What Might Have Been

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 2, 2019, 3:13 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Friday, I was in a prospective episode of Seinfeld.

The basic premise of the long-running show, now commonly syndicated, is “one thing leads to another in the darndest ways.” Such as, what if Cosmo Kramer hit a golf ball that landed in the blowhole of a whale?

Hilarity ensues.

I had a doctor’s appointment, which mainly consisted of a change of bandages on my slow-healing leg. I don’t get out much, other than to a meeting or a ballgame, so I’ve become quite the personality in the cafe booths, waiting rooms and grocery-store aisles of the county. A waiting room is not the place to ask someone “how you doing?” because it’s entirely possible he or she will tell you.

So a lady told me about how much pain she was in, and how her mother had always told her that God would punish her for her sins, and she couldn’t understand what she had done that was so bad for God to treat her this way.

I was in a great mood, but it wasn’t the time or place for humor. I nodded solemnly and wished I had just rested in the comfort of social media on my cell. I could have read a chapter of a novel that is approximately a teen-aged version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest instead of asking a lady in a wheelchair how she was doing.

It would have been better, and funnier, if she had said, “I’m in a wheelchair. I’m thinking about running a marathon tomorrow. How do you think I’m doing?”

But no.

The lady, who was accompanied by her apparent husband, received her call for treatment. Her husband sat his coffee mug on the table and said he would pick it up on the way out, and I admired him because I knew that if I left a mug in the waiting room, there’s no way I would have remembered to get it after seeing the doctor.

I got to use my sense of humor with the other woman in the waiting room, and then my summons came, and I got back to my joke-cracking self while I was told my wound continued to shrink, and I probably wouldn’t have to come twice a week much longer. This didn’t prevent me from pretending I was in a war movie when the doctor came in.

“I can take it, Doc,” I said. “Shoot it to me straight. Is it going to have to come off?”

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“Your shoe is already off,” he said. “In a minute, you can put it back on.”

Deadpan. Doctors are deadpan.

On the way out, the lady in the office, who always reminds me of my next appointment, handed me the coffee mug.

“Did you leave this coffee mug in the waiting room?”

“No, this isn’t mine,” I said. “The fellow sitting next to me put it on the table and said he’d pick it up on the way out.”

I believe I was gone before the man and his ailing wife came out, but it occurred to me that it could have been a Seinfeld episode. If they had gotten through before me, he might have thought I’d stolen his mug, and the older I get, the more I understand the importance of a good insulated coffee mug. I have two and definitely prefer one to the other, even though all the print has been rubbed off the metallic favorite and other one was presented to me as a modest gift from my alma mater.

So, a la Seinfeld, he might have held a grudge against me, much like the Soup Nazi, and at the worst time, he would get a chance for the big payback for a slight I didn’t know I’d rendered.

Hilarity would ensue.

But it didn’t. It’s just a blog.

 

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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Home at the Waffle House

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 16, 2019, 12:14 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

The Waffle House was hopping this morning. I could barely hear Olivia Newton-John over the din.

You’re the one that I want, you’re the one that I want, uh, uh, uh-uhhhh …

Keith and Robert Wooten – for some reason, everybody called Robert “Dan” in high school – were finishing up, and Keith and I talked about the 1977-78 reunion of two of Clinton’s state championship teams, both of which he was on.

When the Wooten brothers left, an elderly lady replaced them on the stool around the corner from mine. She was a woman I know but not by name. When I said hi and she said hi back, I think both of us had that feeling. We knew we were supposed to know each other. What I’m guessing were her granddaughter and significant other arrived soon to relieve the mild tension of name non-recognition. It’s always easier among men. That’s because it’s awkward to refer to an elderly lady as “bud” or “big time.”

Have you noticed that people who call you “pal” usually aren’t?

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One waitress with one kind of red hair delivered my ham-and-cheese omelet. I was still getting the grits just right when another waitress with another kind of red hair dropped by and asked, “You done?”

I didn’t say, “Ma’am, I haven’t even started,” but the look in my eyes said it for me. She just wanted to leave the check, and I got a prompt coffee refill out of the deal.

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Most days I fix breakfast at home, but I like to have it at a place where a man can take his time and chat with passers by. As a general rule, when I have work that takes me out of the house in the morning, I stop somewhere for breakfast first. Usually it’s Steamers on the Square, but it’s not open on Saturdays and Waffle House is a similar, if noisier, alternative. I like Waffle House. After a long night of sportswriting and picture taking in a somewhat distant town, I got up earlier than I should have and decided to go on a late-morning expedition that ended up with me test-driving a vehicle. I ditched the grocery store even though there’s almost nothing at the house.

Now NASCAR coverage of some sort is on TV and I’m paying attention to this blog instead, but I think I’m going to watch the race this afternoon, even though the nation’s leading scorer is playing for Campbell at Presbyterian College. That way I can chip away at work – people don’t stop dying and getting arrested even when the nation’s leading scorer is in town – and wait for the wrecks on TV.

