Why Johnny Can’t Race

On the bright side, this started happening again.(Getty Images for NASCAR)
On the bright side, this started happening again.(Getty Images for NASCAR)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

One of the first lessons I learned about the NASCAR beat was away from the track, and I was slow on the draw. I should have already known it by then.

I was young and foolish. Somehow, I thought I had achieved some laudable goal by securing a job that took me to most parts of the United States. I loved it when friends, at some New Year’s Eve party or local bar, asked, “So, you know all the drivers, huh?”

Oh, yeah. Talk to them every week.

“What kind of guy is so-and-so?”

Never answer that question expansively. Say something upbeat but noncommittal. What I think doesn’t matter. Never mind that I deal with a person on a regular basis, and my friend has never met him. He will place no importance on my opinion if it differs from his (or, notably, hers). If he likes the driver, he tells it like it is. If he doesn’t, he’s a whiner.

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)
Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

I always tried to think like a reader. My employer even used it as a slogan for a while. I didn’t need the slogan. I always thought it important to hang around at a hardware store, or a barber shop, or a car dealership, and see what the fans were saying. It was easier in the 1990s and early 2000s. It seemed then as if everyone I encountered was in love with NASCAR.

You write about NASCAR? I love NASCAR.

Nowadays, the more common response is, Oh, I know it’s big. I just don’t much care about it. Or, I used to be nuts about NASCAR. I don’t know. I just got tired of it.

Most of them don’t know why. They don’t think about it.

Even this time of year, a week seldom passes in which I don’t see someone trying to explain what’s wrong. The economy. Room rates. Gas prices. High-definition TV. A lot of the analysis begins with the assumption that the racing is wonderful, the Chase sublime, and, so, it must be something else.

Fans. Can't live without them.  (John Clark photo)
Fans. Can’t live without them. (John Clark photo)

I don’t think fans analyze it the way writers do, and with writers, it takes one to know one, so I do. The input that most of us get is from those who are still passionate. Most fans don’t write me. They just watch the races. Or don’t. Combining all the various platforms, and allowing for duplication, probably about eight thousand people pay attention to me via those areas. Others link when a slug catches their fancy via Jayski or some other connection, retweets, shares, et al. I wrote one NASCAR tome this year that wound up being passed along and clicked upon by somewhere north of forty thousand. That’s rare. It happened once. Another fell just shy of twenty thousand. Most times, NASCAR blogs hit a thousand. Some of my blogs get read by a hundred. I’m kind of selfish. I generally write what strikes me as interesting and just figure that might be true of others. It’s the freedom of the jobless, and, hence, the bossless, and the nothing-left-to-loseless.

By conservative estimate, five thousand fans don’t know what I write for every one that does. I appreciate every one of them.

My basic view is that NASCAR is firmly anchored in the country’s sporting mainstream, and that is anchored to a loyal core that’s similar to other tribes that intensely follow the progress of hockey, soccer, rodeo, the X Games, and something else at any given time. At the moment, NASCAR has maxed out its credit card with the young, but that is fleeting and will continue to be so. NASCAR’s original sin was in alienating its most loyal fans and throwing all its marketing fireworks at the fans who were bound to be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s lingering sin is forgetting that it is capable of being wrong.

Tomorrow came. The Hula Hoop didn’t last forever. Neither did MySpace. Or chat rooms.

Did some of the fans get tired of Jimmie Johnson? Sure. They got tired of everything else, too.

Everyone wants simple answers, and not just in NASCAR. So many oversimplifications. The Chase was a result of Matt Kenseth not winning any races. (Note: No Cup champion has ever been winless.) It’s been changed because of the letter J (Johnson up, Junior down). It’s that damned Brian France. Or that damned Kyle Busch. Or that damned Brad Keselowski. Everyone has his (or her) own private something to damn.

It’s like saying the American Revolution was fought over tea.

NASCAR has panicked in a tricking up the Chase, tearing down the grandstands, making everybody dizzy kind of frenzy.

Slow down / You move too fast / Got to make / The morning last / Kicking around / The cobblestone. – “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” Simon and Garfunkel.

Hold your horses. Count your money. Maybe one day, NASCAR will start feeling groovy again.

