Some Games Are Monsters; Some Are Dogs

Clinton High girls’ basketball coach John Gardner (left) and Ware Shoals’ Chris Johnston. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 16, 2017, 11:28 a.m.

A writer has to write, and, sometimes, be trite. When he accepts an assignment, it must be completed, even if the circumstances aren’t the best.

By Monte Dutton

I had a rather sheepish project to complete on Friday night. Ware Shoals, a Class A school, hadn’t much of a chance in a doubleheader against Class 3A Clinton. The new girls’ basketball coach at Ware Shoals, Chris Johnston, spent 14 years coaching at Laurens Middle School. His father, Bob, won five state championships at Ware Shoals, where the gymnasium is now named after him. This was the subject of my assignment.

The Hornets found themselves surrounded by Red Devils.

Chris Johnston is a pleasant man. Never have I been more grateful for a calm disposition.

The Fighting Hornets fell to the Red Devils, 43-8. It was 28-3 at halftime. Ware Shoals didn’t score in the first quarter. Three different Clinton players scored more than the entire Ware Shoals team.

We didn’t talk much about the game. There wasn’t much need.

In the past two nights, I’ve seen little of the human drama of athletic competition.

On Thursday night, the resurgent Presbyterian Blue Hose men hosted the Screaming Eagles of Toccoa Falls. The scream was something like “Aaaaaaiiiiieeee!” The Blue Hose (6-5) won their fifth straight game. Toccoa Falls, who have been cannon fodder for a range of teams, fell, 104-35.

Not that anyone suspected the outcome might be lopsided, but no admission was charged at Templeton Center, where the student body has completed its exams and migrated home for the holidays.

Coach Johnston is a patient man.

Following the girls’ game at Clinton, the Ware Shoals boys kept it close for a half before succumbing to Clinton, 95-57. At the end of the third quarter, with the outcome all but settled, I drove home to write the Chris Johnston feature and watch the NCAA FCS football semifinals between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State. I had few distractions while editing photos and writing about the new coach’s challenges in Ware Shoals. When I flipped the channel, the Bison (NDSU) were ahead, 55-13, and it was still the third quarter.

Mercifully, it was also the final score.

Bowl games begin today. Perhaps there is hope, somehow, for the human drama of athletic competition in the Celebration Bowl (North Carolina A&T-Grambling), New Orleans Bowl (Troy-North Texas), Cure Bowl (Western Kentucky-Georgia State), Las Vegas Bowl (Boise State-Oregon), New Mexico Bowl (Marshall-Georgia State) or Camellia Bowl (Middle Tennessee-Arkansas State).

But I doubt it.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

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Dreeeeeam, Dream, Dream, Dreeeam …

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 9, 2017, 9:20 a.m.

It’s been a week of boring days and exciting nights. I’ve spent most of my waking time proofing an audio version of my year-old novel, Cowboys Come Home, and there hasn’t been much sleeping time because my mind has been occupied with the financial difficulties that always seem to mark the holidays. I’ve tossed and tumbled and had what sleep there was marred by vivid dreams. In contented times, I don’t dream at all.

By Monte Dutton

Vivid though they may be, I don’t remember the dreams for long. Last night one was about playing golf and repeatedly screwing up this 3-wood – back when I played the game futilely, that fairway wood was my best club, meaning that it was most peope’s worst – on a long, narrow hole that was uphill and bordered on both sides by thick woods. A lot of the shots were good, but the imaginary hole – surely it was the thirteenth — required perfection, and perfection I could not muster.

From left, me, Robert Earl Keen and David Poole.

The other involved hanging out in the Texas Motor Speedway infield with the great singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen Jr. Even though it was in the infield of a NASCAR track, racing didn’t seem to have anything to do with it. I once interviewed Keen for a book, True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, and he played a prerace concert at that speedway, during which I had a picture taken with my old friend David Poole, now deceased, with Keen performing in the background.

We had all sorts of interesting conversations, Keen and I, and then I wondered over to a stage, thinking his show must have started, but when I got there, and after listening to several songs, I realized the guy on the stage wasn’t he.

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.

One of the first songs I learned to play on guitar was Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay,” but when I awakened, the words to another song, Steve Earles’ “Tom Ames’ Prayer,” were running through my mind.

And you know I ain’t never prayed before / But it always seemed to me / If prayin’ is the same as beggin’ Lord / I don’t take no charity

I won’t want charity, either. Buying my books is, at least, a respectable form because you’ll get something out of them.

(Steven Novak cover)

Now I’ve got to get back to that audio book. Four chapters to go. An audio book is boring if you’re the author and it lasts nine hours and 23 seconds. This week I hoped to finish my next and eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which won’t get its italics until it’s available for purchase, but those audio chapters arrived from my narrator, and the novel shifted to the back burner one more time.

