Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 31, 2014, 9:18 a.m.
Resolutions. It sounds like a game show.
Today I’m supposed to come up with a New Year’s Resolution. Or, preferably, many.
I don’t believe in them. I’ve reached the age where I’m resistant to change and resigned to fate. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man. Iyam what Iyam.
A Southern tradition holds that, on New Year’s Day, a family has a meal highlighted by collard greens and black-eyed peas. My late father had a fundamentalist bent where this meal was concerned and insisted on additional items such as pork livers, backbones, neckbones, and other obscure outposts of carnivorous desperation. Supposedly, the greens stand for paper money and the peas for coins*. If one slogs through this meal once a year, the theory holds, the fresh year will undoubtedly be prosperous.
One year, oh, at least a decade ago now, I told my mother that, since we had all lived for many years without once becoming rich, why not dispense with this nonsense?
Oh, me of little faith.
No resolutions for me, thanks. I’d rather go with the peas and collards.
A man’s got to ponder something, though, with a new Year of Our Lord beckoning. I’ll make a few suggestions:
NASCAR. Leave it the bleep alone.
David Letterman. Reconsider.
Taylor Swift. At some point, the whining is going to get old. I know it pays well now.
America. Start paying attention to people who are smart.
Sports in general. TV isn’t everything.
Congress. Have lunch together every now and again.
Stephen Colbert. Don’t change too damn much.
The United States of Anger. Spend some time trying to figure out whatever happened to peace, love, and understanding.
Politicians. Think principle, not polls.
Kids. As soon as you learn how to read, learn how to enjoy it.
I could go on all day, leaning back in the easy chair, reading the Twitter feed, and occasionally leaning forward again to add another nugget of would-be (as in, if anyone other than me) wisdom.
But … pretty soon Ole Miss is going to be playing Texas Christian, and then there’s Boise State versus Arizona, and, next thing you know, Mississippi State will be taking on Georgia Tech.
*At first, I chose the word “change” instead of “coins,” but then I realized change seldom occurs in these parts.
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 28, 2014, 9:25 a.m.
Christmas has settled. Not only are the gifts open. The wrapping paper has been swept away. Even the fireworks have subsided as celebrants reload for New Year’s and consider whether or not they can put off disposing of the tree for a few more days. The lines on Monday at the county dump will be akin to Walmart and at least as friendly.
Only three hundred sixty-two more shopping days till Christmas! In the meantime, for all you folks looking for deals on Black Friday, and then even more on the day after Christmas, Relatively Dark Gray Friday, well, you’re in luck. The real deals are now, you sentimental gift givers, you.
Don’t you wish you still had some money?
What we now have, in the waning holidaze, is a Sargasso Sea of flawed bowl games, live and in high-def from the Island of Misfit Toys. A lot’s still on the line. Hell, South Carolina needed that victory over Miami to get a winning record, but, by and large, pride has fallen by the wayside, and, as Kenny Rogers sang, the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.
It’s not worth it. Life is better. The Panthers and Falcons are meeting with a playoff spot on the line. If Carolina wins, it will be seven, eight, and one. Atlanta can enter the ranks of premier American football organizations by rising to seven and nine.
The National, BUH-buh-buh-BUH, Football League. I tried to hum one of the network theme songs but realized it was actually the opening of Boston Red Sox Baseball on NESN. A Freudian slip, no doubt.
Saturday was the Day of Big-Money Football Programs Who Have Fallen on Hard Times. Virginia Tech. Both USCs. Arizona State. Nebraska. Miami. Even in these games, someone has to lose. It’s suddenly become a habit. Then there was resurgent Duke, which, for the third year in a row, managed by the narrowest margins to keep a half-century-plus streak of bowl futility alive. No one can lose a bowl game like Duke. Its losses are more exciting than most teams’ wins. Imagine what it would be like if the Washington Generals took the Harlem Globetrotters into overtime every night. What a show for the folks in Sheboygan.
These are cheap days for the recovering merrymaker. While he awaits in futility for an invitation to a New Year’s Eve soiree, he can subsist on raisin bran, milk, sliced chicken, bread, mayonnaise, and strategically placed tomato sliced coated with pepper. And coffee. Lots of coffee.
Pretty soon it will be time for NASCAR, baseball and taxes.
