The Kid and Me, Watching Football

The Gaffney Indians have a band that plays "Hail to the Redskins" and a stadium known as The Reservation.
The Gaffney Indians have a band that plays “Hail to the Redskins” and a stadium known as The Reservation.

[cb_profit_poster FlagFootball]Clinton, S.C., Saturday, August 31, 2013, 12:22 p.m.

Well, it wasn’t that bad, not as bad as the score indicated, and, yes, that qualifies as one of football’s season’s familiar rationalizations.

Gaffney walloped Clinton, 45-18, last night, and that’s probably what was expected when one of the state’s larger Class AAAA schools took on South Carolina’s smallest AAA school.

But, based on the statistics announced on Gaffney’s radio broadcast while Alex Howard and I were driving away, the Red Devils had possession of the ball twice as long, accumulated slightly more total yards and rushed for more than 300 alone. The Indians, of course, averaged about 10 yards a play and the Red Devils a mere five.

It was Gaffney’s second game and Clinton’s first, so I hope that explains Clinton’s five fumbles and numerous mishandled snaps between the center and quarterback.

The homestanding Gaffney Indians swamped our Red Devils early.
The homestanding Gaffney Indians swamped our Red Devils early.

Here’s the lesson: If you’re going to run an old-fashioned offense, you’d better have an old-fashioned defense.

Gaffney led, 24-0, at the end of the first quarter. The Red Devils got it back to 31-18 and held onto the ball for all but two minutes of the third quarter. After all that, Clinton didn’t score, and the fact that the Indians knocked the Red Devil quarterback out of the game had a little to do with it. From there, the rout was on.

Statistics are basically for losers. Winners don’t have to dwell on them. If Clinton is to have a successful season, it must eliminate mistakes and learn how to tackle better. But there’s hope.

The team showed it can be good, maybe even great, but it’s not there yet. As miserable nights in Gaffney go, this could have been worse.

Alex and I got caught in Columbia rush-hour traffic – it’s a two-hour drive to Gaffney without traffic – and didn’t see the opening kickoff, which was a successfully executed onsides variety on which the Red Devils couldn’t capitalize.

We watched the Red Devils get clobbered on one side of the visitors’ grandstands. Then, because I thought Alex would enjoy hearing the band play, we sat behind the Devil Regiment for a while, then we saw Clinton rally and fall short, and when we ducked in behind some friends of mine, Alex probably enjoyed listening to me commiserate the Red Devils’ fate.

At the moment, Alex is visiting his great grandmother – that would be my mother – and I’m cranking out the daily blog. I’m picking him up at 3 and we’re driving to Boiling Springs, N.C. — oddly enough, not too far north of Gaffney — to watch Furman play Gardner-Webb.

Alex opted for a trip to see the Paladins play, pleasing his Furman grad "Uncle Grandpa."
Alex opted for a trip to see the Paladins play, pleasing his Furman grad “Uncle Grandpa.”

This is by Alex’s choice. When I picked him up yesterday, I let him call the shots. I told him that (a.) the Furman game is on local TV, (b.) Clemson is playing Georgia on TV, (c.) we could watch both games on TV, or (d.) we could go to Gardner-Webb, listen to Clemson on the radio and get back for the end.

Alex surprised me. Two years ago he was a Gamecock fan. Now he prefers the Tigers more. But, he wants to go see the Paladins play, and while that surprises me, it also pleases me.

So we’re hitting the road again.

Tomorrow I’ll take Alex home and be back in time to watch the NASCAR race from Atlanta.

Clinton High School has won eight state championships in football. In 1975, Alex’s “Uncle Grandpa” was fortunate to be a member of one of them. In 1978, Uncle Grandpa’s brother, Brack, played on another. That was a long time ago, but I’m still vitally interested in my school, not to mention my college. While I’m confident a relatively small percentage of you are interested in my schools, I appreciate your indulgence. Be true to your school(s), too.

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Roundabout Trips and Uphill Battles

[cb_profit_poster Speak1]Clinton, S.C., Friday, August 30, 2013, 10:41 a.m.

It’s probably not a good omen that I’m writing this blog while “Return of the Pink Panther” is playing on television. Chief Inspector Dreyfuss’s eyelashes are wiggling involuntarily even as I, uh, write. Jacques Clouseau is wearing what appears to be a red velvet blazer, which now seems about as appropriate as wearing a red velvet pound cake. The movie was released in 1975. That Peter Sellers. What an actor.

Alex wil be calling the shots this weekend.
Alex wil be calling the shots this weekend.

It may also not be a good omen for tonight’s high school football game. Clinton is opening its season at Gaffney, which is not only one of South Carolina’s larger schools but the reigning state champion. I’m taking a circuitous route to Gaffney’s “Reservation” – its nickname is Indians – by first driving south to pick up 10-year-old Alex, who is either my great or grand nephew and it doesn’t really matter because he is both great and grand, in Columbia (OK, Cayce). I have no idea how one gets from Columbia to Gaffney, but I’m confident that Siri is omniscient.

And Alex likes talking to her on my iPhone.

The Red Devils are not only coming off a rough season. Gaffney is not only state champion. Clinton High is now the state’s smallest Class AAA school. Gaffney is about 2-1/2 times larger, though, thankfully, it can only use 11 of its students at a time.

My optimism is more guarded than usual. What Morris Udall once said about running for president seems appropriate for a team dubbed “Red Devils”: “We’ll fight till hell freezes over, then lay siege on the ice.”

Then again, Udall lost.

My hometown school and alma mater has won eight state championships over the years, the most recent four years ago. It’s time to bring back the tradition, but tonight I’ll be content with respectability. If a miracle happens, I’ll let you know.

10:54 a.m.

