, by the way, was madness for an offensive lineman. One night I didn’t get away with it, and the referee made me go to the sidelines for hip pads. This meant my teammates had to stand around me on the sideline while I took my uniform pants off, stepped into a set of girdle pads and pulled my pants back up. My coach didn’t care for my stunt. The next week I didn’t play. At all.

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No one ever thought about protesting to the High School League, or the conference office, if he suspected someone from an upcoming opponent was spying on practice. If a coach thought someone was watching practice through binoculars from some fortuitously placed nearby deer stand, he’d start rehearsing some outrageous trick play he had no intention of using.

When stock car mechanics devised imaginative ways of injecting extra horsepower into an engine or finding room for a little extra fuel in the tank, many of the officials and mechanics alike thought the game of tricks was great fun.

Moonshiners and revenuers. Cops and robbers. Raiders and Chiefs.

I’m not suggesting anything goes. I’m saying the culture has changed. They don’t even allow umps to blow calls anymore. I’m also not claiming it was better when cheating was condoned or winked at. It’s just fundamentally different. It’s probably a bit hypocritical in areas. It’s unlikely the folks throwing all those stones are all without sin. Even if they are, that’s not the way it will look.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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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Anger Cuts Either Way

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, December 13, 2018, 10:44 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I was on the way to the Laurens Commission of Public Works meeting and thought it was going to make me late. I am obsessively punctual and often fret about being late for meetings, so much so that invariably I wind up being there 20 minutes early, anyway. This wound up being such an occasion.

It was a simple trip through the drive-through. I knew that, when the meeting was over, I’d race home, process and crop the photos, write a story about it, and edit whatever releases had arrived via email. If I didn’t eat on the way to Laurens, it would be peanut butter and crackers while watching a late-night talk show.

I was watching the car in front of me. The girl in the drive-through handed some change out the window. The driver of the car fumbled the change. Several coins fell to the damp pavement. The woman in the car started yelling and waving her arms.

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“I’m not about to touch that pavement to pick up that change!” she screamed. “You hear me? Give me my money again.”

The girl did so. The woman pulled ahead to the second window. I pulled my truck to the right, away from the window, got out and picked up three dimes off the pavement, which I handed to the girl along with my debit card.

“I was watching,” I said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

I pulled up for another long delay. The woman was demanding to see the manager.
“You ought not allow that stupid girl to be in there!” she yelled.

I waited.

The woman suggested that her food ought to be free. If I’m not mistaken, I think she finagled an apple pie out of the deal. I wondered if that was her intention all along. She received a small drink and a small bag that I imagined contained a small hamburger. The angry woman, who was driving a car so large they don’t build them anymore, kept on yelling. I was starting to feel like cutting loose myself.

When she finally moved on and I pulled up, I said, “I saw what happened. That little girl didn’t do one thing wrong.”

(Monte Dutton photo)

I was in the same situation the next night, fancying that I was running late but not really, on the way to a basketball game. The same girl was taking money at the drive-through.

“You were working last night, too,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

“I was behind the woman who started yelling at you about dropping her change.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “You got out and picked up the change. You might’ve saved me.”

“I told them up ahead you hadn’t done a thing wrong,” I said.

This wasn’t important. It was just one of the random, unpredictable incidents that careen into life every day. As I was driving to the game, I realized that the incident had been almost completely racial. The mad woman had been of one race and the girl in the window another. If they had been of the same race, the woman wouldn’t have gotten mad. She would have let it go. If the races had been reversed, the same incident might have happened. The woman would deny that. Racists always do.

The largest gulf between people rests in the dark waters of the mind.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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 Will to Win

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 8, 2018, 7:47 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I love the Army-Navy Game. It doesn’t matter if both teams have losing records (which Army doesn’t this year). It’s always hardfought. It always comes down to the end. Navy won 14 in a row, and now Army has won three straight. My late Uncle Cas was a career Army man, and that’s the reason I always root for Army. I like Navy, too. It’s just the American game.

A few days ago, I was at a nearby hamburger joint, talking about football, and a fellow said nobody cared about the Army-Navy Game.

I said, “I do. I love watching that game.”

He said, “I mean, nobody cares to bet on it.”

That’s when I noticed he had a stack of cards to be used for amusement purposes only.

Duh.