I hope your Christmas was merry, your Hanukkah happy, your Kwanzaa qualitative and your Festivus festive. I hope they lead inexorably into a happier New Year. I can think of no better way for you to meditate on superior means to prosperity than reading my books, but then again, this notion is neither unprejudiced nor based on sound science. It will, however, make me ever so slightly more prosperous, so good will come of it. Miraculously, most of my books remain available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1
Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 24, 2014, 12:47 p.m.
About two weeks ago, the proprietor of a local store, with whom I do a modest trade, and I were talking, and I asked him if he was opening on Christmas Eve. He said, yeah, he’d probably knock off at noon, and I asked him if he’d like me to come up there at about eleven and bring my guitar, and he said, that’d be dandy, and, against all odds, I remembered it this morning and lit out for uptown.
“Lit out” is Southern for “went there.”
When I got there, it was dark, and the “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign was in the window. It was also raining and miserable, and I’d thought about calling up there and saying, what say let’s do this on New Year’s Eve, but, fortunately, we had the same line of thought, and the fellow who runs the store, a friend of mine, looked at the other fellow who was working there, and said, ain’t nobody going out in this mess, let’s head to the house. I was thinking the same way. I just wasn’t communicating.
Ah, well. I needed to go buy groceries, anyway, and I should have done it Monday, and then Tuesday, but things came up, and, as a result, I nibbled on peanut butter and saltines last night, watching Navy beat San Diego State, and reading a book, and, occasionally, checking on the Charlotte Hornets’ game, which they won.
Grocery shopping here on Christmas Eve is nothing like Black Friday, though all I know about that is the horror I’ve heard. My Christmas shopping was no more nettlesome than having to type in my card number a second time.
I used my tried-and-true method of shopping, which is to roll my cart idly up and down rows, hoping the items will remind me of what I need. It’s not really efficient. I have to double back numerous times. I have been known to target certain items based on current deals in the Bi-Lo Bonus Card program, which recently led to my buying gasoline at $2.01.9 per gallon.
It’s crowded at Bi-Lo, but everywhere people are talking to each other.
Making a return trip to the deli to pick up the smoked chicken breast I had earlier selected for slicing, I was daydreaming, and my buggy crossed the path of a woman even older than I. I sheepishly apologized. Five minutes later, I emerged from an aisle, and there was the same lady, eying me warily.
“Please go ahead,” I said. “I cut you off up yonder.”
“Aw, that’s awright,” she said.
A heap of Merry Christmasing ensued, and I bumped into one old friend, and all I could come up with was noting that his brother’s birthday was in the last few days, and that I knew that because we were Facebook friends.
From the end of one checkout line to the front of another: “Hey, Darlene! Have you seen Irene?”
Darlene turns around, waves, and says, “Hey! No, sure haven’t,” and then she presents her Bi-Lo Bonus Card to the girl behind the register.
I asked the cute checkout girl when she got off – that was as in, when do you get to go home and celebrate Christmas with your family? Not, as in, hey, good lookin,’ what you got cookin’?, and, yes, I am sufficiently old to be inoffensive – and she said two. I said, great, nobody ought to have to work all day on Christmas Eve.
The presence of my guitar caused me to take an inordinate amount of time loading my groceries in the truck, and I had to fumble with the keys and get the back opened, and, naturally, the rain was pelting, but then I got home and fixed myself a nice fried-egg-and-chicken sandwich, and I’ll be darned if another bowl game hadn’t come on. The Hilltoppers are taking on the Chippewas with fish-and-game rights on the line.
I hope the holidays are joyous for everyone. I appreciate you taking the time to read my silliness, but if you’re a glutton for my tripe, read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, as well. Somebody’s got to do it.
Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 23, 2014, 12:47 p.m.
Many years ago, I started compiling song lyrics, sometimes all mine but, more often, those that occur to me during the holidays. I started out sending these as e-mails, and then I posted them on social media, and, I think it was last year, I started publishing them in the form of a blog.
Until, oh, a few minutes ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to do it this year. I concentrated on prose all year, writing the first draft of a crime novel, polishing up one I mostly wrote in 2013, and writing short stories. I only wrote two songs all year.
This year, I think, I’ll mix and match. My favorite Christmas song isn’t even considered a Christmas song by lots of people. To me, it’s perfect.