Al Pearce stopped by on the way to Atlanta. Al covers NASCAR for Autoweek and worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press, as well, when I first started covering the sport for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Among the reasons we immediately became friends is the fact that Al graduated from Presbyterian College here in Clinton. He has been writing about NASCAR longer than most everyone still around. Not near enough of you are familiar with his work.

Usually Al and I have lunch, and he spends some time stopping by the old alma mater en route to races at Atlanta or Talladega. As usual, it was at Steamers, on the square, and it seemed as if about half the town stopped by to say hello. He bought lunch. I gave him a T-shirt.

The Blue Hose were in roughly the same boat last night as Clinton High is going to be sailing tonight. Presbyterian scored first but fell, 31-7, at Wake Forest, marking the closest it has ever come to an NCAA FBS school.

My alma mater, Furman, opens tomorrow at Gardner-Webb, and Alex and I might go. It’s his call. The Paladins are on television locally. If we watch it on TV, we can also watch Georgia-Clemson. Alex seems to like the Tigers, so I’ll let him do what he wants. Boiling Springs (N.C.) isn’t much farther away than Gaffney, so we’ll head back up the road if he says so.

11:06 a.m.

Last night was overkill right off the bat. I spent the evening switching from Carolina-Carolina (North at South, latter winning) to the Boston Red Sox (Orioles salvaged the third game at Fenway) to, uh, Utah State-Utah (Utes, i.e., the latter, won), Indiana State-Indiana (latter), UNLV-Minnesota (latter), Ole Miss-Vanderbilt (former) and Rutgers-Fresno State (former was winning when I finally went to bed well after 1 a.m., but latter won, I just discovered, 52-51).

I was (still am, actually) wearing a Vanderbilt shirt, thus sealing the Commodores’ fate.

By the way, I watched not one play of the Carolina Panthers’ exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. I just don’t care about pro football until it’s real, which means that, at the moment, I’m notably ignorant of what’s going on, but there’s plenty of time to catch up.

Tonight the White Sox are in Boston. Florida Atlanta is at Miami, Texas Tech at SMU and North Dakota State is at Kansas State. Western Michigan is at Michigan State and Central Michigan at Michigan. I’m sure there are others, some of which may not even be on TV.

Clinton High, Alex and I will be at Gaffney.

11:19 a.m.

Oh, Atlanta. Hear me calling. I’m coming back to you one fine day.

Bad Company, I believe.

I won’t be coming back to Atlanta (Motor Speedway) this year. I should be back from taking Alex home in plenty of time to watch NASCAR’s penultimate regular-season race on Sunday night.

For the first time in about 15 years, I didn’t check into the Best Western in Griffin, Ga. It was one of the special places at which I stayed over and over because I didn’t have to book the room online. I just checked out and made sure they knew I’d be back next time.

At last, I lied, but I called them to say sorry.

I won’t be enjoying the prime rib and strawberry shortcake at Manhattan’s. I won’t be spending an evening at my buddy Rick Minter’s farm. One year I met my nephew and watched Georgia Tech play Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium, which is one of my favorite college-football venues. Ray was at Clemson then. He later went on to grad school at Alabama. He and wife Jessica are expecting their first child at year’s end.

Oh, yeah. Ray actually has a job. Imagine that.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Any old nag can start, but it takes a thoroughbred to finish. Fatigue makes cowards of us all. This is the time of year when high-school kids muse about slogans on locker-room walls. That’s the origin of the title of my second novel, The Intangibles, which will be published in late October. If you’d like to order a signed copy of my first novel, The Audacity of Dope, see the instructions here at under “merchandise.” Oh, and thanks for your support.

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A Song Is Born

I'll get this new song straight once I can play it in front of some folks.
I’ll get this new song straight once I can play it in front of some folks.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, August 29, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

I mentioned the other day that I hadn’t been writing any songs lately, but … from out of nowhere …

I was in a great mood last night. The Boston Red Sox won their fourth straight game, coming from behind to tame the Baltimore Orioles. The Sox maintained their 2-1/2-game American League East lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. With 28 games remaining in the regular season, the New York Yankees trail Boston by 8-1/2.

Red Sox fans never say never, but things ain’t bad at the moment.

The song isn’t about a character in fiction, but reading a novel prompted the song. I didn’t plan on writing it. I just started playing around with the guitar, trying different chords and fitting in syllables. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH-duh, duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh-du-DUH-duh …

Hmm. Sounds pretty good. I’ll work on this more tomorrow. Wonder who’s on with Keith Olbermann? Oh, tennis running long. Oh, well …

I checked the program guide. Anything I wanted to watch was either a half hour away or already half over. I picked up the guitar again and started out by typing a couple lines into my iPhone. I’d been reading about a man whose wife had left him.

Well I told you that I loved you and I’d always be proud of you / And you promised that you’d never go astray / Now my soul is out of action and I can’t find any traction / When you left me, honey, there was hell to pay.

Now I had a title: “Hell to Pay,” so I needed to incorporate it into a chorus:

Hell to pay / Tears to cry / Days and nights to sit and wonder why / Back before we lived together we could bear the stormy weather / Now there’s nothing that remains but hell to pay.

Here's my favorite guitar, shortly after Vince Pawless built it. Do yourself a favor and check out
Here’s my favorite guitar, shortly after Vince Pawless built it. Do yourself a favor and check out

It’s a simple tune. If you play guitar, you might be able to figure it out. It’s just a little three-chord song. Nothing profound. A little clever. Trying to be funny. No heavy lifting. Trying to turn up the humor a tad in verse two.

I’ve spent all my time a-waitin’ hopin you were hesitatin’ / And you’d prob’ly come to miss me after while / But it didn’t cool my rancor when you shacked up with that banker / Paying yours but leaving me with bills to pay.

