Et Tu, Britain?

"What? Me worry? (Monte Dutton sketch)
“What? Me worry? (Monte Dutton sketch)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, June 24, 2016, 10:34 a.m.

Great Britain broke off from Europe, which, geographically, it already was, or else Donald Trump would be boasting that he’d build an ocean around it and make the Brits pay for it.

He’s over there to pimp a golf course, being a respected world leader.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Scotland has immediately decided it wants out, not from Europe, but from Great Britain, at which point it would become less Great. Perhaps just Britain would work.

Tensions rise. Continental powers break off relations with Great Britain. They all start boosting the military. The English cross the Channel and invade Normandy. The English war machine races across Europe. A new British Empire rises.

They’re back where they started.

It just occurred to me that a financial analyst on Wall Street, talking about “Brexit,” sounds almost exactly like a man in West Virginia talking about his house getting washed away. It takes clothes and dialect to tell them apart, but it’s easier to keep them apart.

Here I sit in my home, feeling distant and not particularly informed. The economy’s tanking. Fortunately, I don’t have that much money to lose. Lucky me! If I went completely bust, it would be perfect.

Next thing you know, people will stop reading books.

Nah. Never happen.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories, all of which are derived from songs I wrote.

All three of these books, already autographed, are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 N. Main St., Clinton.

Most of my books are available here.

A Dizzying Day’s Journey Into Night

Pregame devotional at Newberry College. (Monte Dutton photos)
Pregame devotional at Newberry College. (Monte Dutton photos)

L&LComplete Suppy of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 12:02 p.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Sometimes I’m reminded that I’m getting old.

In fact, the reminder occurs fairly often.

I was tightly scheduled on Tuesday. After spending most of my time holed up at the house finishing a manuscript for a solid week, I needed to get out, and I was looking forward to it. I write about life, not to mention NASCAR and local sports, and to write about life, it only makes sense that I should experience it. It’s a prerequisite.

DSCF3239I drove to Laurens District High School to write about summertime football scrimmages that do not involve contact, which isn’t allowed until August, give or take a few days at the end of July. What is allowed is what is known as seven-on-seven, in which high schools compete in intense games of catch. Nine schools, Clinton and Laurens among them, played catch in the heat of the day, and I took pictures and notes about it.

DSCF3233I’d never watched seven-on-seven before. I’d heard of it.

What impressed me the most was the heat, not the heat of competition but the heat of the sun. Ninety degrees seemed hotter than it used to.

Nine teams, on three fields, one a decent hike away, are difficult to follow, even when one is concentrating on two of them. Naturally, they never played each other, probably because they open the season against each other and that is soon enough.

Shade was valuable when the Red Devils were off.
Shade was valuable when the Red Devils were off.

The gist of my story, which I raced home to write, was that Laurens and Clinton both looked about as good as football teams can look when they are not running into each other. The reason I was racing was that I had a long way to go and a short time to get there.

DSCF3255Eastbound, watch ol’ Bandit run …

I also wrote a Bleacher Report column, which I usually write on Sunday or Monday because those are the days after most NASCAR races, but this one I wrote on Tuesday because the Sprint Cup Series didn’t have a race on Father’s Day weekend and I was looking ahead to the next one on a road course in California next Sunday.

DSCF3226This weekly column requires layout, choosing photographs, concocting some kind of pertinent chart, and inserting tweets and videos. In other words, it takes a while.

I also felt a bit impaired by the sun, which compelled me to drink all the cold water in the refrigerator and turn to Diet Pepsi when the cold water ran out.

I put my shoes back on, grabbed a camera, drove to the ATM because I needed more than two dollars in my wallet, and headed to Newberry to write a feature on the three Clinton High alums now playing American Legion baseball for Chapin-Newberry Post 193/24, which plays its games at Newberry College.

DSCF3271

Tristan Smaltz
Tristan Smaltz

I happened upon a great story about a heartbreaking game. Wilmington, N.C., won, 7-5, but the players from Clinton and Joanna (our principal suburb) performed significantly and effectively. Chandler Todd played catcher. Peyton Spangler was at short. Tristan Smaltz pitched in relief and held a line that got mainly crossed after his exit. He had pitched a complete game, and won, in Asheboro, N.C., three days earlier.

Chandler Todd
Chandler Todd

The game got decided by Todd, the distance to the outfield wall, and the Wilmington left fielder located between Todd and the wall.

Peyton Spangler
Peyton Spangler

With the bases loaded, two out and his pinstriped team two runs down, Todd hit the ball smashingly hard but agonizingly short. The wall was 380 feet away. The outfield was positioned deep in deference to a two-run lead. Beneath the professional level, bats are made of metal, not wood. Somehow, the ball, coming off Todd’s bat, sounded more like a rifle shot than a “plink,” which is normally the sound of metal hitting stitched hide. Todd’s shot apparently wounded the ball.

