Archive for the tennessee Category

When I was Almost Famous Long Ago…

Posted in FLICKR, memoir, photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by cliffmichaels


Once upon a time I was famous. Well, not very famous, but just enough to claim I was. I was on  Nightline and countless other TV and radio shows. My client and I were flown – free! –  to Melbourne to appear on a national television program. Reporters hung on my every word and then distorted them.

Caroline Kennedy – yes, that Caroline Kennedy – traveled from New York to interview me for a book she was writing. I was on a first name basis with reporters for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Sally Jessie and Maury wanted me to be on their shows.

Why was I almost famous? A once in a lifetime case fell at my feet. All I had to do pick it up and run with it. Three years of delightful legal fun and games with sweet victory at the end of the day. At the trial the courtroom was packed with reporters clacking away on their laptops every time I spoke. At every recess I was surrounded by a scrum of cameras and microphones. The next morning I could read about me – well, actually, my case – in national and local newspapers.  No doubt about it, I was a reasonably large big shot.

After the trial (which, in the scheme of things, was really pointless since the case involved a purely legal issue) my fame began to wane. No more frantic calls from the network morning shows, no more limos coming to my house to whisk me to the local studios. I still got calls to be a radio guest or to give my comments to a newspaper for a feature piece, but the bright lights were mostly gone.

By the end of 1993 I had sunk into obscurity. I was back to being just another  small town lawyer and nothing more.  The overwhelming majority of my cases were mindlessly routine: divorces, petty criminal cases, and a handful of collection cases.

But I’ve had the pale consolation of my memories of those fifteen minutes. And if you give me half a chance I’ll tell you all about it till you faint from boredom!


Famous People Pictures About FamousPaparazzi Paradise The  Kennedy Family

Photo by Kelly Ida Scopes, subject to this creative commons license  

Read all of VISIONS

Where’s My Peach?

Posted in FLICKR, history, memoir, photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by cliffmichaels



Writers and poets have written of aging for thousands of years. Some decry life’s twilight; others embrace the dying of the light. Some of their words ares profound, others banal or saccharine . None of their prose and poetry helped them avoid age’s bitter, irreversible culmination.  They all died in the end. Some are remembered; others remain unknown.

 Now its time for my lament.

When I was fourteen or so, in September (or was it April?), I was wandering around a nearly deserted municipal swimming pool on an overcast morning. With no girls in skimpy swimsuits to admire, I mused on my life. I felt wonderfully old. I was now Fourteen! I was a teenager! I carefully shaved every other week or so. I thought about my future. In a year and a half I could get a learner’s permit and learn to drive; In four years I’d graduate high school then be in college and, I hoped, no longer be an skinny, acne plagued virgin. When people asked how old I was I’d proudly announce fourteen and they would feign surprise. “You’re almost a man,” they would tell me with a condescending smile, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

My speculation that sweet morning took me further into my uncertain future. It seemed utterly impossible that in the year 2000, so amazingly distant in time, I would be fifty-two years old. Fifty-two? It was unimaginable, like imagining I’d move to Jupiter or Mars. My father and mother, who were of course old, were just forty-two and thirty-eight. None of my high school teachers were that old. I knew really old people of course; my grandparents were in their early seventies; somehow they didn’t count. It was as if to my teenage mind they belonged to a separate, barely noticed, race of gray headed creatures.

In 1966, at eighteen, I graduate high school, then spent the summer working frantically to lose my virginity with last minute success. In 1969 I turned 21. Legal whisky! College graduation and admission to law school. A year away from my (first) wedding. Am I an adult now? Is that a good thing?

1974: Out of law school, married four years. I was in awe of those older attorneys who seem so – lawyerly. 1978: thirty, old enough to be a judge but still young enough to feel childish and chase, and catch, women.

In 1988 I turn forty, a sobering number. Can I really be that old? I dread some sniggering friend giving me a bunch of black balloons.I am thankful I still have a full head of brown hair with no trace of gray.

1998: I attain the impossible, chilly age of fifty. I try to tell myself its a mistake, but I can’t make the math come out right. I can no longer deny I am middle aged. At my high school reunion everyone talks of disease and grandchildren.

And then, in a blink, comes 2000 and I look back at that awkward fourteen year old boy from the other end of time’s tunnel.

Now another decade plus has slipped quietly by and I find myself answering the question, “how old are you?” with words that taste of ashes: “I’m 63.” My interrogator feigns surprise, smiles then tells me I look so much younger. I want to slug her… She thinks I’m old! I’m on the verge of telling a young client, “I’m old enough to be your father,” when I realize with bitter shock I am in fact old enough to be his grandfather. No one calls me young man anymore. I wonder if people know my teeth are made of plastic.

