The Day Was Entirely ‘Justifiable’

I wanted to draw a sketch of Justify, but I don’t seem to be able to find much time for art these days. This book cover of my sixth novel is my only “horse art.” (Design by Steven Novak)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 10, 2018, 10:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The plan was to write a racing column, but complications arose.

Automobile racing, that is.

Several months ago, attempting to shave a few dollars from my extravagant satellite bill, I changed packages, one consequence being that I no longer have access to Fox Sports2. Or FoxSports2. Or Fox Sports 2. Or FS2. Whatever it is, officially. At the time, I noticed that the NASCAR coverage on that channel seemed to be nil.

Naturally, the upshot is that rain has delayed the past two Xfinity Series races, and they have been switched to FS2. I am aware that I could stream the race, but I don’t like watching big races on itsy-bitsy screens. I passed.

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.

I still watched racing. Justify won the Belmont Stakes and completed the Triple Crown. I probably would have watched it, anyway. It takes less than two and a half minutes.

I love horse racing. I don’t know much about its current state. I grew up around quarter horses and Appaloosas. As a teen-ager, I watched thoroughbreds work out early on Keeneland mornings because my father was an auctioneer, and he used to pack up the whole family and take us for a “vacation” so that he could watch the yearling sales. He wasn’t there to buy horses but rather to watch auctioneers.

My brother and I took the car and drove to Cincinnati to see baseball games, but we also visited Calumet Farm and Darby Dan, stared at the Man ’o’ War statue, and watched famous horses gallop around in meadows.

I fell in love with Justify on sight. He’s such a big, muscular horse. He reminds me more of a quarter than a thoroughbred. He has what we used to call “a blaze face,” and so did the reliable and beloved family stallion, Sunglow Fisher, who (which?) matched him in color, too. The hue is popularly known as chestnut, though we called it “sorrel.” Sorrel is, according to a dictionary, “a plant or flower of the genus Oxalis,” but also “a horse of a brownish orange or light brown color,” so we didn’t make it up, and it matches both Sunglow in my memory and Justify on my TV.

Sunglow played a small role in raising me. He lived to a ripe, old age and died either while I was in college or working as sports information director at Furman, my alma mater. Sunglow was the most docile stallion I’ve ever known, though I haven’t known any in well over 30 years.

In my mind, Justify won one – or, actually, three – for Sunglow.

I confided in Sunglow. He listened to me sing. He never required catching. If I wanted him, he’d trot over amiably, knowing I’d never mistreat him. My sister was more adept at more challenging steeds. I’ve been thrown by many horses. Never by Sunglow, whom I rode more than all the rest of the horses who came through the farm combined.

In lieu of rain-shortened Michigan, I watched baseball – the Red Sox won, the Gamecocks lost, the Longhorns lost, Vanderbilt won on a ninth-inning home run – and the Indy-car race from Texas.

Today I will play close attention to the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan Speedway. Afterwards, I’ll go on Facebook Live to talk about the race, answer questions, encourage guests to buy and patronize my writing, and play a few songs on my guitar.

Justify and Sunglow Fisher might come up, too, because I still feel warm and touched at the base of my memory.

 

(Steven Novak cover

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.

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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Ain’t No Need to Sit and Wonder Why

The view from here. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 8:07 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I haven’t had a day like this since my daddy died.

They happened all the time when I was a kid, and he was in his natural prime. Daddy would ask me to help him with a couple things, say it wouldn’t take 30 minutes, and he would proceed to kill the whole afternoon. I didn’t say anything. I’d just mope. I didn’t want to give him an excuse to get all bent out of shape, but I wanted him to know he was ruining a perfectly good sunny day.

I got a Nikon camera / I wanna take a phhhhhotograph / Oh, Daddy, don’t take my Kodachrome away …

Apologies to Paul Simon. In the song, it was Mama. In the song, there was Kodachrome. Now it’s all digital.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The first task of the day was to get my ailing printer working. It’s not old. It just stopped running. It won’t turn on. It hasn’t been mishandled. It hasn’t been overused. There’s just some poor connection. I talked to a fellow on the phone who said bring it up.