Todd, Smaltz, Spangler at the mound.
Todd, Smaltz, Spangler at the mound.

It traveled 99.73684211 percent far enough, which my phone assures me is the percentage of 379 applied to 380.

In other words, the left fielder snagged it with his glove positioned one foot away from the top of the wall. He didn’t have to leap. He didn’t get there fast enough. The ball could have eaten him up but decided not to chew.

Smaltz and Todd
Smaltz and Todd

The sportswriter of yore sometimes referred to an outstanding football kicker as having “an educated toe.” Chandler Todd’s bat needs to go to class. It lacks education.

Meanwhile, I felt mildly woozy while watching this awe-inspiring sphere tracking through the air like a heat-seeking missile. Who knew the wall was hot?

Spangler
Spangler

I trudged around, interviewing the three young men from Clinton High School and their head coach, Daniel Gregory, who, by the way, is now reading one of my books (as you should, too). I trudged back to my truck and drove to the nearby convenience store, where I pumped fuel in my truck in the form of gasoline and fuel in myself via mixed nuts and Diet Dr. Pepper, and both forms were sufficient to get me home.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories, all of which are derived from songs I wrote.

All three of these books, already autographed, are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 N. Main St., Clinton.

Most of my books are available here.

Spanning the Globe for the Constant Variety of TV Sports

Sonoma comes next, but that's another week. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Sonoma comes next, but that’s another week. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 20, 2016, 9:45 a.m.

Wow. I’m a bit overwhelmed.

I can’t come close to quantifying all that happened in my living room. By extension, it was, oh, from Oakland, Plum (Pennsylvania), Newton (Iowa), Omaha, Boston, Le Mans (France) …

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

The grass didn’t need mowing (later this week, I expect). I had clean clothes, though I seldom wore them (the clean ones). My guitar(s) could use new strings.

I had just completed the first draft of a manuscript for my next novel. I was in need of relaxation. Damn it. I’d been passionate all week. I needed to unwind.

Forget about your cares / It is time to relax / At the Junction.Theme from Petticoat Junction

Apparently, it was hot outside. I suspect it might have been. I went through a drive-through.

Dustin Johnson, the big galoot, won the United States Open. He’s a South Carolinian, born in Columbia, college at Coastal Carolina, now lives occasionally and officially in Myrtle Beach. He has heretofore been noted for superhuman skills and a frail psyche in the major championships of golf. On Sunday, Johnson kept his wits while, all about him, other golfers were losing theirs. He played against type. For the past few years, I’ve been rooting for him against type. He kicked some type ass.

(Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)

Then there was the basketball game. Game Seven of the NBA Playoffs. A stereotypical battle between the bruising East (Cleveland Cavaliers) and the graceful West (Golden State Warriors), descended from Lakers against Celtics. None of the first six games had been close. The seventh was. The fiercely aggressive Cavs from the long-derided Rust Belt city came from two down to win three straight for the title. So was the great LeBron James defined forever.

Other Kings besides Le Bron. (John Clark photo)
Other Kings besides Le Bron. (John Clark photo)

It’s sort of rewarding to watch a great sporting event without a heavy rooting interest. Often it takes a rooting interest to watch passionately, but watching dispassionately, caring about the outcome but not obsessed by it, can be just as enjoyable and more relaxing.

The difference might be whether one curses at the TV or not. I sounded more like Jed Clampett. I be dogged. Hoo, doggie. No exclamation points. Oil. Black gold. Texas tea.

(I wrote the words above with the full knowledge that those old enough to remember The Beverly Hillbillies are outnumbered by those who don’t. On the other hand, there’s TV Land.)

Do you remember having a mistaken opinion about what a word means when you were a kid? For some reason, I once thought Chanticleer had something to do with Christmas. The reason I learned what it means was probably the existence of it as a nickname at Coastal Carolina University, which, as a fellow state school, synonymized (spontaneous word invention) Gamecock.

Whatever. One Chanticleer won the U.S. Open, and a coop full of them won its first game at the College World Series. Admittedly, I only saw the final inning of CCU’s 2-1 victory over Florida. My schedule proved too crowded. If I’d had two more sports, college baseball and hemispherical soccer, to switch back and forth from, I’d have a splint on my right thumb now.

Big Papi in Atlanta a few years back. (Monte Dutton photo)
Big Papi in Atlanta a few years back. (Monte Dutton photo)

For passion, I had a pair of Red Sox victories over the Seattle Mariners at Fenway on Saturday and Sunday. On Friday, the night they lost, David Ortiz hit his 521st home run, tying him not only with the wondrous Ted Williams but also with Willie McCovey (another favorite of mine) and Frank Thomas. Ted was my dad’s greatest hero, him and Johnny U. I doubt Jimmy Dutton turned over in his grave, but he definitely noticed. I never saw Williams play, but he’s the reason I’m a Boston fan in baseball. My dad handed him down to me, and I adopted his successor, Carl Yastrzemski, in left field.

