Sunday, July 29, 2012

peace and quiet!

An affordable escape        With a sympathetic shrug, he answered my question. “I don’t know either. I’m new here. Counting this one, there are eleven different entrances.” With that, the young man in the booth handed me a packet of information about the amenities at Lake Jordan.

To get there, I’d driven toward Raleigh on I-40 East. At exit 274, I turned right and followed signs for ten miles.

“Those people just came back,” the young man told me. “That must be a good sign.”

I agreed, so I handed him six dollars.

“Only four since you’re a senior,” he told me. “And you can use your receipt at the other ten entrances.”

“Thanks,” I said, and meant it. Two minutes later, I hiked from the parking lot about one hundred feet to the manmade beach. Slipping off my shirt and sandals, I waded into the trout colored lake and its perfect temperature. Aside from the missing salt in the water, it felt just like Israel’s Mediterranean Sea.

For twenty minutes, I had the swimming area all to myself. Far from me were powerboats so distant that their wake came to me as gentle waves.

There were no lifeguards.

Alcoholic beverages were not allowed.

The area was clean. Changing rooms were near. Shade trees were plentiful. There was no loud music. Picnic tables looked out on the shore.

I felt at peace. Had I been lucky? Had I happened on the best entrance?

Finding out was a necessity. Less than a few miles later, I was at the second entrance. All sorts of people were there; many spoke Spanish. They seemed happy as I was to be there.

It was the same with the third entrance. That’s when I stopped exploring. Knowing I would return, I rode to historical Pittsboro on my way home. While there, I found a gift store on the old Main Street that was open.

“Do you need a bag for that?” the clerk asked as I paid for a copy of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die.

“No thanks,” I answered, wondering whether I’d find Jordan Lake in my 1,000 Places book. If so, it would probably be under the section, “Good places to find peace and quiet.”

Only 999 to go!

                B. Koplen 7/29/12

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

rain please!

 Heat, Wave    “Heat index’ll be at least 112. After this,” he said, pointing to my Mom’s new cook stove, “I’ll be on the other side of town, outside diggin’ in a gas line.” He wasn’t in a hurry to leave Mom’s kitchen or her air conditioning.

But I was ready to finish the yard repair work I’d started while he connected the gas line to the cook top. Already my t-shirt was soaked with sweat; in less than an hour, the temperature would rise about twenty-five degrees. At that point all of the flowers I’d just planted in Mom’s yard would hang like the tongue of an overheated dog.

I, too, would droop. Hurriedly, I completed my work, hopped in my car, considered my options since this was my day off, and rolled down my car windows. A/C was out of the question; I knew it wasn’t good to cool down that fast.

Rather than shower only to perspire again, I decided to take a short ride to a blueberry grove a few dozen miles from town. Appropriately dressed for that pleasant chore, I turned onto Route 86 toward Hillsborough. Through the opened windows, the breeze that dried my t-shirt felt like a warm fan on a blistering day.

As for picking blueberries, I knew I’d be the only one there.

Smiling at the heat, I picked while my car cooled under a shade tree. Tasting a few of the blueberries, I felt grateful for this bright day and its bounty. And I was even more grateful that I’d thought to bring my swim trunks and a towel. With my baggie of blueberries in hand, I headed for the Emerald Pointe Water Park near Greensboro, NC.

A vision of the wave pool served as my compass. Indeed, I believe I willed rather than drove my car there.

“Parking is $7.00,” said a college student who knew I was being overcharged.

“Not even the Raleigh Durham Airport costs that much,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t. About 150’ from the parking lot was an oasis, a remedy for what had become the equivalent of 115-degree heat.

After parking, I almost ran to the ticket booth. Expecting to pay thirty-something dollars, I asked whether there was a senior price.

“Yes,” said the ticket person, a young lady who might have been on leave from her high school. “May I see your I.D.?”

I almost thanked her for asking. “It’ll be $23.99,” she said, then answered my question about renting a locker. “Over there,” she pointed.

Thinking it strange that the building she pointed to was so small compared to the huge crowd, I was about to comment when she told me that I had to go to “that rental station to get a locker.”

Thanking her, I hurried eagerly to that counter. “How much?”

$12.00,” she said with a straight face.

$12.00?!” I questioned, as if, I realized, I was talking to myself.

“But you get $3.00 back when you return your key,” she smiled.

