Clinton and Laurens … and Life

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 26, 2017, 10:58 a.m.

There are those who believe I waste my talents tramping around small-town football stadiums writing about what I see.

They are so wrong. Last night Laurens held off Clinton, 24-18. In a small tract of land known as Laurens County, named after a statesman from the nation’s dawn, the annual football game between the two public high schools is as significant as Clemson-Carolina (it’s the South one here) and, recently, more competitive.

I need the money, but the insight is much greater.

My fiction has a lot of characters much younger than I. Characters much younger than I are more interesting. My first novel, The Audacity of Dope, was mainly concerned with men and women between about 35 and 45. The Intangibles took me back in time to when I was a kid. Crazy of Natural Causes had at its center the relationship between a disgraced football coach and several of his players. Forgive Us Our Trespasses was about the corrosive effect of deceit and corruption on families. Cowboys Come Home was a tale of a couple young Marines, home from the Pacific at the end of World War II, who mistakenly think they can find peace and stability in a home that has also changed forever.

This year I have written two novels about stock car racing, a sport to which my life was dedicated for twenty years. Barrie Jarman bursts on the scene in Lightning in a Bottle and learns hard lessons in Life Gets Complicated. Barrie Jarman gets has brash self-confidence more from observing high school kids playing ball than today’s NASCAR man-children. Barrie is flawed but likable, which runs through characters in all my fiction: Riley Mansfield and Melissa Franklin (Audacity); Frankie Mansfield and the Leverette twins (Intangibles); Chance Benford, Wally Ruff, and Zeke Runnels (Crazy); Hal and Hayden Kinley (Trespasses); Ennis and Becky Middlebrooks, and Harry Byerly (Cowboys); and Barrie Jarman and Angela Hughston (Lightning, Life).

Writing about the young makes me feel that way, even if I can’t act that way anymore.

Even before I had the experience to make such conclusions, I loved sportswriting because it revealed so much about human emotion. Politicians, doctors, engineers … they all choke at the proverbial free-throw line, but, most of the time, their dropped passes, swings and misses, and missed shifts occur outside of public view. Sports failures occur under the glare of sun and floodlights.

If I miss the mark in my evaluation of the young mind, it’s because times have changed since I had one, but I don’t believe it. I didn’t have virtual games to occupy my time, but a kid’s time gets occupied somehow, often for better and sometimes for worse. Kids still run a gauntlet of peril, and, if they make it safely, the rites of passage hone their character. How one reacts to adversity determines the course of life. Success is reward, but failure dictates the path.

Were I to write an account of my own life, it would be a tale of failure at this late stage. It’s not over, though. I remain optimistic that my labors are not in vain, that somehow, someone is going to notice that I write good stuff. I’m going to be an overnight sensation. Here’s hoping I live to see it.

As ZZ Top, wildly out of context to my situation, sang: I ain’t asking for muh-uch!

As I wrote, and often sing, wildly in context to my situation: I sold my soul / In different roles / But had my share of fun.

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In the Path of the Great Eclipse

Horseshoe Falls (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, August 17, 2017, 11:05 a.m.

I watched the Red Devils scrimmage Blacksburg for a while. I wish I’d brought an egg to see if it would fry on the concrete stands of Wilder Stadium. Most of the fans were smarter than I. They watched from the visiting stands, which were shaded at 6 p.m. I just thought Blacksburg brought a crowd that coincidentally happened to be wearing red shirts.

By Monte Dutton

For a while, I leaned left to give my right butt cheek some reliet, and then I leaned right to lessen the likelihood of blisters on the left. I managed to hold out until all the boiled peanuts were gone. My intention was to make my way across to the other side, but I chatted with M.D. (Mad Dog) Knight for a while. Then Mac Young wandered over, and we stood around telling old stories about the Red Devils of yore.

I went home and picked up the Red Sox, already in progress. They fell behind the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0, almost immediately after I found the remote. I was drinking a quart of ice water at the time.

Mookie Betts (Monte Dutton sketch)

On Tuesday night, in the first five innings, the Bostons had scored 10 runs and turned one triple and two double plays. Magic was obviously still in the Fenway Park air when, with a man on third, Jackie Bradley Jr., the splendid Red Sox center fielder, charged a one-hop single and threw out the St. Louis baserunner at the plate. Now get this straight. He threw out a man trying to reach the plate from third base on a single. Just a routine one-hopper to center. The play at the plate wasn’t close. It was one of the damnder throws I’ve ever witnessed.

With a total eclipse headed inexorably toward my hometown from 92.96 million miles away – I looked up the driving directions on my phone – the Red Sox’ ninth walk-off of the season seemed inevitable. With two out in the ninth, the splendid right fielder, Mookie Betts, doubled off the wall, and Bradley was safe at the plate because Yadier Molina couldn’t corral the throw. Bradley scored the second run of the play and fifth of the game. The Cardinals finished with four.

It was Molina who had grounded into the triple play. It wasn’t his series.

Meeting the Red Devils (Monte Dutton photo)

It’s Meet the Red Devils over at the gymnasium tonight. I’m not sure whether I’ll make it or not. The Yankees don’t arrive at Fenway until Friday. Clinton High doesn’t arrive at K.C. Hanna (in Laurens) until Friday week, as we say in these parts.

