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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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.

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.

One I Operate; the Other, I Drive

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 8:44 p.m.

Monte Dutton

If you go visit a drive-through, and the bill is $10.68, and you hand the cute girl in the window $21, absolutely anything can then happen.

Just an observation.

I own two pickups, a 1995 Ford F-150 and a 2018 Chevy Colorado Z-71. They are as different as a prop plane and a jet. I love them both. I feel more upright when I sit in the Ford. It’s a five-speed. The Colorado is six-speed automatic.

As a general rule, when I’m off on a local assignment, I take the one with the most gas.

(Monte Dutton photo)

In the Ford, I listen to old homemade cassettes. In the Chevy, I listen to satellite radio. The Ford’s windows roll up and down. Its doors require a button to be punched. The Chevy has automatic windows, and occasionally I push the right button. It doesn’t have a gas cap. I now know why so many people who drive trucks back into parking spots. It’s that rear camera. I am also a parallel-parking fool now.

(Monte Dutton photo)

When I’m in the Ford, I feel like I’m really driving. I’m shifting the gears, feathering the throttle. I feel more like I’m just operating the Chevy, monitoring the systems. In the Chevy, with diagnostics at my disposal, I try to maximize mileage, which is much better than the Ford and also the Dodge Dakota (it was built the final year their trucks all became Rams) that preceded the Chevy. The Chevy has lots more power and yet still gets about five miles more to the gallon than the Dodge, which I gave to my sister, who seems to be delighted with it. The original plan was to buy a small sport-utility vehicle, but the Colorado was considerably more fun to drive than the SUVs I test-drove. It has a handy bed cover. I bought the Colorado with 12,000 miles on it. The term “pre-owned” makes a small amount of sense. It’s less used than other vehicles I’ve owned.

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When I write about local news, I’m a stickler for writing out acronyms or initialisms on first usage. “SUV” is an initialism because it is not pronounced as a word. It’s “S-U-V.” If it was “Suv,” then it would be an acronym.

I hate to read articles that use acronyms and initialisms I don’t understand. “County Council announced it would submit a new BAGO grant application for work on the new STARE plant near the AGRICO project outside Mandrake Falls.”

A distressing number of times, when I ask what something stands for, the person in charge doesn’t know.

Then I search the web, only to find there are eight different acronyms of those letters. Not long ago I tried to look up what a PFDR (initialism) program was, and I’m fairly sure it wasn’t for Paint Free Dent Repair.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Sigh. Getting back to the trucks, I’ve had the Chevy for over a month now, and I’ve mostly figured out how everything works. The bells and whistles are useful, I guess. I just wish I could pick and choose whether or not I want all those features that make it much harder for me to mess up behind the wheel.

A part of me thinks that’s why I learned to drive by my ownself.

I guess it’s a good mix. My first pickup truck was the one we used on the farm. It was probably about a ’68, when Fords were F-100s instead of 150s. If I’d bought that ’95 new, I’d have probably thought it had too many gimmicks, too.

Yes. I will resist driverless cars. I think the first thing that will increase will be drinking behind the useless wheel. They’ll all have names. “Bessie, find a place for me to get a 12-pack, and then you can take me to Atlanta. Find a place for me to piss every 50 miles or so. Got it?”

Meanwhile, Bessie will be tipping off the cops.

 

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.

I Don’t Know, but I’ve Heard Say, that Every Little Dog Has His Day

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 2, 2019, 8:32 a.m.

Monte Dutton

Every dog has his day. Even the athletes with the most modest of skills – me, for instance, back in the distance when I tried to be one – have the occasional moment of glory.

The proudest of my memories involve the accomplishments of teams for which I played, but there was one day, late one hot June afternoon, on a softball field at what was once Thornwell Orphanage. In a battle of alleged Baptists, my First team was playing Davidson Street in a church league game. I was playing right field, never a place where an adroit outfielder was sent. Benny Bootle was batting for the Streeters. So vivid is the memory is that I can recall the feel of my white, thick-polyester-woven jersey with navy numbers and FIRST BAPTIST across the front, rubberized in navy. The heavy likelihood, then as now, is that I wore a Red Sox cap.