Thanks for reading, you one in five thousand. I’d like to invite you, the few, the proud, to read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.com, and take a look at my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Time Is Running Away

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The obstacle in my path is less definable. (Monte Dutton)
The obstacle in my path is less definable. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, December 18, 2014, 10:47 a.m.

The world grows ever stranger.

Stranger / Shut out the light and lead me …

An irrelevant country lyric, signifying nothing. A different connotation of the word “stranger” that showed up in the above paragraph solely because I thought of it immediately after I typed the word “stranger.” The song is about seduction. I don’t know yet what this blog is about, but seduction is a long shot.

“The Russian Revolution in Color” is on TV. How could the Russian Revolution be in color? When it happened, there was only, just barely, film. Technology run amok. A common theme these days.

Maybe I'll be less grumpy when baseball starts.
Maybe I’ll be less grumpy when baseball starts.

Our own government does not dictate what we can see at the cinema, but, somehow, North Korea, that humorless citadel of ignorance, does. They might “hack” theater goers. Thankfully, “hack” is one of those words with a totally different meaning in technologese. Right up there with “surf,” “troll,” “just sayin’,” and various inventions (“welp”), and obscure contractions (“Ima”) and acronyms (“RINO”) that are perpetually rising, falling, and being replaced by others.

The old version of “hack” would, however, be worse.

It's a wasteland out there, but it's a pretty wasteland. (Monte Dutton)
It’s a wasteland out there, but it’s a pretty wasteland. (Monte Dutton)

A telling analogy is that I am just as perpetually one iPhone behind, and neither the general nor the specific concerns me as much as, apparently, it does others. One of the reasons that a person my age isn’t “hip” (see what I mean about being behind?) is that no one allows me to be. I’m tragically unhip, just as the kids are tragically unaware of why they are wrong in so many ways in which they assume themselves to be right.

I was just as wrong when I was young, and I shudder several times each day thinking about it.

Some things change. Some things don’t. But it’s all going ever faster.

You can read my short fiction for free at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and you can pick up a copy or download of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

To Be a Fan

Head coach Gregg Nibert is in the center. Nelson Jones is on the far right. (Monte Dutton)
Head coach Gregg Nibert is in the center. Nelson Jones is on the far right. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:30 a.m.

On the one hand, I enjoy going to ballgames, in part, because I’m trying to learn how to be a fan again. Most of a lifetime as a writer of sports trained me not to be a cheerer of sports. If I’m going as a fan, though, I should be a fan.

Last night I attended Presbyterian College’s men’s basketball game against Samford. The Bulldogs won, 81-71, largely as a result of many three-pointers (fourteen) and full-court pressure that the Blue Hose often found nettlesome. It wasn’t a clash of Titans. Samford improved to four and eight. PC declined to four and seven after leading at halftime, 34-33.

School is already out, which, as a practical matter, meant that the stands on the opposite side of Furman Pinson Arena — the epicenter of Ross E. Templeton Physical Education Center, in other words, the gym – were largely vacant. In fact, admission was free and will be, also, at the Blue Hose’ December 31 game against Big South foe Gardner-Webb. Getting in free made me feel a little guilty, so I felt it incumbent to at least support the program by visiting the concession stands. A box of popcorn and a sixteen-ounce Diet

That's the Furman Pinson Court. (Monte Dutton)
That’s the Furman Pinson Court. (Monte Dutton)

Pepsi cost me three bucks.

Not only is Presbyterian College the hometown school. Nelson Jones, the head trainer, and I once worked together at Furman. So did head coach Gregg Nibert, who was a Furman assistant when I was the sports information director. This was back in the eighties, when SIDs were men and stats were manual, with none of this tweeting that is required today. Back then, it was not uncommon for sports information directors to enjoy actual human contact.

I’m not one of those anymore. As mentioned earlier, I was trying to be a fan.

Like most fans, I rather enjoy sniping at the officials, and on a December evening with students gone, it’s quite possible the refs could hear my brickbats. I loudly proclaimed missed traveling violations – “He walked, he walked, he walked, ref!” – that have not been called sinc

As a fan, I'm not a natural.
As a fan, I’m not a natural.

e John Havlicek led the Celtics and Jerry West the Lakers. My trouble is that the complaints in which I feel pride are ones that strike nearby partisans as, well, weird. Even at a proud liberal-arts institution like PC, literary allusions are, if not frowned upon, at least considered, oh, a bit much.