Next I’m going to fix breakfast, try to finish proofing that audio book, watch some football, and go buy a Powerball ticket, because it seems right now that the odds of winning that are about the same as one of my novels making it big.

Writing is what I do, and it’s all I can do well at this stage of life, even though reading, and NASCAR, and everything else, have gone out of style.

Turning Phrases with a Deft Touch

Raymond Chandler

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 27, 2017, 6:32 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Raymond Chandler was an extraordinary novelist and screenwriter. I can only imagine how great a sports columnist he would have been.

This man could turn a phrase. They cascade through his prose like waterfalls.

“… she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.”

“Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.”

“In jail a man has no personality. He is a minor disposal problem and a few entries on reports.”

“Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor, except the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack.”

He was the type of writer who made a reader want to take notes. His pulp fiction was of a high order. He removed the pulp. For years I watched movies of his books and took notes in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to read them. The Big Sleep. The Long Goodbye. I read the former earlier this year. The latter I just finished.

The Big Sleep was the better movie, though it took the novel for me to realize what entirely was going on. The Long Goodbye is the better novel. It took me a long time to read it because I felt the need to absorb it. It’s not hard to read. One tends to go back and retrace a sentence or paragraph just to experience the full effect of the observations made.

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.

Another reason, unfortunately in my case, was that the Kindle edition I purchased was shoddily produced. Whoever provided it must have just run some kind of scanner and never glanced back at what was scanned. If I had a lot more time than I do, I’d have counted all the times “dear” showed up as “clear,” but I never could have kept up with the vice-versas. Pages break after four lines. It’s damned annoying.

The plot is complicated enough without having to be a private investigator, a Philip Marlowe, of the text.

None of this was Chandler’s fault. He died in 1959. He might have kindled romance, but he never owned one.


(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.

Two Trains after the Last Football Game

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 20, 2017, 12:45 p.m.

On Saturday night, something occurred that I had never seen before in my hometown. Maybe it’s because I’m not often out driving on Saturday nights.

By Monte Dutton

I had been at Presbyterian College all day. I brought a pot of chili to the tailgate party before PC ended its season with a 31-21 win over Gardner-Webb. For five years I have been watching the Blue Hose play with a group of alumni and parents of players. Most of those players will be graduating next year. As the season wore on, rumors began spreading that the school was going to phase out the awarding of football scholarships. The rumors became official on the day after the final game, which made it something of a Pyrrhic victory at the end of a Pyrrhic season.

So we celebrated the win of a game and commiserated the loss of a tradition, and when it got dark, and the Georgia game ended on TV, many headed to the comfort of the Hampton Inn lobby, there to sip wine much better than I had the sophistication to appreciate and tell tales regarding the secrets behind several bottles of expensive bourbon. I stuck with the wine. For the bourbon, I didn’t feel worthy, but that’s another tale for another day. I drank for free because the booze was too excellent to buy.

It’s not a world I often frequent. I’m a starving artist, which I wouldn’t have minded when I was 24. I might have idealized such an existence. It’s more complicated and bittersweet at 59.

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 headed from Bailey Memorial Stadium, feeling as if it ought to be Football Memorial Stadium, and stopped for a freight train at the interception of our little bypass and Highway 76. Then I drove on to the Hampton Inn, where I realized I’d left my backpack at Tailgate Central. Tailgate parties have gotten too big for tailgates. We congregated around a motor coach, the type of vehicle I normally associate with NASCAR drivers and bands. Race drivers call them buses, and that’s pretty much what they are, only designed for comfort instead of capacity.

I went back to PC and picked up my backpack. When I drove back to the intersection, another train was passing through. Two freight trains in fifteen minutes! I don’t remember that happening before. My mother doesn’t remember that happening before.

It must have been an omen. I haven’t noticed or figured out what kind yet. The second train wasn’t loaded with football scholarships, as best I could tell.


(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.

Playing Music Through the Years

A fake album cover, taken at Vince Pawless’s shop in Gainesville, Texas.
Nashville, 2007
Java Cafe, Mt. Holly, NC, 2009.

It all started with a book, my last non-fiction to date. As I traveled around the country, writing about NASCAR, I started doing interviews with favorite musicians on the side.

By Monte Dutton

Robert Earl Keen in Newberry, S.C.; Tom Russell in Berkeley, Calif.; Pat Green in New Braunfels, Texas; James McMurtry, and Slaid Cleaves in Austin, Texas; Jack Ingram in Fort Worth; Brad Paisley in Las Vegas; Stoney Larue in Dallas; etc., etc. The result was True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed.

