The Game of the Generations

This was taken at Fenway Park in 2007, the year of the most recent Boston World Series triumph.
This was taken at Fenway Park in 2007, the year of the most recent Boston World Series triumph.

The singer-songwriter Steve Earle once told me that his dad had told him – so this is based on hearsay evidence — that the older he got, the more he’d love baseball. That brief conversation occurred while I was working on my book True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed. It began with Earle pointing at my Boston cap and asking, “You know I’m a Yankees fan, right?”

“No,” I said, “but I’m amazed that Steve Earle is a fan of the worldwide symbol of wretched capitalist excess.”

He backed off a bit and said something nice about the Red Sox. He said his old man had brought him up a Yankees fan. I said same with mine and the Sox. The guy who grew up in Texas pulled for New York. The guy from South Carolina rooted for Boston. I’m a Red Sox fan because my dad loved Ted Williams, which, in turn, led me to love Carl Yastrzemski. Earle probably went from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle.

The cap actually led to the conversation. We got along. Then again, a game wasn’t going on. It was after a concert. In the offseason.

How does one measure popularity? By number of fans or intensity of devotion? Football certainly has more fans, but baseball fans worship their sport. Where I live, the Carolina Panthers, or Atlanta Falcons, could win consecutive Super Bowls, but the talk at the hardware store would still be more about the Atlanta Braves if they were in fourth place.

For some inexplicable reason, as I grow older, the sport that seems fastest (I’m talking feet pounding, not wheels rolling) gets more and more difficult to follow, and the sport that seems slowest, fraught with endless pauses and inactivity, becomes progressively more fascinating.

As the late Tom Price – and thousands, if not millions of others – said, “Nothing like fun at the old ballpark.”

No matter how many games I watch, it’s amazing how often I come across something I’ve never seen before. For instance, a few weeks ago, Wofford scored six runs in an inning that had three bunts. The Terriers played for one so often they got six. I may have seen that before, but, if so, I didn’t notice it. I could’ve had some young’uns along.

On Thursday, a third strike bounced in the dirt in front of Presbyterian’s catcher, who deflected it forward into fair territory, where the Furman baserunner, who had just swung and missed, booted the ball, as if playing soccer, down the first-base line and into foul territory. The umpires, after consulting with each other and the Presbyterian coach, ruled it a strikeout with the Furman player reaching first on a wild pitch. I’m positive he hit the ball in fair territory, which means I think he should have been out, but that wasn’t the ruling. It seems to me that, since the ball was live and it was touched by a baserunner in fair territory, the baserunner should have been out, but that’s not the way it was ruled. I’ve never seen that before, and I’ve scored, covered and attended hundreds of games.

I often attend games alone, which means invariably I start talking baseball with someone I don’t know, which I find endlessly enjoyable. I once thought about writing a book about a season of random encounters at ballparks. It may yet happen.

A Nightmare and a Scoresheet

I don’t often dream, and on the rare occasions I do, they’re mostly pleasant.

Last night I dreamed I was going to the electric chair, though I didn’t seem particularly guilty for any terrible wrong I’d committed. I was fairly calm about the whole thing until I was being led into the room and prepared for execution, at which point I was struck by the finality of the whole thing and awakened.

It was shortly after 4 a.m. and I was frightened. I got up and walked around for enough time to retrieve my wits, and then I didn’t particularly want to go back to sleep, fearing the dream would resume. Then I did, slept soundly and didn’t awaken again until about an hour and a half after I expected to be up.

That was when I realized why I dreamed about being executed. I’m reading Jeff Shaara’s historical novel The Glorious Cause, and last night I read the chapter about the hanging of Nathan Hale, the spy who was hung by the British during the Revolutionary War. Hale famously said, on the gallows, “My only regret is that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

I guess whatever act that led to my imagined execution was a good cause.