Benny and I were friends but rivals in sarcasm. Long before I cultivated a lifelong attraction to Furman University, I was a Tiger fan, and Benny was a Gamecock fan. It was not unusual, particularly during basketball season, for the phone to ring, and when I picked it up, I would hear the University of South Carolina fight song.

“It’s for you!” my mother called.

“Who is it?”

“A marching band,” she replied.

“Benny,” I said in a manner similar to the way Jerry Seinfeld would one day say, “Newman.”

We were “ragging” each other. It was long before I heard anyone refer to “trash talk,” but that’s what we were doing, and from long distance. The field was fashioned on land used in the fall by the orphanage, and those who were attending in ever greater numbers as a private school, for its football team to play. The diamond had no fences, but deep in right field, which I was patrolling, old wooden grandstands stood, supposedly impossible for mortals to reach with a softball propelled by a bat.

I dared Benny to hit it to me. He complied with what must have been the greatest blast a bat in his hands ever perpetrated on an oversized spheroid.

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I took off running as fast as I could, which wasn’t very, compared to others. I felt intense pressure, given that I had just proclaimed Benny Bootle incapable of hitting a ball over me. I had my back to the plate, tracking that long, towering fly ball. My arms were pumping at my sides. I couldn’t spare them for the fly ball until it arrived. At the last millisecond, I stabbed at it. Miraculously, it landed in my glove, which I ought to have preserved in a glass case rather than later leaving it out in the rain.

Not only was it the greatest play I ever made. It was the only great play I ever made. Even with Benny lumbering around the bases, it would have been an inside-the-park home run, which was the only kind Thornwell yielded.

That was 47 years ago. A great athlete probably wouldn’t even remember it. I can feel the sweat popping out. If I hadn’t made that catch, I’d be hearing about it now, if only from Benny, whom I rarely see and is now known as Ben.

As luck would have it, I did hear about it two weeks ago while I was having a No. 26 at the Mexican joint. A man walked by the booth I occupied, and I recognized him but couldn’t remember his name. I was dreading that “You don’t remember me, do you?” that often causes me to ’fess up and make some disarming comment like, “I can’t place you. Must be getting old,” that happens to be true by sheer coincidence.

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But he didn’t say that. He asked instead, “Are you Monte Dutton?”
“Yessir.” I have now reached the age where I most often say “Mister” or “sir” to the dwindling ranks of people I see who are older than I.

“You made the greatest catch I ever saw in a softball game.”

Of course, I knew the one to which he referred. It was the only great catch I ever made in any softball game, or baseball game, or quite possibly, any kind of game. Most of my great catches have occurred while editing features, columns, spot news, blogs and book manuscripts. No one ever saw me make them.

“Thank you, sir,” I said, “but it wasn’t that good.”

 

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.

A Long Line of Pistols and Sons of Guns

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 11:45 a.m.

Monte Dutton

When my mother told me Notre Dame was burning, at first I thought she meant the football stadium. I switched to a news channel. Pete Buttigieg was talking. He’s the mayor of South Bend. It all made sense.

Not.

I’ve never been to Paris, but I’ve been to Oklahoma. Someone told me I was born there, but I really can’t remember. (A tip of the cap to Hoyt Axton, who had never been to Spain, but Notre Dame Cathedral is in Paris and it’s the best I could do.) Paris, not Spain. What does it matter? What does it matter?

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The first rampaging storm front has swept through. Here we got off pretty easy. Another one’s headed this way. Want to know the best way to make a man believe in climate change? Destroy his house. It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature: that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, my inbox informs me that I can get 50 bonus points “on this Croatian vacation.” No, I’ve never been to Croatia, but last month I went to Asheville. My daddy used to trade horses there, but I barely still remember.

The last eight days, I’ve aged a year. Don’t be alarmed. I had a birthday. I got my taxes done. I underwent dental surgery. Maybe it wasn’t a pun after all.

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It’s a song. Life’s a song. Probably a Tom T. Hall song. Don’t let them big-city people get to you ’cause money’s the name of the game, don’t you see? They might pat your fanny and say you’re a dandy, but they still don’t like pickin’ on network TV.