Andrew Webb

It’s been a busy week. The football coach at Clinton High School is out after four years. The Red Devils went 2-8 this year. Folks around here expect to win. I hate it came to this. Andrew Webb is a fine man and a great example to the young men who played for him. He is Clinton born and Clinton bred, and was gracious and classy in accepting the news. I wrote Andrew a note expressing that I was sorry it happened, and he replied to the effect that he wanted to continue coaching and would try to catch on somewhere else. I wish him the best.

In 2009, Clinton won the most recent of its eight state championships, and the head coach, Andy B. Young, was forced into retirement. It’s been one, long, downhill spiral since, and two young coaches have been caught in the tailspin. Both Scott King and Webb are models for American youth. At the same time, when I hear people say that this all-encompassing emphasis on winning takes the fun out of sports, I think what kind of sport is it that you mean? I once played football, and nothing is more fun than winning. I’d like to believe I see both sides. Winning is worth it. Losing isn’t. God loves the ones who persevere.

I left Clinton High School believing I could do anything. I found out I couldn’t, but I still have a good attitude. If anything has tempered my mindset, it is that a man (or a woman) should learn to live with himself if he never realizes his dreams, but should never give up on them. I hope to be aspiring to greatness right up to my last breath.

If I hadn’t played on championship football teams, I don’t think my perseverance would be so great.

I hate it’s come to this – in more ways than one – but I recognize that it has.

The worst kind of journalist is one who thinks he knows more than he does. I have tried to recognize that, while I may know a good bit about football, or baseball, or NASCAR, I don’t know more than the coach who watches his players every day. I don’t know as much about engines as the men who build engines. But I try to know as much as I can and seek the perspective of those who know more than I.

I just try to go somewhere and write what I see, whether it’s a great victory or an inglorious defeat.

Knowledge never runs out. I remember when I thought it was hard to write a story about a great event. Comparatively, that’s easy. What’s hard is to write a good story about a bad event.

Last night Clinton visited Laurens in basketball. The competition is intense when our county’s two public schools get together. The Raiders are two classes higher than the Red Devils – 5 A’s to 3 – but one school doesn’t react with arrogance and the other doesn’t accept subservience. It’s always hardfought. It’s always a slog.

It took me well into the wee hours – the late David Poole used to call it “oh-dark-30” long before there was a movie with a similar name – to crop and process the photos, type up a box and write a story. Then, after only a few hours’ sleep, I rose, dressed without shaving and showering, and took a mug of coffee along to watch 84 people run up and down Main Street in Laurens for five kilometers in the 19th Reindeer Run. No one was shocked that a man named Matt Shock won. He crossed the finish line 55 seconds ahead of someone named Garrett Sponenberg. I didn’t talk to either. I was more interested in shooting cute photos of kids dressed up as reindeer … and running in the rain. A week earlier, I shot photos of a Christmas Parade in the rain. The South is getting washed away. The West is getting burnt up.

As Selma Hamrick used to say, whatever floats your boat.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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.

‘Happy Thanksgiving from the Fam-uhhhh-leeeeee’

‘Little late, ain’t you, Unc.’ (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, November 23, 2018, 8:46 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

When Ray Phillips was a child, he realized that Betty Dutton’s oyster dressing was a national treasure, not to mention a rare and precious thing.

Ray is my nephew. Betty is my mother and his grandmother. Ginger Sacarrere is his mother and my sister. For two days, Mom and Ginger worked on Thanksgiving dinner. For most of that time, I was engaged in activities such as writing about a basketball game in Spartanburg, editing obituaries and checking to see who had been arrested.

It happens. It’s a frivolous, unimportant job that someone has to do. The true movers and shakers of civilization are those who know how to make oyster dressing.

Before I arrived, I watched a big parade with bigger balloons and part of a football game. Then I drove over to the good side of town and reacquainted myself with Ray’s and Jessica’s precocious children: Thomas, Margaret and Peter. I brought my camera and Little Martin. Christmas carols are mostly easy to play. I delighted Margaret by trying to repeat every sound she made. When Margaret’s Aunt Ella was a little girl, she used to say, “Ungamunny, echo me.”

As Tom T. Hall once wrote, Was it only yesterday or twenty years ago?

Playing on the West Coast … literally.

