Life Gets Artificial

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Clinton, South Carolina, January 21, 2019, 12:02 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I was just reading a book (My Exaggerated Life, by Pat Conroy as Told to Katherine Clark), because it’s MLK Day and I thought I ought to do something beside editing news releases and obituaries and compiling a crime report, and I heard a crash. It was the sound of melting snow crashing off a roof, but it hasn’t snowed. I went into my office, which has become a place where items I send by magic come out of a printer and where large boxes gather because ridiculously I think I may someday reuse them, and, at first, nothing seemed amiss.

There’s a bookcase I constructed faultily about 30 years ago that’s full of NASCAR books. Two other such bookcases, also faultily constructed at the same time, are located in the house. The one between the living room and the kitchen holds non-fiction unrelated to NASCAR. The one in my bedroom holds fiction. In what was once but is no longer the guest bedroom, many boxes full of books that will not fit on these shelves take up most of the space.

One of the shelves in the NASCAR bookcase had collapsed, and now a row of books are scattered about and probably will be until other shelves collapse, as they will, and I will undertake a cleanup when it becomes severe because that’s the way I roll.

This is most eventful part of MLK Day so far.

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As for the weekend, I didn’t take a photograph of the blood moon but I looked at many. I watched men in striped shirts decide two professional football games. I immensely enjoyed a basketball game between men representing Furman and Wofford right up until the point that the Terriers won it. I could not stay awake until the end of the Chili Bowl dirt-track race, but I left the TV in the bedroom on and it was replayed all night long, so, eventually, I sat up on the side of the bed and watched Christopher Bell pass Kyle Larson on the last lap at about 6:30 a.m.

I know. Exciting stuff, all through the prism of television and social media. My last brush with live action occurred on Friday night when Clinton High School’s boys defeated Woodruff by a point.

I can’t say “it’s been real, man” because it’s been artificial. This has far-reaching effects on civilization, but I’m about as incapable of pondering them as I am of fixing the bookshelves. To my credit, I did wash a multitude of dishes, bowls, and silverware while, at the same time, cooking breakfast this morning.

On Sunday night, with the TV muted and captioning closed during the Patriots-Chiefs game, I played my guitar and sang songs by Steve Earle, Tom T. Hall, and me on Facebook Live from my recliner, which is also falling apart but remains comfortable. I was real. All watched artificially, 275 so far. Live, just shy of 200.

I just spent several minutes responding to Facebook posts, time I could have spent reading the aforementioned book, or working on the novel that is apparently on sabbatical. Artificial time isn’t altogether wasted, of course.

Without it, I wouldn’t have this blog.

 

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.

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Both Sides Now

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, January 15, 2019, 9:53 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Money can’t buy love. Lack of it damned sure can’t. It has, however, put me in a much better mood.

Last week was the culmination of months of negotiation, ably handled by nephew who has business sense, that began when the mayor asked me if the Hudson M. Dutton who owned a plot of land outside town was I.

Now I have financial security again, fleeting though it may be. As best I know, I have paid off all my debts. Money doesn’t make much difference to me unless I don’t have much. Thus has it hung over me ever since that fateful day when my longtime employee eliminated my job.

Not that I was ever obsessed by it, but it was January 4, 2013.

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Please do not respond to the reading of this blog by offering me ways to invest my modest wealth. The aforementioned nephew, to whom I am grateful, is going to handle a good bit of that, too. I’d appreciate it if you don’t do something like burglarize my house. It’s the same unruly dump it was before.

I have already donated sums I consider appropriate to the tax-deductible organizations of my choice. My good fortune has been in the portion of the media in which I do not participate. For about half a year, I have recused myself.

A recreation park will be built on land that was formerly mine. I don’t see myself as any better off. I just have money that has replaced the land, which is not altogether a good thing. I didn’t sell all the land. For instance, I am presently sitting in a broken-down recliner in a house that still belongs to me. I still own the part of the farm that fronts the highway. My mother’s house has some space behind it to provide her some peace and quiet from the construction and racket that is to come.

I wasn’t sour or bitter. I have had enough grip on reality to consider myself the captain of my fate and master of my soul ever since my job of 16-1/2 years ended. I’ve worked as hard as ever, writing books, free-lance stories and otherwise carving out my own tiny pieces of a pie that hasn’t gotten any larger.

For over a week, ever since I pitched a small tantrum over the last ditches and potholes of government deliberation, my mood has improved. I’ve become more charming than usual to waiters, cashiers, athletes, coaches and assorted fellow men and women in general.

One of my favorite movie lines was from Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies: “I don’t trust happiness. Never have. Never will.”

This has been fortified by the fact that I’m reading an oral biography of the late Pat Conroy, My Exaggerated Life. Then there’s one of the lines from my favorite source of wisdom, Tom T. Hall: “I guess that he’s as happy as a thinking man can be.”