The experience inspired me, and, to make a long story short, I taught myself to play basic guitar and started writing songs, which, in turn, led to my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, which was about a pot-smoking songwriter who got himself tied up in a political conspiracy.

Still on the NASCAR beat, I started playing little gigs near tracks in Virginia, Richmond, Michigan, and Charlotte, not to mention the occasional visit to places around town here in Clinton.

Mainly now I just play with friends, whether that’s an open mic in Columbia or the parking lot of Bailey Memorial Stadium before and after Presbyterian College football games. Most of my singing is here in the living room.

I miss it. I’ll play your Christmas party in a heartbeat, but I don’t travel much anymore. My songwriting has slowed to a crawl, too, mainly because my fiction writing has accelerated.


Puckett Farm Equipment, 2010


Outside Cannon FIeldcrest Stadium, Kannapolis, NC, 2011.
Martinsville Speedway
Study Club, Clinton, 2008.
Book signing, Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg, S.C., 2017.
I haven’t picked up the mandolin in quite some time. Study Club, 2008.
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.



(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.


Say It Ain’t So, Hose

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 13, 2017, 11:12 a.m.

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast
And just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your lover
‘Cause your heart’s bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town
Can’t you see the sun’s settin’ down on our town, on our town

By Monte Dutton

This Iris DeMent song, released in 1993, always floods into my mind when I get sentimental. This time it’s over our college in our town. Specifically, it’s about football, a favorite topic of my nostalgia glands, which are near and dear to my heart as well as being mythical.

Presbyterian College is not my alma mater. Furman University is, and seldom have I been prouder than on Saturday as I watched the Paladins conquer The Citadel, 56-20.

I have fondness for PC, too. It’s funny that the first college football game I remember was Presbyterian at Furman, won by the Paladins, 13-9, at Sirrine Stadium. Thanks to the web that goes worldwide, I know that game was in 1968, when I was 10, but I remembered the score. Maybe that was why I went to Furman. Maybe it was fated, even though I didn’t make the decision until seven years later. I never imagined going anywhere except Clemson until the fall of 1975, when I visited Furman with a high-school football teammate who was being recruited. Oddly enough, my friend, Roy Walker, went to PC. Furman wanted Roy but captured me, and I wasn’t any good at football.

Now, as my alma mater returns to prominence, Presbyterian football is endangered, and my roots run deep at both schools.

Some of the best times my father and I ever had were sitting in wooden stands behind the end zones – inside the track – at Johnson Field, the first Bailey Memorial Stadium and present home of Fighting Blue Hose lacrosse. Kids could frolic around, playing tackle football with miniature plastic footballs and, on occasion, wadded up paper cups, while their fathers passed sage judgment on the games. The names of PC players – Bill Kirtland, Lynn Dreger, Wally Bowen, Bobby Norris — still crackle from the public address archives of my mind.

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.

Now, it is widely alleged, PC is about to “de-emphasize” football, which is to say it is going to stop awarding scholarships and abandon its thus far quixotic membership in the Football Championship Subdivision. The upgrade to NCAA Division I has not gone well, and it has apparently been a great financial drain on the little liberal-arts college, and the reason I suspect this is that all such triumphs and disasters are ultimately and unfortunately judged and justified on the basis of money.

That’s where the Iris DeMent song starts running through my mind.

The Blue Hose are, at the moment, 3-7, with a game at home against Gardner-Webb left. From 1957 through 1992, Presbyterian College played its athletic contests under the auspices of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). From 1993 through 2010, the Blue Hose moved to NCAA Division II. Beginning in 2011, PC moved into NCAA Division I and, in football, the FCS. Now the alleged plan is to remain there but relegate the football program to what would essentially be a conglomeration of walk-ons. The model, originally, was Wofford College, a longtime rival. Now the model appears to be Davidson College, a wonderful school without a successful football team. Its woeful team undoubtedly costs less than Presbyterian’s.

As I am not imbued by sheepskin with the Fighting Blue Hose Spirit, let me write as a Clintonian. If the people of this little town were asked to recall one annual event they miss the most, it would almost surely be the Bronze Derby football game between Presbyterian and nearby Newberry, which was played every year but two between 1913 and 2006 and on Thanksgiving from 1946 through 1992. The game wasn’t as popular for the students because many of them went home for turkey and fixings, but for the towns of Clinton and Newberry, it was the social and sporting event of the year. It was our version of the Carolina Cup steeplechase in Camden, or the Chitlin’ Strut in Salley, or, in its way, the Southern 500 in Darlington. I went to the game every year I was in college because, in no small part, I was home, and many of the other kids who’d gone to college elsewhere congregated there, too. The game captured the attention of the whole state. Clemson’s Danny Ford came at least one year, and I remember him chitchatting with people on the sidelines. It would be unimaginable today for Dabo Swinney to show up, and not just because there is no Bronze Derby to watch anymore.

