Kids Don’t Make Me Feel Young, but I Remember What It Was Like

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The day was, in hindsight, just what I needed.

I didn’t sleep well Monday night. I dreamed vividly. It was one of those long, drawn-out visions of frustration. I couldn’t shake it when I went to bed. It continued vividly through the night.

Fortunately, Tuesday was a day I got out. I had a free-lance assignment at city hall, which here is called the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center. The subject was recreation. My idea of recreation these days is going to a meeting.

I came home and wrote the story. Then I wrote some more. It’s a common pattern for a writer.

In the late afternoon, I drove over to Clinton Middle School for a tennis match. Red Devils are habitually good at tennis. This has been a tennis town as long as I can remember. The Clinton High School team hasn’t lost a region match, and by that I include individual matches, this season. I took lots of pictures. I had to be quick for a slow man. By the time I got from one end of the courts to the other, it was all but over. Clinton 6, Newberry 0. Number one doubles wasn’t required.

I mostly chatted with the coach, Clovis Simmons, but it was enough of an interview to fill the needs of a story.

When describing events that overlap, I’m not as comprehensive. I drove from the middle school, where the courts are, to Clinton High School, where the softball park is. Chapman won that game, 6-2. It was tied until the sixth inning. The Lady Red Devils played well; they just got beaten. It happens.

It was Senior Night. Taped farewell messages from each player to their sport, their teammates, their parents and their school blared over the P.A. before the game. The girls got flowers. Even the Panthers’ fans liked them.

I didn’t keep score. I just scribbled notes and asked the lady who kept the book a few questions. The stories were short. I had two of them to write, three if you count a little roundup of other spring sports, which I don’t.

I talked to a lot of people, not for the stories but just making conversation. Tennis players. Fans. Parents. Coaches of other sports. Sometimes someone makes a comment that winds up in a novel. Fiction is a way to change the names to protect the innocent. The character I make up probably isn’t much like the kid who just got through playing doubles. In a different circumstance, though, he might say the same thing. It helps to gain a little insight about what makes people 42 years younger tick. How they interact. Kids have changed a lot, but not as much as you’d think.

When I left the ballpark, my phone informed me the Red Sox were leading the Yankees, 5-0. I thought to myself, by the time I get home, New York will be ahead. It was actually 5-1. I put some coffee on. I started dickering with photos I’d taken. Boston scored nine runs. 14-1.

To make a long story short, I slept well last night.

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 are available for sale here.

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Don’t Ask; I’m About to Tell

(Steven Novak cover)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 24, 2018, 4:46 p.m.

Surprise, surprise.

I awakened this morning to discover that a close friend’s edit of my next novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, had arrived via email.

(Steven Novak cover)

Last night I arrived home from a free-lance assignment to discover that my stock car racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, is freshly on sale in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes).

My life is in a discovery phase.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a project I’ve been working on for nearly a year and a half. I wrote a first draft. Then, in a burst of inspiration, I set it aside to write two short novels about stock car racing, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated. I never stopped chipping away at Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While writing the other two, I was editing down the manuscript. By late fall of last year, I had shaved about 15,000 words out. Then I decided to do away with the ending and write a new one. The base was thoroughly self-edited, far more thoroughly than any of my previous novels. I wrote the new ending, which, by the way, at this moment, is “ripped from the headlines.”

This may be fleeting. Headlines are changing rapidly in America.

By Monte Dutton

I’m glad that my editor likes it. It’s hard to be objective. Of course, I like my novel. I wrote it. I certainly didn’t write a bad novel on purpose. The racing novels were short, fun, funny, simple, and, relatively speaking, easy. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is organizationally complex. It’s ambitious, controversial, and far away from its beginning at its end.

Here are some excerpts from my editor’s remarks at the end:

Hell, this thing’s got the makings of a big book!

I figured it would be a good read on the current sorry state of journalism, but I really didn’t expect it to fly off on the particular tack you took. …

Brilliant! You mashed every hot button out there! Dope! Crooked politics! Implied hot sex! Football! …

Seriously. This is a helluva book. If it manages to get out, it may be your best seller yet. It tags a lot of bases. …

Yes. I took him up on his offer of a blurb.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about a group of not particularly significant people who unwittingly get themselves involved in what becomes first a national and then an international conspiracy. They gradually realize what serious trouble they are in. Some don’t realize it until they’re in it.

The story grows and grows, and, by the end, it involves police, drug dealers, politicians, image makers, businessmen, a newly elected president, his attorney general, and operatives of the Russian Federation.

I don’t where I came up with all this.

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 are available for sale here.

Join me live on Facebook after most NASCAR races. I’ll play songs, shill my writing, and engage in a discussion about the race and whatever else you’d like to ask. It’ll start a few minutes after TV network coverage ends.

 

This Too Will Pass … Or It Won’t

Clayton Kershaw. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, October 26, 2017, 11:03 a.m.