I’m sure she noticed the stains under my arms. Paying her with the last of my cash, I considered my options. This was proving to be expensive. Next time, I told myself, I’d use Mom’s garden hose.

But this time, I told myself as I locked my meager valuables in my locker, I was going to get in the water and enjoy every minute.

And I did. Just like the legion of nine to twelve year olds who jostled me at the Park. Or the tanned teenagers, loads of them who’d ridden church busses and vans; they were everywhere.

Bobbing in the Lazee River. Zipping and screaming down chutes and slides. Slipping from venue to venue eagerly, yet without pushing or shoving.

What struck me most about the park and its guests was that everyone and every ride was so well regulated. Daredevils? There weren’t any.

Having fun meant having someone to slide or ride or surf the waves with. But I was alone. Quickly I realized that the park was designed for couples and families and groups. I felt alone.

That realization daunted me; tomorrow would be just as hot. I will be just as sweaty. Even so, brutally hot August looms. Emerald Pointe has taught me that such heat is only fun when it’s shared.

Next time I’ll remember that. But tomorrow I may feel like a fish out of its water park.


                                                B.Koplen  7/27/12

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

a joke you may have missed...

Sense of humor?       Watching Jackie Mason perform is near the top of my list of entertainment treats. When I met him in a tiny Manhattan restaurant, I told him so. 

While at his shows in Vegas, I noticed that Jews and non-Jews enjoyed his humor. In fact, at my table, I was in the minority in that regard.  (No surprise; I’m Jewish!) Just before Jackie began his R-rated, Yiddish inflected English shtick, I recalled kosher bread ads that quipped, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye.”

Regarding Mason, I laughed till I cried. Last night, years later, I watched a nine-and-a-half-minute You Tube clip of a Candid Camera type comedy show from Egypt that made me gasp. Where was the humor? Figuring that I must have missed some subtitles, I watched it again.

The show’s patsy, a well-known Egyptian actor who looked a little like Mason was being interviewed by an attractive young woman. Minutes into the interview, she identified herself as being an Israeli. Outraged because he’d believed he was appearing on a German channel, he attacked her verbally, then physically.

Eventually, the men in the room came to her aid, but not before he’d slapped the male director and knocked the female host to the floor. The actor had been tricked, deceived by abominable Israelis. That’s when three men surrounded the actor, Ayman, and told him it was all a joke.

“We’re Egyptians!” the cast shouted.

Relieved, Ayman helped the girl stand, hugged her as he told her it was “your fault” and she seemed to agree. He may have pinched her sore butt, but that’s just a guess.

When I saw the same video on the site of Israeli writer Naomi Ragan, I figured she too had failed to laugh at the Egyptians and their crude Islamic humor:

[This video is still available at the following addresses: or <>

Nothing like Jackie Mason’s, it made me wonder whether laughter, to an Islamist, was the equivalent of a mere flesh wound. At least that was what I asked when I saw another sidesplitting example (not!). It came from someone I respect who had forwarded it from someone else. Although I will post the site, I must say that I checked it for accuracy.

The funny part of this story is that I found that it’s not what it seems. Like a jokester’s sleight of hand. Sort of.

Still laughing? I wasn’t. What I wondered about was this: who wouldn’t be offended? Isn’t there a rulebook that addresses the fun aspect of Islamic humor? If not, perhaps Jackie Mason should write one.

After finding a site that explained the real intention of the Islamic stab at making a joke, I saw a need to volunteer to help Mason. We might call the book How To Make Muslims Laugh.

If you too want to understand why, please read this:

... The Advocate David Horowitz Freedom Center Middle East Forum pinkwashing ...

Or you might not. Like me, you may wonder what it takes to have a good laugh when you’re more than waist deep in jihad.

                            B. Koplen 7/25/12

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In memoriam:

Activists: Syrian Sculptor Dies Under Assad Loyalist Torture
by Chana Ya'ar

Syrian artist Wael Issa Kaston has been murdered by government security forces, according to activists in Homs.

Kaston, a Christian, died under torture, noted the U.S.-based Syrian Expatriate Organization spokesperson Sawsan Jabri, who said the murder refutes the Assad “regime's repeated claim that they protect the minorities.”

In a statement sent from West Bloomfield, Michigan, the organization wrote, “The village of Marmarita dressed in black last Sunday in a grief over the martyrdom of their son Wael Kaston, the Syrian sculptor, who was detained in a security branch in Homs and died under torture. His family received his body from a military hospital in Homs. Large crowds of people participated in his funeral from the town and neighboring villages.”

