My grandson Madden Chemsak completed an interview with WSMV television about his published book The Loneliest Airplane. 

WSMV Channel 4


I watched the NFC playoffs the other Sunday and saw the spectacle that overshadowed the game. A couple of nights ago I watched a documentary on J.D. Salinger. On any given night, reports of famous people acting badly are broadcast over the television and countless social media. To be honest, I’m over such behavior.
Richard Sherman turned a dramatic ending of the playoff game into something dark and disgusting. A total of 56 million viewers watched
Sherman contort his face and rant against an opponent. He called the San Francisco receiver “sorry” and informed the public that he is the best cornerback in the game.
His behavior is another example of the egocentric stars who are too ready to promote themselves to the public. What happened to being a gracious winner? Watching the mouthing and self-congratulatory demonstrations by players on the field screams that “gracious” is a word from the past.
Sherman tried to defend his reactions by saying that he was still amped up from the adrenaline that flowed during the game. His coach Pete Carrol let us know “that’s who he is.” Oh, we’re supposed to excuse such crude behavior because “that’s who he is?”
Here’s the thing: other players who have been involved in tension-filled contests haven’t run their mouths with such tirades. Their adrenaline was pumping just as much, but they knew that stomping on an opponent, whether you like him or not, isn’t an acceptable way to behave, no matter what pitiful excuses he or his coach offers.
J.D. Salinger must not have been such a nice guy. Folks who knew him said he often was difficult. One woman said that he did things when he wanted to; that’s just the way he was and people had to accept him on his terms. I’m not so sure that any person has to be accepted when he or she is rude, demanding, and inconsiderate.
I read The Catcher in the Rye and liked it. However, I don’t agree with the person in the documentary who stated that Holden Caulfield was the quintessential teenager. Life at that age is difficult for plenty of folks, but I’m not so sure young people react to it in the extremes that Caulfield did. Yes, the book is a classic, but it’s not necessarily the bible for teenage behavior.
Television and music personalities make the news for their outrageous behaviors. In the last couple of weeks, teenage heart throb Justin Bieber reportedly vandalized houses and has been arrested for DUI. Kanye West is notorious for tirades that interrupt events and bad-mouth others. These days, Lindsay Lohan puts more hours in front of a judge than a camera. We’re told that all these people are to be pitied because their lives of fame and fortune are so hard. I can name one hundred people right now who would change places with them and do so without ever getting in trouble. No excuses exist for accepting the poor behavior or the rich and famous.
These days we hear of troubled youth and the shocking things they do. In many cases, the reasons for their acts include such things as divorce, parental death, boredom, or some disorder. Life is tough. Sometimes bad things happen, and yes, they can become stumbling blocks. At some point, however, excuses don’t work anymore. My dad died when I was 13, and yes, I did some things of which I’m not proud. When I went to college, I realized that success or failure depended on me and my actions, not the things that had happened in the past. I believe the time has come for us to expect more responsible actions from folks; the days of excusing improper behavior because of something that happened years ago are over.

Yes, I’m on a rant, but we older folks just don’t understand how every misdeed a person commits is somehow someone else’s or some condition’s fault. We, too, goofed up, but most of us learned from our mistakes and from the spanking or other punishment our parents offered. The simple fact is that there weren’t any excuses then and shouldn’t be now. 