It was 100 degrees in Los Angeles for the first game of the World Series. The president is Donald Trump. A hurricane hit Ireland. Puerto Rico is still an American wasteland a month after Maria. I thought, oddly, about an old pop song.

Take a letter, Maria / Address it to my wife / Say I won’t be coming home / Gotta start a new life.

By Monte Dutton

Okay. So it’s not a precise match.

Did I mention the president is Donald Trump?

These times are affecting me. Last night the World Series game was a classic. Half of it I spent watching the news on other channels. Until recently, that would have been unthinkable. Until recently, I could depend on hell waiting ten minutes before it broke out.

Funny thing is, most of the constant motion is Trump running in place. Or tweeting in place.

I go about my business in grim resignation. I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon. Genghis Don got elected. He’s in cahoots with Attila the Russian.

My Republican friends have gone soft on Russia. I never saw that coming. They engage in whataboutistry. Hillary did it too! They ignore all the facts that matter and ignore the ones that don’t. They have the permission of Kellyanne Conway to believe “alternative facts.”

I write. It’s all I know to do. I keep my head down. I try to stay out of trouble on Facebook by holding it down to a few comments a day. Sometimes I can’t help it. I like Twitter better because it doesn’t provide as much room for meanness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.
(Steven Novak cover)

I’m winding down the next novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I’m rewriting the ending to account for current events. I spent the first half of the year writing two fun, funny, irreverent, first-person novels about stock car racing. I sat Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell aside for them. Now I’ve edited, pared down, and proofread the first 39 chapters, and they’re ready to go. I’ve just got to finish the ending. It’s mapped out in my outline and clear in my mind. It’s a matter of doing it, and I’m saddling up my writing horse to gallop into Chapter 45 as soon as this blog comes to a stopping point.

Meanwhile, down the line, I’m pondering a baseball novel. Maybe a few more baseball fans still read more than 140 characters at a time.

Okay, that’s the stopping point. It’s the best I can do at the moment.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Sometimes I Feel All by Myself

Montreal, Quebec (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, June 13, 2017, 2:46 p.m.

Donald Trump has changed my life. To some extent, all presidents do. Normally, the sheriff has more to do with a person’s day-to-day life than the president, especially in a rural county, but President Trump has turned me inside-out.

I’m not referring to Russians, health care, golf, a son-in-law, a reince or even a priebus. Okay, Reince Priebus is one person, but no man should be allowed to put “e” before “i” in his first name and “i” before “e” in his latter. His full name is Reinhold Richard Priebus. I remember a major-league pitcher named Tom Phoebus. If I could create real names, as I can in fiction, he would be named Reince Phoebus Priebus. Uh, I might give him an uncle named Remus.

By Monte Dutton (John Clark photo)

President Trump has changed my habits, my inclinations, and the way I conduct my days.

For instance, last year an election campaign was going on, but I generally did work while either ballgames or old movies were on TV during the day. I watched the Red Sox with some attention at night, and when the game was over from Boston, I’d often watch the Dodgers just because of Vin Scully.

I still watch the Red Sox, though not as closely. During commercial breaks between innings, I don’t check on other games. I check on what President Trump has done.

This is not good. It seems as if every day brings developments that are alarming. I switch to a news channel, and it gets me down. I have to stay up for the late talk shows just so I can hear jokes about the latest bad news. That way I can sleep.

The president keeps saying all the criticisms are “fake news.” He says they are made up. Then he alleges that the stories are the result of leaks. They can either be made up or the result of leaks, not both. If the stories came from leaks, they are not fake news.

Gosh, I miss Vin. And David Letterman. And Craig Ferguson. And Jon Stewart. And Garrison Keillor.

 

(Steven Novak design)

If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Lightning in a Bottle, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise)

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

I’ve written six novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.

The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.

LightningBottle_CVR_LRG
(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle is the story of Barrie Jarman, the hope of stock car racing’s future. Barrie, a 18-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina, is both typical of his generation and a throwback to the sport’s glory days.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is a modern western. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.

I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.

I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are on sale at Emma Jane’s (see ad above). Signed copies of all my fiction are also on sale at L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton, South Carolina.

(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)
(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).

 

 

A Cry for Help, or, at Least, Reading

 (Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

I’m just about to dive into the 21st chapter of my next – and sixth – novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which is a few paragraphs shy of 50,000 words in its first draft.

Italics will be added when it’s published.

But first! A warm-up. La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-lah! Get the old digits cranking like pistons!

My urgency at writing everything I want to write before I die – to the best of my knowledge, it isn’t imminent – leads me into lots of competing activities.

For instance, it behooves me to sell these books.

fb_img_1479301033343904
By Monte Dutton

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, a freewheeling yarn of crime and corruption, has been out since the spring. I’m not sure I would go as far as to note that is a huge success, but it’s the most successful of my novels to date. It’s profitable. I get a check each month, depending on the results of the previous one.