Yesterday I watched Furman University, my alma mater, play Presbyterian College, my hometown school, in baseball for the second day in a row. PC won 10-8 on the road on Thursday night, and Furman won, 8-3, on the road Friday afternoon. They’re both doing well. The Blue Hose (PC) are 17-11, and the Paladins (Furman) are 16-10.

I drove up to Greenville on Thursday to watch the game with a college friend whom I don’t see often enough. They’re playing on Furman’s home field, Latham Stadium, again today, but I’m not going to make the so-called “rubber game” of the series.

Yesterday I really got into the baseball. Before I went over to the game, I printed out copies of scoresheets and dusted off an old vinyl-covered, legal-pad holder that I hadn’t used in, well, decades. The pad had the stats of a high-school football game I once covered: B vs. C. I have no idea what “B” or “C” stood for because I didn’t recognize any of the individual names. In other words, “C” wasn’t Clinton. I can’t figure it out. “B” had a fine rushing attack, though. Perhaps it was from my time at the Greenville News. It might have been Berea vs. Carolina. I can’t say.

MysteryStats

Why do I keep score? It makes me pay attention to the game, and baseball, more than any other game, rewards attention. People who think baseball is boring are people who don’t know much about it. The beauty of football is that it’s exciting even to people who don’t know what’s going on. If I go to a game, and don’t either keep score or listen to a radio broadcast, my attention wanders. If I pay attention, I love every moment. It’s so much fun to talk baseball with nearby fans.

FUscoresheet

I’m planning to go to more minor-league games this year, by the way.

Baseball and NASCAR (or other forms of auto racing) have little in common, but both sports are similar in that they reward those who pay close attention. People who think they are boring simply don’t know much about them, which, of course, is their right.

It was a little sheepish to be at a PC game without pulling for the Blue Hose. Thankfully, there were probably more Furman fans present, and I enjoyed talking about my school as much as its baseball team with them.

A common reaction from Clinton acquaintances was, “Oh, yeah, you went to Furman, didn’t you?”

I said merely that blood was thicker than mailing address, and when Presbyterian plays USC Upstate on Tuesday, I’ll be back in the hometown fold.

And I think I’ll keep score again.

Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius

My NCAA bracket went to the beach, and it was rocky.
My NCAA bracket went to the beach, and it was rocky.

I entered an NCAA basketball tournament bracket for the first time in, oh, five years or so. It was sort of an impulse decision. The night before the tournament started, I came across a tweet that read something like, “Hey, anybody want to enter a bracket?” Because I was in the right mood, I tweeted back, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Then, being the adherent of scientific method (not!) that I am, I took about 10 minutes. “Um, yeah, nope, uh-huh, nah, ah, that might be a good upset, OK, second round, yeah, nah, um, better go back, nah, I’ll say, uh, why not? …”

I had a really strong day and a half, then predictably plummeted. Can you say “G-O-N-Z-A-G-A”? I like the Zags because their center looks like a 7-foot Tim Lincecum, and I like Tim Lincecum. As everyone knows, that’s a foolproof way of predicting basketball games. Always go with the team that has an overgrown version of a favorite baseball player. I mean, that’s what Jay Bilas does, right?

It was fun. Now my iPhone chimes the Sportscenter theme (duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH!) every time a 10-2 run occurs or a backup small forward turns his ankle. I wouldn’t have checked that box if I had it to do over. I’m sure I could disable this valuable feature, but the tournament can’t go on forever.

Can it?

Let me tick off a few more of my bracket-deciding decisions. I didn’t pick Duke because Richard Nixon went to law school there. I picked a Davidson first-round upset because it represents the powerhouse Southern Conference, as does my alma mater, Furman, whose head coach’s resignation did not set off the ESPN chimes. I didn’t pick Notre Dame because … of … its … uniforms. I would have picked the Fighting Irish if their games had been played in the dark.

The fact is, I have no room for basketball. There’s too little time between the Super Bowl and baseball Opening Day for me to cultivate a decent interest. I usually read a book during games and look up occasionally when Dick Vitale or Gus Johnson screams.