It’s funny. Hilarious. Roger Miller funny. Roses are red and violets are purple. Sugar’s sweet and so is maple syrple. I’m the seventh out of seven sons. My daddy was a pistol. I’m a son of a gun. And about a year ago this time, I lacked fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.

Buh-buh-buh-buh-BUH-buh-buh, wow-wow-wow.

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In the oldest, Southern, mill-hill meaning of the word, Donald Trump is a pistol. Mama Davis would’ve said, “He’s a pistol, ah’ight,” and Papa would’ve just chuckled. Papa Davis was a man who just let the river flow. He passed his patience along to my mother, but it didn’t get to me.

After he died, folks who worked with him at Lydia Mill told Hudson Davis stories. Years ago, the mill announced that employees could gradually buy their houses on the village, and a sign-up sheet was placed on the bulletin board outside the break rooms.

One of the bigwigs finally walked up to Papa and said, “Hudson, don’t you want to buy that house of your’n up on Peachtree?”

“I reckon I’d like that,” Papa said.

“Well, you ain’t signed up yet, and the deadline’s next Tuesday.”

“Where you go to do that?”

“It’s on the bulletin board.”

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Papa laughed softly. “I learned a long time ago that no good generally comes from reading that bulletin board,” he said.

Thanks to Calvin Cooper, Papa made an exception.

Hudson Davis made sure he wasn’t the man who knew too much. He just knew more than most of the folks around him. The old timers say he was the best loom fixer they ever knew. He’d go in and dicker around with them, and then not have much to do. Then the shift would change, he’d pick up a few groceries at the company store and walk up Peachtree to the house. Inside the mill, looms would start breaking left and right.

Pity the man who follows Hudson Davis.

 

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 Birthday in the Life

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, 12:07 p.m.

Monte Dutton

Another year has come and gone. Fate chose mine to pass on the eighth day of April, which left me a week off a fool from the get-go.

(The above was quite possibly the first time I have ever typed the word “get-go” without it being a quotation of someone else. I can’t explain. Maybe it’s age.)

A Facebook friend is a modern version of the term “friendly acquaintance,” or, “people I don’t know who like me for some reason.” Nearly half of them wished me happy birthday in some way. This is why people claim they hate Facebook but keep right on giving away their privacy day after day, now and forever, world without end, amen, amen.

That plus casseroles.

Other than the annual Facebook Flood, which I appreciated, it was a Monday like every other Monday, only no local sports because it rained. I didn’t feel any different than I did Sunday or I do today. The Commission of Public Works meeting was enjoyable because the news was good and I like the commissioners.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I took a picture of a cone.

Before the meeting, I stopped by the Palmetto Fine Food joint and had the steak fingers plate special. Then, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really done anything to celebrate, so after the meeting, I went through the Chick-Fil- drive-through and had a key lime shake, which was perfect.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday cake. Maybe a cupcake in a race-track media room. It’s because years become less important as they pile up. Superman couldn’t blow out my candles.

While editing and describing the CPW meeting, I switched back and forth between the NCAA basketball championship game and the Atlanta Braves vs. the Colorado Rockies.

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I defend my right to root for teams for trivial reasons. I wanted Texas Tech to win because I have been to Lubbock but not to Charlottesville, but I didn’t mind the Cavaliers winning because I have a friend who teaches there. UVA needed overtime. Colbert started late. I watched Kimmel till TV finally made me sleepy.

Meanwhile, I hope the additional patience of another year will help me abide the Boston Red Sox’ start. They look superficially like the same players who won the World Series. Amazing things have happened, such as two Gold Glove outfielders inexplicably letting a ball fall between them that either could have caught. All 11 games have been on the road: four in Seattle, four in Oakland, three in Phoenix. The Red Sox have lost eight of them and enter today’s long-awaited Fenway opener a mere 105 victories shy of last year’s regular-season total.

It’s early. It’s early. Thank God Almighty, it’s early.

Most of today’s local sporting events are likely to be rained out, too, which is part of the reason I’m writing this blog and part of the reason why I might just be able to give the Blue Jays and the Red Sox some attention.

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.