Cowboys Come Home, a western set at the end of World War II in Texas, has only been out a few weeks. Crazy of Natural Causes, a fable on the absurdity of modern life in the form of a man’s fall and rise, was published in the summer of 2015. The Intangibles, set in the tumult of 1968 in the American South, hit the virtual shelves in fall 2013. The Audacity of Dope, an irreverent story of a reluctant hero, was my first novel, released in the winter of 2011.

Longer Songs, a collection of 11 short stories derived from songs I wrote, is also a product of the current year.

Thanksgiving kicks off the holidays. People start buying Christmas trees. For some reason, many go shopping on what is known as Black Friday. I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday. I can’t imagine doing so. Life is too short. I may have shopped online that day, but I can’t recall.

Buying my books requires no standing in line, difficulty finding the car, or walking through a story with an armful of bags, trying to find a restroom. Clicks. All it takes are clicks. And numbers. Numbers to type. Many of these numbers may already be saved in your electronic device.

Cowboys Come Home is self-published. The bad news is that I have no promotional might – activity is a better word; it’s never been mighty – behind it. I wanted to write a western. Apparently no one wanted me to do this. The good news is that I started earning money from day one. I think I made $25.71 the very first day it was on sale.

I need your help. First, I’d like for you to read it. You can download it on your phone for less than any short-order combo at Wendy’s, or Hardee’s, unless you’ve got coupons. Being a vain writer, I think that if you read it, you’ll like it, and you’ll want to say so in the form of short customer reviews at Amazon and goodreads.

(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)

You’ll want to send it to your friends as gifts. Cowboys Come Home is the least “parental discretion advised” of my five novels to date (and it’s going to be less so than the next one). It’s violent. It’s harsh. The cowboys and their sinister counterparts drink, smoke, kill, and lust. They don’t curse nearly as much as the characters in the other novels.

It’s PG-13. Nothing is going to shock your teens. Nothing in the other four would probably shock your teens, either, but you still might not want them to read them. Tell them this and, undoubtedly, they will. Unless they’re on Snapchat. Which they are.

There is good to be learned from all of them, though.

Riley Mansfield (The Audacity of Dope) is a pot-smoking songwriter, but he’s also a hero with uncommon bravery, not to mention stubbornness. Frankie Hoskins (The Intangibles) is a kid trying to cope with civil rights, bigotry, drugs, sex, and, most importantly, high school football. It’s painful, particularly at the end. Chance Benford (Crazy of Natural Causes) is a football coach who must reinvent himself after personal disaster on a grand scale. Hal Kinley (Forgive Us Our Trespasses) is a good cop intent on bringing down a ruthless politician. Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly (Cowboys Come Home) are GIs, home from the Pacific, who find no peace in Texas.

Read one or two or five, and the short stories make six. If this brazen appeal doesn’t sway you, give Longer Songs a read. It won’t take long. It doesn’t cost much. It’s a sampler. If you like the short stories, you’ll love the novels.

Okay, back to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s Election Day, and football practice is about to start at Enlightened Word Academy.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.

My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home.

I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.

I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.

 

(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)
(Cover photo by Crystal Lynn)

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).

cowboyshome_fullcvr343-page-001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’

Rudderless in a Rainstorm …

… Or, How I Cross-Blogged for Kindle Scout

Kelpie-Dreams

For the first time, here at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, the following words aren’t mine. This is a guest blog from a fellow author, and I hope you can muster some eleventh-hour support for his KindleScout campaign. — MD

By Steve Vernon

I contacted Kindle Scout winning author Monte Dutton upon a Kindle Scout board over at Amazon. It seemed that he was looking to cross-blog with fellow Kindle Scout authors and/or would-be authors, such as me.

So I took a look at the whole situation.

First off, I was intrigued because Monte – who has the same first name as one of my favorite western movies, Monte Walsh, either the Lee Marvin version or the Tom Selleck version, but only because Keith Carradine did such a great job of riding Jack Palance’s pony – had successfully placed not one, but two novels in Kindle Scout. His novel Crazy of Natural Causes, had already been published by Kindle Scout, and he had a second Kindle Scout novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, due out imminently, which is a fancy of way of say any minute now, soon as they get around to it.

Clearly this dude knew what he was talking about so I was eager to take him up on his offer – so right off the bat I played hard to get.

Steve Vernon (right)
Steve Vernon (right)

“Great, Monte,” I said to him, via my Twitter – and yes, even tough guys like me know how to Twitter, at least until the birds chase us out of the trees. “Why don’t you send me a blog talking about your experiences with Kindle Scout and I’ll send you something imminently.”

I’m not saying I was cool about it.

That’s right – I went all bunny-in-the-headlights and forgot what I was doing and tried to weasel out at the last minute when I really ought to have known better in the first place.

In my excuse, I had just got home from a night shift at my job as a cubicle dust bunny, and I knew from my work schedule that I was due in back at the office first thing in the morning, and I wasn’t thinking all that clearly in the first place – but then, this morning, I woke up at about five in the morning and slapped myself a few times just on the principle of it and wrote this blog.