So what if one of Samford’s forwards matched my image of Caleb Trask in East of Eden?

I tried to limit my criticisms to calls I actually considered bad. I lectured the zebras on my perception of “the pivot foot,” though, I suspect, if anyone needs remedial work on the rules, it is I. I even complimented them several times on good calls, though I knew better than to extend these rave reviews to calls that went against the Blue Hose. Alas, at fifty-six, I still respond to peer pressure.

The team lost. It was still an entertaining game. I tried to cheer and jeer in a way that was enjoyable, even relaxing, a blowing off of steam, a relief of pressure. Besides, I remembered to take my blood-pressure pills.

Take a look at my short fiction, available at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and it would be super if you’d buy one or two or all of my books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

 

 

That End-of-Year Feeling Again

Pretty soon, football will resume with 6-6's playing 6-6's.
Pretty soon, football will resume with 6-6’s playing 6-6’s.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 14, 2014, 10:15 a.m.

Football is in the pre-bowl doldrums (bowldrums?), or, if the NFL is your bailiwick, the pre-playoff blahs. NASCAR has been reduced for now to reports of tire testing from the various frontiers. Baseball players are moving and counting their money. Basketball teams are forming their images with the hodgepodge of games between teams of vastly different skill levels and geography. I can’t get too excited about hockey until the playoffs start.

The quiet won’t linger. Navy won’t have as much time to prepare for its modest bowl appearance as it did to formulate the strategy to defeat Army for the thirteenth year in a row. A common remark in the next few weeks will be that there are entirely too many bowl games, uttered, tweeted, posted, rumored and overheard by people watching more of them than they will ever admit.

Hanging in there.
Hanging in there.

I suppose I could use this space to identify what piqued my attention in 2014. Well, I’ve still got more than two weeks. I may do it, and I may not. Right now, I need to think it through. I may do it, and I may not. Oh, yeah. I wrote that already.

As always, the difference is vast between what happened and what I’ll remember. For instance, a few weeks ago, I mysteriously hurt my knee. If surgery had been performed, I’m sure I’d remember it. However, since my medical professionals have agreed just to let it sit, arthritic and cranky, for now, my knee feels just about the way it has for three or four years, which is weakened, and unreliable, but serviceable as long as I pay attention to what I am doing. Nothing is memorable about this.

Looking back on my writing, I wrote about half a western (Cowboys Come Home) that I abandoned simply because I’m not a juggler and too many balls were in the air. For most of the year, I worked on a crime novel called Forgive Us Our Trespasses. Then I sat the first draft aside and went back to ready another, Crazy of Natural Causes, for eventual publication. That’s done. It’s either good or better.

Twenty Fourteen was the year I started writing short stories, though some of them go back a little farther. The anniversary of my fiction blog, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, just passed. About fifteen months ago, I started sketching, and that led, quite naturally, to accompanying my short stories with sketches. I think I’ve gotten better. This was the first:

My Pawless guitar has helped me write many songs.
My Pawless guitar has helped me write many songs.

This is the most recent:

This woman I concocted for my current short story.
This woman I concocted for my current short story.

Now I’ve been collecting all those short stories into one volume, which is titled Longer Songs. The reason for the title is that many of the short stories were based on, or at least originated in, songs I had written. I wrote a song based on observing two people conversing in a bar. The song (“Stuck in a Rut”) didn’t include them going on a desperate, disastrous road trip to L.A. Such flights of fancy took off from the songs and carried me with them.

This year I learned that NASCAR is bold enough to try almost anything, that football points are often easier to come by than basketball points, that it’s possible for the Kansas City Royals to play in the World Series, and that the winner of one World Series can finish last the following year. I knew the last, but the Boston Red Sox reminded me.

Year’s end leaves me believing in fewer things, continuing a trend that seems of recent vintage but is probably just what happens with age. Recent years have seen my faith in John Edwards, Joe Paterno, and Bill Cosby obliterated, and in cops and clergy, tested. I must remember the age-old words of the Jackson Five: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch of girls. I don’t care what they say. Don’t you give up on love.”

Love. Hah. At this point of my life, what “they say” about “love” applies to “life.” All’s fair in life and war, not to mention redundancy. Life. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it. The last time I fell in love was several years back. I got a song out of it.