If we can make it through December / Everything’s gonna be all right, I know / It’s the coldest time of winter / And I shiver when I see the falling snow / If we can make it through December / Got plans to be in a warmer town come summertime / Maybe even California / If we make it through December, we’ll be fine. – Merle Haggard
While we try in vain to wind it down, our military forces continue to be active abroad. It seems to me that we pay mainly lip service to them and don’t really value their lives as much as we ought.
When I pulled out of Basra / They all wished me luck / Just like they always did before / With a bulletproof screen on the hood of my track / And a Bradley on my back door / Well, I wound her up / And shifted her down / And offered this prayer to my Lord / God, get me back home to Houston alive / And I won’t drive a truck anymore. – Steve Earle
We remain entangled in racial division. I get chills every time I hear this:
I was born by the river in a little tent / Oh, and just like the river, I’ve been running ever since / It’s been a long, long time coming / But I know a change gon’ come, yes, it will. – Sam Cooke
This leads me to the promise of America:
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower / We come on the ship that sailed the moon / We come in the age’s most uncertain hour / And sing an American tune / But it’s all right, it’s all right / You can’t be forever blessed / Still, tomorrow’s gonna be another working day / And I’m trying to get some rest / That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest. – Paul Simon
Okay, it’s time for one of mine:
When the sun comes up on that bright morn / In the quiet that follows every storm / When the demons have all died away / We’ll celebrate your independence day.
And, in a gospel turn:
I walked the streets / Of that big city / I saw folks wracked with pain / I saw folks in need of Jesus / They looked weary of raising Cain.
Gas prices are low. The stock market is up. Here in town, though, it still seems kind of bleak. I haven’t seen anything trickle down. The central mood in America right now is frustration. Everyone is dissatisfied. Everyone has something or someone to blame. People disagree with what’s wrong but agree that something is wrong. Too many people are just wandering around, pissed off.
Someday I’m gonna leave this dirty little town / Where the talk is cheap on the dirty little streets / And the trees are dying underneath a sky that’s purple and brown / You can’t drink the water, can’t breathe the air / If you go out at all, well, you better beware / People packin’ heat on the mean ol’ streets / Of this dirty little town. – Kieran Kane
And my “Furlough Blues”:
Rich folks are the ones who need a furlough / They’re the ones who ran this ship aground / Talking about the dangers of class warfare / While less and less money gets around.
Christmas looks like it’s going to be successful because I’m out of money, and regardless of how much I make, I think a fellow ought to be broke at Christmas. This year I only bought presents for kids, other than an adapter I bought for myself that will allow this laptop to do something it won’t and should. The commercial part of Christmas isn’t so bad if one limits it to kids, wide-eyed and joyous. There is a Santa Claus for them.
Now he’s all grown up with a floursack cape tied all around his dreams / And he’s full of piss and vinegar, and he’s bustin’ at the seams / So he licked his finger and checked the wind, it’s gonna be do or die / He wasn’t scared of nothin’, boys, he was pretty sure he could fly.
Well, he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith / Spread your arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape. – Guy Clark
From my “The Paved Road”:
Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.
No collection of lyrics should be without this songwriter:
Sometimes old Luther showed up at the studio half tight / And smokin’ was a thing he liked to do / She never said a word to him but said a prayer for me / I told her, in a way, that I’d been praying for her, too. – Tom T. Hall.
And this one:
The silence of a falling star / Lights up a purple sky / And as I wonder where you are / I’m so lonesome I could cry. – Hank Williams
And this one:
Them that don’t know him won’t like him / And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him / He ain’t wrong, he’s just different, and his pride won’t let him / Do things that make you think he’s right. – Willie Nelson
And this one:
Tell my baby I said so long / Tell my mother I did no wrong / Tell my brother to mind his own / Tell my friends to mourn me none. – Townes Van Zandt
And this one:
One dying and a burying / One dying and a burying / Some crying, six carrying me / I want to be free. – Roger Miller
And this one:
Sun full of yellow / Sky full of blue / Been on my vacation / ‘Bout a full year or two. – Jerry Jeff Walker
And, finally, this one:
The world is changing / Always rearranging / From birth till the end / With my Facebook friends.
Hahahahaha. The last was I.
