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.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

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).

Back in My Day, We Got Our Brains Beat Out and Were Damn Glad to Lose Them

(Monte Dutton photos)
(Monte Dutton photos)

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 9:56 a.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

A lot has changed in the 40 years since I played football. Some is harder. Some is easier. It’s still time-consuming.

On the one hand, practices were longer, and contact was constant. In August, we were on and off the practice field two or three times a day, suffered from lack of water, got paddled on the bare ass if we broke a rule (and it was impossible to completely avoid breaking rules), and, when I played on the varsity, lost two games in two years and played for the state championship in both of them.

DSCF3310We did, however, have a summer vacation. We might lift weights once or twice a week, but, for the most part, we spent our summers working on farms, for the city, in the mills, or at the family businesses, still finding time to get into mischief. If we reported to practice in August and weren’t in shape, we were going to get there shortly, and there would be hell to pay.

DSCF3309Once the season starts in late August, the rules dictate now that full contact in practice be limited to 90 minutes a week. A week! We had full contact at least 90 minutes a day, and that’s not counting one-on-one blocking drills, and practicing double teams, and bouncing off and pushing sleds, and form tackling, and on and on.

Nowadays, the restrictions make it difficult for a team to get the repetitions it needs to be a fully functioning unit, so they have to take advantage of every opportunity to fill in the holes left by modern changes.

DSCF3329They play seven-on-seven games of pitch and catch against other schools, and it’s not the same as pitch and catch when charging linemen are intent on burying the quarterback, or when linebackers lurk to separate receivers from balls when they sprint across the middle, but it’s the best they can do that the rules allow.

DSCF3317Football is still a tough way to earn a letter. I watched Clinton High play catch for about three hours in two sessions. I got dehydrated just standing around.

Even these many years later, I remember what it was like. How it felt. The inability to concentrate on what the coach was saying because I was on the verge of passing out. I never actually did that. I just felt like it was going to happen constantly for the whole month of August.

DSCF3331

DSCF3320As a general rule, the Red Devils have looked just about as good as would be reasonably possible. They took some lumps Tuesday, but, considering that the quarterback who has been doing the pitching in the seven-on-seven scrimmages was off at a church camp, they looked all right. Two other quarterbacks, Ty Priestley and Donte Reeder, completed many passes but not enough into end zones.

Clinton’s six scrimmages were against tough opposition. Butler High of Charlotte had a lanky, rawboned quarterback who is obviously talented because one must be talented to wear, even in this gaudy age, metallic-gold cleats. One had better be talented to pull that off.

DSCF3311

DSCF3324Times change. It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different. Players are bigger and stronger, and it’s become more necessary to protect them from one another. When I watch kids play and work out, and chat on the sidelines, I find myself existing in both past and present at the same time.

I asked one of the players to let me examine his helmet. I mistakenly thought ours offered protection. They don’t look that different from the outside. Inside the cushioning is almost awe-inspiring. Football might have been more pleasant for me without all those pesky headaches from being “forearmed” in the head every day. We didn’t have concussion protocols. We just had our bells rung.

DSCF3301We didn’t have trainers. We had water boys. Concussions were taken seriously only when someone couldn’t tell how many fingers a coach held up, or maybe if he thought we were playing at Chapman, but, in reality, it was Clover. A mild concussion was almost a badge of honor.

By God, though, we came through it just fine.

Uh, what was I writing about again?

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?

(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.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.

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

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

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).

In the Absence of Cam Newton

Alex, in plaid shirt, with his friends. (Monte Dutton photos)
Alex, in plaid shirt, with his friends. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 18, 2016, 3:12 p.m.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

What do you know? It was a Sunday with the NFL playoffs going on, and I watched precious little football.

My great-nephew was celebrating his 13th birthday at a bowling alley in Cayce (Columbia suburb), I don’t see Alex Montgomery Howard as much as I used, and neither does his great grandmother, and so my mom and I traveled to Park Lanes to see Alex and his younger brothers Anthony and Josh.

Josh. Full of mischief.
Josh. Full of mischief.

When I left, I felt grateful to the Carolina Panthers for taking a 31-0 halftime lead over the Seattle Seahawks. As it turned out, there ended up being a reason to listen to the end of the game on radio.

Anthony. Wide open.
Anthony. Wide open.

Once there, courtesy of my phone’s directions,I tried to be useful, so I prevented Josh and Anthony from rolling another ball down the lane and, most likely, into a gutter, before the pins were cleared. Kids were allowed to use a metal frame, was similar to a miniature ski jump, in order to roll the ball down the jump and then the lane. I proved adept at studying the roll of the balls enough to align the jump for the purpose of making the occasional spare possible for a kid who needed my help to hoist the ball into the jump. Anthony wasn’t satisfied with gravity, so he kept shoving the ball down the jump so hard that it left the tracks before it reached the lane.

Linda and Herman Mcaulay.
Linda and Herman Mcaulay.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Alex socialize because some of his school friends showed up. With his glasses and stocking cap, I thought Alex looked like Waldo, and, like Waldo, he was frequently hard to find.

Ella and her grandmother. The generation between took the photo.
Ella and her grandmother. The generation between took the photo.

In the video room, Anthony and I steadfastly opposed the advance of frightening mechanical monsters with our trusty firearms. The difficulty wasn’t really reloading in time. It was popping quarters into the machine before the monsters got us. Thankfully, it was just a game, more interested in gobbling quarters than devouring players.