If I’d really been knowledgeable, obviously, I would have picked Florida Gulf Coast, wouldn’t I? There is one reason I knew what the letters F-G-C-U represented. Early in the season, Miami played Charlotte. A friend of mine was covering the game and tweeted, in passing, that FGCU had beaten Miami. I replied, “What is an FGCU?” because I had no idea.

Yet, inexplicably, I didn’t pick FGCU. Not even once. Go figure.

Me and Joe McGee

Ormond Beach, Fla. (Monte Dutton photo)
Ormond Beach, Fla. (Monte Dutton photo)

The only man I knew who died in a war was Joseph O’Neil McGee, killed in Vietnam on Sept. 28, 1970. I knew him only as Joe. He worked at my father’s restaurant when I was a boy, and he died at age 20. I was 12. I don’t remember much other than a boy’s sadness at having lost a friend.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I looked up the details of his death (www.VirtualWall.org) this morning. Joe was a Private First Class. He had been in Vietnam for only a month and 10 days. His Casualty Type is listed as “hostile, died outright” and the Casualty Detail is “misadventure (friendly fire).” His death occurred in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. He was one of 58,209 soldiers to die in Vietnam and one of seven from my home, Clinton, S.C.

Joe worked at my father’s restaurant, The Wrangler, mainly as a car hop but also as a cook. Before he was drafted, we were partners in the slot-car racing business.

In the late 1960s, many towns had places where hobbyists could race their model cars on eight-lane, slot-car tracks. For a small fee, you reserved a lane and raced your car against others. Sometimes there were organized races where ribbons and trophies could be won, but mostly you raced against whoever else showed up. The fad didn’t last very long, and the place, on East Main Street, closed after a year or so.

Joe and I had a two-car team. I usually raced a white Ford GT with blue stripes, and Joe usually raced a blue Cobra GT with white stripes. He played football at Bell Street High School. I was in the fourth grade at Hampton Avenue School. He was my best African American friend, though I frequently played ball, hopscotch, jacks and jumped rope with the Bells, who lived in a shanty on our farm. My house is now built on the site of the two houses, both of which burned to the ground in a span of several years.

I guess my dad liked and trusted Joe because he informally assigned him to be my mentor. I admired him as much as anyone I knew. I’m sure he had many imperfections, but I didn’t know about them. He was tall and lanky, light-skinned and laughed easily and often. I considered him my friend, but really he was my hero. Then one day my dad matter-of-factly informed me that Joe had gone off to the Army, and I never saw him again.

When I found out Joe had died in Vietnam, I tried my best to hide my sorrow, but I remember going to my room and closing the door so that I could weep in solitude. I never knew the details of his death until this morning. He disappeared from my life when he went off to war, but he never disappeared from the furrowed fields of my mind.

NASCAR’s Off, but Baseball’s On

Since NASCAR won't provide trips to New England, I doubt I'll be at Fenway Park this year.
Since NASCAR won’t provide trips to New England, I doubt I’ll be at Fenway Park this year.

There’s no NASCAR race this weekend, and it comes at an opportune time since baseball season is starting on Sunday night. It may or may not be opportune for NASCAR – given the events of May 24 in Fontana, Calif., an off week could blunt a bit of the momentum, or maybe everyone could use a week off to regroup – but it’s opportune for me because I love baseball.

I’ll love it more, of course, if the Boston Red Sox rebound quickly from last year’s dismal 69-93 record. The Sox have a new manager, John Farrell, and lots of new faces. Given the Bobby Valentine disaster, change is to be expected.

The Red Sox fate is inextricably linked to a recovery in the pitching staff, which undoubtedly had something to do with Farrell’s hiring. He was the pitching coach the last time the staff was cohesive and effective. Farrell’s managerial performance in two years with the Toronto Blue Jays was spotty at best, but then, so, too, was Terry Francona’s record when he became the Boston manager in 2004. Valentine was a hard man to like, though I hoped he would do well. Farrell is well liked by most, it seems, and we’ll see how well that translates into performance.