I am not old!  I am not old!!

My face has somehow, and I’m not quite sure just when it happened, sagged here and there and  wrinkles have crept across its once smooth and hairless flesh. My body has, when I wasn’t paying attention, grown surprisingly fat and flabby and parts of it refuse to work quite as well as they did before.

The number of my pill bottles crowd the bottom shelf in my medicine cabinet. My young doctor talks of cholesterol, liver enzymes, and my elevated blood pressure; he always listens carefully to my heart and feels my calfs for swelling. Hair sprouts from my ears and nose. I still have most of my hair but gray has spread alarmingly far above my temples. There are splotches on my wrists. I try to ignore the stiffness in my legs and the aches in my hands and shoulders. The slightest pain in my chest sends me into panic.

 But I am not old.

My father, when he was about forty, told me he had never felt old, never reached an age when he felt like an adult and put away childish thoughts. He told me at first he had been surprised by this, that he expected to reach some age when, magically, he would become an adult. He  said it would probably be the same for me. I wasn’t so sure; I wanted badly to become an adult both inside and out. But he was right.

Inside, where it really counts, I am still that underweight, half grown, pimply kid. Can I pass the math test tomorrow? Will she go to the dance with me – I wish she was better looking – will she let me touch her tits? Should I go out for football again? Will my parents discover I’m drinking beer? I wish I was more popular – I feel so invisible sometimes…. Will this year never end?  I am still insecure, still aroused by beautiful women, still able to play the fool, still so anxious to impress, and still haunted by chronic self-doubt. Behind my crinkled face my mind remains unchanged from when I was young:  still eager to play, still able to view the world with wonder.

Or at least it seems that way.

I am sixty-three; in twenty years I will be in my eighties. If I live that long (should I be cremated or buried? How many people will attend my funeral? Who will speak of me?) Will that distant me still feel the same? Who can say?

 But I am not old. I am not old. At least not yet…


MY FLICKR GROUP: Faces of Maturity 

Photo (not of me) by Étienne Ljóni Poisson, subject to this creative commons license

Read all of VISIONS

Refashioned Recollections

Posted in history, memoir, tennessee with tags , , , , on January 29, 2012 by cliffmichaels


Photo by San Diego Shooter, subject to this creative commons license

I wish I had a time machine, or at least a more accurate  memory. As recollection fades with age the easier it becomes to let the mind paste over the gaps with more flattering, if less honest, facts. The fish become longer, youthful triumphs  grander, and long ago  girlfriends more beautiful and more easily seduced by your charms.

In 1959 my father took a job with General Atomics in San Diego.  My parents loaded me and my two redheaded younger brothers into Dad’s shiny green (?) Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and we trecked west from east Tennessee through the mid summer heat. My memories of that trip are fragmented: crossing the wide Mississippi, stopping in Oklahoma City to visit my paternal grandparents, talking to Clint Eastwood and  other cast members of the popular TV show Rawhide somewhere in New Mexico (or was it Arizona?). Finally, my first glimpse of San Diego:  a semicircle of twinkling city lights ringing the blacked out bay late on the night we arrived.

We spent the first few days in a motel in La Jolla, an upscale subdivision of the city. We were, I think, quite close to the shore. I swam in a small cove in restless blue water surrounded by high, richly colored rock (at least that is my memory). A boy, younger than me, pointed out a rocky promontory where, he claimed, a “woman was eaten by a shark!”.  Years later I learned his improbable tale was true; she had been attacked by a great white in shallow water shocking close to the beach.

We moved into a apartment complex: a vast array of identical, sand colored buildings. I recall playing with a balsa wood model airplane with a bright red propeller and a single brief, sexually charged, furtive encounter with a girl a year or so younger than I was (she was the aggressor).

We finally settled in Del Mar, then a small, sleepy town further up the California coast, where we remained for the rest of our time in California. My parents never bought a house; we lived in a series of rented homes. In the winter we’d take a house on, or very near, the beach; in summer, when the popular race track on the north edge of town was crowded with affluent outsiders, and rents rose precipitously, we’d have to move up into the hills.  One summer day I ended up briefly surf fishing with Jimmy Durante. As I’ve written before, I found a stash of old Playboy magazines in one hill house we rented which was owned by absent Navy flyers.

I quickly became a juvenile beach bum, especially after my parents relented and bought me a used blue surfboard. By that time most boards were light foam covered in fiber glass; mine, however, was crafted from balsa wood and was relatively heavy, especially compared to the newer models. I didn’t care. I was a surfer! I even purchase a black, zippered wet suit jacked so I would look cool and brave the colder, and rougher, winter surf.