He looked at it and said, “No, this doesn’t have a brick.”

A brick. I felt like the kid in the insurance commercial who doesn’t know what a lug wrench is.

“I can’t do anything with this. I’m good working on laptops.”

“I might bring one to you. It’s the little one I take on the road,” I said. “It’s a tablet you plug into a keyboard. The touch screen stopped working.”

“I don’t know anything about tablets,” the man said.

Get ready. Here it comes. I hear it over and over.

“If I was you, I’d just run up to Walmart and buy me a new one.”

I don’t go to Walmart. It’s against my religion. I walked around the corner and up the street to buy a new printer. I got a better deal than Walmart would have offered.

Down the rabbit hole, or headed that way. (Monte Dutton photo)

Task two. Get the mower running. This required buying a battery. The right-rear tire was slack. In an incredible stroke of luck, I had a fix-a-flat can that wasn’t empty. I used it to pump up, and theoretically fix, any leak. I made it two times around the yard, and the tire went completely flat.

I own a small air tank. I may not have used it in 10 years. The amount of dust on it was incredible. I took it up to the place where, minutes earlier, I had purchased the battery. Back in the work bay, a man said he’d be glad to fill up the tank. I told him I had to settle up on the battery, anyway, so I’d come back and get it. When I came back, I couldn’t help but notice that either the gauge was broken or the tank was empty. The fellow said it wouldn’t take air and that he’d put 100 pounds in it, and it ran right back out because it didn’t matter which way he turned that red screw, it didn’t keep the air in.

I took the air tank up to True Value Hardware and said it wouldn’t work. Three people said they didn’t know where they had the … apparatus? … valve? … whatchamacallit is what one said … that would replace the whatever it was that was already on it. I left the tank there and asked them to look at it all they wanted, and I’d check back tomorrow.

I have a new printer, a new battery, exactly two rows of the yard reclaimed from wilderness, and, quite possibly, tomorrow I shall have a new portable air tank.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

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.

As the Thunder Rolled and the Lightning Struck

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 2, 2018, 11:02 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I thought I had plenty of time to get to Clinton High School’s graduation ceremonies. I got my hair cut, and I didn’t make myself an appointment online, and the lady said it would probably be at least a 40-minute wait. Haircuts are spur-of-the-moment decisions for me. I can’t imagine making the call with time to make a reservation. I read a novel on my phone while I waited.

Then I decided to use an Arby’s coupon and eat before the assignment. While standing in line, I heard the manager say they were out of roast beef.

Arby’s. Out of roast beef.

I went back to the truck and fetched another coupon. It took what seemed to me an unbelievable amount of time for my food to be prepared. This led to my latest blanket observation. Alleged “fast food” joints have diversified too much. Employees whose wage is for making burgers – or roast beef sandwiches – have a hard time adjusting to what is sometimes absurdly referred to as “artisanal” food.

An artisan is a worker in a skilled trade who makes things by hands. Artisans don’t make minimum wage, and the trade should be more advanced than sandwiches or anything deep-fried.

On Thursday, I had a hamburger steak plate at Wilson’s Snack Bar. That’s the way fast food is supposed to be prepared and served. Damn coupons. I’d probably never go to food franchises if coupons didn’t exist. I can’t remember the last time I ate at Hardee’s without using a coupon.

Five paragraphs ago, I set out to write about a high school graduation.

I barely got there in time for the ceremony and was just ahead of a fierce thunderstorm that started pelting the parking lot as soon as I got under the roof out front of Clinton’s gymnasium. At first, I couldn’t remember whether I’d been at a high school graduation since I was in one, but then, I instinctively walked past the band – I guess when it’s a commencement, it’s an orchestra – and in front of the grandstands, and I got a sense of deja vu because I sat in exactly the same place I had sat when I wrote about the ceremonies a year earlier. I started chatting with my old football coach and the daughter of my old line coach, who has died in the intervening year, and this was exactly what I had done the year before, as well.

A senior named Kymaih Cherbrell Fant sang the national anthem with the orchestra’s accompaniment, and at precisely the time she sang about “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” thunder from outside rumbled and led me to think of Garth Brooks singing about when “the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes.”