I played my kids’ repertoire, which means the best Hank Williams song is “Move It on Over,” and there are many selections by Roger Miller. Kansas City star, that’s what I are. Roses are red, violets are purple, sugar is sweet, and so is maple syrple. Spent the groceries and half the rent, I lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.

I played “Gentle on My Mind” because my mother loves it. She was exhausted. After all, she’s seventy-eight years old. Ray and Ginger made sure she had plenty of help. On Thanksgiving, she’s sort of a wizard, capable of removing a sword from a stone.

If that dressing was any better, it would be against the law.

Not that I have many, but, at the moment, Margaret is my biggest fan.

The heavy lifting was in the kitchen. My guitar and camera are light. I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have. I got carried away playing “Act Naturally,” “Crystal Chandeliers” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I don’t know any Thanksgiving songs, but I think it’s okay to sing Christmas songs on Thanksgiving but … not … and I mean this … don’t make me stop this car … even one day before.

Peter is aware that this is not just another day.

I even sipped wine, even though I feel guilty because I don’t drink it enough to deserve the good stuff.

The food was so good that I never want to see it again. I’m aware of how much people love leftover sandwiches the day after. At about three o’clock, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be up to a bowl of raisin bran. I just don’t see any lust for turkey arising again until the lead-up to Christmas.

Thomas, the artist as a young man.

I got back home barely motivated enough to get up from a chair occasionally. I had to make some coffee in order to stay awake during two ghastly football games between which I switched occasionally, but I finally found respite and serenity from You Can’t Take It with You, a Frank Capra film from 1938 about leftovers.

As a result, today I feel like Lionel Barrymore.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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.

How the Checkered Flag Fell at the Beauty Pageant

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 18, 11:57 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

New assignments abound. For twenty years, most of my time was spent writing about race cars. I started writing books. I taught myself to play guitar and found I had “a handy knack for rhyming,” which led to songs. I started writing novels.

I never wrote about a beauty pageant until Thursday night.

The occasion was the Miss LDHS pageant. LDHS stands for Laurens District (55) High School. In fairness, I have also judged a “Puttin’ on the Hits” contest in Joanna, but I don’t think that’s the same category. Miss LDHS probably isn’t the same category as Miss America, either, but the overwhelming likelihood is that I will never have a chance to compare the two. Besides, I didn’t judge Miss LDHS. I just observed and wrote about it.

As a practical matter, the normal rules of journalism are suspended. It’s the same with local drama. If the Little Theater is producing its own version of, say, A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s not likely to be as wondrously performed as it is, or was, on Broadway. George Loomis, by day a druggist at Walmart and by night a would-be Marlon Brando, is not going to like it when some local yahoo calls his performance wooden. He put a lot of effort in that role and takes it very seriously.

Many publications farm this coverage out to some affiliated observer – the director, say – and he (or she) will craft paragraphs that flow along the lines of:

Equally magnificent, in the pivotal role of Claire, was May Livingston, whose performance was riveting …

Riveting. Like Rosie the Riveter of World War II patriotic fame. Ruhruhruhruhruhruhruh …

I thought I could convey a certain lighthearted touch, but I didn’t have the time. By the time I got done processing photos, it was getting late, and I wanted to get the story published quickly. That’s the advantage a website has. It’s the art of the possible, quickly delivered. Write as well as possible within a tight time frame. My earliest experience with this pressure occurred while taking standardized tests. My toughest was the Bristol Night Race back when scribes were scribes and the desks were nervous.

My good-natured amusements didn’t get in. That’s what blogs are for, particularly when the home wi-fi has failed and a writer doesn’t have anything else to do.

Two mischievous boys – I’m estimating middle-school age – were the stage crew. After each competition and especially after each talent competition, they walked out rapidly – that walk that’s just shy of a trot – and moved things around. Mic stand. Wooden box. No heavy lifting. They reminded me of ball boys at tennis matches. They did not take themselves too seriously. It was hard work, but it was fun.

In the talent show, one entrant dressed up in a race-car driver’s firesuit and performed a dance routine. I enjoyed it. The show had a good balance. Violin. Viola. Clogging to a Britney Spears song. A photography enthusiast composing a slide show stressing the inspirational qualities of the Raider football team.