Born in the Homs suburb of Marmarita in 1966, Kaston was survived by his wife, Eva Allati and two sons, Yara, 12, and Nowar, age 7. "Rest in peace, Wael!" saluted a follower on the "Yalla Souriya" website.

His work was shown in a number of art galleries in the central Syrian city, in addition to special exhibitions held in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Much of his sculpture focused on themes relating to “freedom of women.” 

The spokesman quoted the artist has having once said in an interview that “he would not prefer to work with 'stone' but loves 'mud' and wood'.' The first is the human being because we emerge from mud, and return to the mud, and the 'wood' because it is the closest to us, born gently, reaches adolescence vigorously, [and] dies wisely...”

Would you believe?

 How long?     Admittedly, this is not what I had wanted to write. Semester ending plans for completing one of two books in my hopper had crystallized. Unwritten chapters sensed release like a gang of bees from my fingertips. Then came this op ed that caused me to push away my book for another day.

Here are a few snippets:

July 24, 2012

Alone in the Void
SOMETIME this year Voyager 1, a probe sent from Earth 35 years ago, will cross a threshold no human-fashioned object has reached before. Passing through a sun-driven shock wave at the edge of the solar system, it will reach the icy dominions of interstellar space... Still, after three and a half decades of hyper-velocity spaceflight, it will take another 700 centuries for the craft to cross the distance to the nearest star.
Short of a scientific miracle of the kind that has never occurred, [my emphasis] our future history for millenniums will be played out on Earth and in the “near space” environment of the other seven planets, their moons and the asteroids in between... Like it or not, we are probably trapped in our solar system for a long, long time.
Simply say “warp drive” to just about anyone and see if they know what you mean… How many people would be surprised to know that warp drive isn’t even a coherent concept, let alone a near-future technology?
The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago. Blowing stuff up under us is just about the only way we know how to travel through the void.
… While our children’s children’s great-grandchildren will live with ever more powerful technology, they will also live ever more intimately with ever more billions of others in this, our corner of the cosmos. Looking back and forward, my bets are now on that same human genius, ambition and hope to rise to the occasion...There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time.
Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, is the author of “About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang” and a co-founder of NPR’s “13.7 Cosmos and Culture” blog.

Fond of the New York Times as a liberal voice that seldom escapes that particular box, I contrast what I read with insights that are more empirical. In this case, my personal experience trumps Adam Frank’s perceptions.
By Frank’s reckoning, I have witnessed what Voyager 1 won’t see for another 70,000 years. (…it will take another 700 centuries for the craft to cross the distance to the nearest star.)

Indeed, when I saw a flying saucer while at Smith Mountain Lake not far from Gretna, VA, I witnessed a craft that had flown here, apparently, from another star or planet. Had it been flying more than 70,000 years to arrive on Earth?

I don’t think so. That’s because I saw it come, then go.

Then I saw it come and go again.

Calculating its speed wasn’t difficult. Even a non-astrophysicist like me can figure the time it takes to snap one’s fingers and to note how far an object has traveled in that short span.

Hardly the best measure, I agree, but I did it. The craft was, by my calculation, zipping along faster than the speed of light. Or, as Adam Frank would refer to it, at “warp drive”.
[…How many people would be surprised to know that warp drive isn’t even a coherent concept, let alone a near-future technology?]

But that isn’t all. According to Adam Frank, …Blowing stuff up under us is just about the only way we know how to travel through the void.
My eyes have showed me that there are ways that are much more efficient. We just don’t know what they are. When the craft I saw stopped and perched seventy feet from me at a height of a little less than that, I noticed that, as it came, it didn’t make a sound.

When it zigged, that zagged to leave, there was no noise, no sonic boom, no trail of smoke that issued from its exhaust. Actually, it didn’t have any wings either.

Nor was it a missile. It looked and acted like a flying saucer from the Jetsons.

Although I am open to his astrophysical explanations about what I viewed, I will gladly yield to a more mundane lie detector test to assure Adam Frank that I did see what I saw and that my report is clear and true. In fact, I’ll invite him to chew the fat about the impact my sighting has had on my cosmological perspective.