You have to also remember that this is my second-to-last day on Kindle Scout and I have been writing a blog entry a day over at my own blog, Yours in Storytelling, and by this point, I was feeling more than just a little bit punchy.

Just imagine somebody sitting at the crossroads of Rocky Balboa’s “Yo Adrian!” and Sally Fields’ “They like me, they really like me.” and throw that mental image into a blender for two or three days, and you’ll be about halfway towards the punch drunk and dizzy that I was feeling.

So I have been talking about my Kindle Scout campaign for my novel, Kelpie Dreams, for the last 28 days or so, and I have ridden way past filibuster territory, and I am entering the my-god-won’t-that-fella-ever-stop-talking stage of things.

So let me tell you about Kelpie Dreams.

Kelpie Dreams is a full-length, paranormal shoot-em-up romance written for the sort of folks who wouldn’t necessarily be caught dead reading a romance. It tells the tale of Lady Macbeth – a high school librarian, ex-assassin and part-time kelpie — whose mother wanted to name her Hemorrhoid at birth. Now she has to take on a Sea Hag – eight legs of Godzilla-ugly poured into a bucket full of meanness – with the help of a one-woman army named Rhonda, a 200-year-old Sea Captain, and a hunky lighthouse keeper who won’t admit that he’s dead, as well. Kelpie Dreams is a funny, action-packed paranormal romance novel for folks who hate to read romance novels.

The Kindle Scout campaign for this novel ends on March 4, 2016 – so I have clearly left the writing of this blog to sometime way past the last minute or so – but, all the same, I hope that some of you folks who have been following Monte’s blog page will see fit to take a look at my excerpt, and if it sounds like a book that you might sort of almost like a little bit, maybe if you squinted … then maybe you’d even consider nominating Kelpie Dreams.

Whatever you decide to do, I want to thank you for reading this far. Right now I have got to run and grab myself a bite of breakfast before grabbing the bus to work to get back to my all-important cubicle, dust bunny doings.

 

 

KELPIE DREAMS campaign page – https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/2BN2D6VXZUK60

YOURS IN STORYTELLING blog – https://stevevernonstoryteller.wordpress.com/

STEVE VERNON’S Twitter – https://twitter.com/StephenVernon

 

 

 

The Big Mistake

IMG_0259
(Monte Dutton sketch)

Beuerlein was an upscale town of about three thousand, perched on the New Jersey Shore. Unlike many such towns, Beuerlein’s residents mostly lived there year around, and most who didn’t were writers, artists, and craftsmen, and craftswomen, of other ilks. Lots of intelligent, good-natured people lived there, and most didn’t get too out of shape when their kids strayed a bit off the beaten path. If Beuerlein citizens had been inclined toward promotion, they would have made more of the high ratings of the public schools, but they were more inclined to quiet pride and mild snobbery.

A small college, Pinelands State, was in town. Each summer an arts and crafts festival brought poets, playwrights, painters, novelists, sculptors and Native American artisans to town. Parents thought it was a good place to raise kids and keep them shielded from the tawdry affairs in Philadelphia and New York, while at the same time maintaining their own discreet affairs in those cities.

mug Dutton Monte 2_WEB
By Monte Dutton

What shed Beuerlein’s outward calm began at the end of football season, when the local high school’s Whalers lost in the second round of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and, in the aftermath, Kirt Craine broke up with the Homecoming queen, Beverly Linzy, who did not take it well because it had been her eventual aim to marry Kirt and have his baby, perhaps even in that order.

Jon McGiver was not a fan of jocks, though he kept it a secret because he found them enthusiastic clients for the marijuana he enjoyed selling. He was an intelligent kid who was in love with broadcasting and little else besides Beverly Linzy, who got her weed from him for free. Jon was tired of being the character in every other teen movie, the long-suffering pal who’s in love with the girl who never notices it. Beverly noticed it, but she didn’t take Jon seriously as a lover. She just took him seriously as a source of weed, which meant she was only too happy for them to be friends famously.

So distraught was Beverly at the dreamy Kirt’s rejection that she succumbed to Jon’s offer for them to get away to a spot he knew in the nearby marshes where they could “medicate” in reliable secrecy. Jon, to his credit, didn’t advertise his hideaways, and he’d never seen any sign of human life at the dilapidated barn, hidden from the highway by a pine forest that was divided by a dirt road barely wide enough for Jon’s Kia to squeeze through.

 (Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

“How did you find this place?” Beverly asked, coughing and stoned.

“I had a flat tire,” he said. “Me and this other guy were coming back from Newark, I think. It was a full-moon night. Me and him — it was Ronnie Braeton — we walked down the path and found nothing but this old barn, and we said, you know, shit, ain’t nobody out here, and then I said, well, man, we might as well smoke a joint, and we did, and I been coming back here ever since. It’s kind of peaceful — and haunted.”