Some time later, the reigning Miss LDHS, now off at college, returned to perform on the piano and had her final sweep around the stage before she handed over her glistening crown to the new winner. As she walked as if balancing a book on her head, smoothly and with impeccable dignity, the checkered flag from the stock car racing routine was trapped under her long, red evening dress for several “laps.” Finally, one of the lads from the stage crew emerged on the run-walk, pursued Miss LDHS 2017 briefly and successfully stalked his prey by yanking the flag loose and retreating from the spotlights’ glare.

These moments make the spectacle better. Small mistakes can be endearing.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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.

Stop the World and Let Me Off

(Pixabay photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, November 8, 2018, 1:14 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

So much is going on that I can’t decide what to write. I’m suffering from information overload. I’m drowning. Either that or I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

It’s impossible to keep up. With politics. With technology. With violence. With anger. Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the signs?

It’s more difficult to have conversations. That’s why people text and post and tweet. I’m not sure whether lack of conversation leads to tweets or tweets lead to lack of conversation. Last night I ate out. All four people in the booth across from me were texting, regardless of age. I wonder if they were texting each other. That might work at a public library. Then again, someone nearby might text, Shhhhh.

I yearn for the insignificant day.

It would be nice to awaken briefly at 4 a.m., most likely because nature calls, discover, as usual, that I fell asleep with the TV on, and not learn that some nut has shot up a nightclub in California. The darkness of the room is ablaze with the flashing lights of police cars on the news.

Since the World Series ended, it’s been difficult to watch other sports. I half-watch everything. I haven’t seen a basketball bounce yet.

It’s almost as if everything else has become a sport I watch instead of actual sports. Elections are a sport. Politics is a sport. In fact, someone needs to come up with another term for people who hold public office because the world is making politicians of us all.

I watch the weather more, too. Twenty years ago I heard someone say The Weather Channel was MTV for old people. That was before a hurricane started rolling through the neighborhood every few weeks.

President Twitter is the political equivalent of marijuana. He causes short-term memory loss. I can’t watch coverage of the latest crisis without losing touch with the last one. Recently President Twitter couldn’t tell the truth when he was asked about telling the truth.

I’ll probably be tweeted over this. It’s okay. Social media is just freedom gone wild. It’s a crowded theater full of people yelling “fire!”

Before Tuesday’s elections, I knew that things would either get slightly worse or a lot worse. At the moment, I’m leaning toward the latter.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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.

Things that Are Close and Things that Are Far Away

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, November 2, 2018, 9:56 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Election Day is Tuesday, and I can’t remember the last time I ate a McRibs. I don’t think there is any relation between elections and McRibs except that both are being enthusiastically advertised.

The best meal I’ve had in the week to date was a hamburger steak at The Hub in Laurens on Wednesday night after taking photos of trick-or-treaters at “Boo in the Park.”

(Monte Dutton photo)

My viewing habits have changed suddenly this week on account of the end of baseball. From April through October, I watch the Red Sox … a lot. Now, all of a sudden, I’m choosing between old movies on TCM, around-the-clock news, documentaries on PBS and reading books. It’s never a good sign to realize that, while editing news releases, the Accuweather Channel has been droning in the background for an hour.

More changes will occur after the election. In the short run, I anticipate that things will either get a little worse or a lot worse. That’s why every vote counts.

I wondered what it would be like if Oprah came to my front door, and I decided that, after coping with the initial surprise, I’d reluctantly have to tell her this is the wrong state.

(Monte Dutton photo)

High school football is almost over. There are no playoff games tonight. The devastating effect of Hurricane Florence on the lower half of the state caused the High School League to postpone the playoffs for a week so that game that were literally washed out can be made up.

Laurens District High is the only county team that made the playoffs. The Raiders play in Rock Hill next week. The county has been historically successful in football. This year LDHS, Clinton and Laurens Academy combined to go 9-21.

I feel confident in proclaiming that basketball will be better.

A major goal between now and Christmas is to complete the first draft of my next novel, which is about an ex-major league baseball player and scout who finds an extraordinarily talented young prospect and tries to turn him into polished player. Clyde Kinlaw and Taiquon Wattson are presently en route from South Carolina to Texas, where Taiquon is going to play for a semipro team known as the Sherman Bucks. The working title of what will be my ninth novel is The Latter Days.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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.