This year I’ve worked hard. Next year comes success. When I was a boy, I read about men who went out to make their fortunes. I didn’t expect it to take so long. I write. It’s what I know how to do. If I do enough of it, I will continue to improve, and, in theory, someone out there is bound to notice. Next I’d like to be an overnight sensation.

Making up Riley Mansfield was fun.
Making up Riley Mansfield was fun.

In the meantime, do me the continued favor of reading in general and reading me in particular. If you’ve a desire to help measurably, read these: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Here a Minute, Gone the Next

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Kasey Kahne, responding to the Cam Newton emergency. Not really. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Kasey Kahne, responding to the Cam Newton emergency. Not really. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 10, 2014, 3:38 p.m.

Life provides us with periodic bolts from the blue.

The delivery accelerates but not the immediacy. By that, I mean that, when I heard that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had been in a car wreck on Tuesday, it shocked me moments after it happened, thanks to the Twitter feed, but it would have shocked me had I found out about it the next day. It would have been shocking to have gotten word of General Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, particularly since no one knew, at the time of the battle, that the War of 1812 was already over.

Incredibly, this photo is over two years old, and, yet, it's on the Internet.
Incredibly, this photo is over two years old, and, yet, it’s on the Internet.

It was high time for the War of 1812 to be over, it being 1815 when the aforementioned battle ended. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814, but General Jackson didn’t have Twitter. When in doubt, keep fighting until the British run through the bushes, run through the brambles, go some places where a rabbit wouldn’t go, on down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico*.

The truth still takes time, and it used to be more reliable. Nowadays truth arrives in bits and snatches, accompanied by untruths, like unto a game show.

Thank goodness the crash occurred in a Technology Corridor. Not really. (Monte Dutton)
Thank goodness the crash occurred in a Technology Corridor. Not really. (Monte Dutton)

Cam Newton involved in wreck.

Newton appears all right.

Newton smiles to camera.

Newton’s vehicle, upside down.

Newton’s vehicle, being turned rightside up.

Newton’s vehicle, roof flattened.

The car that hit Cam.

Cam, immobilized.

Cam en route to hospital.

Insiders say wreck broke both Cam’s legs.

Cam miraculously uninjured.

Cam expects to play Sunday.

Cam has broken back.

Cam unlikely to play.

Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, joyriding around the Queen City, rammed Cam Newton's pickup. Not really. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, joy-riding around Charlotte, rammed Cam Newton’s truck. Not really. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Those were just in the first few hours. It’s still going on now. At the moment, he may, in fact, be undergoing surgery on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, throwing practice tosses to Prince William, with his arms around the Duchess, while defending the CIA’s use of torture, and threatening to shut down the government.

Again.

I’m sure the family seeks closure. At one time, people didn’t need to worry. Most events had closure. Now it’s a pie in the sky. Either that or a pipe dream. Folks post online like they’re buying a lottery ticket.

Maybe this one will win!

Does anyone ever say “take your time” anymore?

One quality of www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, my other blog, is that it’s intentionally made up. Please consider buying my books. They make great stocking stuffers if you have really large stockings. They’re available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

*Rest in peace, Johnny Horton, who had a hit song, “The Battle of New Orleans,” written by Jimmy Driftwood.

The Coach Is a Straight-Up Guy

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Glad I brought my bird's eyes. Uh, binoculars. (Monte Dutton)
Glad I brought my bird’s eyes. Uh, binoculars. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 8, 2014, 9:33 a.m.

Last night I drove home listening to classic rock songs and actually paying attention to the lyrics.

Thunder only happens when it’s raining / Players only love you when they’re playing.

Oh, really?

For the first time in quite a while – i.e., decades – I wrote about a major-college basketball game last night. Clemson defeated Arkansas, 68-65, in overtime. I can’t say I did it because I yearned for this opportunity. I can say that I did it because a Little Rock newspaper paid more than the standard stringer’s fee here in the Palmetto State during the current “Journalism in the Time of Cholera” age.

Yeah. I’ll do it. Why not?

Covering college basketball has changed. The previous time I’d written about a game at Clemson, Cliff Ellis was the coach. That was 1990. I covered a tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum, which no longer exists, five or six years later.