“So what happened?” Apparently, Beverly thought the story was going to include goblins, or zombies, or, at least, galloping unicorns.

“We just talked a while and staggered back to the car to change the tire,” Jon said. “It, was, like, two in the morning.”

They smoked some more in silence. Then Beverly said, “I’d like to fucking kill Kirt.”

Jon’s first thought was, Fuck him to death. You go, girl. Then he saw an opportunity.

“Seriously?”

“What?”

“You seriously want to kill him?”

“Well, yeah, but I’m not saying I’m gonna. I’m just saying I’d like to. ‘Like’ is one thing. ‘Doing’ is another.”

“So you don’t want to kill his shit-for-brains ass,” Jon said. “You just want to fuck him up.”

“Exactly.”

“Never you mind, my little chickadee.” Occasionally, Jon would try to imitate someone like W.C. Fields because he was fond of watching old movies stoned. “I know just the way to fix his ass. Leave it all up to me.”

“What are you going to do? Jon?”

“You don’t need to know, Beverly, my sweet. I’ll take care of everything.”

 

One of the lingering obligations of Kirt Craine’s football career was that he had agreed, back in October sometime, to appear on the school’s online talk show, which was produced and directed by another outstanding senior, Jon McGiver, whose father was an honest-to-God filmmaker who had semi-retired at age forty-seven and moved to the Shore to repair a marriage and keep his only child out of trouble.

The idea of the show was similar to late-night talk shows, though it only lasted a half hour and was co-hosted in the name of gender equity by Gerald Mebane, the editor of the school’s annual, The Harpoon, and Erica Dickel, who managed the literary magazine, Melville’s Folly. Kirt was supposed to review the season and talk about the heroic virtues of football. The two other guests were Nelson Roony, the town mayor’s son and head of the Young Republicans, and Ada LoCasale, the dark-complexioned firebrand of the Young Democrats.

 (Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

Jon was in no hurry. He said they’d do what it took to get the show right. First, he said, they would each do a mock session on the set, alone, just to get the hang of being comfortable in front of a camera.

“Erica always does some riff that’s kind of SNL-like, you know, just does it off the top of her head,” Jon said. “Laugh. It’s not for real, just for practice. After you breeze through that, the show will be easy. Just get the feel of it. Erica and Gerald know the deal. Erica, you go first.”

Kirt motioned for Jon to step over.

“Do we really have to do this shit?” he asked.

“It’ll be fun,” he said. “Tell you what, Kirt, my brother. Wanna step outside and burn one?”

“Nobody around?”

“Not on Saturday. It’s cold outside, dude. Ain’t nobody doing no nature walking, know what I’m saying?”

“Shit, yeah,” Kirt said. “I’ll blaze with you.”

 

“Okay, the camera’s not on, right?” Kirt asked.

“No,” Jon said. “This is just for you to get accustomed to being on camera. I’m not actually taping, man.”

“Why’s that red light on?”

“That just means the power’s on,” Jon lied. “When it’s taping, a green light comes on.”

“Okay. I got an idea.”

“We’ll do it just like it’s live. Give me a countdown — three, two, one — and then pause about a second and start talking. This is just to get the hang of it, Kirt. If you screw up, just keep on going.”

“All right.” Kirt turned his Yankees cap around backwards and retrieved a pair of shades from his Penn State hoodie. He opened the top drawer behind the desk. Great. An ashtray. “Check this out.

“Hey, I’m Kirt Craine and …”

“Countdown, Kirt, countdown.”

“Oh, yeah.

“Three, two, one.” Pause. “What’s up? I’m Kirtland Mahaffey Craine — call me Kirt — and I played flanker for the Beuerlein Whalers, Region Two champions for the third consecutive year. I caught thirty-seven passes and scored seven touchdowns, but that’s not important. That’s, like, so over now.”

He reached into the hoodie’s pouch again and pulled out a Bic lighter and a pack of Marlboro Lights.

“When I was playing ball, you know, there was so much pressure, man. Somebody watching you all the time. Go to school, go to practice, watch film, go home, eat dinner, do homework, go to bed, over and over and over, and the only time nobody was watching me was when I was driving to school and back.”

He tapped a cigarette out of the pack, fished it with his lips, and lit up. He could hear a commotion in the wings. He could hear Erica Dickel breathing “oh, my God!” and Gerald Mebane braying like a donkey.

Kirt took a draw that was obviously not his first, leaned back and exhaled.

“I had to do something bad, man, so I got in the habit of having a smoke. All that exercise … It didn’t do no harm.”

He hit the cigarette again, drew it back into his throat, inhaled deeply, and blew smoke rings.

“See, I know smoking is bad,” he said. “But, you know, football is harsh, man. You work all week long at being mean and tough and ruthless, and just cruel, and then you go out there and kick ass, like we at Beuerlein High School almost always do, and you’re spent, man. You’re angry, and you’re triumphant, and, man, I’m serious, I just had to wind down.”