I’ve got my concerns. The team is aging, and that didn’t change much with offseason acquisitions. It looks as if David Ortiz is going to begin the season on the disabled list. Until he suffered a heel injury late last summer, he had been having a fine year. I’ve been wrong before when I thought “Big Papi” was washed up. I hope he’s got at least one more productive year left.

The Red Sox’ chief spring surprise is the development of Jackie Bradley Jr., who’s looked like Jackie Robinson Jr. When last I checked, he was hitting .444. Spring training is hardly a predictor of regular-season success, but if Bradley goes back to the farm, so to speak, I doubt he’ll be there long.

Injuries have taken a harsh toll on the Red Sox the past two seasons, and it seems as if no one ever recovers in the amount of time originally prescribed. This may be a consequence of age, and it may be a consequence of misplaced optimism. Likely it’s a little of both.

I’ll watch the Red Sox on TV either way. The difference is intensity. If they’re in the division race – for the first time in quite a while, it appears as if neither the Red Sox or Yankees is favored in the East – I’ll hang on every pitch. If not, I’ll probably be reading books and playing a guitar while the game is going on. They’ve been my favorite team since I was nine years old, though. That won’t change. It’s just a matter of whether my season is joyous or grumpy.

Last season wasn’t all bad, though. I like the world champion San Francisco Giants and often watch them on the West Coast via DirecTV after the Boston game is over. I’m quite an admirer of Bruce Bochy, the manager. I like the Atlanta Braves, too, and lots of times I tune announcers, which means I catch my share of Los Angeles Dodgers games when Vin Scully is behind the mic.

Being a Red Sox fan, when I watch the Yanks, I generally tune to the opposition team’s telecast.

Let It Be

It's a vast world out there. and there's room for everyone's opinion.
It’s a vast world out there. and there’s room for everyone’s opinion.

Without question, I am a Democrat. I think it fair to describe myself as liberal, but I respect and even admire principled conservatives, though I find it difficult to find any.

For instance, I applaud personal responsibility, but it’s not just a concept to be called upon when it suits one’s purposes. Conservatives speak of “defending the Constitution,” but they don’t seem to give a damn about any part of the document that doesn’t apply to their own personal opinions.

I think we need to take responsibility for our own actions and ideals, but we also need to respect that right in others.

Hypothetically, let’s say a person considers abortion murder. What should he or she do? Make sure to instill in the family, in his or her world, the values that would lead them not ever to have one. But respect the rights of others to make these moral decisions for themselves.

Yes, I think abortion should be legal. I think it is a woman’s right to choose. I think life begins at birth, and one cannot murder a person who is not yet alive. Now, on a moral level, if I had ever had any role in an abortion, I think it would haunt me for the rest of my life. I would have nightmares. I would wake up screaming. But I think that moral question should be left for each person to decide for him, and more pointedly, herself.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that life begins before birth, but in terms of the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bible isn’t the determinant, either. Americans have a right as a society to determine the laws for themselves, through their elected representatives but also in their hearts.

As a man, it’s easy for me to rail against abortion, but if I were the father of a 16-year-old, pregnant daughter, my values might change. Abortions occurred before Roe v. Wade, and they will occur if it is overturned. Legality means that they will be performed safely, and illegality means they will be performed unsafely. That’s the way I feel, but I respect another’s right to differ. The rules of a society should be advanced as a result of a healthy discourse between civil and reasoned parties. How someone can consider abortion murder but assassinating a doctor who performs them righteous is beyond my comprehension.

So there. That’s my view. It’s not going to change, but it’s only my view. My view was greatly inspired by the John Irving novel The Cider House Rules. Read it. If your opinion is strong, it should withstand what essentially is a moral case for abortion. That’s the way I was trained. I studied liberal arts in college. I believe in them.

I support gay rights, not because I’m gay but because I believe those who are should be able to live their lives with the same rights as I. Again, if you believe homosexuality is wrong, then try your best to instill your values in your loved ones.