The Colts left Baltimore, and Unitas died too young, but Fenway Park is still a constant, better than ever. Yaz was even in the TV booth for an inning not too long ago.

(Photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)
(Photo by Richard Prince for Chevy Racing)

Le Mans. I’ve never been within an ocean of the race, but I have a story that relates to it. The late Chris Economaki was the greatest all-around authority on auto racing I’ve ever known. I don’t think Chris would make a strenuous objection to the notion that he was not without an ego.

One day in Daytona Beach, Ken Willis, the irreverent and wisecracking scribe of the local daily there, and I were trading irreverences, when, all of a sudden, he asked me if I knew what year Fireball Roberts ran the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I said that I thought maybe it was 1962 but pointed to Economaki and said, “Ask Chris. He’ll know.”

Willis said, “Hey, Chris, what year did Fireball run Le Mans?” Willis pronounced it with the “s” on the end.

Apparently, Chris didn’t know the answer, which he could not possibly admit, so he stood up out of his chair, said, very loudly, “It’s le-MAH!” and walked swiftly out of the room.

Miraculously, by the way, 1962 was indeed the year Daytona Beach’s own Fireball Roberts competed at Le Mans.

Sam Hornish Jr. and son celebrate in Iowa. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Sam Hornish Jr. and son celebrate in Iowa. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

I miss Chris. He watched me play music twice in the Poconos, offering his acerbic reviews between songs.

Anyway, a Toyota dominated the race and broke down with three minutes remaining. It was sort of the most dramatic ending since the one Hollywood and Steve McQueen staged 46 years ago for the movie Le Mans. Porsche won. The new Ford GT won its class. Most of my time watching the race was spent in reverie, fascinated at the spectacle of all those magnificent machines roaring around and occasionally sending up roostertails that had nothing to do with Chanticleers or Christmas.

A substitute teacher won the Xfinity Series race in Iowa, where, of course, if you build it, they will come. Okay. Sam Hornish Jr. is also an Indianapolis 500 winner, but his NASCAR career never hit the heights and eventually tumbled into the skids, and winning the race might not really make much difference at this point in his career, other than being laudable and, as people always say when they’re trying to get you to do something, “it looks good on your resume.” Sam Hornish and I have approximately the same need for a resume at this stage in our lives.

So, yeah, I’m glad he won.

William Byron stands atop the NASCAR Truck world. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
William Byron stands atop the NASCAR Truck world. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

On Friday night, I also watched the Trucks race at the Track of Dreams. In summary, this kid William Byron is really something. He’s the hottest Roman candle out there below the high-dollar fireworks of the Sprint Cup Series.

The poor Atlanta Braves. They swept the New York Mets on a weekend when I didn’t even notice.

What do I do for an encore? Oh, work on some fiction. Go see some high school players pitching and catching. Catch a little Legion ball.

Write these.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories, all of which are derived from songs I wrote.

All three of these books, already autographed, are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 N. Main St., Clinton.

Most of my books are available here.

Fox Left Me Thumbstruck

This isn't Le Mans, but how else am I going to use this photo? (Richard Prince photo for Chevy Racing)
This isn’t Le Mans, but how else am I going to use this photo? (Richard Prince photo for Chevy Racing)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, June 19, 2016, 10:44 a.m.

Like all users of social media, I am the unfortunate repository of great deposits of useless information. Recently I stumbled upon a story noting that the intensity of the grip of young people has declined 30 percent over the past 30 years.

This, of course, would explain the rash of baseball bats flying into grandstands in recent years. I thought it somehow must be the gloves. I thought maybe The Big Guy mistakenly put on his sliding gloves instead of his batting gloves or his driving gloves or his riding gloves.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I’m sure my hands have weakened — of course, I’m a Dustin Johnson drive past being young anywhere but at heart, and my doctor might quibble with that if I made the mistake of asking him — but I’m satisfied my fingers are in the pink. They got a workout on Saturday and not just at this keyboard.

I had a classic First World problem. Fox Sports turned me into an easy-chair Sherlock Holmes.

The United States Open golf tournament, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and various NASCAR activities in Iowa moved around the Fox family of channels like military families. The program guide didn’t help. Thursday’s rain delay of the Open in Pennsylvania caused dominoes to fall around the globe in general and my living room in particular.

The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977.  (Thomas Pope photo)
The Silver Fox, David Pearson, circa 1977. (Thomas Pope photo)

Fox. Fox Sports 1. Fox Sports 2. Fox Business. Michael J. Fox. John Fox. Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox. David Pearson, the Silver Fox. Little Foxes. Foxy Brown.