Another hit. Nose exhale. Kirt was doing tricks.

“So here’s what I did. You know, I was a football player all week, so, the way I looked at it, when the weekend came around, you know, I wasn’t a football player no more. I was, like, a guitar player.”

Another draw. Exhale out of the side of his mouth.

“So, on Saturday, man, I had the house to myself, and I fixed myself a cup of coffee, and I put ice on my knee, and heat on my back, and I played my guitar, and I watched the ballgame my parents went to on TV, and — smoked.”

Kirt took another deep draw and said, “Even cigarettes,” as he exhaled.

By now, the others were applauding.

“They told me I had to talk till I finished this cigarette,” he said, puffing it one more time, “and I just want to say that, you know, it’s easy to criticize, but, as far as I’m concerned, the way I did things made me a better football player. I used to worry too much, man, I used to try so hard not to screw up that I couldn’t do nothing right, you know, and it helped, man. It helped. I went out there, practice field, ballgame, don’t matter, I went out there and tried to make a play. I was bold. I was fearless. I didn’t give a damn. Now, I just got one more thing to say.

“Live, from Beuerlein, it’s Saturday Night!”

Within five minutes, Erica Dickel, Gerald Mebane, Nelson Roony and Ada LoCasale had all texted several of friends that they were “OMG” and “LMFAO” at Kirt Craine, who was funny “af” and quite possibly “turnt” and/or “faded” at AVC, which, of course, was Audio-Visual Center.

Then they taped the real show, which went fine, and Kirt managed to appear as genial and witty as a young man could be while wearing sunglasses, hoodie, and a backward ballcap.

Unfortunately, Jon McGiver made a “mistake,” and what got posted that night on the Beuerlein School District website was a video of Kirt Craine, the Whalers’ erstwhile wide receiver, extolling the virtues of smoking on the side. By the time it had been pulled from the website, it was expanding exponentially across the quicksilver expanse of the Internet via YouTube.

Jon sent a text to Beverly: have no fear, my dear. kirt crane might as well be a dead man.

He was confident he was going to get laid.

 

Kirt Craine learned of his betrayal via an infestation of text messages on his phone. Since most the messages were indirect – omg, man, look on the school website, wtf? – it took him a while to get his bearings straight. This was, in part, because his parents were in East Brunswick, or New Brunswick, or some Brunswick, and thusly was Kirt stoned, which was part of the reason he had let Jon McGiver hoodwink him in the first place. Naturally, once he watched the video, his first thought was to kill his heretofore reliable weed dealer. He was not of a mindset to commit violent acts, though, and a calmer head considered the matter. In fact, the calmer head reacted to what was clearly a crisis of epic proportions by getting even calmer. For several hours, Kirt just watched his phone.

Dude, they took it off the website. Whew.

Wus wrong widja, kirt? Musta been faded, am uh rite?

Uh shit. Its on youtube, mon. u wanna b a hero r u wanna be famus. Famus…chek.

You b so bad. Most effed thang evuh!

Kirt… call immediately. I’m serious. Mom.

He thought of that old song that his dad played sometime. I’m not gonna let it bother me tonight. Yeah. How bad could it be?

Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to night. The phone rang. Kirt didn’t dare answer. That phone usually brought only bad news or his grandmother, who had little use for “those silly space phones.” The message clicked on. He heard the voice.

            I know you’re there, Craine. Apparently, son, you’ve lost your damned mind. I didn’t think you were capable of screwing things up this bad. You’ve screwed it up so bad that I’m about to go meet with Adenweiss and Cheshire to decide what to do with your ass. If World War III broke out, they wouldn’t think it necessary to meet on a Saturday. Thanks to you and your smart-ass, dope-smoking video, I’m going over to the school at 3:30. If you want to have a school to go to, and graduate from, your ass better be there, in Adenweiss’s office, because my expectation is that they are going to expel you.

IMG_0232
(Monte Dutton sketch)

It was Alf O’Shea, his coach, a man he couldn’t ignore. A man he didn’t want to know about this and one he didn’t want to face in his current condition. He looked at his phone. He had ninety minutes. Thirty of them he needed just to get his shaking and fretting done. No telling how agitated he would have been had he not been high. That was one good thing, though. If he’d been drunk, things would have been hopeless. Drinking killed days. Smoke wore off. Kirt went to the bathroom and shaved. Fortunately, he didn’t have the type of razor that would have made cutting his throat easy. At least, Kirt would know by sundown whether or not it was necessary to beat Jon McGiver to death or just senseless.

            He swore the camera wasn’t on. There were witnesses. I wish I hadn’t done it, but, goddamn it, it’s not my fucking fault!