A hometown is a place of soothing consistency. I must have said this a hundred times. It’s not that I love Clinton. It’s that I know it.

 

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.

For Old Times’ Sake

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 26, 2019, 12:01 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I was tooling around Spartanburg, driving a hot rod that looked like about a ’57 Thunderbird. It was two-tone red and white. I stopped at a drive-in for two hot dogs and a chocolate shake. I drove over to the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds and took a few hot laps around the old dirt track where NASCAR used to race.

I was dreaming. When I awakened, I sat up on the side of the bed. Sometimes I have no idea why I dream something. I don’t often dream at all. Sometimes I dream about a person who has been dead for 20 years and I barely knew even when he or she was alive.

This time I knew exactly why I dreamed what I did.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Yesterday I picked up my old pickup truck, the one that hadn’t been cranked in a year and a half and was just rotting in the yard, over near the fence. It needed a new fuel tank, a good deal of engine and transmission work and a whole lot of cleanup. I hadn’t even realized that some nearby hoodlums had busted out the passenger-side window. The interior was full of spider webs and mold.

It looked a sight. Now it looks a different kind of sight. Getting that ’95 Ford F-150 running again meant a lot to me, and it was one of the first things I thought of when I unexpectedly came into some money. I didn’t do the work, but the people who did put a lot of care into it that well justified the spending of some of my new money.

I can’t remember the last time I was as excited. In a way, it was kind of ridiculous. I remember many years ago when I took my teen-aged niece with me to write about the stock car race in Sonoma, California. We were about to take a ferry ride across San Francisco Bay, and a silver-haired man who looked liked he fancied himself Cary Grant pulled away in a Porsche Boxster.

Ella sniffed. “It’s ridiculous for a man that old to be driving a car like that,” she said.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Ford pickups take me back to a time when I terrorized the muddy dirt roads of the farm, taking hay to the cows and slop to the hogs. The family had many different brands of cars over the years, but we always had Ford trucks. I’ve owned two Dodge trucks in recent years and felt a little treasonous to the family legacy.

Last night I drove it to Laurens to write about the high school basketball games. I listened to the Derailers on the cassette player. I love it when the music meets my mood. The cassette had been sticking out of the player ever since the last time I cranked the Ford. Somehow it still sounded nifty.

I’m taking this bar exam / Under a neon sign / I’m gonna graduate to get your off of my mi-i-i-i-ind …

I wish I was middle-age crazy, but the likelihood is that I’m late-age crazy. If this is middle age, I’d hate old age, because I can’t imagine how miserable 120 would be. It’s sort of like colleges, one of which I went to and another I might watch play basketball this afternoon. Mid-major. What an absurd term. For there to be a mid-major, someone would have to be low-major. Furman and Presbyterian are low-major. There is honor in that. I wouldn’t trade my degree or my love of the Paladins and Blue Hose for the world. Two people have already asked if my beautiful old truck is for sale. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, either. I embrace my old-age craziness.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The truck doesn’t seem that old to me, but I lose track of the significance of its age. It is to my age what a ’57 T-Bird was when I was a kid. It’s like mentioning Willie Mays to a kid today. At some point, I realize the kid wasn’t born until 25 years after the Say Hey Kid hung up his cleats. It’s like hearing a deacon in the church reminisce about Red Grange back when I was sitting in the back rows for Sunday services, wondering if I still was sweating last night’s beer.

Of course, they don’t make ’em like my truck anymore. I don’t need those power windows and cup holders everywhere. I got a clutch pedal, five in the floor and a cassette player to match the hundreds of cassettes I never threw away.

I think I might listen to the Dillards after while.

This is a truck a man has to drive. All he has to do is guide these newfangled contraptions.

Of course, I’m probably going to have to buy one of them, too. I’ve gotten right attached to satellite radio.

 

 

Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

 

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.

‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, September 23, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I fell asleep with the TV on last night, which is not unusual, and it awakened me this morning, when I wanted to sleep longer, because, in a semi-conscious state, I got irritated.

Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

He wasn’t the first to say it. Twain credited it to Benjamin Disraeli. He said it enough times and was suitably famous to receive credit for it, even though he didn’t actually try to take the credit.

Mark Twain (Pixabay)

What got me ruminating were references to football games. In the third quarter, according to the glib promoters of ESPN SportsCenter, Oregon had a 99.3 percent chance of winning the Ducks’ game against Stanford.

Stanford won, of course.

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The recent hurricane that weakened its way through the Carolinas to the point where it was a breeze when its remnants tottered through here was described by prominent politicians repeatedly as “a thousand-year rain event.” By the way, I don’t mean to downplay the suffering experienced by more than a million fellow residents of the Carolinas. It was a devastating storm. The crawl across the bottom of the Fox News screen said that 500 million people were without power. How that storm cut the lights out on parts of India and Brazil is beyond me.

Three years ago, in the Midlands of this state, hardy citizens (no doubt subsisting on hearty soup) experienced “thousand-year flooding.”