It’s still going on. I just looked up and poker was on Fox Sports 1. Back to Fox network. Eureka! I have found the golf! I feel like Meriwether Lewis. Or Old Tom Morris.

Just to let you know I’ve done my research here, let the record note that Foxy Brown is both a 1974 film and a rapper. She may be hosting the NHRA later if it rains at Oakmont.

Imagine if the remote control had never been invented. Imagine if I had to keep getting up and down, changing the channel.

Of course, it defies belief that the great scientists who took off enough time away from making laundry detergents perpetually “new and improved” to invent cable, satellite, high-def, cool names for prescription medications, and some advances I skipped right over or never noticed, would never have invented the remote control.

The world would be simpler, and handshakes would be firmer.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I collected 11 short stories, each converted from a song I’ve written, and called it Longer Songs.

A pot-smoking songwriter becomes a national hero, and it’s nothing but trouble in The Audacity of Dope.

The Intangibles is set in the South during the 1960s and is about civil rights, bigotry and high school football.

Most all my books can be found here.

Signed copies of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Longer Songs are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton, S.C.

Rainy Days and Open Dates

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, June 16, 2016, 10:29 a.m.

The United States Open is on Fox Sports 1. Most of the time, NASCAR is on Fox Sports 1, for a few more weeks, anyway. I believe there are other sports there: soccer, for sure, and whatever that form of fighting is where they can kick as well as box. I don’t usually watch that channel except when there’s racing on.

No, it was not I. I've never even driven a Lexus.
Monte Dutton (John Clark photo).

But I’m watching golf today, or, at least, the channel is on. I’m sort of half watching while I write this. It’s raining. Joe Buck is promising to let me know exactly how long the delay has been when “the first golfer puts a ball in play.” Bated is my breath.

It rains a lot on Fox Sports 1. As far as I know, that seldom happens with that kind of no-holds-barred fighting. From my self-censored view, it seems like the channel should be Fox Sports & Rain 1. I have a skewed view of the true essence of the channel.

I’d have to say golf does a better job than NASCAR with rain delays. Sure, an attractive, curvaceous woman just spent a couple minutes on what the golfers are tweeting. Fox, in general, puts a lot of beautiful women on TV. It seems that women who bear no similarity to Jessica Rabbit (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) have little chance for employment at Fox.

It’s probably just a coincidence.

Imagine Michael Waltrip at The Open Championship. I bet he’d give it a try.

Drivers, start your Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Drivers, start your
Air Titans! (Getty Images for NASCAR)

All NASCAR has over golf on Fox Sports 1 is the Air Titan. Perhaps I’m prejudiced. Perhaps there are millions who enjoy endless discussions of special color schemes, and the valuable collectibles based on them, and replays of the same race a year earlier shown so that maybe, just maybe, some fans will linger a while until they figure out the race they’re watching is not live and in person. One tipoff is when Jeff Gordon, seconds earlier wearing a suit and tie, takes the lead.

Paul Azinger just said the rough is very penal. I expect most watching golf nod obligingly. NASCAR fans would be snickering. It’s penal. Not penile. Not a very apt use of either one, by the way.

Now they’re getting ready to play again. Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are chatting amiably at the tee box. Jordan Spieth is chuckling alone. Andrew Landry is three under through 11. As best I can tell from Wikipedia, he is unrelated to Tom, though he is from Nederland, Texas.

Landry, who is undoubtedly related to someone, just moved two shots free of the field on No. 12. Bryson James Aldrich DeChambeau, who may have the best golfer’s name ever bestowed in Modesto, California, is getting lots of air time in his scarlet attire. With the bright Gatsby cap, he reminds me of the late Payne Stewart, though conspicuously sans the knickers.

Is Sunday Father’s Day? It is. It’s a fine weekend for a major golf championship. Father’s Day tends to miss me as I neither am one or have one. NASCAR racing used to keep my mind off it. For some reason, the stock cars are taking this one off, that is, except for Truck and Xfinity races in Iowa.

Golf almost doesn’t exist for me except in the major championships, for which I cultivate strong interest. Hockey’s that way, too. I love the playoffs but seldom watch regular-season games for more than a few minutes at a stretch. Maybe it’s a consequence of age. Maybe it’s a consequence of having things to do. I must limit my indulgences.

I used to play golf, though seldom well. Every golfer occasionally plays well, as in, oh, one shot in three. The worst shot at Oakmont will be similar to many of mine. Maybe that’s why I like the major championships. I can relate.

I gave up playing golf when I took up playing guitar. I don’t play it well, either, but only rarely do I strum and miss.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I collected 11 short stories, each converted from a song I’ve written, and called it Longer Songs.