DSCF1665I also raced my Dodge Challenger against Josh’s Chevy Camaro through city streets, tunnels, a desert, and a dirt trail. My Challenger had really stiff shocks. That way I was able to soar over jumps that magically took me from the outskirts of Paris to the cactus-strewn desert of Arizona. I won the head-to-head and finished third overall to Josh’s fifth. When he asked me to slow down and let him catch up, I laughed maniacally.

DSCF1664They’re all happy kids. Josh is the charmer with the twinkles in his eyes. Anthony is a perpetual-motion machine. Alex is veering into adolescence but still at least seems astonishingly sane.

The grown-ups all sat around and swapped charming tales of the kids. I ordered some boneless wings for myself and a two-corn dog plate for Mom. That’s what she wanted, and it may have had something to do with it being among the menu’s least expensive items.

DSCF1667

On the way home I listened to the radio account of the Pittsburgh-Denver game while pretending to listen to my mother’s review of the party, and how precious the kids are, and how “Ella looks good, doesn’t she?” and that she thinks Tony, Ella’s husband, looks like Tom Selleck when he was younger.

I gave Alex cash, because it had been so long since I’d seen him that I no longer had the slightest idea what he was interested in, and I certainly didn’t want to bring him something related to his obsession of six months ago. I figure there’s a good chance the money will be spent at Game Stop.

DSCF1662I had some flashbacks to a time, not so long ago, when Ella was the age Alex is now, and I took her on trips to places she may never get to go again. She’ll be 32 next month. I can’t see her as much in her children’s personalities because they are all boys, but, of course, I can see her in their faces.

DSCF1653When Alex was born, I told her that his birth was one more chance, in our maddening and dysfunctional clan, to “get it right.”

So far, so good.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

The editing process is complete, and I’ll let you know when Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available for download from Kindle Publishing. It’s a tale of crime and corruption, young and old, good and bad, cops and robbers, etc.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Meanwhile, Crazy of Natural Causes, set in Kentucky and concerning the reinvention of a football coach, was published late last summer, and, if you haven’t read it, I’d appreciate it if you’d give it a look here: http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436215069&sr=1-1&keywords=Crazy+of+Natural+Causes

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

My second novel, The Intangibles (2013), is about a high school football coach and his players trying to cope with rapid change in the 1960s South. http://www.amazon.com/The-Intangibles-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00ISJ18Z6/ref=pd_sim_351_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51JrJlU8vKL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_AC_UL160_SR107%2C160_&refRID=0AD3V83MM7SDKFNKQ5YB

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

The first, The Audacity of Dope (2011), is about a pot-smoking folksinger who wants no part of being a national hero. The accidental hero learns how to be a real one. http://www.amazon.com/The-Audacity-Dope-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B006GT2PRA/ref=pd_sim_351_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=51zCT-MrcFL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_UX300_PJku-sticker-v3%2CTopRight%2C0%2C-44_AC_UL160_SR105%2C160_&refRID=09V773T1A5GZXP96KS3Y

My short stories, book reviews, and essays are here: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton. I’m a tad more irreverent @wastedpilgrim and a little more literary @hmdutton. I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton and Instagram at Tug50. Um, I think that’s it. Oh, yeah. Google+. I’m on there, too.

 

Charlotte ‘Back in My Day’

Jeff Gordon started racing when I started writing about it. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon started racing when I started writing about it. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, October 9, 2015, 11:19 a.m.

When I was a boy, for some reason, races at Charlotte Motor Speedway were not often featured, via tape delay a week later, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I listened to them on the radio, and then, on Monday night, WBTV would run a highlights show — 30 minutes or an hour, I forget switch — that I could watch through snowy reception because WBTV wasn’t one of our primary stations here in Clinton.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I watched Fred Kirby’s cowboy kids show — “Take me back to my boots and my saddle, yo-de-lay-hee, yo-de-lay-hee, aiieeee!” — the same way.

Charlotte’s “truncated trioval” — that was the late Bob Latford’s term — fascinated me. Often the big Mercury Cyclones, Chevrolet Monte Carlos and the Dodge Chargers would touch the grass with their left-side tires and puffs of dust would fly up, even with bad reception. No telling how much I would’ve loved it had there been high-definition, satellite TV.

Charlotte was first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of its countrymen. The facilities were better and cleaner. So were the concessions. Later there would be condominiums overlooking turn one, lights, and drivers with agents, handlers, motorcoaches, and charm-school diplomas.

Charlotte Motor Speedway. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)
Charlotte Motor Speedway. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)

Today I often hear people talking about how races at Charlotte are boring. This saddens me because I remember many races, and even more moments, at Charlotte that were, well, self-evidently, obviously, memorable.

Because I remember them now better than what happened two weeks ago.

In the 1980s, I was working as the combination sports editor of the local weekly and sports director of the local AM radio station. Mainly what this meant was that I got up at 5 in the morning to tape a local sports segment that ran “on the hour” all day long and chitchatted on a talk show for a couple hours.

Charlotte was also the most promotion-minded NASCAR track, and its promotions were the most outlandish. No telling what would be in a package from CMS. A crumpled can of Coors after Bill Elliott tangled with Dale Earnhardt in The Winston, for instance.