Take care of your little corner of the world, but respect the rights of others, who do not share your views, to live by their own values and beliefs.

Two groups of people are contributing to the downfall of society. On one side are those who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. They blame everyone else. On the other are those who want to force everyone else to go by their arbitrary rules.

I try to stay clear of both sides.

The Nature of Prejudice

Some people may dislike me because my guitar playing stinks.
Some people may dislike me because my guitar playing stinks.

I’ve been thinking about prejudice, bigotry, racism and related issues. The conclusion I’ve reached is as follows:

It’s OK to hope someone like you does well. It’s not OK to think that the field should consist only  of people like you.

For instance, I like to see other South Carolinians, Americans, my old schools (Clinton High School and Furman University), my friends and my favorite sports teams (see schools, along with the Boston Red Sox, in particular) do well. I also think residents of other states, other schools, other countries, people who are not my friends and sports teams I do not like should have a chance.

May the best win, but I know where my heart resides.

In regard to racism, I believe it is very real. It’s more subtle than when I was a kid. It goes in both directions, but, as the comedian Bill Maher quipped, “If you are sick and tired of being called a racist … you might be a redneck.” This could also be applied to white people who begin sentences by saying, “I have lots of black friends, but …” and, of course, there are more races than black and white, and there are certainly African Americans who say, “I have lots of white friends, but …”

As a journalist, anger has always been a giveaway in my view. My personal slogan on the subject is, “The truth is never more evident than when being vehemently denied.”

Ask someone a simple question on a relatively unimportant matter. If he (or she) calmly discusses it, he (or she’s) being honest. If he gets irrationally angry and/or defensive, changes the subject, claims you have no business suggesting such a thing, etc., he’s either lying or covering something up. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever been wrong in such an assessment.

Bigotry takes on all kinds of forms. Other people may like or dislike a person because of his (or her) race, religion, political views, age, size, alma mater, favorite team, habits, family, hometown, home state, home country, forever and ever, amen. In one sense, it’s a consequence of a free society. People can think what they want. In another sense, it comes down to what was stated above. It’s one’s right to favor one over another but not to limit the field on the basis of personal prejudices.

It might irritate me to sit on a plane next to a graduate of The Citadel (Furman’s rival), or a New York Yankees fan, but one must retain a sense of civility. One must at least make an attempt to find common ground. One must try to get along.

It isn’t productive to fret needlessly about that which one cannot control. If someone else just doesn’t like me – because I’m Southern, or brown-eyed, or overweight, or a journalist (well, I don’t think the statute of limitations has run out yet) – it’s entirely possible that I won’t be able to do anything about it. Give it a brief, polite stab, and if it becomes obvious the efforts are futile, let it go.

As Shakespeare wrote, “This above all else: To thine own self be true.”

Do what is right. If people don’t like it, to hell with ‘em.

Outlandish in an Empire That’s Inlandish

Who could dislike Joey Logano? Oh, he's definitely got his detractors. (John Clark photo)
Who could dislike Joey Logano? Oh, he’s definitely got his detractors. (John Clark photo)
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The latest is one Tony Stewart, who expressed his disdain after Sunday’s Auto Club Speedway race was over. (John Clark photo)

For the first time in recorded history, and against all odds, this season may run its course with the lone race at Auto Club Speedway remembered as the highlight. It was a grand slam at what has often been a cricket match.

It was remarkably competitive, reflected a level of improvement in the development of the Gen6 car, ended in controversy and featured acrimony on and off the track.

What? Did they all eat Martinsville hot dogs before they climbed into the cars?

Here’s hoping Denny Hamlin’s injuries are minor. If so, even that scary incident will serve the purpose, oft noted, that soft walls need to be everywhere, not just in areas of tracks where crashes are likely to occur. It’s unfortunate that all such expressions of alarm tend to occur after something happens, not before. Hamlin’s injuries would be less if the barriers were SAFER.