Sometimes I envy people who can blithely accept that which they don’t fully understand. I reckon I’m bad to think about it too much.

Enjoy it while you can, friends. A tornado’s liable to come tomorrow.

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.

Another Year Begins on High Notes

Josh, Anthony, Ella and Alex crowd around the imaginary mic with Uncle Monte.

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 4, 2019, 10:52 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I don’t make resolutions. Progress is a day-to-day matter. I just do what I need to do every day. Everyone has to roll with punches to some degree. The year just completed was one of turnaround. I have high hopes that the one ahead will bring success.

I don’t particularly believe in omens, but if I did, the final day of 2018 would have been a good one. My best day of the year was the last one.

My new partner, Alex.

I saw my favorite and only niece, Ella, her husband Tony, and the three boys who adore me, Alex, Anthony and Josh. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. Alex turns 16 later this month. He brought the ukulele he got for Christmas and amazed me at how fast he is picking it up. I brought a small guitar, my Little Martin, and taught Alex how to play along with me on a song we performed for the part of the family present: my mother, Miss Betty, and sister, Ginger; my nephew Ray; Tony, Ella and the boys. Our lives haven’t been successful enough to be feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys, and I sang Hank Williams’ pain songs, Jerry Jeff (Walker’s) train songs and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. At Ray Phillips’ house, weren’t nobody feeling no pain.

Alex likes indie folk music, but he also likes Hank Williams. When he was very young, he and I would sing “Move It on Over” on the way to a movie. He still remembers the words, and I showed him how “Honky Tonkin’” is mostly just one chord, and he was highly amused by “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Honky Tonk Blues.”

The song we played together was Charlie Robison’s “Barlight.”

Just for fun, on three.

I drank a couple Samuel Adams’ Boston Lagers. Ray offered me a dark beer, but I went with Sam Adams because the Red Sox are world champions, oshkosh, b’gosh, and we cracked oysters and munched Low Country Boil. Ray’s wife, Jessica, is expecting their fourth, but Thomas, Margaret and Peter are here in town, and I see them fairly often. Ray is happy because he’s a Clemson man and the Tigers are playing for the national championship again. I am happy because I’m a Furman man and the basketball team is doing well. Also, I really enjoyed Texas beating Georgia because I’ve spent a lot of time in the Lone Star State in my life and had an affinity for the Longhorns since Darrell Royal coached them.

(Monte Dutton photo)

Life has since gotten back to normal. I have been writing about local matters and editing releases. A feature about local Clemson fans and their experiences getting to and from Arlington, Texas, where they watched Clemson pound Notre Dame. An opinion piece on Clinton High’s search for a new football coach. The swearing in of local officials elected or reelected in November. Photos of a Laurens High wrestling match. The weekly NASCAR column for Competition Plus. Mrs. Shealy, who ran a flower shop in town when I was growing up, died at 98. The post-holiday crime reports had lots of domestic violence in them.

While finishing off the Clemson story, I half-watched On the Waterfront. Half-watching was fine because I’ve probably whole-watched it a dozen times. Yesterday I was delighted to learn that my mother had watched it, too. (“Monte, I watched a good movie last night.”) We chatted about how great Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb (“Oh, yes. Lee J. Cobb was always good.”) and Eva Marie Saint were.

Tonight I’m going to see the Raiders play Wade Hampton, and tomorrow there’s a doubleheader at Presbyterian College, where the Blue Hose are playing USC Upstate and the Clinton Red Devils are playing Lexington. It’s raining again. The road to my house looks like the Erie Canal.

Life goes on, pleasantly at present.

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.

One More Year in Review

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 24, 2018, 1:31 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve been working on stories about the year in review, so I guess I might as well take up the subject of my own.

Milestones come at intervals by definition, I suppose, but they’re not necessarily significant just because they end with a “0” or a “5.” I turned 60 this year, but I don’t think it made me wiser. I didn’t just awaken on April 8 and feel noticeably older. I was just a day further from the cradle and closer to the grave.

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What’s a day? What’s a year?

What’s the fourth Red Sox world championship in 15 seasons? Now, that, sir or ma’am, means something.

I still don’t care about money unless I don’t have it, which means it has been on my mind constantly for six years. This year brought some relief and the promise of resolution. The important date wasn’t when I turned 60. The important date is in a few weeks. I’ll be freeeee … but not free falling.

Scrambling to make a living, I sat aside too much this year. I haven’t written but a few songs. My eighth novel has slowed to a crawl. I haven’t gotten out my pastels and completed any drawings in a long time. I haven’t read as much. I’ve probably written twice as much, but most was on some sort of deadline related to hours, not days or months.