Bill Elliott. (John Clark photo)
Bill Elliott. (John Clark photo)

Tickets were often included, presumably so that we could give them away to “lucky fans” through the newspaper or radio. We gave away the tickets to the Busch race, but a friend and I drove up to Charlotte one Thursday afternoon and watched qualifying. Nowadays, qualifying crowds often swell well into the hundreds, but, back then, 20,000, maybe 30,000, would watch qualifying. Later, in the 1990s, when I was writing about NASCAR for a living, it might have been more like 40,000 or 50,000.

It was that day, though, that I arrived at the first of what later became “Dutton’s Rules”: The only driver I’d pay to see qualify is Tim Richmond.

Either his pole run was breathtaking, or I got excited a lot easier back in those days. It was undoubtedly a bit of both.

Charlotte's walls weren't Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Charlotte’s walls weren’t Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

I watched the 1992 Winston from the fourth-turn grandstands. It was the last one I didn’t cover as a sportswriter, and I’m glad it was. The night was best watched with the people.

I have vivid memories of Jeff Gordon’s first victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, of how young, naïve and emotional he was when he accepted the trophy from North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. I think of the time Ernie Irvan drove across the grass and wrecked for no apparent reason in The Winston. I remember the night Jamie McMurray, substituting for injured Sterling Marlin, surprised everyone by winning the fall 500-miler.

I remember driving home from the Indianapolis 500 while listening to the end of the 600 on radio somewhere in Kentucky and doing simple math, trying to figure out how in the world Dale Earnhardt managed to take the lead away from Darrell Waltrip with a green-flag pit stop. Earnhardt went from way behind to way ahead, and I couldn’t figure out how it was possible.

I remember when Charlotte ran the World 600 in May and the National 500 in October. I remember listening on the radio when the crash that claimed the life of Fireball Roberts occurred. I was six.

Jamie McMurray (left) with teammate Kyle Larson. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray (left) with teammate Kyle Larson. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

What many today don’t realize is that NASCAR was always a mainstream sport in the Carolinas. It was the same way it is now nationwide. In fact, it may have been bigger here in the 1960s, ’70s and ‘80s than it is today. It’s more likely that I overestimate the events of my youth, but I remember the first time I saw Charlotte Motor Speedway, and it seemed more impressive at that age, in that time, that it does now.

Back then, I listened to races on the radio, learned about baseball games from box scores and read much more than I saw.

Somehow I remember those times more vividly than, oh, last year.

Or yesterday. When I was young.

(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)
(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)

 

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

At one time, I wrote books about NASCAR. Some of them are still available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

My proudest accomplishments these days are works of fiction. My latest novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, is on sale for $1.99 at Amazon in Kindle edition. http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

All Hot and Bothered

Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton photo)
Rosemont Cemetery, Clinton, SC. (Monte Dutton photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 1:30 p.m.

Times change, but the Constitution changes with them. That’s the way the Founders intended it. To some extent, we all wish things were the way they used to be.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Two nights ago, I was talking with a close friend, and we talked about how much more sensitive people have become. For instance, both of us grew up Washington Redskins fans. It never occurred to either of us that someone would consider the mascot offensive. We just figured that no one would name a team in order to insult anyone. The fact that the team had the name meant its fans meant no harm. They meant honor. It might not have been considered honor by others, but that was the intention.

The first time this ever affected me directly was in college. I was on an intramural basketball team, and we all had cheap cotton jerseys. The team was Redmen, and it wasn’t because we were all St. John’s fans (for that was then their nickname), and it didn’t have anything to do with American Indians. It was because a good many of us chewed tobacco. Our team was a veritable cornucopia of offense, but we didn’t mean it that way. We meant it as a joke, mainly a joke on us.

Furthermore, one of our players was of Italian descent. We all had nicknames above our numbers on the back. My number was “50,” and my nickname was “Tug,” which hardly anyone other than my father ever called me. It was all I had. My Italian teammate put “Wop” above his number.

Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)
Latham Stadium, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina. (Monte Dutton)

Another American of Italian descent, who wasn’t on our team, told him he ought to be ashamed of it. It was a slur, he said. We went back to the sporting goods store and had the nickname changed.

To “Swopy,” which didn’t mean anything other than it was a name other than “Wop.”

It was the first time I ever heard of such a thing. I felt sorry for my teammate, but it made me realize that what was acceptable was based on whether or not someone was offended.

For instance, it was common when I was a boy — and, for that matter, now — for the term “redneck” to be used. Some take pride in being a “redneck.” It can be a term of either admiration or derision.

Not my father. He considered “redneck” a slur on farmers. Once I called someone a redneck in his presence, and he went crazy. I stopped doing it. If I had called someone a wop, dago, kike, slant-eye, jerry, kraut, polack, linthead, or wetback, he wouldn’t have said a word.

Maybe linthead. That was back when there was such a thing in the South as a cotton mill. People lived on “the mill hill,” which often wasn’t a hill at all, but my mother grew up in one textile neighborhood, and my father grew up on the border of another. Back then mills weren’t gigantic empty brick buildings with kudzu covering the walls. Back then, half the people I knew worked in them. In fact, some of my football teammates got through playing on Friday nights and drove straight to Joanna because that mill allowed them to work six-hour shifts on weekends. I went home to sleep and could barely get out of bed the next morning.