First verse: Wife left me. Second verse: Tried unsuccessfully to get her back. Third verse: Predictable ruination, but still lighthearted and playful.

Still trying to recover and perhaps to find another / I went back to the same bar where we met / Lost a fistfight to Mike Tyson then they look away my license / Now I wish that all I had was hell to pay.

This morning I emailed the song to myself, fired up the laptop and copied it into a file. Then I played the song over and over, which is the unscientific way I usually learn songs. Somewhere I read that cutting down the lyrics just to the key words speeds the memorization process. I tried it and it seemed to work, so the next stage is going to involve paring the words down to nonsensical key words that theoretically prompt the full lyrics in my mind.

Hell pay / Tears cry / Days nights sit wonder why / Before lived together bear stormy weather / Nothing remains hell pay.

What it won’t involve is writing another song until I’ve got this one good and memorized. Then I’ll probably screw it up the first time I play it in front of an audience because, until I play it successfully on a stage, it’s not really done. As a general rule, it only takes one screw-up – we musicians have this knack for screwing up and, because we don’t act like we screwed up, and lots of people aren’t paying close attention, we get away with it – and then I’m good to go.

It’s why God created open mics.

Buy yourself a guitar. Write a short story. Build models. Find something that’s fun. If you can, try to do it for a living.

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The Truth But Not the Whole Truth

Tony Stewart leads the pack at Michigan. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Tony Stewart leads the pack at Michigan. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 1:42 p.m.

Ahhhh. I feel as if I must take a deep breath because I’m about to launch into some basic information about the way journalism works.

One of life’s great ironies is that, sometimes, if one really wants to tell the truth, he (or she) has to write fiction, which is one of the reasons I love writing novels.

The job of the journalist is to get as close to the truth as possible, based on what people say the truth is. Journalism seeks the finite portion of “the truth” that can be documented. “The truth” itself can be infinite, or pretty close to it.

What went on at Stewart-Haas Racing on Tuesday was interesting. I’m almost sure it’s more an acceptable version of the truth than the full story. That’s just the way the world works.

Let me lay it out this way.

A month or so back, Tony Stewart announced that Ryan Newman would not be back as driver of the team’s No. 39 Chevrolets, that Kevin Harvick would be joining it in 2014 and that Stewart, thought to be the guy who calls the shots, had no interest in expanding the team from three to four full-time entries in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The dean of Sprint Cup drivers, Mark Martin, is driving the No. 14 for most of the rest of the way. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
The dean of Sprint Cup drivers, Mark Martin, is driving the No. 14 for most of the rest of the way. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Then Stewart got hurt. He was hospitalized after suffering serious leg injuries in a sprint-car (not Sprint Cup) crash. Austin Dillon drove the No. 14 once and will drive it once more. For the remainder, Mark Martin is competing in the team’s flagship entry, the one that carried Stewart to his third championship just two years ago.

Then word spread like a brush fire that Stewart-Haas was attempting to hire Kurt Busch away from Furniture Row. What? Where’s Tony? In the hospital!

Hiring the 2004 champion meant, (a.), that the situation had at least publicly been misrepresented to and regarding Newman, and, (b.), that the team would expand, after all.

I don’t doubt that Gene Haas initiated the successful pursuit of the older Busch brother. Haas gave Stewart half his team. As such, he remains the money man, and his influence is greater still because he happens to provide sponsorship, or at least funding, when no other is available, through the chief source of his wealth, Haas Automation.

My, it seems such a long while since Ryan Newman kissed the bricks. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
My, it seems such a long while since Ryan Newman kissed the bricks. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

I expect it went something like this. Haas asked Stewart what he would think of hiring Kurt Busch. Stewart said, great, but we don’t have a place for him. Haas said we’ll make a place for him. Stewart asked, what about Newman? Haas said Newman is old news.

In other words, I suspect it was less a Haas power play than a way to make everything as palatable as possible for the public taste.

In short, I tend to think Tuesday’s media conference was less a “tell it like it is” session, which is generally the way it is being portrayed, and more a case of all the parties getting their story together. What’s the use of hindsight if it can’t be used to advantage?

A better strategy than making Stewart out to be a liar was having Haas say, relax, I got this. I’ll take the blame.

Tony was miffed for a while. He didn’t like it at all, but then he thought about it and said, well, maybe this is for the best. Sorry about Newman. Gene just wanted a change.

The actual way Haas phrased it was, “I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did, but I think he saw it my way.” Appropriate pause for media chuckling. “Either that or get out of the building.” Out-and-out laughter, I suspect, as I wasn’t there.

Now, I don’t think this was entirely candid, either. “Get out of the building” is synonymous with “my way or the highway,” and I don’t think the highway was an option regarding the driver who came over, gallantly agreed to run the team in exchange for millions and millions of dollars, delivered a championship and otherwise put the team founded by Gene Haas on the map. The team appeared in 2002. Stewart joined it in 2009. Ninety-nine percent of its history came with Tony & Friends. It expanded to three teams this year and is maxing out next year at four.

The reason I don’t think it’s the whole story is that it never is. Give the braintrust at SHR glad hands all around. They spun a pleasing, colorful yarn that is as close to the truth as my former colleagues can document.

I’ve got no privileged information. This isn’t news. It’s opinion. It’s “perspective.” It’s a blog based not on being close to the current situation but on using the experience of 20 years watching these events transpire.

Okay. That’s taken care of. I’m going back to fiction.

As I almost always said while leaving NASCAR press boxes, thanks for putting up with me. Feel free to let me know what you think.

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Little Things Mean a Blog

Perhaps the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves will meet in the World Series. I was at this game at Turner Field in 2009.
Perhaps the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves will meet in the World Series. I was at this game at Turner Field in 2009.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 11:42 a.m.