The word ‘stretched’ comes to mind. To that end, I will send this piece to him if I can find his Rochester address. Of course, I’ll send it by snail mail, fitting in light of his comment that:

There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time.

                                      B. Koplen 7/24/12
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Monday, July 23, 2012

more than the music...

 Encore?    “I wish you could join me,” I’d e-mailed my younger daughter, as I reflected on music we loved to share. While hitting SEND, I sighed. She is in Israel.

So I went alone, mindful of an unusual note from DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center about the performance:

Dear DPAC Guest,
We wanted to let ticket buyers know that there has been a change in the format of Sunday's Jackson Browne concert. Our original marketing information was that the show would have an acoustic format. We have just been advised that the show has grown into a band format, and though it will have acoustic moments, there is now a full five-piece band backing Jackson Browne. We're excited about this change and hope you are too.

“Band format”? Of little concern to me, I felt even more certain that I’d hear “Runnin’ on Empty.” Indeed, memories of that one song had propelled me to purchase my $61 ticket. Many years ago, my brother had raved about Browne, especially about that song. Even now, I think of my brother when it’s played.

Excited as I was, I wasn’t in a hurry to get to the Center thanks to another note from DPAC about a Durham Bulls baseball game set to begin just before the concert started. Parking problems aside, there was a second reason. I’d read this from DPAC also:

Seating Area Opens @ 7:00 pm
Sara Watkins Begins @ 7:30 pm
Intermission @ 8:30 pm
Jackson Browne @ 8:50 pm
                      Performance Ends @ 10:30 pm

Sara Watkins? My daughter may have known Watkins as a member of Nickel Creek. Wikipedia informed me. I was impressed to read that she’d been a Prairie Home Companion guest host on January 15, 2011.

Even so, I wasn’t in a hurry. Pumped as I was about hearing Browne, I knew that Watkin’s appearance meant I’d return home after midnight. That thought led me to think I might take a short nap while she sang.

But I couldn’t. She was that impressive, that talented, both as a musician and as a vocalist. Indeed, it disturbed me to hear some yokel in the seats near me yell “Jackson!” when she briefly paused between songs. Many in the audience shared my ire, although Watkins handled the taunt with aplomb.

By the time she announced, “Only two more songs,” I was ready to give her a standing ovation at the end of her set. Turning to the left of the stage, she said, “Hey, Jackson.” Browne joined her for her final songs. Then came intermission.

Fifteen minutes before he was scheduled to play, he returned to the stage. That suggested he may have wanted to leave early. I wondered whether ticket holders of the many empty seats to my right and left would be disappointed. Thirty minutes later, I had my answer; those seats had never been sold.

“This may be a sad song,” Browne mused. “Hell, all of my songs are sad songs,” he said with a smile. “Here’s a song about Haiti,” he said. As he played, I noted that it sounded a lot like his old songs, songs the audience had shouted for, almost insistently. In fact, I felt that the screamers were obnoxious. Although, like me, they wanted to hear oldies, I was more interested in listening to Browne, the man and the musician.

Was he bowing out? He played an intro to a song then stopped, as if searching for the right key. Finding it, he began again then paused. As if laughing at himself, he said, “All my songs start this way. Seems like I would have learned a few new licks.”

Such a comment endeared him to me. Minutes later, he had his talented guitarist take center stage and play a song from his (the guitarist’s) new album. Sara Watkins joined in. Browne told us how great the song is.

So I listened. It was OK. And, later, Browne was OK.

Actually, he was better than OK. What it seemed he was doing was transitioning, clearing a path for younger musicians. Almost my age, Browne earned my applause for that. Much of the concert seemed a personal reminiscence, a sort of jam session. Ignoring a hail of requests throughout the show, he did what he wanted to do.

So did I. I stood at the end of a song I hadn’t recognized and left. As I walked to my car in a distant parking garage, I passed his tour’s magnificent busses, still running.

In a very real sense, I’d gotten what I came for. I saw into the man who campaigned for John Edwards and who sued the John McCain campaign for using “Running on Empty” without permission.

And I thought I heard him say that his oldest songs couldn’t possibly define him. Although I left his concert without regrets, I couldn’t recall feeling so sober at the end of any other I’d attended.

As I walked to my car, I felt that the night was too warm and too humid. Still, I was thankful that I didn’t have to explain to my daughter why there was no music pounding in my brain to distract me from this summer’s ordinary heat.

B. Koplen 7/23/12

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