Be thankful, friends, for the good as well as the bad. The good is fun. Winning is infectious. The bad, though, is what shapes character and what makes us the men and women we are. Adversity makes some and breaks others. When you maneuver your way through life’s minefield, don’t forget to learn how to be tough.
Happy Christmas. Merry holidays. Flippy-trippy Festivus. As an old friend used to say with nauseating regularity, whatever floats your boat …
Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:02 a.m.
One of the first lessons I learned about the NASCAR beat was away from the track, and I was slow on the draw. I should have already known it by then.
I was young and foolish. Somehow, I thought I had achieved some laudable goal by securing a job that took me to most parts of the United States. I loved it when friends, at some New Year’s Eve party or local bar, asked, “So, you know all the drivers, huh?”
Oh, yeah. Talk to them every week.
“What kind of guy is so-and-so?”
Never answer that question expansively. Say something upbeat but noncommittal. What I think doesn’t matter. Never mind that I deal with a person on a regular basis, and my friend has never met him. He will place no importance on my opinion if it differs from his (or, notably, hers). If he likes the driver, he tells it like it is. If he doesn’t, he’s a whiner.
I always tried to think like a reader. My employer even used it as a slogan for a while. I didn’t need the slogan. I always thought it important to hang around at a hardware store, or a barber shop, or a car dealership, and see what the fans were saying. It was easier in the 1990s and early 2000s. It seemed then as if everyone I encountered was in love with NASCAR.
You write about NASCAR? I love NASCAR.
Nowadays, the more common response is, Oh, I know it’s big. I just don’t much care about it. Or, I used to be nuts about NASCAR. I don’t know. I just got tired of it.
Most of them don’t know why. They don’t think about it.
Even this time of year, a week seldom passes in which I don’t see someone trying to explain what’s wrong. The economy. Room rates. Gas prices. High-definition TV. A lot of the analysis begins with the assumption that the racing is wonderful, the Chase sublime, and, so, it must be something else.
I don’t think fans analyze it the way writers do, and with writers, it takes one to know one, so I do. The input that most of us get is from those who are still passionate. Most fans don’t write me. They just watch the races. Or don’t. Combining all the various platforms, and allowing for duplication, probably about eight thousand people pay attention to me via those areas. Others link when a slug catches their fancy via Jayski or some other connection, retweets, shares, et al. I wrote one NASCAR tome this year that wound up being passed along and clicked upon by somewhere north of forty thousand. That’s rare. It happened once. Another fell just shy of twenty thousand. Most times, NASCAR blogs hit a thousand. Some of my blogs get read by a hundred. I’m kind of selfish. I generally write what strikes me as interesting and just figure that might be true of others. It’s the freedom of the jobless, and, hence, the bossless, and the nothing-left-to-loseless.
By conservative estimate, five thousand fans don’t know what I write for every one that does. I appreciate every one of them.
My basic view is that NASCAR is firmly anchored in the country’s sporting mainstream, and that is anchored to a loyal core that’s similar to other tribes that intensely follow the progress of hockey, soccer, rodeo, the X Games, and something else at any given time. At the moment, NASCAR has maxed out its credit card with the young, but that is fleeting and will continue to be so. NASCAR’s original sin was in alienating its most loyal fans and throwing all its marketing fireworks at the fans who were bound to be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s lingering sin is forgetting that it is capable of being wrong.
Tomorrow came. The Hula Hoop didn’t last forever. Neither did MySpace. Or chat rooms.
Did some of the fans get tired of Jimmie Johnson? Sure. They got tired of everything else, too.
Everyone wants simple answers, and not just in NASCAR. So many oversimplifications. The Chase was a result of Matt Kenseth not winning any races. (Note: No Cup champion has ever been winless.) It’s been changed because of the letter J (Johnson up, Junior down). It’s that damned Brian France. Or that damned Kyle Busch. Or that damned Brad Keselowski. Everyone has his (or her) own private something to damn.
It’s like saying the American Revolution was fought over tea.
NASCAR has panicked in a tricking up the Chase, tearing down the grandstands, making everybody dizzy kind of frenzy.
Slow down / You move too fast / Got to make / The morning last / Kicking around / The cobblestone. – “The 59th Street Bridge Song,” Simon and Garfunkel.
Hold your horses. Count your money. Maybe one day, NASCAR will start feeling groovy again.
Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, December 18, 2014, 10:47 a.m.
The world grows ever stranger.