This blank sheet of virtual paper is staring me in the face. I’ve got a virtual notebook full of ideas for blogs that I don’t particularly want to tackle today. What that means is that I’m undoubtedly going to discuss a pool of topics in lieu of one into which I want to dive, not just dog-paddle along the surface.

I shouldn’t feel ashamed. Most people just tread the water. A good-sized minority does the backstroke.

11:49 a.m.

Roughly 30 games remain in the major-league baseball regular season. The American League playoff race is taking shape, and the National League’s seems completely set.

According to an odds-making system that relies on some formula (POFF, or “percent chance of making playoffs”), the Atlanta Braves have a 99.9 percent chance to make the post-season, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals (99.3), Los Angeles Dodgers (99.1), Pittsburgh Pirates (96.7) and Cincinnati Reds (87.2)

Next up? The Arizona Diamondbacks are rated a 13.2 percent shot of snagging a wild card.

In the AL, the Detroit Tigers are at 99.0, followed by the Texas Rangers (92.0), Boston Red Sox (91.8), Tampa Bay Rays (76.3) and Oakland Athletics (68.9). Outside the elite five are the Cleveland Indians (32.5), Baltimore Orioles (28.9), New York Yankees (7.5) and the Kansas City Royals (3.2).

These were the odds, not concocted in the sports books of Las Vegas, but in the actual standings as listed by ESPN’s website. The numbers are current as of Tuesday morning.

12:03 p.m.

I’ve come to believe that NFL exhibition games aren’t just useless but counterproductive. If they achieve anything, it’s the mirage of optimism that might somehow convince fans of wretched teams that they have a chance.

As a result, I’ve watched parts of a few games, the ones where I wanted my judgment clouded.

12:08 p.m.

I can keep up with TV shows I don’t like on social media. That way I can watch the ones I love but no one ever seems to, uh, tweet about.

For instance, last night the Red Sox were off, so I watched “Foyle’s War.” I often fall asleep during the early scenes of “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” but I still like it. I think Ferguson is much funnier than Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien. I like Fallon. I just don’t think he’s very good.

Then again, I think Jay Leno’s awful. Jay’s laughing all the way to the bank.

As a Boston fan, I wish Fallon would make sequels to “Fever Pitch.” That might make him my favorite actor.

The purpose of Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Lindsey Lohan is to perpetuate a world in which millions of people can watch a brief video and say, “Well, I’ll be.”

I’m sure there are men who fill the same demented need, but I guess, because I’m male, I don’t notice them as much.

That’s all I can come up with.

12:17 p.m.

The world seems to be fueled by outrage, which is odd since almost everyone who says he or she is outraged really isn’t. True outrage involves only the negligible use of words.

In other words, it’s mostly, like, totally bogus.

It’s so predictable. A rocker says modern country music sucks. The usual country suspects are rounded up to say the rocker doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

It’s “an outrage.” Fundamentally, this is the art of changing the subject. Don’t defend your failings. Attack the other guys. No matter the question, just respond with, “Well, you’re one to talk!”

If (probably when, based on what’s going around) Pres. Obama takes military action against Syria, Republicans will be sharply divided between those who say it’s not enough and those who say it’s too much. Hardly any will say they agree, even if they do.

12:26 p.m.

I’m out of work. My health insurance is $555.36 a month. I can’t wait for the Affordable Care Act to go into effect. Do I think it’s going to be better? A little. How could it possibly be worse?

My home state is one of those brandishing its plastic sword and declaring it will turn down federal funds. It will make its stand on principle, that being that insurance will continue to be as bad as it is now because that’s the American Way.

Say what you will about bad insurance, but it sure is good for raising campaign money.

12:33 p.m.

Yes, I’m ready for football season, but not because I’m rearing to go (the term comes from a horse rearing and really should not be spelled “rarin’”) douse my noggin in purple paint and daub orange paw prints on my cheeks.

I don’t have anything against purple. I went to Furman University, which doesn’t align its loud color with the even more garish orange. My dedication to the Paladins does not, however, extend to the use of body paint.

I watched Vanderbilt play Wake Forest in 2009, as well. Wake Forest, by the way is where the hometown school, Presbyterian, is playing this week.
I watched Vanderbilt play Wake Forest in 2009, as well. Wake Forest, by the way, is where the hometown school, Presbyterian, is playing this week.

I’m interested in the Georgia-Clemson game, and the Carolina (North)-Carolina (South) game, but I’m just as interested in the Mississippi-Vanderbilt game.

By the way, I’ve always been fascinated with the University of Mississippi being known more commonly as Ole Miss.

That’s ye alma matuh, boh. Ole Miss. Ya mama. Ol’ times deah ah not fuhgotten.

It’s not Mississippi-Vanderbilt. It’s Ole Miss-Vandy. The homestanding Commodores are busy even now massing the fleet on the Cumberland River in preparation for the Rebels’ advance.

I suppose if Furman grads referred to our school in the same manner as Mississippi alumni, the Paladins would be lovingly known to its graduates as The Fur Man.

And the players would look like Jonny Gomes. Maybe the team could be the Soggy Bottom Boys instead of the Paladins.

But I wouldn’t go there.

Honestly, folks, I’m just kiddin’ around. I even pull for Ole Miss a lot because of my sympathy for underdogs. So don’t be getting outraged on me. Or you can if you want. You can even post a snarky comment. But don’t hold it against my advertisers. They all love Ole Miss.

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Finding Time for Music

The first time I played music in front of a crowd was at a place in Clinton called The Study Club, which is now Tony's Pizza. That was in 2009.
The first time I played music in front of a crowd was at a place in Clinton called The Study Club, which is now Tony’s Pizza. That was in 2009.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Monday, August 26, 2013, 10:39 a.m.