Can't we all just race? (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Can’t we all just race? (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)

I’m not as sensitive. Perhaps I should be. I do, however, believe in principle, and I don’t think many do. I see a certain tyranny of both the left and the right. People get mad about everything. It’s their right. I think it’s just a consequence of a market that doesn’t have anything to do with money. If everyone felt the same way about the word “redneck” that my father did, civil people wouldn’t use it unless they were prepared to fight for the right to do so.

I am a Southerner who finds the Confederate flag offensive, but I also believe in freedom of expression. I believe people should keep their own houses in order before they go around demanding that everyone else do so. I think the country is damaged by two groups of people: (1.) those who take no responsibility for their actions, and (2.) those who have made up their minds on how to live and demand everyone else adopt the same rules.

I also grew up during the civil-rights movement, and its effect on me is underscored by the fact that my second novel, The Intangibles, is a tale of those years.

I watched a parade of run-down, white Cadillac convertibles roll through one of this town’s black neighborhoods flying Confederate flags, with “Dixie” blaring through speakers, and signs tacked up on telephone poles that read “KKK Watching Over You.” I have been threatened over the fact that my best friend in high school was black. It’s also true that most people, black and white alike, thought the Ku Klux Klan was nothing but riffraff, even then.

Vicksburg, Miss.  (Monte Dutton photo)
Vicksburg, Miss. (Monte Dutton photo)

In the sixties and seventies, rebellious expression was everywhere: raised fists, black power, white power, flower power, peace symbols, sit-ins, smoke-outs, smoke-ins, swastikas, crosses of both the Christian and German persuasions, and even motorcycle helmets fashioned in the Nazi style. In the South, there must have been 10,000 billboards that read “Impeach Earl Warren.” He was then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

If those times taught me anything, it was to believe that people have a right to be stupid. That is this country’s great unwritten freedom, the right to be stupid. Without it, truly, our civilization would grind to a halt. As Lincoln said, “Some of the people are stupid all of the time, all of the people are stupid some of the time, but not all of the people are stupid all of the time.”

It was Clyde “Short Stuff” Lincoln, from that Lincoln bunch that lived out Barrel Stave Road. My granddaddy said wudn’t none of ’em no ‘count.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in Daytona Beach this weekend, or in Darlington on Labor Day, or anywhere else, but if this was when I was growing up, attempting to ban the hoisting of the Confederate flag — by the way, I’ve noticed that saying “rebel flag” has also gone into disfavor, even though, for people who don’t consider it to have a racial connotation, that’s exactly what it is — would effectively make twice as many fly it.

That may not be true anymore. I hope it’s not. The world has changed since when I was but a lad.

Psst. You know, he's black. (Photo by Ed Zurga/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Psst. You know, he’s black. (Photo by Ed Zurga/NASCAR via Getty Images)

When I began writing about NASCAR, rebel flags could be seen in the infields of tracks that weren’t in the South. In fact, I remember being amazed one Friday when I drove through rural Delaware and Maryland, en route to a Baltimore Orioles game, because, with NASCAR in the area, people away from the track, those who lived out in the country, put up rebel flags in front of their houses. I’m assuming they didn’t fly them year around, but I may be wrong. I’m also assuming they were symbols of general rebellion and nonconformity, not political specificity.

NASCAR officials first said they wouldn’t allow Confederate symbols to be sold on their property, which, I’m assuming, was already true. They said they supported efforts here in South Carolina to take down the aforementioned flag from the Confederate memorial at the Statehouse. I’d have left it at that.

If they had, there’s a good chance it would have died down.

It’s the same reason I have never understood why people who own businesses insist on making political statements. My dad used to like this short-order place in a nearby town, and when we were out looking at horses or cattle, or selling or delivering fertilizer, we’d stop by and have some fried chicken or a couple hot dogs. That place is still open, or was about ten years ago when, feeling nostalgic, I decided to stop in.

Just inside the door was a table full of general right-wing pamphlets. Little Confederate flags were on sale, and cheap gray Rebel caps, and T-shirts of the “Fergit, hell!” variety, but the fellow who owned the place also despised Bill Clinton, and I didn’t.

I wouldn’t eat there again if it sold the only hot dogs between here and Nevada. I’m sure that fellow doesn’t get much black business. Why alienate people who like hot dogs and fried chicken? You’re liable to keep alienating until there’s no one out there left.

The world is always going to have people who divide it into “them” and “us.” Black and white. Native and foreign. Rich and poor. Educated and ignorant. Smart and stupid. Urban, rural, and the suburbans who cut both ways.

Some of them load up the truck and move to Beverly. Swimming pools. Movie stars.

Live and let live. That’s what I say. That, and, please, pretty please, buy my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Maybe then I can move to Beverly, though I’m satisfied I’ll always be gone to Carolina in my mind.

Well, That’s Baseball!

Opening Night for the Greenville Drive at Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton)
Opening Night for the Greenville Drive at Fluor Field. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 10, 2015, 9:20 a.m.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

I was thinking on the way home last night, trying to remember if I had ever been to a professional baseball Opening Night.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I wrote about quite a few, but I couldn’t remember going to a team’s first game as a fan.

A notable Home Opener is rooted deep in my memory. My 16th birthday was April 8, 1974, and in one of the spur-of-the-moment decisions for which my father was famous, I was in Atlanta (later Fulton County, too) Stadium on the night Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. That was a memorable night for Duttons as well as Aarons, though not entirely for the same reasons.