Kirt got there about five minutes late, which was because he took too much time trying to determine what he would wear. His long black hair was wet, and there wasn’t time to do anything but towel-dry it. He wore khakis, and a button-up flannel shirt, but then he defeated that wholesome purpose by putting on a hoodie. He drove with the window down, the better to dry his hair, but what he mainly did was freeze it instead. He instantly felt faint when drove up to Beuerlein High School and found the dreaded TV cruisers waiting. Instead, he drove into the parking lot that was full of idle schoolbuses. Now to find an unlocked door – or an unlocked window. The first door he tried opened. He glanced at the lock. It was taped open. He wondered if anyone was trying to steal a Spanish test from a file cabinet. He had a few teammates who’d bragged about performing such heists. If they’d done it today, they were in for a surprise. Kirt was tempted to run, but he didn’t want to arrive in the principal’s office out of breath.

Unlike school days, there was no Mrs. Williston in the reception area. For once, he could walk right in. As usual, he didn’t particularly care to.

It wasn’t a congenial affair. All three – Coach Alf O’Shea, principal Phyllis Adenweiss, and superintendent Roland Cheshire – were angry. None offered as much as a handshake. Cheshire told Kirt to sit down and might as well have told him to shut up. Cheshire started lecturing him loudly, face reddening, and told him he was expelled and, quite likely, going to prison. O’Shea laid the guilt trip on him, going off on the role-model subject, which, even in the best of times, was one of his favorites. Principal Adenweiss, whom Kirt liked and had heretofore liked him, didn’t raise her voice as much, and after a representative effort at browbeating, finally suggested that perhaps Kirt might want to defend himself.

“Thanks, Mrs. Adenweiss,” Kirt said. “Look, first of all, I apologize, but – I didn’t do anything wrong. It was a joke.”

“Lighting up a cigarette, and smoking it while giving advice to young people,” O’Shea said. “Is that your idea of a joke, Kirt?”

Cheshire, apparently perceiving no irony, promptly lit a cigarette while anxiously awaiting Kirt’s reply. Apparently, the high school wasn’t “a smoke-free facility” on weekends. Kirt was in no position to complain.

“Yes,” Kirt said. “Yes. First of all, Jon McGiver was in charge. He told all five of us – it was me, Erica Dickel, Gerald Mebane, Nelson Roony, and Ada LoCasale – that we should try to get used to sitting in front of the camera and looking at it while we talked, and he said we could do it any way we wanted, but he said maybe we could imagine it was ‘Weekend Update’ on Saturday Night Live, and we could do a little monologue, off the top of our heads, and try to be funny. So that’s what we all tried to do. All five of us did it.”

“All five of you aren’t all over the Internet,” Cheshire said. “Why just you?”

“I don’t know,”Kirt said. “Maybe mine was the funniest, but, see, that’s not the point. Jon told us he didn’t even have the camera on. I even asked about it right before I started. Right then, he said, no, the camera wasn’t on. He said something about the red light being the power switch, and there being a green light when the camera went on.”

“Did a green light come on?” Adenweiss asked.

“I don’t know,” Kirt said. “Maybe it did. I didn’t notice, once I got started. He could have been lying. There might not be a green light. I mean, at the time, I was trying to concentrate on what I was saying. I was just trying to be funny. See? It was like a comedy routine.”

“You smoked a cigarette,” O’Shea said, and, by now, Adenweiss was, too.

“I turned eighteen five days ago,” Kirt said. “It’s legal for me to smoke.”

“Pretty good at it,” O’Shea interjected.

“It made me nauseated. Coach, I don’t smoke.”

“Where you’d get ‘em?”

“I borrowed the pack from one of the others. Like I said, it was comedy. It wasn’t supposed to be taped.”

“Which one?” Cheshire asked.

“Which one what?”

“Which one gave you the cigarettes?”

“None of your business,” Kirt said. “I’m not going to rat on nobody.”

“Were you high, son?” O’Shea asked.

“No.”

“Why’d you recommend the use of marijuana?”

“I didn’t. I looked at the video before I left the house.”

“You made that comment,” Adenweiss said. “’Even cigarettes,’ you said.”

“Mrs. Adenweiss, I was trying to be funny.”

“Why were you wearing sunglasses?” O’Shea asked.

“I was playing a role.”

“What? The role of a drug addict.”

“A stoner. Something like that.”

“You’re still expelled,” Cheshire said, crushing out his cigarette.

“This is my whole future,” Kirt said. “And, again, I have to say this. I made a mistake. I used poor judgment. But I did not – I did not – do anything wrong.”

“Shit,” Cheshire said. “Next thing this punk’s gonna tell us is that he’s hired a lawyer.”

“Well,” Kirt said. “My father is one.”

That remark raised the heat in the room. O’Shea, Adenweiss, and Cheshire exchanged glances at one another, as if waiting for one of the others to speak.

Adenweiss said, “I have a proposal,” and crushed out her own cigarette. “I must reluctantly agree that Mr. Craine has a point. If what he says is true, and a greater responsibility in this catastrophe belongs to Mr. McGiver, then we must concede that his share of the blame is at least as great. Mr. Craine, why do you think Mr. McGiver chose to engage in what you allege to be – entrapment?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“Do you owe him money?” she asked.