A disadvantage of songwriting is that it detracts from song listening. It’s a good problem to have, all in all, I reckon, or, at least, not a terrible one.

It’s just that, back in the previous decade, I was knowledgeable. I wrote a book called True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed (University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books, 2006). While compiling the information for that book, the experience of hobnobbing with performers such as Robert Earl Keen Jr., Slaid Cleaves and Jack Ingram led me to teach myself how to play guitar passably and then to start writing songs and performing them in front of audiences that were mostly small. That experience also led me to turn the main character in my first novel into a singer-songwriter, Riley Mansfield. In The Audacity of Dope, Riley isn’t based on any one person but rather drawn from characters I encountered on the road. That wasn’t originally the novel’s name – for the longest time, it didn’t have one – but the second draft was an extensive rewrite because I turned Riley – I can’t remember whether that was the hero’s original name or not – into a pot-smoking musician who becomes an unlikely and reluctant hero.

This is the cover of my first novel. Some might find it shocking. I find it appropriate.
This is the cover of my first novel. Some might find it shocking. I find it appropriate.

Audacity was always a suspense thriller. It always involved politics, but the main character’s audacity didn’t evolve into “dope” until after I finished True to the Roots. I was anxious to find a publisher, and this re-creation (and recreation) of the hero set it apart, I hoped, from other novels on the market. It worked. I found a publisher, and now Neverland Publishing ( is getting my second novel, The Intangibles, ready for release in late October.

The Intangibles is also, uh, not for the kiddies, but it has many more characters and is set in a small South Carolina town during public-school desegregation in the late 1960s. Fairmont is a college town, which is similar to Clinton but also Newberry, Greenwood, Anderson and many others. Some of what happens fictionally is based loosely on actual events, but just as much is created for the purposes of the story.

When my job was eliminated, I planned to put some effort into getting some of my songs published and on the market. What has happened is that I’ve become so immersed in prose – selling one book (Audacity), editing another (Intangibles) and writing a third (Crazy by Natural Causes) whose first draft is close to completion – that I’ve had little time for music. I still play songs at appearances for The Audacity of Dope – after all, I wrote the lyrics that are quoted in the text as Riley’s songs – and go to the occasional local jam session, but I’ve written only two or three songs all year.

What’s more, I haven’t listened to music as much. Most of my music listening takes place while I’m riding, either on the highway or around the yard on my lawn tractor. I started musing on this subject late Saturday night after the Bristol NASCAR race was over and Wilco was featured on PBS’s “Austin City Limits” show.

Another factor is that I don’t have much money to spend on music, but it’s mainly because I’m obsessed with writing novels. I keep hoping someone will read Audacity who is (a.) interested in making a movie out of it, which would rock, or, (b.) impressed enough by my lyrics to want to hear the songs, or, oh, maybe, record one or two or a dozen.

As far as comparing songwriting to novel writing, I love both. I’d say songs are more fun. Novels may not require more discipline, but they require it in greater length and intensity. Novels I find a bit more rewarding, mostly because they require so much more time. There’s a mite more agony in novels and a tad more ecstasy in songwriting.

Not that I’m Michelangelo or nothing.

Some songs I write are written to be catchy and commercial. Others are written because I feel I have something to say, even though it might not be suitable for prime time. I take personal pride in some songs that have little chance of drawing widespread interest from others.

I get a lot of, “Man, that’s a damn good song,” and not much, “Hey, I’d like to record that song.”

The bottom line, though, is that I write because I love it, and that applies to books – I wrote a bunch of non-fiction books before I tried fiction – and music. As a musician, well, I’m a damn fine writer. I’ve always paid more attention to words than music, and that defines my strength and my weakness. Most of my songs that begin with words are simple in terms of chord patterns. If chord patterns define a song’s origin, it’s still not complex, but the melody is more interesting.

I like irony and offbeat rhymes:

A cyclone has wrecked Bangladesh / Yet somehow I still feel quite refreshed.

It won’t be smokin’ cigarettes or drinkin’ hard liquor / Ain’t nothing killing me like living is.

If you ain’t an outlaw / You can’t play outlaw music / If you ain’t got money/ You can’t buy no car / If you can’t drive / You can’t race in NASCAR / And no matter where you go / There you are.

You’ve just got to find a way to find a balance / Between what you want and what you really need / A man can only get so far on talent / And he can’t make a living just on dreams.

What’s my favorite line in a country song? Probably Roger Miller’s:

Spent the groceries and half the rent / I lack 14 dollars having 27 cents.

My favorite verse? That’s Tom T. Hall’s:

Past some hound dogs and some dominecker chickens / Temporary looking houses with their lean and bashful kids / Every mile or so a sign proclaimed that Christ was coming soon / And I thought, well, man, He’d sure be disappointed if He did.

My favorite hook was written by Hank Cochran:

You wouldn’t know love / If it looked you in the eye.

Take a deep breath. It’s so perfect it hurts, and that was Cochran’s plan.

Thanks for reading my daily electronic scribblings. My iPhone is a modern cocktail napkin, and my laptop is a file cabinet. Let me know what you think, and consider the advertisers if you think of it.

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There’s the Rub … That Wasn’t

Kasey Kahne (5) races side-by-side with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)
Kasey Kahne (5) races side-by-side with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (HHP/Rusty Jarrett photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, August 25, 2013, 1:25 p.m.

When it came “right down to it” on Saturday night, and the Irwin Tools Night Race was “there for the taking,” Matt Kenseth won it because he was capable of what one football coach, Jake Gaither, said about another, Bear Bryant.

“He can take his’n and beat your’n,” said Gaither*, “or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”

Gaither was a big fan of versatility. He also said, “I like my boys to be agile, mobile and hostile.”