Until the past hour, I thought I might be the only person in its path who isn’t excited about the eclipse. I’m not too fond of cramming of millions of people into a band that curves toward Clinton from the coast of Oregon. I remember seeing an eclipse of some sort when I was a child. I remember being warned that it would blind me if I looked straight at it for too long, but no one offered special glasses, and I remember that I just looked at it for a few seconds and then looked away. I figure I’ll probably do that again, but I just finished reading the Clinton Chronicle and discovered that, if I go up to something called Total Eclipse at the Rails, safety glasses will be provided by Family Eye Care.

I also read where turtles will hide, bats will fly, birds will nest, and hardworking ants will knock off. Some are predicting an appearance by the Lizard Man of Lee County, most likely in Lee, not Laurens, County. Who knows, though? People know what the cows will do (nothing), but scientists have no fix on the Lizard Man.

I reckon I’ll go uptown like everyone else. I was thinking about taking my guitar, sitting on the bench placed in memory of J.A. Orr on Musgrove Street, and playing a revised verse of Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World.”

Why did the sun stop shining? / Why do the stars twinkle bright? / Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? / It ended when you said goodbye.

I’ve also been thinking about watching it from Musgrove Mill State Park, a part of which includes Horseshoe Falls on the Enoree River. I’m a little worried, though, at what cottonmouths might do. It wasn’t covered in the Chronicle.

 

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Truth Leads to Fiction

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 9, 2017, 11:41 a.m.

Football time’s a-comin’ comin’.

Rain, too, unfortunately. I’m scheduled to write about a “jamboree” (a heap of teams show up and match up against one another as planned for either a quarter or a half) in Woodruff on Thursday and here in Clinton on Friday.

By Monte Dutton

Both the Red Devils and the Laurens Raiders are at Woodruff, but they won’t play each other until August 25. Clinton is playing Blue Ridge, a school that inexplicably wears red, in the opening “half” (there are actually three) beginning at 6 p.m. Then Chapman faces Spartanburg, and the final “half” is Laurens vs. host Woodruff. The halves are thirds, but that’s just too complicated to explain over and over.

It’s a handy grouping. Woodruff and Chapman are, like Clinton, in Region 3-3A, and Laurens hosts

Greenwood Index-Journal. I took notes and photos of Clinton-Blue Ridge, then drove to a nearby Burger King to file while Chapman and Spartanburg were playing. I drove back, took notes and snapped photos of what was left of Laurens-Woodruff, then dictated a few paragraphs while sitting in my car in the parking lot.

This time I’ll be able to drive back home to file, and Billy Dunlap, my free-lance employer at the GoLaurens/GoClinton website, is shooting photos.

In other words, a decent story is theoretically possible.

It’ll be nice to tune up my football-writing skills – mostly my note-and-stat-keeping skills – with an athletic contest that is as unofficial for me as it is for the teams. I may look for a new, better stat form here in a few minutes. Last year’s didn’t provide as much room as I needed. I’ll probably find a form I can print, but, being somewhat set in my ways, it’s possible I will draw up my own.

Possible, but unlikely. The Internet offers many options.

The summer has been dedicated to writing fiction. The sequel to my stock car racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, is in the works. The manuscript is ready. The cover should be completed by month’s end, provided my designer and I see eye to eye (and we did on the two before this one). The new novel will be called Life Gets Complicated.

Believe it or not, writing free-lance stories about high school and college kids is an important part of my fiction.

Several readers of Lightning in a Bottle are convinced that Barrie Jarman is based on a real race driver. More than one have suggested Barrie is a latter-day, teen-aged Tim Richmond, but that never occurred to me once when I was creating him. If truth be known, Barrie, who was 16 when the novel began, is more derived from a high school football player than a race driver I never knew. There isn’t any one, but, when writing about a character 40 years younger, it helps to pay attention to what the kids of today are like.

Most of my books can be purchased here.

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Memories and Statistics

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, August 2, 2017, 11:15 a.m.

Oh, baseball.

By Monte Dutton

Last night, Mitch Moreland struck out in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the Boston Red Sox trailing, 10-9. It was a wild pitch. The Cleveland catcher couldn’t handle it. Moreland reached first. Christian Vazquez hit a three-run homer, and the Red Sox won, 12-10.

Five of baseball’s better pitchers – both starters, Andrew Miller, both closers – failed.

Joe Garagiola wrote the book, and I read it. Baseball is a Funny Game.

A Red Sox-Yankees pennant race is on, and it’s August. Vazquez walked off – actually, he trotted around the bases, so, technically, a homer isn’t “walk off” – and Boston took a ½-game lead.

I had a wonderful time watching Stephen Colbert.

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All the football teams are practicing. Old football players watch and live vicariously. Practice fields. Old times there are not forgotten. Men who can’t run around anymore, who have to be careful when they walk, remember from a distance of four decades what it feels like.

They squint, lying on their backs, looking through a facemask, a scowling coach creating his own eclipse of the red-hot sun. They relive what it feels like to do what they no longer can. Now that they are men, they remember what it was like to become one. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the smell. Maybe it’s the sweat. Maybe it’s the heat of the smell of the sweat.

Sports used to be about sensations. Now it is about statistics. On social media, people bombard the public with instantaneous numbers. Last night, when a homer won a game after a dropped third strike with two out, it was the first time since 1960. Someone tweeted that almost instantly.

Modern problem. Too much information.

 

 

 

(Steven Novak design)

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

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

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

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

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).