A pot-smoking songwriter becomes a national hero, and it’s nothing but trouble in The Audacity of Dope.

The Intangibles is set in the South during the 1960s and is about civil rights, bigotry and high school football.

Most all my books can be found here.

Signed copies of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Longer Songs are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton, S.C.

 

The Era of No Feelings

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Storms never last / Do they, baby? / Bad times all pass / With the wind.
Storms never last / Do they, baby? / Bad times all pass / With the wind.

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, June 14, 2016, 9:18 a.m.

I probably should dive back into the 1940s right now. I’m in the final chapter of what will be my fifth novel, a western set in Texas at the end of World War II.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I often use these morning blogs as a warm-up for working on something else. Other warm-ups include coffee, breakfast and CBS This Morning.

By gosh, I could use an old movie right now. Van Heflin’s about to star as Tennessee Johnson on TCM. The present has got me bummed.

It’s not that I can’t find my interest. I can’t find my passion.

9:50 a.m.

Other things are going on. The Golden State Warriors are heading to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA finals. The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, tied for first place in the American League East, begin a three-game series at Fenway Park.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR race in Michigan. IndyCars got postponed all the way to August in Texas. Coastal Carolina made the College World Series. Clemson and South Carolina didn’t.

The United States Open is coming up at a golf course called Oakmont, in Pennsylvania. I just saw a news item claiming that the rough is “horrifying.”

No rough is horrifying. Orlando is horrifying. The rough at Oakmont was horrifying last week. Now it’s not even “scary.” It’s been downgraded to “pesky.”

I’ve been downgraded to “glum.”

Jessica posted more beautiful photos of her lovely Thomas, my latest great-nephew. I needed some beauty.

NASCAR isn’t anywhere. The road race in California is June 26.

As John Denver sang:

There’s a truck out on the four lane / A mile or more away / The whining of his wheels just makes it colder.

The high is forecast for 92. Somehow it still feels cold.

Sorry. This is all I got.

The Southern childhood noted above contributed to my second novel, The Intangibles.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I collected 11 short stories, each converted from a song I’ve written, and called it Longer Songs.

A pot-smoking songwriter becomes a national hero, and it’s nothing but trouble in The Audacity of Dope.

Most all my books can be found here.

Signed copies of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Longer Songs are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton, S.C.

An Ode to Ali from a Distance

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The cemetery bordering the Newberry College campus. (Monte Dutton photo)
The cemetery bordering the Newberry College campus. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 4, 2016, 9:58 a.m.

Everyone feels the need to write about Muhammad Ali. Everyone feels as if he has something to say or write that no one else has.

In a way, as I piddle around the house aimlessly, stirring Sweet ‘N’ Low into a coffee mug, strumming my guitar for a while, and watching the calm morning chatter of CBS This Morning, Ali’s death makes me think of my response when someone asks, “What if Jesus came back today?”

The same thing. He’d throw the moneychangers out of the temple, and they’d make Him pay.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Ali never claimed to be holy, but that’s the way he will seem in death because no one ever knows the extent of the love people have for him or her while he or she is alive.

When I first heard of Ali, he was known as Cassius Clay, and my father and the men who played poker with him in the breezeway of our house talked about him all the time. They despised him. They adored another man — I soon gathered they were both boxers — named Sonny Liston, which, in retrospect, seems absurd, now that I am no longer six years old and know that Liston was about as disreputable a man as ever walked the sporting stage or stalked the boxing ring.

It was 1964. It was the same town in which I live now. Most of those men playing poker have died. A few moved out of town, so I don’t know whether or not they have survived. If Ali didn’t outlive them all, he certainly outlived their hate.

They all loved Sonny Liston because they thought he was going to destroy that uppity Negro, Cassius Clay, and when he didn’t, that’s when they all turned on Liston, along with most of the world, and said it was all fixed.

Much has changed, but much has not.

When Cassius Clay announced that he was now Muhammad Ali, and that he had converted to Islam, the emphasis was on the Black, not the Muslim. When Ali defied the military draft, he officially became the most uppity Negro ever in the opinion of my father and his friends. If they had found a bottle — and they liked bottles — and a genie had popped out instead of a shot of bourbon, they would have wished for a white man to knock out Muhammad Ali, and if the genie had said, “Guys, that ain’t happening,” they would have wished for a black man, or a Puerto Rican, or a Sherpa guide from the Himalayas, or an alien from outer space.

Even I liked Joe Frazier, in part, because he was born in South Carolina, and kids are often by nature provincial, but my earliest memories of Ali are ones of bafflement. I couldn’t understand why people hated him so. I thought he was kind of funny, sparring with that Howard Cosell and all his big words. I never stopped admiring Frazier, a man of dogged determination who cared nothing for politics. Frazier was guilty by association. He had the misfortune of being a black man beloved by whites, and that wasn’t his fault. That was Ali’s fault, which is not to say that Ali did anything more than what would today be called boosting his brand.