As a general rule, I’m the kind of fan who waits to the second game, when it won’t be so crowded and there won’t be a traffic jam, but, as luck would have it, an old college friend called – no, of course, he didn’t call; this is 2015; of course, he sent a message – and asked me to go with him and his father, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, to watch the Greenville Drive take on the Augusta GreenJackets.

We met at a sports bar near the park, and, naturally, Steve Grant, my friend, asked if I’d heard who was leading the Masters, and I thought, well, the tournament’s in Augusta, but the GreenJackets are here.

Later on, I found out that Jordan “I Before E, Unlike Keith” Spieth had, uh, carded a 64.

The Drive edged the Augusta GreenJackets, 3-2. (Monte Dutton)
The Drive edged the Augusta GreenJackets, 3-2. (Monte Dutton)

The first time I ever saw Lou Grant, he was pushing a rack of furs at his business in the Garment District of New York City. His son, who played first base at Furman, lived in Paramus, New Jersey, and I spent most of a week at their house the summer after we graduated in 1980. That was my summer of being a bum, knowing I was taking a graduate assistantship in the fall. I made some cash money driving used cars that had been purchased in auctions down south to dealerships up north. Sometimes I drove the car up there and took a bus home. I could make some of what seemed like serious money at the time if I could find a car somewhere around New York or Philadelphia to drive back home.

When I visited the Grants, I decided I’d wait a few days to see if I could find a car to drive back to South Carolina. It was a time of freedom and risk. That summer I took buses and trains, and made plans on the fly, and even hitchhiked across New Jersey once and happened upon an alumni celebration at Princeton in which the Ivy League nobility wore cheap slacks with growling tigers running across the fabric and drank heavily to the glory of Alma Mater. They were nice to me and even got me drunk, though I stuck out in that particular crowd.

“Bernice, come here! I want you to meet my new Southern friend!”

Good crowd on hand, though not a sellout, which I couldn't understand because Pabst Blue Ribbons were a buck apiece. (Monte Dutton)
Good crowd on hand, though not a sellout, which I couldn’t understand because Pabst Blue Ribbons were a buck apiece. (Monte Dutton)

I watched Lou play fast-pitch softball in a summer league and met one of the players who just happened to be the brother of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. It was long ago. It only seems like yesterday.

Even though it was Opening Night, it was also Dollar Beverage Night, and the dollar beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a friend of Steve’s who joined us kept coming back from the concession stand with two. This contributed to my boisterous singing along with “Sweet Caroline” – the Drive is (they would prefer “are”) an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, whose affiliation I enjoy as a fan – in the middle of the eighth inning, just like at Fenway.

Steve and Lou are Yankee fans, but they don’t hold it against the local minor-league affiliate.

Lou and I talked old-time baseball, mostly about players he saw and I read about. We talked about Hank and Ted, and how I worry about the Red Sox’ fielding because they have too many players mismatched with their positions, and Lou offered his opinions of Joe Girardi, and I chimed in with mine of the New York general manager, Brian Cashman, but a lot of the names were relatively obscure, at least to the fans of today: Camilo Pascual, Joe Foy, Tom Tresh, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and a shortstop named John Kennedy who played five games for the Phillies the year before I was born.

“Who was that third baseman for the Red Sox in the Sixties?”

“Joe Foy? Dalton Jones?”

“Before them.”

“Frank Malzone?”

“That’s the guy.”

Steve and Lou left with the score tied, 2-2, after a first-round draft choice from Marietta, Georgia, named Michael Chavis cleared the Fluor Field center-field wall in the bottom of the seventh. It was a blast, a missile of four hundred feet.

Me, I can’t leave a tie game, and the old satirical cry from my days on the minor league beat occurred to me: “We are going nineteen!”

Thanks to Chavis, though, the game ended an out shy of regulation. He knocked in the winning run with what was almost a second homer. It bounced about a foot below the top of Greenville’s Green Monster clone, and the Drive won, 3-2.

I drove home, searching the AM band for some ballgame somewhere, not knowing that all the big-league action was already over. The best I could do was listen to a bit of the post-game talk from Philadelphia, where the Red Sox had taken two out of three from the Phillies.

It’s the time of the year when almost every question can be answered, “Well, that’s baseball.”

I’ve written a couple baseball-themed short stories at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, by short fiction depository, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1

 

Just One More Week

The flags'll be flying again. (Getty Images for NASCAR.)
The flags’ll be flying again. (Getty Images for NASCAR.)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 9, 2015, 11:57 a.m.

If the higher purpose had been giving the world an extra motive for anticipating the beginning of the NASCAR season, the weekend just past worked marvelously, at least personally.

What were the highlights? Let me count them. It may take a minute.

The cars have changed again. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
The cars have changed again. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Locally, I watched Presbyterian College win a game over Liberty on Friday night.

Furman, South Carolina, and Clemson all fell. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Saint Louis Blues, significant, like many hockey matches, in that Doc Emrick called it on NBC. In the span of three hours, I watched about a minute of the Grammys. Verlon Thompson was on a PBS music show called Live at Hippie Jack’s.