Were I a Clinton High senior now and not 42 years ago, I would probably consider that some kind of omen. What kind of omen, I would have no idea, but I would have thought there was something significant to it.

The valedictorian and salutatorian wore white “stoles,” and the high honor graduates wore gold ones. When I wore a gold one, I didn’t know it was a stole. I might have called it a sash. Now it looks more like a tie President Trump might wear, lying over his shoulders until he ties it.

I studied my program. For a moment I thought one of the graduates was named Converse “I Can” Grant, but then I realized that was a grant from Converse College earned by Ny’Kera Hall. Among the graduates was an Elizabeth Jones and a William Scott, but also an Aerial Nicole Pagano and a Markevius Dyshavion Dandy. The class had a Kayleigh, a Haleigh and a Hali. I wish there had been a Rayleigh because my class had a Ray Lee. Other notable names were Janevelyn, Jermainia, Vontavius, Ta’Volice, Deopaleak, Quintarius, Jamieyon, Aquivius, Jaqueria, Adre’vious, Tyrekkus, Clairemeshia, Tytrevious, Rodkeidrick, Marke’Quis and Myasia.

Sportswriters, in particular, take note of exotic names because they have to type what are known as box scores. These kids have to write their names most every day. The least journalists can do is get them right once.

In spite of the fact that high tech in my high school years was a pinball machine at the bowling alley, I somehow feel as if I can relate to seniors of today. Observing them at close range leads me to believe that kids really only change about 10-20 percent from any given generation to another. The difference is exaggerated in the idealized vision each generation has of its own.

I want these kids to hustle it up. I want them to take over the world. They can’t possibly screw it up as much as we did.

Here’s the story I wrote at GoLaurens/GoClinton.

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

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.

It’s the World Gone Crazy …

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 17, 2018, 3:02 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I don’t care whether I hear Laurel or Yanny. I don’t know where I go to hear it, or, for that matter, them. Whoever or whichever they are. As I get older, I get less inquisitive about such matters.

I am not without curiosity. I just reserve mine for pressing issues such as how many more KFC commercials I can watch before I snap and go on a three-state rampage.

The truth is that no man knows when it’s coming.

Friday, May 17, 2018, 11:24 a.m.

Yesterday was a no-go. I just didn’t have the inclination to forge on with little on my mind. Sometimes I stumble into coherence. I was sipping coffee uptown. In the absence of anything worthwhile, I did busy work.

The busy life ain’t no good life, but it’s my life.

That’s the way it goes, right? Or is that just the way it is?

The moon may have a little to do with it.

Suddenly there is coincidence in what little I wrote yesterday. Even humor is dangerous. One would think danger humorless.

There’s been another school shooting. Santa Fe, Texas.

A few weeks ago, a kid here was arrested after posting somewhere that he was going to “shoot a school.” His parents turned him in and wrote a statement about how their son had suffered from mental illness for many years.

“Shoot a school.” Forty years ago, someone would have spray-painted the wall of a mobile unit at 3 a.m. before the big football game that night.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

It happens enough now that everyone worries about it. Just not enough to do anything sensible. They get sensible for a few days, but that’s just “fake news.”

One of our candidates for governor was “the conservative buzz saw” until her latest round of ads. Now she’s loading her pistol and shooting a rattlesnake. That makes her “the conservative shot for governor.”

Meanwhile, Catherine Templeton’s campaign (presumably, lawyers are involved) has sent “cease-and-desist” letters to media outlets demanding that they don’t run certain commercials supporting the election campaign of incumbent Henry McMaster. It’s not technically a reelection campaign since McMaster was appointed by President Trump to succeed Nikki Haley.

What’s amazing is that any political ad could possibly go too far. Here. In South Carolina. It’s like finding a snow-cone stand in hell.

But I digress.

I don’t believe anything in commercials anymore. It’s popular to jump up and down about “fake news,” which, generally, in a few days, becomes “news.”