Now Clemson games are watched with a commanding view – near the rafters in one of the corners – and a commanding number of steps to go up and down in order to attend the requisite media conferences. In case you missed it, I have a bad knee. Lots of “ooh, oohs” and “ouch, ouches” on those stairs. Thank God for small favors known as handrails. I just have to remember to be careful. It didn’t swell overnight. Whew.

I really like Brad Brownell, Clemson’s head coach. I’d been impressed with him, watching on TV, but sometimes looks are deceiving there. I’ve nothing against Arkansas’ Mike Anderson, but, from a writer’s perspective, Anderson is one of those guys who is going to say what he’s going to say, regardless of the question. His team had just lost a game it had expected to win. He was pleasant. He just weighed every word.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “I’ll take the blame. We didn’t close it off, but let’s give Clemson credit. They had a chance to fold their tents, and they didn’t go away.”

And, later, “It was a game of runs. They had a chance to have their runs.”

Pregame intros. (Monte Dutton)
Pregame intros. (Monte Dutton)

Brownell, though, is a valued commodity for writers. A tough, honest question doesn’t scare him to death. He doesn’t take it as an insinuation of some sort.

At the moment, the Tigers (5-3) are 2-0 against the Southeastern Conference and 1-2 against the Big South, which, despite its title, is not particularly big in the greater scheme of things. When Clemson lost to Winthrop in its second game and Gardner-Webb in its third, it had to create a certain sense of urgency. It’s tough for a coach to open a season slowly, essentially discovering that his team isn’t as good as he hoped it was, and then have to improve on the fly. It’s hard to address the overall health of a team when it’s necessary to deal with upcoming games.

“The hardest thing with basketball,” Brownell said, “is that you play thirty games. All you have to do is look at college basketball every day. People text me, trying to make me feel better. ‘NJIT beat Michigan. North Florida beat Purdue. … (USC) Upstate beat Georgia Tech. It’s happening more and more … because I don’t think the difference is as great.

“The kids play against each other so much more in AAU. These upsets happen. … I also think kids are a little bit numb to losing because of the AAU. They play so many games as an AAU player. You lose a lot in AAU, but you always have another game. You play at nine, and if you win, you play at two, and if you lose, you play at one. Then, if you win, you play at seven, and if you lose, you play at eight. In the park, when I was growing up, if you lost, you sat for three games. You didn’t like losing. In the park, you didn’t get to play but one game. I think kids today are prone not to be as bothered by losing and not be quite as ready all the time. I think that’s part of the reason there are so many upsets (at this level).”

On Sunday night, Brownell’s team pulled the upset. Arkansas (6-2) entered the game ranked eighteenth.

I’d gotten up that morning and written some short fiction. Then I’d made a sketch of what I thought a new character looked like. Then I’d showered and shaved, made sure I had everything I needed, driven ninety minutes to Clemson, watched the game, written about it, hobbled back to my car in the moonlight, and gotten back home a little after eleven.

Sitting in an interview room, interacting with Brad Brownell, ended up being the highlight of the day.

The short fiction is accessible at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

My books are accessible here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Dare To Be Great

The Red Devils took quite a whipping in their season opener. (Monte Dutton)
The Red Devils took quite a whipping in their season opener. (Monte Dutton)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 10:19 a.m.

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast / And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts. – “Our Town,” Iris Dement

I’ve previously expressed the belief that the entire mood of this town is affected by the fortunes of the local high school football team. It can easily be overstated, but records of five and seven and two and nine have taken their toll. The head coach has been relieved, and a search is in progress to find a successor.

Last night the Spartanburg Herald-Journal dispatched me to the local gymnasium to watch the Byrnes Rebels, representing one of the state’s larger schools, take on the Red Devils. It wasn’t pretty. Byrnes clobbered the Clinton girls, 64-20, and the boys, 94-48. The girls are 0-3. It was the boys’ first game. The girls were more thoroughly outclassed than the boys. They are young and out, uh, womanned.

I thought pride got in the boys’ way. Neither team could buy a free throw. The girls converted seven out of twenty-eight. The boys missed thirteen before they hit one and wound up seven for twenty-two.

Byrnes was clearly superior in the boys’ game, but Clinton has some good athletes and managed to stay close for slightly more than a quarter. They trailed, seventeen to thirteen, a minute into the second quarter, at which point Byrnes outscored them, twenty-nine to two, from there until halftime.