The silver lining is that we must be good to go for the next 2,000 years, at least.

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It’s a statistic. It must be true.

I really prefer descriptions of the poetic beauty of sports – whether it’s a ball (football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, etc.), a race car or a hard right cross – to descriptions of algorithms and sabermetrics.

Some people are obsessed with such numerical puffery. Many of them play “fantasy sports.” Somewhere there are fantasy weather leagues, I expect. (“I’m deactivating the Tropic of Capricorn this weekend because I’m playing a hunch on the Indian Ocean.”)

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I love baseball, but I don’t have a clue what all the acronyms and initialisms mean. (Strictly speaking, an acronym must be pronounced as a word, but an initialism or an alphabetism is just a collection of letters derived from the first letters.) “Scuba” (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) is an acronym. AFL (American Football League, or, American Federation of Labor) is not.

Some are used because they are deemed acceptable by society and the actual words are not. People say “that’s B.S.” because “bullshit” is deemed as too harsh. Why? It’s not actually cursing, apparently. Some people apparently think it won’t bring with it a demerit from the Almighty.

“A sign from above … on the wings of a dove” (Pixabay)

God knows. He (or She, or an omniscient spirit that transcends gender, or It, which would not be popularly accepted) probably doesn’t care. Oh, He cares, I suppose. He gave us this wondrous occupation of the universe, and if it brings with it enough rope to hang, well, I expect He/She/It is justifiably preoccupied with Syria, suffering, sunlight and many words that do not begin with “S.”

In college, I was always an essay-question, not a multiple-choice or true-or-false, kind of guy. Hence, today, many years later, I write essays.

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If the sons of bitches (SOBs would, of course, be acceptable to a God with a lot less sense) would just let us know what the letters mean by using the full name on first reference, then I might care. As it is, I am frequently assaulted by the confusion of all the new lies, damned lies and statistics.

“But, don’t forget, Elroy, Smithers ranks higher in PQX, TLZ, and BADASS than Bumstead.”

Right. Gotcha.

Sometimes, on assignment, I ask what an ASPIRE grant is. Or a QUIKSTART program. What, pray tell, do the letters mean? Invariably, the people who have been talking about it for five minutes haven’t a clue.

“Let me get back to you on that.”

I expect some people who spout statistics don’t actually know what they mean. Me? At least I admit it.

 

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.

What do jury duty, a broken tooth, a peanut butter shake and Lindsey Wilson have in common? Me!

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, September 20, 2018, 11:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I had jury duty but wasn’t selected. Since every day, I put together arrest reports and talk to law enforcement officers about various crimes, I suppose this is hardly a surprise.

In this part of the state, Florence, which hit the Carolinas coast as a hurricane but staggered through here like a tottering drunk, luck was with us. My electricity didn’t ever go out.

Who ever broke a tooth while eating a soggy bowl of Raisin Bran? It happened while I was writing about a football game at 1 in the morning. My first thought was, I’m suing Kelloggs because there’s a human tooth in this box of cereal. Then I realized it was mine. Sorry, Kellogg’s. I only thought it for a few seconds. I’m not in pain. I don’t even bleed when I brush my teeth. It’ll be next week before my dentist tells me what has to be done about this.

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I had a checkup on Wednesday. I’ve lost 12 pounds. I felt about the same way about the scale that I did about the cereal, but I’m glad whatever I’m doing has worked. Sweaty football sidelines must have something to do with it. I celebrated on the way to Lake Greenwood (to shoot a video) by enjoying a peanut butter shake on the way. Thus have I probably lost 10 pounds now. I’ve never understood how a person can gain more weight than what a fattening food weighs. I don’t doubt the science. I accept climate change, too.

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West Nile Virus has appeared in the county at both ends, in the southern (“Southeast Quadrant”) end by a person and in the northern end by a dead bird. They’re spraying the pusher mosquitoes who spread the poison. West Nile cannot be spread by human contact, so I don’t have to worry about falling in love, which has happened as recently as a decade ago.

Tonight there’s a candidates’ forum for those who seek to join the school board in District 55. My plan is to stop off at Clinton Middle School, which is here in District 56, to shoot a few photos of the high school tennis match, on the way.

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I’ll miss the Presbyterian College football home opener because it conflicts with the NASCAR race in Richmond, which duty calls me to watch on TV. I’ll get another shot next Thursday night, when a school in Kentucky called Lindsey Wilson College plays the Blue Hose as a replacement for Stetson University. PC’s scheduled game with the Hatters was doffed by Florence the Rapidly Diminishing Storm last Saturday.

The opponent this Saturday night is Bluefield (Va.) College, which is across the state line from Bluefield State (W. Va.) College. The team venturing here is known as the Rams. The team arriving Thursday night is known as the Blue Raiders. Lindsey Wilson College is named after the late son of Catherine Wilson, whoever she was. The school has been around since 1903 and started requiring four years to graduate in 1986.

I hope Lindsey Wilson brings Blue Raider Bob. He’s the mascot, according to Wikipedia.

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.