Stranger / Shut out the light and lead me …
An irrelevant country lyric, signifying nothing. A different connotation of the word “stranger” that showed up in the above paragraph solely because I thought of it immediately after I typed the word “stranger.” The song is about seduction. I don’t know yet what this blog is about, but seduction is a long shot.
“The Russian Revolution in Color” is on TV. How could the Russian Revolution be in color? When it happened, there was only, just barely, film. Technology run amok. A common theme these days.
Our own government does not dictate what we can see at the cinema, but, somehow, North Korea, that humorless citadel of ignorance, does. They might “hack” theater goers. Thankfully, “hack” is one of those words with a totally different meaning in technologese. Right up there with “surf,” “troll,” “just sayin’,” and various inventions (“welp”), and obscure contractions (“Ima”) and acronyms (“RINO”) that are perpetually rising, falling, and being replaced by others.
The old version of “hack” would, however, be worse.
A telling analogy is that I am just as perpetually one iPhone behind, and neither the general nor the specific concerns me as much as, apparently, it does others. One of the reasons that a person my age isn’t “hip” (see what I mean about being behind?) is that no one allows me to be. I’m tragically unhip, just as the kids are tragically unaware of why they are wrong in so many ways in which they assume themselves to be right.
I was just as wrong when I was young, and I shudder several times each day thinking about it.
Some things change. Some things don’t. But it’s all going ever faster.
Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:30 a.m.
On the one hand, I enjoy going to ballgames, in part, because I’m trying to learn how to be a fan again. Most of a lifetime as a writer of sports trained me not to be a cheerer of sports. If I’m going as a fan, though, I should be a fan.
Last night I attended Presbyterian College’s men’s basketball game against Samford. The Bulldogs won, 81-71, largely as a result of many three-pointers (fourteen) and full-court pressure that the Blue Hose often found nettlesome. It wasn’t a clash of Titans. Samford improved to four and eight. PC declined to four and seven after leading at halftime, 34-33.
School is already out, which, as a practical matter, meant that the stands on the opposite side of Furman Pinson Arena — the epicenter of Ross E. Templeton Physical Education Center, in other words, the gym – were largely vacant. In fact, admission was free and will be, also, at the Blue Hose’ December 31 game against Big South foe Gardner-Webb. Getting in free made me feel a little guilty, so I felt it incumbent to at least support the program by visiting the concession stands. A box of popcorn and a sixteen-ounce Diet
Pepsi cost me three bucks.
Not only is Presbyterian College the hometown school. Nelson Jones, the head trainer, and I once worked together at Furman. So did head coach Gregg Nibert, who was a Furman assistant when I was the sports information director. This was back in the eighties, when SIDs were men and stats were manual, with none of this tweeting that is required today. Back then, it was not uncommon for sports information directors to enjoy actual human contact.
I’m not one of those anymore. As mentioned earlier, I was trying to be a fan.
Like most fans, I rather enjoy sniping at the officials, and on a December evening with students gone, it’s quite possible the refs could hear my brickbats. I loudly proclaimed missed traveling violations – “He walked, he walked, he walked, ref!” – that have not been called sinc
e John Havlicek led the Celtics and Jerry West the Lakers. My trouble is that the complaints in which I feel pride are ones that strike nearby partisans as, well, weird. Even at a proud liberal-arts institution like PC, literary allusions are, if not frowned upon, at least considered, oh, a bit much.
So what if one of Samford’s forwards matched my image of Caleb Trask in East of Eden?
I tried to limit my criticisms to calls I actually considered bad. I lectured the zebras on my perception of “the pivot foot,” though, I suspect, if anyone needs remedial work on the rules, it is I. I even complimented them several times on good calls, though I knew better than to extend these rave reviews to calls that went against the Blue Hose. Alas, at fifty-six, I still respond to peer pressure.
The team lost. It was still an entertaining game. I tried to cheer and jeer in a way that was enjoyable, even relaxing, a blowing off of steam, a relief of pressure. Besides, I remembered to take my blood-pressure pills.
Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 14, 2014, 10:15 a.m.
Football is in the pre-bowl doldrums (bowldrums?), or, if the NFL is your bailiwick, the pre-playoff blahs. NASCAR has been reduced for now to reports of tire testing from the various frontiers. Baseball players are moving and counting their money. Basketball teams are forming their images with the hodgepodge of games between teams of vastly different skill levels and geography. I can’t get too excited about hockey until the playoffs start.