Not only “not pretty,” really. Downright ugly.

Unfortunately, when the Rebels speeded up, the Red Devils did, too, and while Byrnes was passing three times and dishing off for a slam, Clinton’s kids were just as frantic but far less efficient. They panicked, and part of it was trying to keep up with the Joneses as much as the Rebels. In a game transformed to one-upmanship, the Rebels raced ever upward.

Wouldn’t you like to fly / In my beautiful, my beautiful balloon? – The Fifth Dimension

Though I never saw him play at Clinton High, I wrote a story or two about Clinton’s coach, Todd Frazier, when he played at Newberry College, many years ago now. Todd was a fierce and workmanlike college basketball player. His burning desire remains active as a coach. I have little doubt that his team will get better once the competition is less daunting and the erstwhile football players become more acclimated to a round ball.

But … last night … was rough.

Perhaps I hold athletics to too high a standard. The experience of playing on a state championship football team, oh, my, thirty-nine years ago now, left me with a high estimation of the importance of winning. When I hear people say, “Well, I hope at least the kids have fun,” immediately I think, Well, you know what? There’s nothing more fun than winning.

I don’t want the kids to get accustomed to losing. I want them to dare to be great. I want athletics to be something that helps them in later life. I want them to leave Clinton High School expecting to win in whatever it is they do.

Clinton is very small for a Class AAA school. When I was there, it was very large, back before the mills and factories closed and the jobs diminished in both number and quality. Winning, however, requires an ability to expect the improbable and suspend acceptance of numbers that seem daunting. I’m not just talking about basketball games. Even now, I’m trying to beat the odds and make a decent living as a writer. If I paid any attention to those odds, I’d probably be trying to get a real-estate license right now.

That’s what I meant when I wrote that the basketball team seemed to let its pride get in the way. I do that, too. The difference is that I’ve seen it work, and I want those kids to find that heady confidence in their formative years, too.

Some of the lessons, hard ones, I experienced growing up influenced the writing of my latter novel, The Intangibles. The Audacity of Dope, my former novel, is available, along with most of my non-fiction books, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

No Heavy Lifting This Morning

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

I took this photo before a high-school football game in Abbeville, S.C., last year.
I took this photo before a high-school football game in Abbeville, S.C., last year.

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 1, 2014, 9:18 a.m.

Monday mornings are perfect to ponder the absurdities of life, such as, how my Twitter feed furnishes links to “Craziest Places to Have Sex!” and “If Disney Was for Adults!” and these are allegedly provided me by Confucius.

Nothing further. I didn’t click the link. I was too busy with “Top Ten Party Schools” and pondering how a bucket full of water contains more atoms than there are buckets full of water in the Atlantic Ocean.

Whoa.

As usual, while pondering absurdity, I am reminded of the Statler Brothers’ declaration in “Flowers on the Wall”: “Uh, don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do!”

10:43 a.m.

I watched football almost nonstop on Friday and Saturday. On Thursday, of course, Thanksgiving slowed me, well, in that way, too.

Western Kentucky-Marshall. Defensive struggle. 67-66. Alabama-Auburn. 55-44. Auburn fired the defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson. After the Tigers’ last three losses in Tuscaloosa, a place where visitors quite often fare poorly, two head coaches and one defensive coordinator have been fired.

The deposed head coach at Florida, Will Muschamp, is back in style. He’ll have to settle for a million bucks or two when he resurfaces, coordinating a defense again.

It was a weekend of games matching one team named “University of” against another accessorized by Tech or State. Georgia Tech beat Georgia. Arizona repelled Arizona State. Mississippi (the Ole one) knocked off Mississippi State. Oregon clobbered Oregon State. Washington stymied Washington State. Kansas State decimated Kansas. Virginia Tech trimmed Virginia.

Lots of teams were informally bowl-eligible. Egg Bowl, Apple Bowl, Civil War, and here in South Carolina, for the first time, we officially held the Palmetto Bowl. Clemson put South Carolina – and a five-game losing streak – to bed. As for me, it took Auburn-Alabama to finally send me off to sleep with high, spiraling punts dancing in my head.

On Sunday, the TV was on. I was writing, reading, playing guitar and monitoring the progress of the National – Buh-buh-buh-BUH! – Football League. The Carolina Panthers cost me a good deal of my attention span.