(Steven Novak cover)

I don’t accept George Hamilton as Colonel Sanders. It ticks me off every time Reba McEntire goes “1 … 2 … 3” and doesn’t sing. A lot of commercials have been embedded in supposedly, uh, independent broadcasts. One of these agents is named Michael Waltrip.

Life requires a sense of the absurd. That’s what was required for me to write my latest novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s not a comedy, but it is a comedy of errors. The central character is an out-of-work sportswriter.

If only I knew any out-of-work sportswriters, the novel would be more authentic.

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

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’m Mad as Hell and … So Is Everybody Else’

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 10:22 a.m.

Sameness has become weird, which is unsustainable because if the weird becomes the same, it will cease to be the weird.

One would think there would be limits. To this point, one would be wrong.

Life reminds me of a Tom T. Hall song called “Everything from Jesus to Jack Daniel’s.”

It’s the all-new American diet / Trying everything from Jesus to Jack Daniel’s / You get on it and your’re on it / For the rest of your life.

On the up side, Hall’s conclusion was that the secret to a better life was trying a little bit of Jesus and a little bit of Jack Daniel’s, and leaving out everything in between. I could see me trying that defense at the Pearly Gates.

It seems as if everyone is just a little bit madder, and a little less reasonable, and a little bit less inclined to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they might be wrong about something.

Curt Sapanaugh and Bobby Austin wrote a song for Glen Campbell called “Try a Little Kindness.”

And if you try a little kindness / Then you’ll overlook the blindness / Of narrow-minded people / On their narrow-minded streets.

This song would not chart today.

On Facebook the other day, someone posted a gaudy missive about how people who drive slow on the Interstate in the left lane ought to be executed. I thumbed down the feed. No one seemed inclined to dissent. Just to make a small, insignificant stand for patience and civility, I posted:

Relax. You’ll get there. Go easy.

I don’t think anyone even “liked” it. I imagine my grandmother – she’s been gone 15 years now, and thank God she didn’t live to see this – having a noose placed around her neck as she’s being dragged from her Plymouth Reliant.

“I had my flickers on!”

“Yeah, right, Granny. For fifteen miles! You had every chance to mend your ways.”

It seems as if everyone is either mad at Trump or about him. I never hear anyone say, “Well, he is a bit much, don’t you think?”

Everything is becoming a sport, with the exception that little of it is sporting.

I understand this. I’m this way about sports. I love the Boston Red Sox. I despise the New York Yankees. Some Yankees I respect. I am incapable of liking them as long as they are Yankees. Occasionally, I watch Yankee games but only as long as I think they might lose.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

But it’s a sport. It’s a game. Imagine hopscotch played for millions. In spite of the millions, it’s still supposed to be fun.

Kris Kristofferson wrote that “everybody’s got to have somebody to look down on.”

As far as human impulses, ingrained for centuries, toward mindless hatred, sport is a comparatively harmless venue. It’s a rationalization but a fairly good one.

It’s a great time to be a hypocrite here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Hypocrisy is so prevalent and institutionalized that hypocrites are spending most of their time calling other hypocrites out. Haters hate the haters who hate them.

Freedom is going so wild I’m afraid they’re going to do something about it.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Right Stuff of the Vanities

By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 3:38 p.m.

For many years, I thought The Right Stuff was the best non-fiction book I ever read. Now I consider it neck and neck with William Prochnau’s Once Upon a Distant War.

When I wrote a novel about a pot-smoking songwriter fleeing the feds, I used The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for reference. I’ve never dropped acid. I’ve been to Oregon. Riley Mansfield ate mushrooms there. I thought reading was a better way to do research than taking hallucinogens.

I’ve gotten old.

When Tom Wolfe died, I lost a go-to guy. John Steinbeck was another, but he was gone before I went. I miss Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Wallace Stegner, Larry Brown and Graham Greene, too. I am a writer, which means it’s hard to like others. It makes me jealous that they’re so great and I’m not.

I liked The Right Stuff movie twice as much because I read the book first. I liked The Bonfire of the Vanities half as much because I read it, Wolfe’s first novel, before I saw that putrescent movie.

Wolfe wasn’t a dispassionate observer. He was a passionate observer. He didn’t party with Ken Kesey or guzzle shine with Junior Johnson. He watched the world around him and then ripped it to shreds.