If everyone had a brand like Muhammad Ali, I wouldn’t abhor the term.

In lieu of appropriate art ... scenery!
In lieu of appropriate art … scenery!

The world has changed. It just hasn’t gotten any better. It’s not equally wicked. It’s equivalently wicked. If Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali today, the powers that be would probably find another way to strip him of his title. The problem today would be less the Black and more the Muslim.

I almost wish Muhammad Ali was 22 again. He’d give Donald Trump his money’s worth.

I never met him, or Frazier. Once I watched Larry Holmes fight Gerry Cooney on closed circuit, but that’s because I was working at a newspaper and the promoter gave me a free ticket.

What a joke that was.

I don’t even follow boxing anymore, and the reason is disillusionment. Ali was the King of the World. He traveled it and brought all of God’s children — a footnote: Christians and Muslims worship the same God — together. He wasn’t going to become the old punch-drunk lug, greeting people at the front door of an Atlantic City casino.

Then he did. The brightest, funniest, cleverest man on the planet took too many punches, and once I saw that, I lost all interest in boxing.

I was at a Broadway play in 1978, taking a drama course that took me, in a span of a month, to every Broadway play I’ve ever seen, and it was the night Ali lost to Leon Spinks. I was watching Lynn Redgrave star in St. Joan. After the play, John Clark, Redgrave’s husband and director of the play, came out onstage at the end of the encore but before the patrons were filing out, to tell us that Ali had lost the fight.

That’s how big he was, even near the end.

The growth of my admiration for Ali perfectly accompanied the growth in my maturity, education, and understanding of the world around me.

I’m not sure whether or not Ali made the world a better place. I’m sure he tried. It was just too tall an order for a man of this earth, however wise. Or it could be that the world tumbled back into ruination because he was no longer up to keeping his finger on its pulse.

The dream was American, but the tragedy was Greek.

The Southern childhood noted above contributed to my second novel, The Intangibles.

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

My new novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is a crime thriller.

Set in the hills of Kentucky, Crazy of Natural Causes is a fable of life’s absurdity, seen through the unique perspective of ruined coach Chance Benford.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I collected 11 short stories, each converted from a song I’ve written, and called it Longer Songs.

A pot-smoking songwriter becomes a national hero, and it’s nothing but trouble in The Audacity of Dope.

Most all my books can be found here.

SIgned copies of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Longer Songs are available at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton, S.C.

 

 

 

A Slow Blog About a Year Going Fast

Clinton's Davis Cunningham and Laurens' Layton Mahon. (Monte Dutton photos)
Clinton’s Davis Cunningham and Laurens’ Layton Mahon. (Monte Dutton photos)

L&L

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 10:47 a.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

June, already. It’s a myth that time is precise and constant. It gets faster as a man ages. Most likely, a woman, too, but I can’t say.

In spite of the celerity of the year, much has occurred.

The country is going off the rails.

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

I’ve gotten two more books — a novel called Forgive Us Our Trespasses and a collection of short stories titled Longer Songs — published, and I’m hopeful of having a western novel out, or at least the manuscript completed, by the end of the summer. A print version of last year’s Crazy of Natural Causes is out, too.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

The good news: I’m writing. The bad news: People stopped reading. A lot of them won’t even click on this. They’ll reply to the slug. They read and write in small doses.

I’ve enjoyed the year, anyway. High school baseball was fun. I had the privilege of writing about three winning teams: Clinton, Laurens, and Laurens Academy. Basketball was fun, too, though not as successful.

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin

I’ve attended minor-league games in Birmingham, Memphis and Columbia. I’ve played music onstage in Texas. I’ve observed another anniversary of my birth. So far, the Red Sox are playing great. Furman University and Presbyterian College had encouraging, if not quite winning, baseball seasons. The Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 with 18 inches to spare. Martin Truex Jr. won the Coca-Cola 600 with what might as well have been 18 miles to spare.

Occasionally, the weather was bad.
Occasionally, the weather was bad.

I’m pumped about the NBA Finals. I’m juiced about the Sox. I’m amped about my books.

I’m bummed about my country.

Spring isn’t officially over yet, though the rising temperatures suggest otherwise, but already the thoughts around here turn to football. It begins with Laurens visiting Clinton, and with the aforementioned speed of the year, it’ll be here so fast I’ll feel dizzy that night.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

Sports is especially comforting because, in sports, sometimes things actually work.

Meanwhile, the roads rot and the bridges crumble.

Most all my books are available here.

Signed copies of my three most recent books — Longer Songs, Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Crazy of Natural Causes — are on sale at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton, S.C.