The quiet won’t linger. Navy won’t have as much time to prepare for its modest bowl appearance as it did to formulate the strategy to defeat Army for the thirteenth year in a row. A common remark in the next few weeks will be that there are entirely too many bowl games, uttered, tweeted, posted, rumored and overheard by people watching more of them than they will ever admit.
I suppose I could use this space to identify what piqued my attention in 2014. Well, I’ve still got more than two weeks. I may do it, and I may not. Right now, I need to think it through. I may do it, and I may not. Oh, yeah. I wrote that already.
As always, the difference is vast between what happened and what I’ll remember. For instance, a few weeks ago, I mysteriously hurt my knee. If surgery had been performed, I’m sure I’d remember it. However, since my medical professionals have agreed just to let it sit, arthritic and cranky, for now, my knee feels just about the way it has for three or four years, which is weakened, and unreliable, but serviceable as long as I pay attention to what I am doing. Nothing is memorable about this.
Looking back on my writing, I wrote about half a western (Cowboys Come Home) that I abandoned simply because I’m not a juggler and too many balls were in the air. For most of the year, I worked on a crime novel called Forgive Us Our Trespasses. Then I sat the first draft aside and went back to ready another, Crazy of Natural Causes, for eventual publication. That’s done. It’s either good or better.
Twenty Fourteen was the year I started writing short stories, though some of them go back a little farther. The anniversary of my fiction blog, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, just passed. About fifteen months ago, I started sketching, and that led, quite naturally, to accompanying my short stories with sketches. I think I’ve gotten better. This was the first:
This is the most recent:
Now I’ve been collecting all those short stories into one volume, which is titled Longer Songs. The reason for the title is that many of the short stories were based on, or at least originated in, songs I had written. I wrote a song based on observing two people conversing in a bar. The song (“Stuck in a Rut”) didn’t include them going on a desperate, disastrous road trip to L.A. Such flights of fancy took off from the songs and carried me with them.
This year I learned that NASCAR is bold enough to try almost anything, that football points are often easier to come by than basketball points, that it’s possible for the Kansas City Royals to play in the World Series, and that the winner of one World Series can finish last the following year. I knew the last, but the Boston Red Sox reminded me.
Year’s end leaves me believing in fewer things, continuing a trend that seems of recent vintage but is probably just what happens with age. Recent years have seen my faith in John Edwards, Joe Paterno, and Bill Cosby obliterated, and in cops and clergy, tested. I must remember the age-old words of the Jackson Five: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch of girls. I don’t care what they say. Don’t you give up on love.”
Love. Hah. At this point of my life, what “they say” about “love” applies to “life.” All’s fair in life and war, not to mention redundancy. Life. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it. The last time I fell in love was several years back. I got a song out of it.
This year I’ve worked hard. Next year comes success. When I was a boy, I read about men who went out to make their fortunes. I didn’t expect it to take so long. I write. It’s what I know how to do. If I do enough of it, I will continue to improve, and, in theory, someone out there is bound to notice. Next I’d like to be an overnight sensation.
Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 10, 2014, 3:38 p.m.
Life provides us with periodic bolts from the blue.
The delivery accelerates but not the immediacy. By that, I mean that, when I heard that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had been in a car wreck on Tuesday, it shocked me moments after it happened, thanks to the Twitter feed, but it would have shocked me had I found out about it the next day. It would have been shocking to have gotten word of General Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, particularly since no one knew, at the time of the battle, that the War of 1812 was already over.
It was high time for the War of 1812 to be over, it being 1815 when the aforementioned battle ended. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814, but General Jackson didn’t have Twitter. When in doubt, keep fighting until the British run through the bushes, run through the brambles, go some places where a rabbit wouldn’t go, on down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico*.
The truth still takes time, and it used to be more reliable. Nowadays truth arrives in bits and snatches, accompanied by untruths, like unto a game show.
Cam Newton involved in wreck.
Newton appears all right.
Newton smiles to camera.
Newton’s vehicle, upside down.
Newton’s vehicle, being turned rightside up.
Newton’s vehicle, roof flattened.
The car that hit Cam.
Cam en route to hospital.
