Grits are those Southern boys with ""ruined faces,"" who drink too much, tell ""Friday night lies,"" and use long-haired freaks for target practice. This robust collection of Crews' magazine pieces, largely from Playboy and Esquire, features Grits, other salient grotesques, and two lesser encounters--Crews is least successful in the company of heroes. On the Appalachian trail he discovers a man who has, since the age of five, mourned an elephant wrongly hanged. In Valdeez, Alaska, he comes across some locals John McPhee never met and awakens from a stupendous drunk involuntarily tattooed. And in a carnival sideshow he watches a nearly naked lady who adds new purpose to hardboiled eggs (six at a time) much as Alexander Portnoy once gave liver a second life. Crews knows how to handle cretins--jokers in Winnebagos or pretenders at L. L. Bean (""It gives suburban America the slightest whiff of a blood spoor""). And he can turn his own vasectomy (""The Most Kindest Cut of All"") into a happily-ever-after adventure. But when he edges toward serious appreciation, he is less effective. ""The Trucker Militant"" is a genuinely respectful tribute to Independents' champion Mike Parkhurst, admiring while maintaining perspective. But when Crews gets to Hollywood--where he admits they put the skin on baloney--the buddy-buddy pose wears thin. He claims to find the Charles Bronson other writers missed (""He is, in fact, the straight-on, tear-your-balls-off kind of guy that he so often portrays with such power""); and he seems to believe that Baretta's Robert Blake, a soul brother (""I swear on my eyes I have the same goddamn dream"") is the only honest man in town. Skip those two and read the others--among the loonies and rejects he's an unbeatable scorekeeper.