The other games were great. I was just beyond caring. Fortunately, there’s that vaunted Dolphins at Jets fray to perk me up.

Sometimes it's like this for laps at a time. Phoenix in the fall. (HHR/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Sometimes it’s like this for laps at a time. Phoenix in the fall. (HHR/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

10:58 a.m.

Guess what? I just thought of NASCAR for the first time in a couple weeks. Why is it that the races are too long, but the football games aren’t? Some of them are dreary.

Thought number two. So-called “double-file restarts,” in addition to being a misnomer, were also unwise. They were already “double-file,” but the leaders were in one lane and the lapped cars in the other. When that was the case, it was exciting to watch a top driver who had experienced some adversity racing like hell to get his lap back. Now the restarts are in running order, and it’s virtually impossible for anyone actually to “race his way back” onto the lead lap. He might have to race a little to earn the dubious distinction of being the top driver a lap down, and then he will receive a free pass at the next caution period.

Merely by passing up a pit stop, a dozen or more cars are simply “waved around.” That’s right. Waved Around. It’s the NASCAR version of a presidential pardon.

Sometimes, eight cars are on the lead lap at the halfway point and twenty-seven by the time there are twenty laps to go. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.

Everything is designed to gin up, falsify, and artificially respirate the ending. The race. The season. The Chase. The champion.

Lest some fans leap to their keyboards all at once to inform me that “maybe, if you don’t like NASCAR anymore, you ought to just go to hell,” I still think it’s worth watching, thoroughly socialized and tricked up though it may be. It’s just that I once thought it was wonderful, and now I mainly think it’s amusing.

I don’t like Arena Football as much as College Football, High School Football, and Pro Football, either, but I watch it sometimes when there’s no Futbol Football (soccer) to appease me.

As Loretta Lynn is wont to sing, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! You know what would make a fine gift this holiday season? Why, at least one and, quite possibly, many of my books: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

The Stubborn Struggle

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Homer Jordan, Number E (the negative was flipped), the Count of Monte Carlo and hero of Clemson's national championship season. (Monte Dutton)
Homer Jordan, Number E (the negative was flipped), the Count of Monte Carlo and hero of Clemson’s national championship season. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, November 29, 2014 10:51 a.m.

The Carolina-Clemson game is coming up soon, and this is going to be a quickie blog because I want to pay attention to the game. I can’t remember the last time I was looking this forward to it. It was probably before I went to college, when I was a Clemson fan, and attended the games as a fan.

I'll probably root for whichever team is behind.
I’ll probably root for whichever team is behind.

My Clemson memories go back to Frank Howard, Jimmy Addison, Bo Ruffner, and Butch Sursavage (pronounced “Suhhee-savage” by Coach Howard), not to mention Tommy Suggs, Warren Muir, Billy Freeman, and “Pepsodent Paul” Dietzel at South Carolina. If my evaluation of football greatness were based solely on the games I attended, the greatest quarterback in history would be the Gamecocks’ Jeff Grantz. I saw Clemson win, 7-6, in sleet and cold, and Carolina win, 56-20, on a day that seemed perfect to the home team. I watched from the end zone, “the bank,” and, eventually, the press box, but now it’s been two decades since I’ve seen the game in person, and I’m fine watching it on TV.

(Lots of people who are not from South Carolina read these blogs, so I feel compelled to concede that, in forty-nine states, Carolina is in Chapel Hill and USC is in Los Angeles. I, however, live in the other one.)

That having been noted, it’s been decades since happiness depended on the outcome of this game. I went to college at Furman University and care more about the Paladins, and, for that matter, the hometown Presbyterian Blue Hose, than either of the Palmetto State’s principal state universities. It is impossible, though, for a South Carolinian not to care about the Carolina-Clemson game. (By the way, the reason I listed Carolina first is that the game is at Clemson, and my sportswriter’s habit is to place the visiting team first.)

So I do care. I care that it be a great game. It won’t break my heart if either team loses. Here is my basic outlook where the Gamecocks and Tigers are concerned. In general, I want both to do well, but it amuses me when they don’t. I’m not amused at the teams, but, rather, their fans. The team that loses will have a bunch of stomping-around, cussing, irritable, excuse-making, rationalizing curmudgeons on Monday. I’ll probably wander around town just to watch. The Napa Valley will have nothing on this state’s sour grapes.