Now, the Sprint Unlimited, which is in reality slightly less limited but still very much so, sits perched amid the rivers of memory, ever smiling, ever gentle on my mind. (RIP, John Hartford.) I don’t know who’s in it, though I know it will include all the Chase drivers from last year and pole winners who didn’t make it. I don’t much care. I just want to see them race.

Every time the rules change, racing at the plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega, gets different in a way no one expects. No one anticipated bump-drafting. First NASCAR wanted to break up the packs, and then it wanted to bring them back. Now the cars have less power and downforce. It’ll make them easier to drive in one way and harder in another. The drivers try to anticipate what will change. They’ve tested but not in race conditions. The Sprint Unlimited ought to provide at least an inkling of what they have in store.

In February, there's always a bit of a draft in the Daytona Beach air. (John Clark photo)
In February, there’s always a bit of a draft in the Daytona Beach air. (John Clark photo)

I probably miss racing this time of the year more than any other. That’s because, for twenty years, Daytona Beach was the only place I went where I spent two weeks and where, instead of hotel rooms, I’d share a condo – at various locations but north of Ormond Beach for the last decade – with others. I know Daytona Beach. I have friends there. I know the shortcuts to avoid traffic, the overlooked restaurants and nightclubs, and the places where I could go play music during Speedweeks. I have more memories there: more funny stories, vivid experiences, and the like. Maybe I’ll revisit them over the next two weeks.

I just wrote a feature on Chase Elliott for Bleacher Report. You can find it here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2358368-what-sets-chase-elliott-apart

I’d appreciate it, as well, if you’d take a look at my various books and consider buying them: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

What Do I Know?

Fred Lorenzen was my first NASCAR hero. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
Fred Lorenzen was my first NASCAR hero. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 30, 2015, 10:52 a.m.

Five men – Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, and Rex White – are being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

At some point in my life, back before I wrote about NASCAR for a living, when I was a fan and didn’t know too much, two of them were favorite drivers of mine. The first was Lorenzen. Fearless Freddie. The Elmhurst Express. The prettiest stock car I ever saw was the one Lorenzen drove at Bristol, started on the pole and finished twentieth, when I was seven years old, on July 25, 1965. Ned Jarrett won the Volunteer 500 that day.

Only for one year, 1969, was Petty blue on a Ford.
Only for one year, 1969, was Petty blue on a Ford.

That Ford Galaxie wasn’t just white. It was sparkling, pearly white, with sky-blue interior and wheels. Two cars stood out to me that Sunday afternoon. One was Lorenzen’s Holman-Moody Ford. The other was Richard Petty’s Plymouth. From that day to this, Petty blue has seemed to me the perfect color of a race car. I never liked it when STP added its garish orange (in photos, it’s made to look red, but in person, it was as orange as orange can be) because it broke up the perfection of Petty blue. At times, the Number 43 had a simple inscription over its rear fenders: “Plymouth by Petty.” That I thought was cool.

My greatest racing hero was David Pearson. He became my hero when he replaced Lorenzen, who retired in 1967 for several years and never won again after he returned. Lorenzen had been Number 28, but Pearson replaced him in Number 17. Lorenzen had never won a championship and never tried. He competed only in the big races and yet still won 26 out of a career total of only 158, meaning that he won 16.5 percent of them. Dale Earnhardt’s career winning percent was 11.2.

By the way, my two early heroes were born eight days apart in December 1934.

I never met Lorenzen. One of my favorite memories was the two hours I spent talking with him on the phone in 1997. Offhand, the only other interview to which I can compare it is the afternoon I spent penned into a motel room with Bob Feller in 1981 during a fierce thunderstorm.

Perhaps, as I got older, experiences like those excited me less.

Lorenzen told me he regretted the abortive retirement. He admitted that Fireball Roberts’ death, in 1964, threw him for a loop, but, he said, retiring in his prime (age 33) was the greatest of his life’s regrets. I wish I had that story now. A copy of the magazine could be in a box or cabinet somewhere.

Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)
Maybe one day the kid on the left will be what the man on the right was. (John Clark photo)

In 1981, slightly more than three years before he won the first of 44 Cup races, Bill Elliott became my third favorite driver, succeeding Lorenzen and Pearson. I was covering the Southern 500 at Darlington, and I found myself rooting for Elliott for one reason. He was, and still is, the only driver who reminded me of Pearson as I watched him lap my favorite track. Elliott, like Pearson, was “natural-born smooth.”

He wasn’t that off the track. Unlike Lorenzen and Pearson, I got to know Elliott, and while I liked him, and got along with him, I found him one of the more moody men I’d ever known. I learned to read him in the same manner that later came in handy with Tony Stewart. When Elliott had “his ass on his shoulders,” a term common to my upbringing, I let him be. When in a good mood, he was one of my favorites, and he was one of the few who would just sidle up alongside me at times to volunteer some information I might find useful.

Wendell Scott (ISC Images & Archives, via Getty Images)
Wendell Scott (ISC Images & Archives, via Getty Images)

Wendell Scott I watched in that first race at Bristol – he finished seventh, albeit 21 laps off the pace, and I remember him spending a good deal of the day driving around the apron of the turns (Bristol was only lightly banked in those days) – and many times over the years at Greenville-Pickens and Darlington.