Matt Kenseth speaks softly, too, but he's been known to to mix it up when conditions require it. (John Clark photo)
Matt Kenseth speaks softly, too, but he’s been known to to mix it up when conditions require it. (John Clark photo)

He would’ve been a big fan of Kenseth, who as one of NASCAR’s prodigious talents, can operate his race car a variety of ways. Kenseth is widely admired, soft-spoken and impishly funny, but once the green flag waves, he can play it any way the opposition wants. Many drivers talk about the notion that “I race the other fellow the same way he races me,” but Kenseth is probably the best example of that theory in operation.

As much as Kasey Kahne has talked this year about being the mysterious victim of Joe Gibbs’ rampaging band of Toyotas, when the gladiators all got done at Bristol Motor Speedway’s self-described “Colosseum” (as in Rome, where them Eye-talians are), Kahne couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger, that Kenseth would have, had the roles been reversed.

There’s no dishonor in that. Many of Kahne’s fans value him for his very decency. Kahne’s reputation is right out of the movies of the 1950s. It’s not unusual for fans to walk away from a meet ‘n’ greet with Kahne saying to anyone who will listen, “What a swell guy.”

And, by the way, the two drivers did mix it up a bit. From watching, the case could have been made that Kahne’s timing was off and that he might’ve tried the old bump ‘n’ run on Kenseth had he gotten there in time.

The reason this angle wasn’t explored more was Kahne’s own admission regarding what happened.

“I had already tried to clear [Kenseth] on a slide-job-type deal,” Kahne said, “and he just didn’t brake and stayed in the gas, and we were going to hit each other. I don’t know how all that was going to work out. I needed a win bad, but I also needed a finish, and I just didn’t do anything crazy. I just basically ran as hard as I could, tried to pass him two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he’d screw up, and he really never did.”

As soon as the post-race interrogators established that Kahne was sane (he didn’t want to do anything crazy), they went to work on “the principled angle.” Kahne had “cemented his reputation as a clean racer.”

“Seems that way,” Kahne said. “You know, I’ve always really raced that way. I don’t have any experience doing it [dirty] for one, and, for two, that’s just kind of how I’ve always raced.”

Kahne could’ve growled that he’d have wrecked the sonuvabitch if he could have, but Kahne didn’t, and the idea of him growling is almost unimaginable. A Kahne growl might be a Tony Stewart … whisper.

In essence, Kahne is just incapable of being someone he’s not. He excels in a world of tough guys with chips on their shoulders by merely being proficient. He is NASCAR’s Clark Kent, mild-mannered right up until he swoops airward from the telephone booth. He speaks so softly that he could read The Communist Manifesto to the Tea Party, and the audience would merely smile and nod.

When I read Kahne’s final words in the transcript – “I think, at the end of the day, I just don’t wreck people” – I thought to myself, But, Kasey, the end of the day was already past. This was the Bristol night race.

My guess is that Kahne fans were, by and large, disappointed but proud. They expected their hero to be virtuous. Yes, it was “a moral victory.”

Other fans slapped their thighs and scoffed at the existence of anything as high-minded and noble as a moral victory. No such thing! Kenseth hung on steadfastly. He did what it took to win. If I’ve heard this sentence once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: That’s part of it!

No one’s right, and no one’s wrong. These are issues racers and fans must decide for themselves.

*This quotation is often cited as Bum Phillips talking about Don Shula, but Gaither said it first about Bryant.

I thoroughly enjoyed the race. For several years, I’ve written that Bristol could use a break, and I think Saturday night offered just the kind of race the track needed. But I just speak for me, and I’m always interested in your comments. I appreciate your support, and if you disagree, I appreciate that, too.

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A Tale of Two Champions

[cb_profit_poster sponsor1]Clinton, S.C., Saturday, August 24, 2013, 10:04 a.m.

Jeff Gordon (talking with Ford's Dan Zacharias) hasn't been able to recapture the old magic. (John Clark photo)
Jeff Gordon (talking with Ford’s Dan Zacharias) hasn’t been able to recapture the old magic. (John Clark photo)

In NASCAR, this is one weird year, the kind that comes along every so often when one era ends and another begins. Regardless of how solid Jimmie Johnson’s fleeting hold on the points lead seems – and uneasy lies any crown when the format is a Chase – I sense that the Sprint Cup Series is entering a period of interregnum, similar to when Richard Petty gradually yielded to Darrell Waltrip, who yielded to Dale Earnhardt, who yielded to Jeff Gordon, who yielded to Johnson.

When the season enters Final Jeopardy in a few weeks, the elite field of title contenders is going to have a few unfamiliar names, and a few familiar names are going to be missing, as in Tony Stewart’s case, and running around and around like chickens with their heads cut off, which is akin to racing every week outside the Chase. Denny Hamlin won’t be there. Jeff Gordon probably won’t be there. The doors of opportunity are starting to swing open. Johnson is in his prime, but his time there is limited. Gordon hasn’t won a championship in 12 years, and no one saw that coming in 2001.

Now here’s where I go out on a limb, or a couple of them, one of which is solid and the other shaky.

For most race drivers, determining the length of a career is easy. He competes as long as there is money to make it happen. Some only linger as long as they can continue to compete in first-class equipment. Others just linger as long as there are four wheels and a pit crew behind him (or, of course, in one current case, her).

I don’t think Gordon is one of those drivers.

Many years ago, the great open-wheel (as in, Sprints and Midgets) designer, builder and owner Bob East and I had a conversation about Stewart and Gordon, both of whom had competed in his cars on the way up through the ranks. East said Stewart just loved to race. He said Gordon had been interested in being the best. Stewart wanted to race because there was a track with its gates open. Gordon wanted to be on TV. Stewart wanted to be able to climb into anything with four wheels and win in it. Gordon wanted to be remembered as “the best.”