Days at the track like Sunday leave no middle ground. Where Tony Stewart’s post-race contretemps with Joey Logano is concerned, a huge number of fans loved it and quite a few hated it. What I tried to convey on social media was that, whether Logano’s blocking was justified or not, a long history as a watcher of Stewart made me absolutely certain that he would not take it well.

For those who contend that Stewart is “one to talk” about blocking, let me give you some insight into the way he sees it. To Stewart, blocking in a plate race is inevitable, unavoidable and necessary. At any other track, it’s detestable. One can claim that blocking is blocking, regardless of venue, but that’s not the way Stewart – and a good many of his mates – sees it.

A greater truth, in my eyes, is that, at the end, Logano’s and Hamlin’s preoccupation with each other gave the race to Kyle Busch, which is interesting in itself because the younger Busch brother has lost lots of races himself that he should have won. For once, the law of averages cut him a break.

They’re competitors, though, sitting in cramped compartments, adrenaline flowing like molten lava in an environment ill suited for rational thought. None of them arrived in NASCAR after graduating from seminary.

That having been said, it would be easier to change someone’s mind on such subjects as to convince a Flintstones fan that cavemen never rode on dinosaurs.

For the first time, I really found myself wishing I had been there. Fans pull for drivers. Writers pull for stories. Now, I wouldn’t have been there. Back before my job was eliminated, I had booked no room for Fontana. I had been planning to go to Las Vegas because I considered it the new car’s first real test.

To be honest – Stewart’s favorite phrase – the results of the season to date, particularly in regard to the Fourth Estate, had led me to believe that if there was a good time to be left jobless, this was it. I found NASCAR’s dictatorial policies in regard to honest discussion onerous and counterproductive. Until Bristol, I was sort of happy to be left out. I had twinges of regret when the Sprint Cup Series visited that beloved, familiar track. Watching Fontana on TV, I really wanted to be there.

In that regard, I doubt I was much different from millions of others watching from afar.

Tomorrow, some are going to claim that the race was an embarrassment and pro-wrestling analogies are going to be primly advanced. Please. You know you ate that stuff up.

The Meeting Didn’t Make Me High

I went to a NORML meeting to raise awareness of my novel, but I found out that NORML is pretty normal.
I went to a NORML meeting to raise awareness of my novel, but I found out that NORML is pretty normal.

I attended my first marijuana meeting on Saturday.

There, I’ve written it. I didn’t smoke it. I didn’t hang out with people who were. I didn’t get a “contact high” or “the munchies.” I stopped in Spartanburg on the way home, hours later, and had a salad, thank you very much.

The Charlotte chapter of the North Carolina organization of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) welcomed me to its meeting. I wrote a novel, The Audacity of Dope, whose main character is a pot-smoking singer-songwriter, Riley Mansfield, who becomes an unlikely national hero. I felt obligated to attend the meeting because I felt it would be a good market for the novel and because I have absolutely no misgivings about declaring that medicinal use of marijuana should be legal. In fact, I think recreational use of marijuana should be legal, but politics, after all, is the art of the possible.

I was also interested in seeing just what such a meeting would be like.

My conclusion is that the 30-40 who attended the NORML meeting were exceedingly normal people. The meeting was more diverse than, say, the people who attend most NASCAR races, or most ballgames, and their views, in general, no more skewed. These were reasonable people who gathered mainly to discuss rationally the options available to them in regard to getting medical-marijuana legislation passed in their native state.

The guest speaker was Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg), author of the Medical Cannabis Act that has thus far languished in the state’s General Assembly. I was impressed at his understanding of how the legislature works and his reasoned approach to the issue. He is a patient, moderate man who understands well the obstacles his legislation faces. For instance, he pointed out that efforts to approve medical-marijuana legislation had failed under both Republican- and Democrat-controlled legislatures in North Carolina and stressed that passage relies on it being a bipartisan effort.