It was a different time, fondly remembered.

Men and women who know much more than I apparently believe PC football, at its current level, is too expensive, but let me offer up the intangibles I know against the tangibles I don’t.

Football diversifies a college by providing opportunity to kids who could not otherwise afford a private-school education. One reason that I gravitated toward the football players of Furman was that they represented the students who were most like I, a naïve kid who grew up on a farm in Clinton. Together we all found wisdom, not to mention considerable mischief, in college. The Furman alma mater makes reference to drinking “from wisdom’s fountain pure, and rally sons and daughters dear, ’round our dear alma mater.” There were other fountains, too, often originating in aluminum kegs. We made passage through the various rites, and most of us emerged with what it took to take on a world that was allegedly real.

Let me bring this sentimental tome to a conclusion from another old song, Skeeter Davis’s:

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world

It ended when you said goodbye

From what I read, and what I hear, and what my instincts tell me, and the way the powers that be are acting, the de-emphasis of Presbyterian College football is coming, just a few years after its emphasis.

FBS hasn’t been a success. I thought it madness from the beginning. Now, I’m told, merely returning to Division II is “not an option.” Presbyterian has a lovely football stadium, so it needs a team to play in it. Any old team. Throw something together.

I love PC home games, even though the Blue Hose don’t win often. It’s almost impossible to park more than two hundred yards away. We eat, drink and be merry. Then we walk across the street, watch the first half, return to the merriment at halftime, and, then, at the end, hopes often extinguished, we commiserate as we consume the remaining refreshments and make future plans.

I wonder what it’s going to be like on Saturday.


(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.

Up with Furman

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 12, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It’s not often I feel the joy I felt Saturday. Waylon Jennings once sang that, down in Alabama, “they call me the man of joy.” He wasn’t singing about me. Writing breeds satisfaction, not joy. Life is a struggle as I write and write and write, hoping one day more substantial numbers will appreciate my work.

By Monte Dutton

Karl Marx claimed that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” I don’t believe he was right, but, had he written it about sports, he might have had something.

I sat in Section 7 of Paladin Stadium watching Furman rout The Citadel, 56-20. The first half was almost perfection. While I was in Section 7, with Barry and Dan Atkinson, and Dan’s son, Charlie, and daughter, Nora, the Paladins were winning their seventh straight game, and it was over their (and my) archrival.

While driving to Greenville on Saturday morning and humming the fight song in traffic, I thought of a Groucho Marx line that perfectly depicts my feelings about The Citadel: “I have nothing for respect for you, and very little of that.”

Okay, it’s harsh. But funny. The Citadel does have my grudging respect. To me Furman-Citadel is Athens-Sparta. Liberal arts versus military. It’s overly simplistic, but so, too, is it to those of us who are not scholars of ancient Greece.

David Lyle (left) and Kevin Morgan (Ed Bopp photo).

The Bulldogs had won the three previous years. Some sense of decorum had to be restored. Before the game, in the parking lot, I spent time with old friends who hardly ever lost to The Citadel.

I wouldn’t call 35-0 at halftime, oh, diplomatic, but it was more than satisfying. My ailing knee didn’t hurt. My problems disappeared, “blowing through the jasmines of my mind.” I didn’t need a summer breeze to “make me feel fine.” Really. I was glowing. I felt rosy. It wasn’t a summer breeze at all. It was cold, though I took little notice. I cultivated an unprecedented liking of Seals & Crofts.

Happiness. Happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.

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.

When I’m watching a baseball game on TV, if it’s not close, I’ll see what else is on. An old movie, or the news, or an old Columbo episode. If I keep the game on, I’ll read a book. Unless it’s a Red Sox game. The Sox can be leading, oh, 19-1, and I’ll still watch. If it’s the Yankees, I may catch a replay on NESN.

The leaves on Paris Mountain seemed neon-infused. As the Furman football team performed gloriously – almost defying belief – I felt transformed by the sheer glory of it all. As the clock expired, I wished the Paladins could keep right on scoring touchdowns, but I walked out to the truck and drove on home. I listened to the post-game show on the radio, and I switched to the Clemson halftime show, and, by the time I got home, the Tigers and Florida State were late in the third quarter, and I watched the rest of the game, or, rather, it was on TV. Nothing but the Paladins could command my attention. Same with Alabama-Mississippi State. Same with Saturday Night Live. Same with social media.

Nothing mattered but my pride in the Furman Paladins, who are back.

Now I must get back to convincing folks to read my novels and finishing the next one.

(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.