Read my short stories and book reviews at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Too Many Innings Seldom Provide Happy Endings

(Monte Dutton photos)
(Monte Dutton photos)

L&LComplete Selection of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 29, 2016, 10:24 a.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

The Furman Paladins roared from behind to eliminate the top seed, UNC Greensboro, from the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament.

That’s not the game I saw. Au contraire.

Bacon: tasty but slow.
Bacon: tasty but slow.

When I was sitting in the front row, beyond the dugout, down the right-field line of Fluor Field, Samford eliminated the Paladins, 2-0.

It’s not altogether bad. The Friday-night game started late and ended well after midnight. I was watching the end of Stephen Colbert and mainly thumbing my Twitter feed when it ended. Had I gone Friday night, I definitely would not have written a blog the next morning. Or, quite possibly, gotten my lazy butt back up the road to Greenville.

DSCF3196

I got to Greenville — Fluor Field is the charming home of the Greenville Drive minor-league team — in time to watch Mercer storm from four runs down to edge Western Carolina, 8-7, or at least the final two thirds of it. I chatted a while with Steve White, the longtime WCU sports information director I knew well more than 30 years ago when I worked at Furman. Steve hasn’t changed a lot. We mainly did what we would have done in 1985, which was swap stories about Rick Covington and Ray Parlier.

DSCF3195The conversation was convivial and relaxed, perhaps in part because the Catamounts were ahead, 6-3, at the time.

Furman baseball coach Ron Smith trotted over once his team started loosening up. The game, scheduled for 3:30, didn’t start until 4:45, which made me start thinking about whether I can ever remember a baseball tournament at any level that ran on schedule. Smith, when I first knew him, was the point guard on an exceptional Furman basketball team and the shortstop on a decent Paladin baseball squad that would have been bad without him.

This solo home run by Samford's Jordan Fucci was all the Bulldogs needed.
This solo home run by Samford’s Jordan Fucci was all the Bulldogs needed.

Coach Smith was in a spot. A four-hour, wee-hours, baseball game, in which the teams combine for 25 runs, tends to be taxing on the pitchers. The losers were lucky. They got to go home.

Furman’s Jake Crawford, who hadn’t started a game since April 3, went eight innings, yielding nine hits but only two runs. It was rather heroic. The loss dropped him to 0-5 because the heroism was ultimately futile.

From the fifth through the eighth innings, the Paladins left nine men on base. In baseball, percentages have a way of catching up. The same team that produced oodles of two-out runs the night before ran into the buzz of seldom having anyone in scoring position until two were already out.

They lost four significant players to injury, stormed down the stretch 12-4, but wound up finishing 29-30.
They lost four significant players to injury, stormed down the stretch 12-4, but wound up finishing 29-30.

If all else is equal, the difference between being red-hot and ice-cold is generally the frequency of two-out hits.

Samford pitching kept the Paladins off balance.
Samford pitching kept the Paladins off balance.

Fluor Field is cut to Fenway Park’s dimensions, right down to a 37-foot wall in left. It also means that long fly balls spiral to a graceful death in the vast center field, and, all too often, that’s where the Paladins put ’em.

I had no appetite for Samford versus Western Carolina — the Catamounts won — so I bought some underwear at Sam’s Club and ate at a place we don’t have in Laurens County.

I got home in time to watch the best basketball game I’ve seen lately.

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

Most of my books can be found on Amazon here. Three are available — and signed — here in Clinton at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Main Street. The links below are all for the print versions.

Denny Frawley is an ambitious prosecutor whose ambition, private life, and family are all spiraling out of control. Hal Kinley knows he must be stopped in Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I’ve written lots of songs. Over time, I turned eleven of them into short stories. That’s how my collection, Longer Songs, came to be.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Chance Benford is crazy at the beginning of aptly titled Crazy of Natural Causes. He learns to cope with the world’s absurdity in a variety of ways.

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

The Intangibles was inspired by growing up during the tumultuous sixties and seventies. It’s a tale of civil rights, bigotry, cultural exchange, and, most importantly, high school football.

Riley Mansfield is the most likable character I’ve created. He’s a pot-smoking songwriter with a stubborn streak and the hero of The Audacity of Dope.

Look me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and other painstaking means of circulation that don’t occur to me now. I’m easy to find.

 

 

Decisions, Decisions, and Rationalizations

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Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton photos)
Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, May 28, 2016, 10:24 a.m.

I’m thinking about going to see Furman play Samford in the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament at Fluor Field in Greenville.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I’ve been thinking about going up to watch the Paladins for four days now. I also thought about going to see Presbyterian play in the Big South Tournament in Lexington, but the Blue Hose went two and out, and school is done so the team is scattering out to points unknown now.