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” found new meaning when I grew a beard because my electric razor died. People who like a beard will tell you while you’ve got it. People who don’t will wait until you shave it off.

Monte Dutton

Just yesterday something new occurred to me. A Christmas Parade is the anti-Halloween. People bring candy to you. I thought of this yesterday at Mount Pleasant when a tiny Tootsie Roll bounced off my noggin.

Also, I ponder a haircut for at least a couple of months before I actually get one (and I need one now). I end up getting a haircut when I’ve got time on my hands (Don Williams added “… you on my mind, nowhere to spend all my money …”) and a Great Clips is nearby. I just get an all-over No. 8 because Carl Yastrzemski wore that number. It’s quite short, and then it gets quite long.

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I didn’t diet but lost a little over 20 pounds. I just started eating twice a day. Usually I fix my own breakfast unless I have a morning appointment. Sometimes I eat out before or after. Sometimes I have lunch. If I have a luncheon to attend, I skip breakfast.

I need a new belt. Or a hole-puncher.

At this rate, I’ll still be quite fat when I die. But, as Rick Nelson wrote, “It’s all right now. Learned my lesson well. Can’t please everybody. Just got to please yourself.” Much besides politics is the art of the possible.

I grew to love hummus. A friend brought some to my house. We barely touched it, and he left it on the coffee table with some wheat crackers. I ate it. It grew on me.

If I make an impulse buy and get a milkshake at the drive-through, that night I just snack for supper. A year ago I was slowly gaining weight and never eating sweets. This year I wasn’t worrying about sweets and gradually losing weight.

Go figure. One more way I set an egregious example. Don’t try this at home, kids, and don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

This year has generally been better than the ones that preceded it. It’s a start. I don’t have time for many more comebacks. One of the phrases in almost all of my prayers is “forgive me of my sins, of which there are many.” As Tom T. Hall wrote, “… it could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin,’ too.”

Strummin,’ in my case.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Try to do whatever floats your boat. Boats float in many ways.

 

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.

At Least There Was No Big One

Monte Dutton photo

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 22, 2018, 2:10 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

If law enforcement used yellow flags, they would have been waving on Spartanburg Highway, Musgrove Street Extension, or South Carolina 56 North, depending on which way one wants to identify the thoroughfare.

Two crashes, neither involving serious injuries, occurred within two hours of each other, about 150 yards apart.

This I learned quickly because the wrecks occurred close – very close – to where I live.

A little after 10 a.m., the electricity went out, which was unusual for a sunny day.

The phone rang. I had a high rate of confidence that, when I answered, I’d hear either my mother or my sister asking, “Have you got electricity?”

“Nope.”

It was my sister.

“What are you going to do?”

“Wait till it comes back on,” I said.

Because I knew she was curious and might well call several more times, I went to the City of Clinton’s Facebook page and found that a car had run off the road, hit a pole, and skidded to a halt slightly shy of hitting the front of Carolina Beautiful Nursery and Garden Center.

Power was out in much of this side of town, apparently. The city’s crews restored the electricity in something over an hour, much of which I spent strumming away at my guitar and singing snippets of old country songs.

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The Jared Birmingham Bowl, matching the stalwart teams of Wake Forest and Memphis, had started on ESPN when the phone rang again. Most of the calls on my land line nowadays involve either family or recordings.

“Hello.”

“Are you all right?” asked my sister.

“Almost exactly the same,” I replied.

“There’s been another wreck. Right in front of your house.” My house is actually down a dirt road that has been flooded for most of a month because this fall South Carolina became the Precipitation instead of the Palmetto State. “I thought you were in it.”

“I haven’t hardly gotten out of this chair,” I said.

Because of my keen journalistic instincts – and because I had already been writing about a fatal accident on Interstate 26 in the early-morning hours for GoLaurens.com – I realized I should go out there and take a picture, which I did, and I chatted amiably with a couple friendly police officers about whether or not Highway 56 maintained a NASCAR sanction.

The highway was blocked. The wrecks were on flatbeds. The toughest task for yours truly was backing my pickup between the trees and bushes lining the road to my house for about 200 yards. I haven’t exercised my backing skills so thoroughly since my late father’s truck was pulling – or at times pushing – a cattle trailer into a pasture, in the wee hours of the morning, in Max Meadows, Virginia, 40-some-odd years ago. (Bill Elliott used to be fond of saying “some odd,” and I’ve always wanted to use it in print.)

I think I read somewhere of lightning that actually did strike twice in the same place, and now I’m writing about wrecks that struck twice in almost the same place.

It was a home game.

I told a friend about it.

“There must have been a hell of a party out your way,” he said.

 

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.

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.

Stop the World and Let Me Off

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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.