Insiders say wreck broke both Cam’s legs.
Cam miraculously uninjured.
Cam expects to play Sunday.
Cam has broken back.
Cam unlikely to play.
Those were just in the first few hours. It’s still going on now. At the moment, he may, in fact, be undergoing surgery on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, throwing practice tosses to Prince William, with his arms around the Duchess, while defending the CIA’s use of torture, and threatening to shut down the government.
I’m sure the family seeks closure. At one time, people didn’t need to worry. Most events had closure. Now it’s a pie in the sky. Either that or a pipe dream. Folks post online like they’re buying a lottery ticket.
Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 8, 2014, 9:33 a.m.
Last night I drove home listening to classic rock songs and actually paying attention to the lyrics.
Thunder only happens when it’s raining / Players only love you when they’re playing.
For the first time in quite a while – i.e., decades – I wrote about a major-college basketball game last night. Clemson defeated Arkansas, 68-65, in overtime. I can’t say I did it because I yearned for this opportunity. I can say that I did it because a Little Rock newspaper paid more than the standard stringer’s fee here in the Palmetto State during the current “Journalism in the Time of Cholera” age.
Yeah. I’ll do it. Why not?
Covering college basketball has changed. The previous time I’d written about a game at Clemson, Cliff Ellis was the coach. That was 1990. I covered a tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum, which no longer exists, five or six years later.
Now Clemson games are watched with a commanding view – near the rafters in one of the corners – and a commanding number of steps to go up and down in order to attend the requisite media conferences. In case you missed it, I have a bad knee. Lots of “ooh, oohs” and “ouch, ouches” on those stairs. Thank God for small favors known as handrails. I just have to remember to be careful. It didn’t swell overnight. Whew.
I really like Brad Brownell, Clemson’s head coach. I’d been impressed with him, watching on TV, but sometimes looks are deceiving there. I’ve nothing against Arkansas’ Mike Anderson, but, from a writer’s perspective, Anderson is one of those guys who is going to say what he’s going to say, regardless of the question. His team had just lost a game it had expected to win. He was pleasant. He just weighed every word.
“I’m certainly disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “I’ll take the blame. We didn’t close it off, but let’s give Clemson credit. They had a chance to fold their tents, and they didn’t go away.”
And, later, “It was a game of runs. They had a chance to have their runs.”
Brownell, though, is a valued commodity for writers. A tough, honest question doesn’t scare him to death. He doesn’t take it as an insinuation of some sort.
At the moment, the Tigers (5-3) are 2-0 against the Southeastern Conference and 1-2 against the Big South, which, despite its title, is not particularly big in the greater scheme of things. When Clemson lost to Winthrop in its second game and Gardner-Webb in its third, it had to create a certain sense of urgency. It’s tough for a coach to open a season slowly, essentially discovering that his team isn’t as good as he hoped it was, and then have to improve on the fly. It’s hard to address the overall health of a team when it’s necessary to deal with upcoming games.
“The hardest thing with basketball,” Brownell said, “is that you play thirty games. All you have to do is look at college basketball every day. People text me, trying to make me feel better. ‘NJIT beat Michigan. North Florida beat Purdue. … (USC) Upstate beat Georgia Tech. It’s happening more and more … because I don’t think the difference is as great.
“The kids play against each other so much more in AAU. These upsets happen. … I also think kids are a little bit numb to losing because of the AAU. They play so many games as an AAU player. You lose a lot in AAU, but you always have another game. You play at nine, and if you win, you play at two, and if you lose, you play at one. Then, if you win, you play at seven, and if you lose, you play at eight. In the park, when I was growing up, if you lost, you sat for three games. You didn’t like losing. In the park, you didn’t get to play but one game. I think kids today are prone not to be as bothered by losing and not be quite as ready all the time. I think that’s part of the reason there are so many upsets (at this level).”
On Sunday night, Brownell’s team pulled the upset. Arkansas (6-2) entered the game ranked eighteenth.
I’d gotten up that morning and written some short fiction. Then I’d made a sketch of what I thought a new character looked like. Then I’d showered and shaved, made sure I had everything I needed, driven ninety minutes to Clemson, watched the game, written about it, hobbled back to my car in the moonlight, and gotten back home a little after eleven.
Sitting in an interview room, interacting with Brad Brownell, ended up being the highlight of the day.