What Scott could have done, no one will ever know. He was the most independent of independents, and the color of his skin was one big reason, but lots of drivers were underfunded back then, and the same questions must be considered when evaluating the careers of Big John Sears, Elmo Langley, Soapy Castles, Jabe Thomas, J.D. McDuffie, Cecil Gordon, and many others.

Once I had Kodak Instamatic photos of me posing with many drivers – Bobby Allison, Petty, Pete Hamilton, Buddy Baker, Tiny Lund, and others – in the Greenville-Pickens pits. I hope the photo of me –wearing a black sweatshirt that I had turned into a homemade football jersey with painted cutouts from iron-on knee patches — posing with Scott is in a shoe box somewhere at my mother’s house. I wish I’d kept it when I saw it about twenty years ago. It’ll probably turn up after I’m dead.

I’ve often thought that the common impression of Scott was wrong. When I watched him race, I don’t remember hearing him booed. In fact, it seemed that the attitude of the fans was one of respectful condescension. They liked and respected Scott. Had he been a frontrunner, a more serious threat to the white racers, it might have turned ugly, but I never saw any ugliness. When I had my picture taken with Scott, I had to stand in line. At about the age of twelve, my perception of Wendell Scott was that he was a very nice man.

All I remember about Joe Weatherly was his death. His fatal crash, at Riverside, occurred during the first year I have any memories at all of stock car racing. I know he was considered quite the prankster. I know he once said that the difference between oval racers and road racers was that the former drank whisky and chased women, and the latter drank wine and chased each other. He and Curtis Turner were best friends, and had one not been killed in a racing crash and the other in a plane crash, they’d have probably drunk each other to death long before now. They were racers once or twice a week but daredevils full-time.

Lorenzen’s last victory was at 33. Weatherly died at 41, Roberts at 35.

It meant a lot to get to know Rex White over the past 20 years. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)
It meant a lot to get to know Rex White over the past 20 years. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Finally, there’s Rex White, whom I got to know after Rick Minter introduced us at Atlanta Motor Speedway. White won the championship when I was two. The last of his 28 victories occurred at age 32 (him) and four (me). He raced six times in 1964, Chevrolet mainly left NASCAR, and White took to driving trucks for a living.

One of the reasons I liked Atlanta was that Minter’s farm was nearby, and another was that Rex was always there. They don’t come any better than those two. Typically, every visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway included a five-minute chat about old times with Rex. I never saw him race, but he is remembered for a gold No. 4 Chevy, and I always liked gold cars: Dick Hutcherson’s No. 29, the top of Pearson’s No. 17 Holman-Moody Fords, James Hylton in No. 48 during the 1960s, and Bobby Allison in the late 1980s with Miller High Life and No. 22.

While my memories are comparatively sparse, I’ve had some interaction with four of the five honorees, and I wouldn’t trade it for a high-dollar motor coach in the infield.

If you think of it, read my short fiction at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and give my books some consideration here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Memories of World Series Past

You may have noticed I like photos of Fenway Park. (Monte Dutton)
You may have noticed I like photos of Fenway Park. (Monte Dutton)

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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 8:40 p.m.

I’m watching Game Seven of the World Series. The San Francisco Giants just took a two-to-nothing lead.

The first World Series I remember was 1964. I was six. I’ve despised the New York Yankees ever since, beginning with their firing of Yogi Berra after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. I was too young to understand much other than the simple fact that a manager could get fired for making it to the seventh game of the World Series and losing. No one had ever heard of George Steinbrenner then.

In ’65, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Minnesota Twins in seven. In ’66, the Baltimore Orioles shocked the Dodgers in four straight, and then came the year in which my father’s liking of the Red Sox caught fire in me. That’s the first Series I remember in sufficient detail that I could tell you the lineups of both teams. One of my early opinions of baseball was that Lou Brock wasn’t fair.

The Kansas City Royals just scored.

As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter earlier this year.
As luck would have it, I was sketching this while Tim Lincecum was throwing his second no-hitter earlier this year.

Other World Series memories: I was very happy that the Detroit Tigers defeated the Cardinals in 1968. It took me years to get over that seven-game loss by the Red Sox to the Cardinals. In 1969, I held it against the New York Mets that they beat the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs (it was the first year they had them), and, even though the Amazin’ Mets were a feel-good story, they didn’t make me feel good. When you’re a kid, it’s different. You think adults hold grudges? Kids really take it personally.

One of the more influential people in baseball history was the guy who had all the signs at Shea Stadium in the 1970s, most notably the 1973 World Series. Now it appears as if no one goes to the park without a sign. In baseball, it was the Sign Guy. In football, the guy with the rainbow Afro and the “John 3:16” sign. They’re the reason they apparently stop you at the gate nowadays if you’re wearing a shirt or your face is unpainted.

The game is tied.

In 1975, when the Red Sox again lost in seven, this time to the Cincinnati Reds, I snuck into the room at Clinton High School where the script for the daily announcements waited for our student body president. One of the duties of office was making announcements on “the intercom” twice a day. I knew he never looked at the list before he started announcing. Right after the Beta Club meeting being postponed from lunch period to after school, he said, “All students are reminded to watch Game Seven of the World Series tonight. It should be a hell of a game. … Do what?” You could hear people laughing up and down the halls. Boston lost that night, anyway.

The Red Sox haven't always left me smiling.
The Red Sox haven’t always left me smiling.

My chief memory of the Royals winning the Series in 1985 was Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar coming completely unglued in Game Seven, which, I think, Kansas City won, eleven to nothing.