Fast-forward for more than a decade. Stewart won a championship in 2011 in one of those glorious, possibly last, hurrahs that come along once in a very great while. It may have been the greatest racing achievement I’ve ever witnessed. He won half the Chase and nothing else. He slipped in the back door with the help and took over the palace. I still look back on that year with wonder for Stewart and sympathy for Carl Edwards, who fell spectacularly short.

Gordon watched admiringly. If Stewart, just a few months different in age, could still do it, Gordon felt that maybe, just maybe, he could do the same thing, and he said as much, which was made more noteworthy by the fact that Gordon is an honest man. He said what most any driver would, but Gordon seldom says what he doesn’t mean. Sometimes he just doesn’t say anything, but he’s not a man prone to sweet nothings.

Here are my conclusions on two of the sport’s all-time greats, based on many years of watching them and nothing else.

Tony Stewart is laid up with a broken leg, but he led the parade as recently as two years ago.
Tony Stewart is laid up with a broken leg, but he led the parade as recently as two years ago.

Stewart, who broke his leg horribly in a sprint-car crash, will probably drive sprint cars again, if for no other reason because there are so many people out there demanding that he stop. I tend to think that, if Stewart did stop racing at obscure dirt tracks on Tuesday nights, it would hurt his performance in Sprint Cup, not because it would cost him skills but because it would cost him a portion of his soul. Stewart is Bo Jackson.

Gordon is Joe DiMaggio.

If Gordon gets it in his own mind that he isn’t going to win another championship, I don’t think he will linger. He won’t soldier on for eight winless seasons and have his reputation tarnished. He won’t be long content playing his cards right and slipping into the top 10 occasionally. Stewart won’t go away gently, and occasionally, he will pull off, oh, miracles. Stewart has more desire. Gordon has more sense.

I hasten to add that I once held the latter view of Muhammad Ali.

Thanks for your support, your loyalty, your comments and your patronage of my site. I’d appreciate if you’d look around, take a look at my novel, The Audacity of Dope, and blogs that are often, but not always, about NASCAR.

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An Explanation of My Absence

Paladin Stadium, Furman University, as the season draws near.
Paladin Stadium, Furman University, as the season draws near.

[cb_profit_poster FlagFootball]Clinton, S.C., Friday, August 23, 2013, 10:08 a.m.

Sorry I missed everyone yesterday out there in Internet Land. It’s the modern equivalent of Radio Land, or TV Land, as in, “Hey, all you folks in Internet Land! How you been gettin’ along?” Oh, wait … since it’s the Internet, maybe it’s, “YOLO. So, like, Ima try to write err day. LOL. Nowumsayin?”

Normally I keep up a little better, but I spent most of the day and half the night in Greenville, where, in hindsight, I could have taken my laptop, and then I could’ve blogged from Barnes & Noble, as God intended.

Instead, all I had was my trusty iPhone, and it’s just too nettlesome to write a blog and post it from an itsy, bitsy technological wonder.

So, as I prepare for a night of local music (Jamlisco, at El Jalisco Mexican Restaurant, 1002 South Broad Street, Clinton, S.C, if Siri is keeping a scorecard on your belt) and a weekend of watching NASCAR on TV, here’s what went down in Greenville on Thursday.

I met with my valued book concierge, Rowe Copeland, in the Starbucks at Barnes & Noble. We talked about the next novel (The Intangibles) and the one (Crazy by Natural Causes) after that. We talked about writing, editing and publicizing. We do that every month. I drink coffee. She drinks tea.

This is the time where fiction overlaps. I’m trying to finish off the first draft of Crazy by Natural Causes – I’ve written two chapters this week, and there are 34 of them now – while, at the same time, starting the final push toward The Intangibles’ publication. This involves getting other writers to read it and offer what are called “blurbs” for the news releases and/or back cover. Soon shall arrive the pressurized, last-chance editing.

But enough of this mundane book stuff that is undoubtedly more compelling to me than to you.

Then I dropped by a locally owned bookstore, Fiction Addiction, to buy a book I’ve been wanting to read and to say hello the way we authors are prone to do when we have a book coming out soon. The book I bought is actually non-fiction, so it remains to be seen whether I develop a non-fiction addiction from Fiction Addiction.

Since I had some time to kill, I went to see a movie. Most of the times I see a movie in a theater, it’s animated and my grand-nephew (who is, of course, positively grand) is along. Usually, when I see another kind of movie, it’s just like Thursday and I wind up going not to the movie I really want to see but to the movie that’s about to start. This time it was “Paranoia,” with Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard and Harrison Ford. Hemsworth was the bright, idealistic young technology geek who works for one bad guy (Oldman) and is sent to steal from the other (Ford), falls in love with the beautiful girl who can’t stand him at first other than she sleeps with him, and at the end, the bad guys, both billionaires, go to jail, which is realistic because that happens all the time in real life. Sorry. Spoiler alert. If you see the movie, I can’t imagine you not being able to see it coming.

Worth seeing, but nothing memorable.

It was hot when I arrived at the cineplex, so I left the windows in my car cracked about a half-inch. It apparently rained exceedingly hard while I was inside. I’m glad my books were in a plastic bag.

Next I drove out to Furman University to watch the Paladins practice football for about an hour. The stadium has been renovated. It’s lovely. Not only did I graduate from Furman, but several members of the current coaching staff are old friends. In an upset, while I was watching, Joe Davidson walked up. I’ve seen Joe once in the past 30 years. That was when Furman played at Pitt in 2004 (and lost in overtime). He lives in Pittsburgh but comes down to Greenville on business four or five times a year, he said.