“No.”

“Is there anyone out there with a grudge against you?” Coach O’Shea was coming around. His ire had been raised by the notion that one of his players was being targeted by some flimsy, jealous punk who’d never even gone out for junior high football. He didn’t like the McGiver kid. Never had.

“Well, I just broke up with my girlfriend,” Kirt said.

“Beverly Linzy! Why in God’s name did you break up with her?” O’Shea asked, sounding as if only now did he think Kirt had lost his mind.

“She’s into drugs,” he said, knowing immediately he shouldn’t have said that. “No. I’m kidding. I just thought, since you were accusing me – never mind. Beverly’s not into drugs. She’s not even into sugar.

“I broke up with her because she’s just naturally nuts. She’s suspicious. Jealous. Ever since she got crowned homecoming queen, she’s just changed, that’s all.”

“Be that as it may,” Adenweis said, “getting back to my proposal, Mr. Craine, no matter what you did or what you didn’t, no matter whether you intended or not, your actions have brought great shame on yourself and on your school. Some measure of discipline is in order.

“For now, we have a great image problem on our hands. A crush of media is waiting outside. My suggestion is that either Mr. Cheshire or myself read and distribute a statement explaining that the student in the video was allegedly tricked into taping it, and, while that does not absolve him from blame, it does merit more lenient treatment and a full investigation into what happened and why.”

“You do it,” Cheshire said, looking as if he could use a drink more than another cigarette.

“As you wish, Mr. Cheshire. Do you want to be involved, Coach O’Shea?”

“Not unless you think it’s necessary, Phyllis,” he said.

“Very well,” Adenweiss said. “If everyone is in agreement, I suggest that either you, Coach O’Shea, or you, Mr. Cheshire, go outside and inform the media that Mr. Craine and I will arrive shortly to make an announcement regarding the matter.”

O’Shea looked at Cheshire. “I’ll do it, Phyllis. Let the superintendent get back to whatever it was he was doing before he found out about this mess.”

Cheshire didn’t dissent. His expression was grateful.

“All right,” Adenweiss said. “Mr. Craine and I have a writing exercise to complete.”

After O’Shea and Cheshire left, the principal said, “Jesus, Kirt, how in hell did you get yourself in this mess?”

“Just stupid. Should’ve never trusted that weasel Jon McGiver. I don’t know of a thing he’s got against me. I guess he just doesn’t like my looks.”

“Well, here, take this pen and legal pad. Write what you want to say. Legibly. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll compare and make changes. Cool?”

“Cool,” he said, “and thanks.”

Adenweiss slid her pack of cigarettes in his direction. “You can have one if you want it,” she said.

“No, thanks.” Kirt didn’t want to tarnish himself further, whether it was okay or not.

 

Adenweiss and Kirt had to push their way through the crush of humanity. Some of the kids flashed Kirt their thumb’s ups. He imagined a few of them holding up placards with marijuana leaves and the like, and then thought of them crumbling under O’Shea’s gaze, wadding up the signs and leaving them at their feet. He was smiling as he scanned the crowd. The parking lot sloped downhill from the school, ending above the baseball field. He saw Beverly Linzy and Jon McGiver, sitting on the hood of her Subaru, holding hands.

(Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

Kirt touched Adenweiss on the shoulder, and when she turned, he whispered, “Look. Beverly and Jon, second row, sitting on her car. Holding hands.”

He put his left arm around the principal’s back, leaned toward her right ear, and pointed energetically with his right arm. He wanted them to see it. They did. And stopped holding hands.

Adenweiss looked at Kirt. She liked him. He was no angel. He was smart, though, and resourceful. He was the type of kid who made it through the rites of passage. Learned from them. She smiled.

“Should I ask what form of torture you plan to use on those two?” Adenweiss asked. “Should I worry about that?”

“Nope,” Kirt said. “Word will get around, what they did.”

“Jon McGiver won’t get away scot free,” she said.

“I’m staying away from the both of them,” Kirt said. “Still, the witness protection program might not be a bad idea.”

“This won’t go away, you know,” the principal said.

“I don’t know,” Kirt said. “Maybe I’ll still be able to get in the Colorado School of Mines, something like that.”

It must have seemed odd to the gathered media that the principal of Beuerlein High School was smiling, maybe even chuckling.

“Well,” she said, “if it comes to that, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to help.”

(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

              If you’re interested in my sportswriting, and other nonfiction writing, please take a look at www.montedutton.com from time to time.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

              Most of my books – the novels Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, and the books about sports and music before them – are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

              Soon my fourth novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will be released by Kindle Publishing.

              Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @wastedpilgrim (more irreverently), and/or @hmdutton (more literarily). I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton, Instagram at Tug50, and Google+. I’m grateful for your support and patronage.