Maybe it's that I am more often grumpy these day, or perhaps it’s that I am more observant of the things that occur. Just maybe it’s because the filter that set a five-second delay between my thinking and saying things is gone. Whatever it is, I’ve discovered that some things just raise my ire.
Of late, it’s been the “squawk box,” that electronic device that first made its way into homes across America when members of my generation were still small children, that’s aggravated me.
When we were kids, three television stations were available, but our house only got two of them since a special antenna was required to pick up Channel 26. Our favorite shows included “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Captain Kangaroo.” We’d even sit in front of a tiny screen and watch Cas Walker’s program. By midnight the only things left for viewing were television “snow” or test patterns.
Fast forward to today, and at the touch of a remote control, hundreds of channels and thousands of programs are available. Stations never go off the air, even if they have to sell air time to some guy peddling knives, pots, pans, or all-natural vitamins.
How come it is that I can channel surf on most evenings without ever finding an interesting show? I whine that “there’s nothing on television.” It’s my truth because few of the most popular shows on networks interest me at all. I refuse to watch “reality” television; I must live in a parallel universe because none of those ridiculous programs resemble any of my reality. The only salvation I find isn’t from the religious channels but from sports stations.
If a lack of programming weren’t bad enough, stations seem to be spying to discover my favorite programs so that they can cancel them. Years ago, George Kennedy starred in “The Blue Knight.” Yep, they canceled it. Ed Asner held the lead role in “Lou Grant,” and sure enough, it was canned. I know that the Korean War had to come to an end, but many Americans were devastated when “MASH” concluded.
Perhaps the most upsetting cancellation came when “The West Wing” ended. Martin Sheen was the kind of president that the entire country wanted and deserved. Sure, he could only serve two terms, but the creators and station should have slowed the pace of the program so it could have stayed around longer.
It’s cruel and unusual punishment to “can” a show that is so popular. Many Americans plan their weekly activities around shows, or they record them to view later. For years, networks have sucked us in with good shows. Then, they subject us to endless commercials about insurance and beer and erectile dysfunction between show segments. Just when we come to expect the program to air, it’s moved to a new night, which usually means the program is on its way out or it is being paired with a loser in an attempt to save an inferior product.
These days, I’ve tried not to get attached to a new program but failed miserably. I appreciate watching “Judge Judy” excoriate individuals who choose to air their problems to millions. “Person of Interest” intrigues me because it’s a show that might well mirror some of the technology that is available today. “The Crazy Ones” is good because Robin Williams has always been my favorite funny guy.

I know it’s only a matter of time before the shows I enjoy are axed. It’s inevitable. Maybe I’d be better off sticking with PBS or MSNBC shows. Their programs seem to have  longer shelf lives than other favorites of mine. What would be nice is to have one channel that would air only the shows I’ve liked. Of course, before long, the powers-that-be would begin cancelling canceled shows. It sure is cruel treatment.


Here in the volunteer state, news stories dripped in over the last couple of week. Oh, Christmas and New Year’s Day have come, and a peppering of break-ins and fires have made the nightly news programs. For the most part, however, not much occurs during this time of year. The result is that the normal becomes the spectacular.
Some television stations report car wrecks. I’m not talking about the ones where serious injuries or even fatalities occur. No, I’m talking about the ones where cars slide off the road when they hit slick spots and then plummet into a ditches. I am all for traffic safety, and anyone who crashes has my sympathies, but come on, nearly 17,000 car wrecks happen each day, so they’re not newsworthy.
The flu always seems to garner plenty of air time. Each year newscasts drown viewers with reports of the latest strands of flu and the effects of them. I think I’ve had the flu one time and don’t recall the experience as being a pleasant one. Over the years, colds and bronchitis (when I was a smoker) laid me low. The truth is that the flu bug, colds, and upper-respiratory ailments hit us Americans this time each and every year. It can’t be news to us. Perhaps a better story might be about how dumb we are for not taking a flu shot to avoid the misery.
Just the other night a local channel reported that three hikers had been rescued after being lost in the Great Smoky National Park. I was glad to hear it until the story went on to report what those rescued said. It seems that they weren’t prepared for the cold weather or snow, and those things contributed to their becoming lost.
What? Unless I’ve been unconscious or completely screwed up most of my life (some would say that assessment is correct on both counts), the end of December and beginning of January are part of the winter
solstice. If that is true, then it automatically means that the temperatures will be low in the mountains. It also stands to reason that snow is a good possibility at higher elevations. So, what’s all this about not being prepared for conditions? If these individuals are that mentally weak, they shouldn’t be allowed out by themselves at any time. Let’s don’t give air time to show how short on intelligence they are.
The last few days stations have proven just how starved they are for stories. The majority of the news time has discussed the cold weather here in Tennessee, as well as the rest of the country. Snow storms and frigid temperature hammer several states to the north and east. Even as far south as Florida, temperatures are expected to drop into the teens.
Here in Knoxville, the prognosticators call for temperature in the single digits with windchills dipping into minus numbers. Some reports advise how to keep pipes from freezing and what to do with outside pets.
Are we really that stupid? I’m a native Knoxvillian, and I can recall multiple times when the temperatures dropped as low as today’s forecasted ones. In fact, one year the temperatures were so low that my car froze to the driveway, and I had to call AAA to unstick it. Knoxville recorded the lowest temperature in the nation with a -24 (January 21, 1985). Eleven days later my son Dallas was born, and the temperatures still hovered around the bottom of the thermometer.
In case anybody didn’t get the memo, IT’S WINTER! That usually means that temperatures plunge and, albeit infrequently these days, snow can fall. Many of us have crawled under houses to wrap water pipes with newspapers or to thaw them with hair dryers. Only the cruelest persons leave pets outside during unusually cold times. They should be the real new story. Attention should be on their acts and the trials that sentence them to prison for such terrible deeds. But the fact is that winter, even with all its freezing temperatures and piles of snow, isn’t news; it’s life. Now, folks who are hardest hit have our thoughts and prayers, but if they want to avoid such times, they might consider moving wise south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where temperatures are moderate.