Here, perhaps, my fifty plus years spent since those distant days may refine and enhance my recollections. Perhaps those waves have grown higher, my skills become more masterful, and those early morning rides stretched longer. Yet the memory of those countless hours I spent straddling my board, scanning the horizon in search of just the right incoming swells, and competing for those promising waves against the dozen or so other youthful surfers sharing the same patch of dancing blue water, remain vibrant and visceral: my dash across hot sand with burning feet, the clean smell of melting wax, the chill as I plunge into the green, foam laced water, the burning in my   shoulders and back as I paddle furiously out through the rumbling surf, the heat of the rising sun on my bare back when the cooling offshore breeze died in mid morning, the giddy exhilaration as the quickly gathering swell catches my board and then hurls me forward with increasing speed down, and then across, its steepening, glassy face.  And sometimes, the memory is panic when I plunge out of control to the dark, rough sea bottom after an uncaring wave beats me, then effortlessly tosses my upside down, spinning board toward the distant beach.

We left California and returned to east Tennessee in the summer of 1962, just before I started high school. The mostly rural western edge of Knox county was deadly dull. I wasn’t very popular. I went out for the freshman football team only to discover I was laughingly inept. My timid attempts to woo girls fared no better. I sank into teenage despair.

But I at least had those California memories to sustain me. I was a surfer! The sweet recollection of my heroic adventures on the restless water at the California shore buoyed my flagging spirits.

They still do so today.

Me, trying to resurrect my surfing skills in 1985 on the Outer Banks.

San Diego Shooter’s set SURFERS

FLICKR GROUP:  Surf Photography California

Read all of VISIONS

Tremont, in the Smokies

Posted in FLICKR, photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by cliffmichaels

I’ve shot in Tremont, a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a dozen times or so. This photo by Ben M reminds me why I need to get there again…


Subject to this creative commons license 

One of Ben M.’s sets 

Flickr group: Tremont, Tennessee

Read all of VISIONS

My Brand New Really Old Cameras

Posted in photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , on July 4, 2011 by cliffmichaels

Not long after my father passed away in March of last year, at age ninety, his wife told me she had found some “old camera stuff” of his  and asked if I wanted it. I told her I did, but until this weekend neither of us made the effort to do much about it. Finally, she delivered a tan camera bag and a white plastic shopping bag to me when we had lunch together yesterday.

Somehow, I had it in my head the “old camera stuff” dated from the early to mid fifties. Dad was into black and white photography then; he even did his own darkroom work. It still annoys my two younger brothers that he took a hundred photos of me as a baby and toddler and barely any of either of them.

Read all of VISIONS

I was wrong. I found two 35mm cameras which dated from the Seventies: a Pentax ME, and what I assume was a private label brand (“Focal“) which I can find no information about at all on the Internet. While I can’t be sure yet, both of the cameras appear to be in working order. Sadly, the regular lens on the Pentax appears to have a bad scratch; but Dad also had a telephoto lens for the camera (all metal, it’s incredibly heavy).

I really have no memory of my father being into 35mm photography in the mid to late Seventies. I was (with an entry level Minolta;I produced very pedestrian, often overexposed or out of focus photos). I also can’t recall ever seeing any photos of his from that time frame. Beginning about ten years ago he starting  using point and shoot digital cameras, and as late as 2009 he was still snapping away at family functions.

Right now I don’t know if I’ll try to use either of these heavy, all metal cameras. First, of course, I’d have to to learn to use them. Whatever I learned  using that manual Minolta thirty-five years  ago is  long gone. Still, it might be fun to shoot with one of  these vintage cameras, if only as  a reminder of a passion my father and I shared.

UPDATE: The Focal is a black Petri FTX rebadged by K-Mart a long time ago as the Focal TLR. Read more HERE.

Close to Home

Posted in photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by cliffmichaels

There are lots of great Flickr photographers from all around the globe. Here, in my little corner of the world, east Tennessee, we have some good ones as well…

PHOTOGIRL612– Her photos of Caves Code  are particularly nice

GREG BOOHER –  Enjoy his Tennessee landscapes

MARTY CARSON – His landscape set makes me jealous

Flickr groups: East Tennessee Photographers East Tennessee Natural Landscapes

Photo by Kimintn, subject to a creative commons license

Read all of VISIONS

Appalachian Winter

Posted in FLICKR, photographers, PHOTOGRAPHY, tennessee with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by cliffmichaels

Scott Hotaling (Flickr handle Light of the Wild) provides only a single sentence about himself on his profile page: “A climber and photographer, I love going on adventures to beautiful places and sharing the bitchin’ views.”  While his entire photostream is well worth viewing, his magnificent small set Appalachian Winter is amazing…

And here’s a Flickr group, Winter Landscapes, with nearly eighteen thousand more shots of snowy trees and mountains!

Read all of VISIONS