‘We Still Drink Cokes, and Tell Old Jokes …’

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 1, 2018, 10:30 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Last night I had a lovely time writing about the basketball games at Clinton High School. Football has fallen to alarming depths in the county. The three high schools combined to finish 9-21. Throw in Presbyterian College, and it was 11-30.

I never looked forward so much to round balls bouncing.

Both games were close. Clinton won the girls’ game. Laurens won the boys’ game. I’m getting old and I’ve seen a lot of ballgames. I’ve seldom seen teams play harder. There was apparently a fan fracas out in the lobby. Some people probably thought I ignored it. I was too busy taking photos, copying scorebooks and interviewing coaches. As far as I know, no one got hurt or arrested. It was a packed house. The atmosphere was electric.

The county rivals meet again in a week at Laurens District High School.

J.D. Payne

It’s tempting to reminisce about the good, old days. They had nothing on the desperate effort shown by the homestanding Red Devils and visiting Raiders. J.D. Payne, Clinton’s senior guard, might as well have been engaged in battle. He was full steam ahead. He damned the Raider torpedoes. The torpedoes, or the Raiders, won 65-60. He gave no more effort than anyone else, though. He just had the best skills. He is a young man of great athletic character. The succession of young men charged with stopping him possessed great determination.

It took a long time to write about it because I wanted to do the night justice. I wanted to put the right amount of time into the photographs I took. I’m no great photographer. I take 50 photos hoping to get 20 that are decent.

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, a fracas in a lobby notwithstanding, I felt like I was witnessing the best in small-town life. I did not want to go to the Christmas Parade this morning. I really haven’t particularly wanted to go to the Christmas Parade since, some years ago, after I wrote a novel, I was co-grand marshal of the thing. This morning it was raining. I would have been at Laurens’ parade tonight, but it was canceled because the rain grew heavier.

As I have lived here all my life, I figured out how to navigate the maze of streets that had not been closed. First I parked in a parking space, but a lady got out of her car, where she was staying dry as long as she could, to tell me the space where I parked was somehow the property of the woman whose business was next to it.

Whatever. I certainly didn’t want to be involved in a fracas. I backed my pickup down the lane and around the corner and into another space in the nearby alley. Then I walked to the bake shop and had a slice of banana bread, an egg-and-sausage sandwich and a cup of coffee I really liked. Then, when I figured it was about time for the parade to be appearing in the distance, emerging out of South Broad, Presbyterian College and the soon-to-be Thornwell charter school, I walked over to the square along West Main, and some folks motioned me across the street where there was an awning under which I could stand and snap photos.

I thought it was wonderful. Kids’ football teams marched. Shriners rode in antique cars. Santa brought up the rear, erasing any mild trauma from the people dressed as zombies and goblins. Halloween costumes must cost too much for one-time use. The Presbyterian College homecoming queen was the daughter of famed NASCAR mechanic Andy Petree. Andy’s famed now. He used to just be somebody I talked to in the press box. Shortly after she rode by, I yelled at Jimmy Miller, the last remaining stock car fan in Clinton, to ask if he knew. Jimmy, with whom I once played football when boys were men, was riding in the passenger seat of a great, big City of Clinton truck. He yelled back and said Andy was watching back down the street somewhere.

Now that men like me are boys, I write about ballgames and parades, not to mention seeing who died and got arrested.

It reminds me of an old story in college, where I knew city boys and girls. One asked me about Clinton. “What do you do?”

“Well,” I said, “sometimes me and a few friends buy some beer, and we go back on the farm and listen to country music, sit on the hood or the tailgate, drink that beer and talk about life.”

I might as well have said I painted a sheet of plywood and watched it dry.

“Thing is, that was a lot more fun than anything I ever do now,” I said.

I’m right back there. Sometimes the only thing that has changed is that I don’t get around nearly as well.


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(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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