I’ll be glad to see spring come. The terrible stories of the winter will be long gone. However, on a slow news day we will probably hear about all the rain and soggy weather that is coming. I, for one, would just as soon not hear anything about the weather other than the highs, lows, and chances of rain. If no important news is available for the day, a rerun of “Judge Judy” suits me fine. 

Capturing Life on Canvas

We left for Nashville a couple of days before Christmas, and because Lacey’s family was visiting the other grandparents in Huntsville, Alabama, Amy and I had a chance to go someplace a little special. Our choice took us to the Frist Center to view the Norman Rockwell exhibit. That Sunday afternoon turned into a wonderful time to see up close the work of an artist that has inspired millions for almost a century.
One of the first paintings visitors espy and then spend several minutes viewing is titled “Discovery.” It depicts a young boy who finds a Santa Claus suit in the bottom drawer in his dad’s dresser. The child’s look
expresses the shock and disappointment when one of life’s most magical beliefs crumbles. All of us remember when Santa disappeared from our lives. It happened for me one Christmas when I heard my parents sneaking presents under the tree after we’d gone to bed. Our bedroom was directly across the hall from the living room, so only the slightest noisy would wake us up. It was hard to believe that Santa was our parents. That shock was only equaled with the news from older boys about how Jim and I “really” came to be. Sometimes in life, discovering things rocks our worlds.
Another painting, “Skinny Dipping,” shows a group of boys and a dog running, presumably, from a person who has caught them swimming in some forbidden area. A lifetime ago, the Ball Camp boys rode bikes over the ridge to Karns on our way to Beaver Creek. We found a deep spot in that winding creek and stripped naked to jump in the water and cool off on a summer’s day. Like most things in youth, activities that are forbidden become the things that bring the most fun. That includes smoking rabbit tobacco and paper from grocery bags or swiping water melons from a farm.
The painting titled “Blessing” brings back plenty of memories for us older Americans. At every supper and dinner, our family began with “God is great, God is good/Let us thank him for our food…” Those words blessed the food we ate from the earliest times I remember.
On one occasion, Jim and I came to the table still goofing off as we boys were wont to do. We began saying the blessing, but half way through, we got tickled and burst out in laughter. Daddy did not take to our behavior at all, and before we could blink our eyes, he had scooped us up and swatted our behinds. We stood crying, and upset over his reaction, and Daddy hopped in the car and drove off. He came home after a while, and we all made up. By the way, no one ever laughed during another blessing.
Maybe the best painting by Rockwell is titled “Going and Coming.” The dual scene shows a car packed with family and pets and supplies for a fun-filled day at the lake. Kids are squirming, and parents are smiling as they make the journey. On the way home, it’s a different story. The kids wear looks of exhaustion. Mom holds the youngest in her lap, and it appears as if any moment she might pass out. The father’s exasperated look indicates he needs to arrive home soon to escape too much family togetherness. The grandmother wears the same scowl on both sides of the trip. Even the dog’s energy is depleted on the long ride home. Rockwell captures the true sides of events in most families’ lives.
I wonder what Norman Rockwell would choose as settings for paintings today. Surely one would include a computer or video game or cell phone. Another might well depict the struggles of today’s middle class as folks try to keep up with prices with faltering wages. He might even take to the canvas to portray the mindless babble and intransigence that comes from our nation’s government. What’s for sure is that Norman Rockwell is the master of capturing the essence of American life from decades in the past. We all should be thankful that so much of his work available and that it memorializes life as so many have known.

If you get a chance to attend the showing, take it and be amazed by the man’s work. If not, check out a book of his work and spend some time with family looking at those paintings and the messages they present.