What a surprise. That, and, of course, Small World. Those phrases are repeated in many languages when coincidences occur.

After practice, Joe and I chatted with Bruce Fowler, the head coach, assistants Tim Sorrells, his son Jordan (who was a second-generation Furman QB) and Jimmy Kiser, Paladin Club director Ken Pettus and Sports Information Director Hunter Reid.

I said “hey” to several others.

Fluor Field, Home of the Greenville Drive.
Fluor Field, Home of the Greenville Drive.

Then it was off to Fluor Field to watch the Greenville Drive lose to the Rome Braves with Steve Grant, Cathy Breazeale and Bill Butler. Steve, AKA “Pa,” and Bill, AKA “Butts,” played baseball at Furman, and we, uh, barely watched the game from a suite overlooking the right-field line. We bumped into Ron Smith, Furman’s baseball coach, on the way out, and continued our reminiscing at the Liberty Ale House behind Fluor Field’s Fenwayesque left-field wall.

I had a beer that tasted like it had an orange peel in it. Orange peels actually taste great after a while.

I got home at about midnight, which is to say, David Letterman Top 10 Time.

I skipped a blogging day for the first time in more than a month. I’ll double up soon.

This blog is so much about me, and probably of limited interest to you, that it might even be more interesting to give my advertisers some business. Just a thought.

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Friends Called Him ‘Dutch,’ and Surprising No One, It Fit

Elmore Leonard's western novels were typically based in Arizona and New Mexico, where he spent little time. Part of his research was a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine.
Elmore Leonard’s western novels were typically based in Arizona and New Mexico, where he spent little time. Part of his research was a subscription to Arizona Highways magazine.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 10:06 a.m.

Yesterday Jim McLaurin, fast becoming a regular character in these epistles, predicted that I would write my blog about Elmore Leonard, who died at 87. Jim knows me too well. He knows me better than me. I had already written the daily blog, stupidly incapable of recognizing what I should be writing about.

Jimmy Mac may not have been right, but he was prescient. The telltale hint was when I tweeted, or posted,  that I had learned to write dialogue by reading Leonard’s novels.

(Can’t someone in the social-media biz come up with one more “platform,” one more term, that has to be used to signify an electronic scribble varying only slightly from another?)

For the record:

Not that I mastered it, but Elmore Leonard was my dialogue teacher … by example. Very little of his I haven’t read. (10:59 a.m., 8/20/13)

So why in the world did I write a collection of very short stories, the balance tilted toward silly doings of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees? The answer, obviously, is that I should have consulted my onetime running mate, McLaurin.

Now, of course, I’m at a terrible disadvantage. I’ve read the perspicacious odes of the great Timeses, New York and Los Angeles. I’ve read the thoughts of writers considerably greater than I, of which there exist many more than I’d care to list. Just this morning, I groaned with disappointment that Tommy Tomlinson’s blog was so good, because, being the stubborn dolt that I am, I knew I was going to give it a shot, anyway.

Enough of my inadequacy. It could take up volumes.

I’ve been reading about three Leonard books a year for more than a decade. He was one of my “go-to guys,” along with Larry McMurtry, Dick Francis, Graham Greene, John Irving, Sinclair Lewis, Tom Wolfe, and, most importantly, John Steinbeck. At the moment, I’m having a wonderful time with Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Steinbeck is my favorite. McMurtry is the one to whom I most aspire, but there’s still no room at that ranch, not even in the bunkhouse. Leonard and Francis, both recently deceased, were my breaks from heavy reads. Any time I read something ambitious – for instance, Les Miserables, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom – I’d follow it up by taking a quick dip in the Leonard/Francis pool. Or Carl Hiaasen, who is kind of Leonard with belly laughs instead of chuckles.

Leonard. Dead. Francis. Dead. Greene. Dead. Lewis and Steinbeck. Long dead. I’ve reached the age where my reading gets lonely. I had taken Leonard as a renewable source of energy. Now I come to find out that his crime novels are finite. I thought only his westerns were limited. That’s how he started, back when dinosaurs rolled the earth and were called Packards, LaSalles and Hudsons.

“Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the … days!”

Much has been made of Leonard’s “10 rules,” which are old hat to us veterans of Glitz, Riding the Rap, Tishomingo Blues, Cuba Libre, Get Shorty and two dozen others that don’t occur to me at the moment. They are, of course, entertaining, but like most everything else about Leonard, they were written with a wry smile and a twinkle in the eyes. No one could kill a pan like Leonard.

He had his own style. It was spare. For all you ambitious kids out there who write for one principal reason – to let everyone else know just how smart you are – Leonard is one of his cops, slowly revealing your fraud. When I was young, I used a thesaurus to find a word to impress. When I got older, I reached the point where there was a specific word I wanted, but now I need the thesaurus to find it because I sort through it better than my own mind and it wouldn’t be fair to keep Jimmy Mac on call.

Leonard didn’t need those big words. His novels were addition by subtraction. He didn’t describe his characters. He let them talk and you formed images in your mind, and by the end, you and he were looking at the same picture.

No one wrote better dialogue, and few besides court reporters and journalists typed more of it.

As I was gearing up for a late-life-crisis profession known as “novelist,” Leonard became my model for dialogue. I don’t obey all his rules, but I try to heed them. It doesn’t do any good to copy a great writer because he’s already existed. Imitating Cary Grant doesn’t make one Cary Grant, but, rather, Rich Little.

I saw one reference to Leonard as the quiet fellow, standing over to the side, who looks like he knows something. If one reads as many of Leonard’s novels as I have, it’s obvious.

Friends and neighbors, thanks for stopping by most each and every day to see what in the hell I thought of. Keep those cards and letters coming. Next time you’re at the hardware story, tell ‘em old Monte sent you. Y’all come back, you hear?

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