Has ever there been a great writer who was also so flamboyant?

A deep regret of mine is that I never met Pat Conroy. I should have. I didn’t care enough to make it happen. I’ve never had much interested in autographs. Harry Gant was the same way, even though he cheerfully signed them.

“Beats all I ever seen,” the stock car racing yeoman told me. “I just don’t get it. I loved Elvis, but I never cared nothing for how he signed his name.”

I did meet Wolfe. He and I had a brief chat. It was about Stegner, who helped teach Wolfe how to write and me how to understand my own father. Stegner was an actual teacher of Wolfe’s. I just read his novels.

Wolfe had a marvelous sense of the absurd. Perhaps a fat sportswriter in a NASCAR press box asking him about a Western literary figure piqued Wolfe’s taste for the absurd, but he stopped and engaged me on the subject of Stegner’s differences with Kesey.

It was marvelous. It wasn’t just marvelous. He actually agreed with what I had to say about Kesey, Stegner, the Beat Generation and Larry McMurtry. He seemed to enjoy talking with me, and, if he didn’t, I’m glad he hid it so well.

About all I learned from the obituary was that Wolfe wrote one final novel I haven’t read.

I’ll be on it soon.

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Charm of Sports this Spring

In the Upper State, for sure. Alexander Windsor (left) signals No. 1. His No. 2 doubles partner is Kyler Simmons. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, May 10, 2018, 10:40 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Spring sports are winding down. Here in town, and throughout this end of Laurens County, all we have left are some girls competing in the state track meet and boys playing for the state tennis championship.

Even football, for which the town is known, rises and falls, and, at the moment, is still trying to rise again. Tennis is always good. While the Red Devils have not won a state championship since 2000, they are in the playoffs every year and won the Upper State championship for the second straight year on Wednesday.

Connor Donley, the seventh grader at No. 4.

Hanahan, state champion the past two years, fell in the Lower State finals to Bishop England, another Charleston school, so Clinton will play the Bishops on Saturday in Cayce, which adjoins Columbia and apparentlyhas a nice tennis center.

I have enjoyed soccer and tennis in particular this spring. Clinton is heretofore not noted for soccer, but the team finished second in the region and lost a heartbreaker, 1-0, in the playoffs. The previous leading scorer missed the whole season due to a knee injury, and he will be back next year, and I expect the Red Devils will be better.

Isaac McMillan

The tennis courts have been a comfortable place to monitor the action, probably doubly relaxing due to the usual lack of drama. I saw Clinton lose a team match – a 4-3 heartbreaker to Riverside – but in every other match I witnessed, including the Upper State final, the Red Devils won every single individual contest.

Ike Waldron

The No. 1 player, Isaac MacMillan, is an unflappable senior. The No. 2 player, Ike Waldron, is a freshman whose father graduated from Clinton High with me. Chuck Waldron is a tireless force for tennis, to which he has dedicated his life. He coaches youth tennis and has something to do with why the high school team stays strong.

After the match, I asked the longtime and charming coach, Clovis Simmons, to describe the 6-0 victory over Camden in one word.

“Awesome.”

Clovis Simmons (middle) with No. 5 singles Anders Orr.

I knew it was coming.

“But don’t put that.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Awesome is not something you would ever say.”

“No.”

The success brought with it the Voice of the Red Devils, Buddy Bridges, to begin the matches with stirring introductions of the competitors. Everyone else on the team represented Clinton High School except the No. 3 singles player, Tyler Trevino, who is specifically from Joanna because Buddy is from Joanna and knows it is a place like no other.

Joanna’s Tyler Trevino

This happens to be true. Among its spirited populace lies a disproportionate role in the success of sports teams at Clinton High School. The cotton mill lies in ruins, but the spirit lives on.

The football team is finishing spring practice next week, and the spring game is next Friday night at 6. Last year I got bowled over taking pictures on the sideline, which might make me sit in the lower rows of the Wilder Stadium grandstands so that I can take notes at the same time because what stats I get will be the ones I keep myself.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

(Steven Novak cover)

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.

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.