“… You’ve got a groundswell of people who want change,” Alexander said. “There are people in the legislature who are sympathetic but afraid [to support it.]”

“I don’t get it. If something is out there that can help sick people, why restrict access?”

He stressed the need to raise public awareness.

“One challenge is to get the medical community to speak out,” he said. “On the retardation of tumor growth. On how the appetite of sick people can be brought back. That argument needs to be effectively brought forth.

“People need to be engaged in the political process. … The issue has gone nowhere under both parties.”

Alexander said that marijuana reform may be the only issue in which he and Ron Paul agree. “Ron Paul is right in that it comes down to personal liberty,” he said.

The chief theme of the meeting was advancing the cause of marijuana reform in a responsible manner. Alexander talked about carefully organizing a legislative action day, one that would be reasonable and impressive in size without being unruly. Many of the attendees were obviously well-informed and astute in regard to the political process.

Afterwards, I made sure everyone there had a business card. I made what I hoped was perceived as a low-key pitch for the virtues of my novel and sang a song from it. (I’m not Riley Mansfield, but I wrote his songs.)

I went to the meeting fascinated with what I would find and came away impressed and reassured. Now let me turn to my own views.

Everyone wants to eliminate waste in government. In the past 30 years, and probably far beyond that period, governments at every level have spent billions of dollars on the so-called War on Drugs. I don’t think there’s a single positive result. It’s embarrassing that we have the highest rate of incarceration of any country on earth that considers itself enlightened. People talk about the military-industrial complex. We also have a prison-industrial complex.

My family has been deeply wounded by alcoholism. Both my father and my sister died far before their times, and the primary reason for their demise was alcohol. I have known people who drank way too much and smoked [pot] way too much, and while I don’t think it was good in either case, I can say with conviction that the alcoholics were far worse off than the potheads. The draconian laws surrounding marijuana have ruined promising lives and imprisoned people needlessly.

Does marijuana lead to other drugs? Only to those so inclined. Addictive personalities will use any substance to excess. I don’t think marijuana leads a user to try something else any more than cigarettes, and studies show that it is less addictive.

This country, particularly the South, has a long history of “voting dry” and “drinking wet.” I’m often struck by how many people I know who say privately that marijuana should be at least medically available and, quite often, legal and regulated. It is an untapped source of greatly needed revenue. Its ban causes criminal activity to proliferate. It sort of reminds me of the unholy alliance that sometimes takes place in so-called “dry counties.” The “dry forces” are headed by preachers and bankrolled by bootleggers and moonshiners who don’t want legal competition. As brilliantly depicted in Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” the moonshine of the ‘40s and ‘50s is the marijuana of today.

I’ve known several seriously ill people who intimated to me that the only medication that alleviated their suffering without excruciating side effects was marijuana. In every case, this private disclosure struck me unawares. They were among the last people I ever would have suspected of smoking pot.

Will liberalization of marijuana laws encourage a higher rate of usage among the young? How could it? One of the reasons teens use marijuana is that it’s easier to get than, say, beer. No one gets carded for a dime bag. Cause crime? I’ve heard of liquor-fueled crime sprees. I don’t think weed increases any crime other than the occasional shoplifting of boiled ham and Doritos.

At a book signing several weeks ago, the owner of the store said to me that the only problem was that “this isn’t the same pot that you and me smoked in college.” Nowadays, he said, it’s 10 times as strong as that harmless stuff from back in the day. With all due respect, without knowing for sure, I’m skeptical. I suspect this “killer weed” is mainly the province of rich entertainers. I have the perspective derived from the scare tactics of high school, when we watched films in health class that showed a young girl taking a puff of “a marijuana cigarette” and promptly leaping out of the back seat of a car going 60 mph or diving off a cliff. But let’s just say it is true. If it were legal and regulated, these concerns too would be alleviated. The government regulates the potency of alcohol, and similar regulation would undoubtedly be applied to marijuana.