Between Carolina and Clemson lies exactly one national championship, and it occurred almost thirty-four years ago. I often think about that because it seems fairly modern in my fifty-six-year-old mind. Then I realize that the 1981 Orange Bowl is as distant to the kids of today as SMU’s Doak Walker and TCU’s Davey O’Brien were to me, which is, as one of those Texans might say, “a rat fur piece.”

South Carolinians don’t care if the rest of the country thinks the Trojans are USC and the Tar Heels Carolina. South Carolinians, in general, don’t care what anyone else thinks, anyway, which is one of the reasons their ancestors started the Civil War.

I’m atypical. I don’t so much care which team wins, but I do care about the game because, damn it, I’m a South Carolinian, and I’m stubborn. I’m just not stubborn about the same things or in the same way.

Sports is important in my fiction, too. The hero of The Audacity of Dope is an ex-football player, and The Intangibles is centered on a high school football team trying to make it through the tempests of 1968. You can buy them here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

It’s Not Just Window Dressing

IMG_0222
Have yourself a happy little Thanksgiving! (Monte Dutton sketch)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, November 27, 2014, 9:29 a.m.

Thanksgiving morning. It’s the beginning of one of my favorite days of the year. I love Thanksgiving because, other than feeling incredibly sluggish tonight, it’s all positive. The family grows ever more distant, and everyone seems excited to see each other. There’s no down side to Thanksgiving, at least the way we observe it here. It has none of the tiresome pettiness that sometimes arises during Christmas and New Year’s.

The turkey’s in my oven, and my mother will be arriving shortly to see if I’ve somehow managed to mess it up, even though all I’ve done is very carefully follow her directions. The dressing is in the refrigerator, ready to bake before the feast commences. Mom’s oven isn’t working, so she’s taking advantage of the quarter-mile commute to my house.

Let there be casseroles, sayeth the Lord at Plymouth Rock. And tidings of great joy. And custards of great sweet potatoes.

Thinking warm thoughts of dressing.
Thinking warm thoughts of dressing.

The centerpiece of our Thanksgiving is my mother’s oyster dressing, which, frankly, is the greatest ever made. This week I’ve gotten a bit irritated at people, such as the comedian Jim Gaffigan, saying that there’s no such thing as dressing. “It’s stuffing!” they scream.

No. It’s not. Not everyone stuffs the turkey. Some people make a huge pan of dressing. In our case, this is because it would take at least four turkeys to contain enough interior space to provide as much stuff as our family will consume. Our dressing doesn’t become stuffing until it stuffs our stomachs.

And imagine the leftovers of four turkeys! There wouldn’t be any more Duke’s Mayonnaise on the shelves by Saturday.

An hour or so ago, as I reported to my mother that the turkey wasn’t black, we talked about her dressing.

“I love it the way my mother made it,” she said, and she added that the real secret wasn’t the oysters, or the cornbread, but rather the hen broth. Each year my mother boils a hen just for the broth, and the broth is used just for the dressing. She’s also bullish on the chopped celery. Last night, for supper, I had hen and noodles, and that’s because, as good as it is, my sister and her two sons had had their fill of it at Mom’s house.

Hen doesn’t taste like turkey. It produces a broth as distinctive as, well, broth gets. The only time I eat hen is in the lead-up to Turkey Day. The basic reason my mother cooks a hen for the dressing is that her mother, who died thirty years ago, did. My mother is seventy-four, and it’s occurred to us that the only proper preparation of dressing may die with her.

Ray, my nephew, and his wonderful wife, Jessica, and their jolly eleven-month-old boy, Thomas, will be here. Perhaps ten years ago, I took Ray to task for being impolite to Mom. I told him Grandma wasn’t going to live forever, and he ought to be nicer to her.

He thought about it, squeezed his chin with thumb and index finger, and said, “Just think. When Grandma dies, we’ll never eat dressing like that again.”

Among the blessings I cherish today is the health, vitality, and wisdom of my mother, who has been through a lot in her seventy-four years. She reads my manuscripts before anyone else. In fact, she reads voraciously in general. There’s more to her than an aromatic kitchen.

But that dressing is something.

Read my short stories and thoughts about writing at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and you can find the books I’ve written here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1