Then, of course, 1986, the unkindest of all the Red Sox cuts. Oh, Billy Buck. Oh, Bigfoot Bob Stanley. Oh, the tenth inning from hell in Game Six.

Now it seems as if the longer ago the Series were, the better I remember them, but the years 2004, 2007, and 2013 are notable exceptions. Hmm. What do those three years have in common?

Thanks for reading my blogs. I think you might like some of the short stories at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. I’ve written two about baseball. Here’s the more recent: https://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/dont-ask-dont-tell/ You can find my books at: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414631316&sr=1-1

Me and My Old Man, Two Decades Later

[cb_profit_poster Peace]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, January 22, 2014, 9:41 a.m.

As you know, I often use this blog to warm up for writing fiction. I’ve got a bank robbery to describe in a few minutes, so …

La-la-la-luh-LA-luh-la-la-LA … toon-TOON …

I look quite a bit like him, I'm often reminded.
I look quite a bit like him, I’m often reminded.

My father, Jimmy Dutton, would have been 77 today, which is unimaginable since he died at 56. His life was an evocative tragedy, worthy of the Greeks, but, over time, the good memories gradually come to supersede and obscure the bad. I think of my old man every day, and most times I chuckle. I probably wouldn’t have become a writer had the Colonel (that’s what auctioneers are titled) not provided so much material early on.

However, the answer to the question “what would Daddy do?” is not often a feasible solution or worthwhile guidance. I suppose father-son relationships have some commonality. Sons are different in some ways and the same in others. On many occasions, like the pretty woman in “South Pacific,” I wanted to “wash that man right out of my hair, and send him on his way,” but I had no more chance than she did.

Memories that are 21 years distant naturally lead to nostalgia. This morning is a cornucopia of images. My father inspired many lyrics in my songs, some of which I actually realized when I wrote them:

My daddy used to say / You gotta be a man / You gotta pull your weight / You gotta work the land / But every time I tried and failed he turned away from me / By the time I was a man / It was too late for him to see.

You’ve had hard times / Most self-imposed / You’ve taken long trips / Down rocky roads / But for every hill you tumbled down / It’s been worth it all having you around.

I just went through all my song lyrics, and I need to revisit a number of unfinished songs when I’m not buried in prose:

My daddy was an auctioneer / Rode the train from Jacksonville to High Point / How to get there wasn’t clear / All in all he had no fear / Couldn’t tell you where he was going / Didn’t know it was a goal / Didn’t have the fear of knowing / When he’d have to pay the toll.

My dad raised me to root for the Red Sox, too.
My dad raised me to root for the Red Sox, too.

Complicated? My relationship with my old man? It’s complicated now, over 20 years after he died. You should have seen it when I was a teen-ager. It amuses me, thinking of how, when he was of a mind to raise hell, he was going to find a vehicle to do so. I remember lying on the couch on a summer Saturday, reading a book with the baseball “Game of the Week” on TV, and Daddy, steaming into the house, sweaty, red-faced, likely hung over.

“Well, I be goddamned,” he says, “there’s a fence down bordering Howard Watkins’ place, no telling where three cows are, your mama’s sitting in the parking lot of Belk’s with a flat tire, and what are you doing? Laying on your goddamned ass reading a book.”

I look up, knowing nothing of these dire emergencies except that a good bit of them are fabricated.

“What’s up, Pop?”

This, of course, only made him madder, which is why I chuckle now.

It wasn’t all bad. I often think that a dysfunctional boyhood – this was back before all families were dysfunctional – made me tougher, which is, by the way, just where the old man claimed to be aiming. A boyhood full of problems made me fairly adept at fixing them. When Jerry Reed was singing about automobiles, he could’ve been singing about Jimmy Dutton.

If I’m not out of gas in a pouring rain / I’m changing a flat in a hurricane / Lord, Mr. Ford, what have you done?

Oh, yeah. Daddy gave me a love of country music. He took me to see Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, loved Waylon & Willie, and sometimes when he was drunk and depressed, he mournfully sang Kristofferson:

Lord, help me Jesus / I’ve wasted it so / Help me, Jesus / My soul’s in your haaaaaand.

He was never more religious than when drunk on his ass.

By the way, he also took me to Darlington and Greenville-Pickens to see the NASCAR legends race. Somewhere, probably in a shoe box, are photos of my 10-year-old self, wearing a homemade football jersey, made out of a sweat shirt and iron-on numerals cut out of patches that I was so proud of then and so mortified by now, posed next to Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Tiny Lund and Wendell Scott.

I never pleased him much. He wasn’t interested in straight A’s and SAT scores, but a state football championship made him right happy. I think he wanted to give the world a womanizing, liquor-drinking, rodeo cowboy. He wasn’t much impressed by writers, but I think he would have enjoyed hearing me tell outrageous, profane stories from the NASCAR garage, the kind that aren’t told much anymore. He’s in me, like the imaginary devil perched on one shoulder, debating the angel on the other. Everyone has these debates. Mine are more colorful, thanks to the Colonel.

Grudgingly, I miss him. Occasionally.

Some of my father is in every novel I write, whether it’s the pot-smoking folk singer, Riley Mansfield, or the high-school football fan, Tommy Hoskins, or Chance Benford, whom you may eventually meet.

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