I don’t think it takes much courage to tell a friend privately that “they ought to just legalize it.” It takes courage to speak out publicly, though not as much as it would if there weren’t so many people out there who think the current situation is ridiculous but just don’t want to go to the trouble of saying it.

I’m sure others will take some offense at these words, and I respect their right to their opinions. Evil triumphs when good people do nothing. At some point, a man (or, of course, woman) has to say (or, in this case, write) what he (she) thinks and not worry about the consequences.

Dinosaur in the Dust

I'm looking forward to watching the Clinton Red Devils come fall. I've mainly missed that for two decades.
I’m looking forward to watching the Clinton Red Devils come fall. I’ve mainly missed that for two decades.

Yesterday I did something I’d never done before and never thought I’d have to do.

I filed for unemployment. I’m not ashamed of it.

My job was eliminated after 16-1/2 years. I was good at it, and performance had nothing to do with losing it. I was writer of the year in two different press associations. My walls have many awards hanging on them. Half of them are in boxes in the guest bedroom. I never gave anything but my best, and doing it well had nothing to do with my demise. There’s no need to dwell on it. I had a good run. I lasted longer than many of my colleagues. The profession I loved and was meant to do collapsed, and the people in it who were most expendable were the ones with the most experience.

It’s a bit like losing a loved one. There’s no need to dwell on things one can’t control, but a touch of sorrow is unavoidable. It’s a matter of fretting about it as little as possible.

It’s hard to answer the questions well-meaning people ask.

“Hey, why aren’t you in Daytona?”

“When you leaving for Bristol?”

“What? You sitting Fontana out?”

One of my sins is pride, and it’s hard to say, “My job got eliminated on Jan. 4. I’m out of work.”

But I do it. I don’t want to mislead anyone. Occasionally, someone will say something like, “Well, thanks to that damn Obama, you can probably live off unemployment for two or three years.” That’s when I really have to bite my lip.

It’s funny how people can be so cold-blooded about things that don’t personally involve them. If they still have a job, to hell with those who don’t. A prominent politician announced last week that he was supporting gay marriage because his son was gay and that changed his mind. It’s a shame his son didn’t wake up poor one morning.

I’m working harder than ever. I’m selling one novel (The Audacity of Dope), working with editors and designers on another (The Intangibles, due out in November) and writing a third (Crazy by Natural Causes). Nothing makes me happier than sitting down and writing a new chapter. If I can make a living doing this, and figure out a way to make some money from all these songs I wrote for fun, I’ll be happier than I ever was on the NASCAR grind.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

I’m 54 years old. In the business I love, I might as well be 154. One of the reasons guys like me are falling by the wayside is that we can be replaced for a lot less money than we’re making. That isn’t technically the reason I lost my job. I wasn’t replaced but rather eliminated. In the collapsing world of newspapers, I just became expendable. I lasted as long as I did because the paper made money off syndicating my work, but then they – and by they I mean the corporate office in another state – figured out a cheaper way to do that, and I was gone without warning.

To paraphrase Lefty Frizzell, “[I’m] gone, gone, gone / Gone, gone, gone / Crying won’t bring [me] back.”

So I’m keeping my chin up and my nose to the grindstone, and if that isn’t enough, I reckon I’ll try something else. Maybe I’ll edit. Maybe I’ll teach. Maybe I’ll drive a schoolbus. Then I could literally cross that bridge when I get to it.

Please do me the honor, though, of not stereotyping me as some freeloader, collecting unemployment and just laying around the house. One of the reasons I’m around the house is it costs money every time I leave it. I haven’t lost my work ethic, and I have the added incentive of proving I can emerge from this distress stronger and more prosperous than ever.

I don’t need your sympathy. If you really want to help, order The Audacity of Dope (from amazon.com, or neverlandpublishing.com, or through this website if you’d like me to sign it). If I didn’t think you’d enjoy it – offhand, I don’t know of anyone who’s read it who didn’t – I wouldn’t ask. I just figure you might enjoy it, well, because you’re reading this.