The Paladins won, 15-10, last night against UNC Greensboro, and the game didn’t end until after midnight, so, in retrospect, staying home was a good decision. The first four innings took more than two hours. I watched a PBS tribute to Willie Nelson that I really dug.

I've been to Fluor FIeld Senior quite a few times.
I’ve been to Fluor FIeld Senior quite a few times.

At the moment, Maryland is playing Iowa in the Big 10 tournament, which, I think, is in Nebraska in addition to on my TV. The SEC is in Hoover, Alabama, and the ACC is in Durham, North Carolina, and the Big South, which isn’t nearly as big as the 10 or the 12, neither of which actually have the number they claim, has its finals on ESPU at noon.

The world flashing in front of me on TV, and the guitar leaning against the couch to my left, and the refrigerator are all in the way of me getting in the car and eventually reaching the sun-splashed and friendly confines of Fluor Field.

Did I mention that Clemson and Wake Forest are about to start on Fox Sports South?

College is complicated. Even the sports are complicated. Keeping up with who’s in a conference, who isn’t anymore, and who might be next year, might as well be organic chemistry.

Al Pearce and I, oh, about 10 years ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I have no idea who took this photo.
Al Pearce and I, oh, about 10 years ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I have no idea who took this photo.

I got away from it all Friday afternoon. First I met Al Pearce, my old NASCAR-writing friend uptown at Steamers for lunch. Al still travels with the gypsies, though not as much as he once did, and Friday is almost always a nothing day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so something possessed him to drive all the way to Clinton just for a club sandwich. Al graduated from PC, though, so he likes the occasional Clinton visit.

I had the chicken caesar salad, but mainly we talked, and we talked, and we talked some more, and had numerous refills of iced tea.

Then I walked around the corner and down the Hill to Yo’ Cup, where I set up this very same laptop and sipped coffee for two and a half hours, writing the 33rd chapter of my next novel, Cowboys Come Home.

Then I went home. I probably wrote better without the TV on and the plink of aluminum Clemson bats banging Virginia fastballs. I may try this again on Tuesday. Maybe even Monday afternoon once I get my Bleacher Report column done and if I decide not to cut the grass.

Lately I’ve been not doing more things than I’ve done. I let excuses get in the way. On Thursday, I decided I’d drive up to Greenville if an old friend wanted to go, but I sent him a text, and he is somewhere at a beach, so, even though I would undoubtedly bump into other acquaintances of my alma mater, I just stayed home and watched the Red Sox again.

High school sports have played out. I wrote about a spring football game on Monday and went to an awards ceremony on Tuesday, so, on the one hand, I probably won’t have as much free lancing to do until the fall, but, on the other, I’ve got aspirations now of finishing the Cowboys Come Home manuscript by the end of June. I don’t know exactly how I’ll get it published. I’ve never written a western before.

Memphis in April, on the Texas trip.
Memphis in April, on the Texas trip.

The purpose of this column was to somehow make me decide to shave and shower and get my ass up to Greenville because it might be Furman’s last game, and I like Ron Smith, the head coach, a lot, and I missed the Paladins a little over a month ago when they visited PC because I was on the way to Texas, and driving to Texas and back constituted enough travel to satisfy me for a while.

Birmingham
Birmingham

Then assignments — baseball games here and there, the occasional softball tilt, a track meet — were enough to get me out of the house for human interaction and spending money both.

For most of the spring, I was working on the layout and design of three print editions — Longer Songs, Crazy of Natural Causes and Forgive Us Our Trespasses — and the Kindle release of the latter. Maybe I can get Cowboys Come Home out by the fall.

If I go to Greenville, undoubtedly you’ll know about it, because what am I going to write tomorrow morning? Some self-serving pap like this?

Possibly.

The only obstacles are the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indianapolis 500, and the Coca-Cola 600.

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

Most of my books can be found on Amazon here. Three are available — and signed — here in Clinton at L&L Office Supply, 114 North Main Street. The links below are all for the print versions.

Denny Frawley is an ambitious prosecutor whose ambition, private life, and family are all spiraling out of control. Hal Kinley knows he must be stopped in Forgive Us Our Trespasses.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

I’ve written lots of songs. Over time, I turned eleven of them into short stories. That’s how my collection, Longer Songs, came to be.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Chance Benford is crazy at the beginning of aptly titled Crazy of Natural Causes. He learns to cope with the world’s absurdity in a variety of ways.

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

The Intangibles was inspired by growing up during the tumultuous sixties and seventies. It’s a tale of civil rights, bigotry, cultural exchange, and, most importantly, high school football.

Riley Mansfield is the most likable character I’ve created. He’s a pot-smoking songwriter with a stubborn streak and the hero of The Audacity of Dope.

Look me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and other painstaking means of circulation that don’t occur to me now. I’m easy to find.