Archive for December, 2012

(Sorry. It’s the only way I could get it to rhyme.)

I can’t remember the last time someone gave me a New Year’s Resolution, but Susan has declared that in 2013, our house will be “sugar free”. It’s no secret that Susan and I have both struggled with our weight for years and years, and we don’t want our kids to have those same struggles.

What we’ve come up with is a simple weekly/monthly reward system for not eating sugar. This means no candy, no desserts, and no sugary pop. Each week the kids will get a small prize, something like a dollar or two. (We’ve also talked about matching that money and putting it into a jar for the kids to open at the end of the year.) At the end of each month, anyone who makes it all four weeks will receive a larger monthly reward — the kids have already suggested going bowling or going to Bounce Town as monthly rewards.

We can control the food that’s available to eat in our house but not what the kids eat when they’re out of our sight. That means getting some cooperation from Granny when the kids go over to visit her on their respective Granny Nights, and it will also require the kids to make good choices on their own — like picking white milk over chocolate milk at school. Both of the kids are excited about the rewards and being healthy, so I know they will be able to do it.

With the impending deadline rapidly approaching we’ve spend the weekend bingeing on sweets. I think we’ve had shakes either in between every meal or with every meal. Yesterday Morgan had to throw her Icee cup into the trash to make room for her shake from Freddy’s Frozen Custard. I bought a bag of jelly beans on Sunday and ate them like there’s no tomorrow because … well, as far as eating sugar goes for me, there’s no tomorrow. After dinner on Sunday we all had big bowls of chocolate ice cream with marshmallows mixed in. I can tell you that none of us feel great after eating all this crap. I hope to reflect back on this post and remember that if I am tempted in the near future.

Susan is already taking bets on the order that we will fall. I’ve already told her that I will be last, so that’s a moot point. (She does not agree.) We’ll see how long all of us and any one of us can make it. Of course all the rewards and the betting is second to getting our family in healthier state, which is the ultimate goal.

When it comes to Christmas gifting, one of the people I have the hardest time shopping for each year is my Dad. Throughout the year he buys what he needs when he needs it, and doesn’t care much for shelf-filling knick-knacks unless there’s a personal story attached to them. Occasionally he’ll mention something off the cuff that he wants or needs but either hasn’t had the chance to pick up yet or hasn’t been able to find; that information is filed away and acted upon each Christmas (this year, he got a cheese grater). But I’m always on the hunt for that one special thing, and ironically it was the brass lamp locked in a chest I received from him back in 2010 that somewhat planted the seen and got me thinking about what to get him this year. The parameters I set for myself was that whatever I got for him would be both one-of-a-kind and personalized.

Before I can tell you about the Metaluna Mutant, I have to tell you about a Coke bottle — or rather, a specific painting of a Coke bottle. While moseying around at The Rink (a local antique mall) with Dad and the family we spied a giant painting of a Coke bottle. The painting is an approximately 8′ tall painting of an old Coke bottle done on wood and cut out in the shape of the bottle. The price on the painting when we saw it was $650 (it has since dropped to $550). When we saw it Dad said something to the effect of, “I wouldn’t mind something like that, but it would have to be a painting of the right thing.” I stored that particular nugget of information away in my mental bank for further use.

When my parents got divorced in the mid-90s most of the artwork hanging in Dad’s house came down off the walls. Ever since then it’s become a “thing” for us to find artwork for him. “The bigger the better,” he says, because larger pictures cover more real estate. For these paintings his taste is measured in quantity more than quality — size is everything. Each year on Sun Valley Garage Sale Day all of us along with Dad scour the neighborhood in search of large paintings. A particularly large painting of (I think) a field of mushrooms hangs in his hallway, picked less for its artistic qualities than its sheer girth. Another nugget stored in the back of my brain — large artwork, check.

Shortly after the Coke bottle sighting an idea began stirring in my fat head. Painting something the size of that Coke bottle didn’t seem particularly intimidating to me. In the mid-90s I painted the sign for Liz’s BBQ and before Mason was born I painted his bedroom. No one could confuse my artwork with the output of any real artist, but I figured as long as I gave myself enough lead time I would be able to pull something off.

Fast forward to December 23rd, the day I got started.

While I’d had the idea of painting something large for Dad for quite some time, I had spent weeks racking my brain over what it should be. I considered painting one of the Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, etc.) but paiting only one of them seemed too “specific”, and doing all of them sounded like too much work (and to be honest, beyond my skill level). I also considered painting Robby the Robot, but he’s essentially all black and white. Like most good ideas, the solution simply popped in my head out of nowhere: I would paint the Metaluna Mutant.

The Metaluna Mutant had many things going for him. Although he came from a specific movie (1955’s “This Island Earth”), even people who haven’t seen the film or know the creature’s name tend to recognize him. (Many younger people recognize him from the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie as well.) He’s also generic enough to represent the “1950’s sci-fi” genre. Another advantage the mutant had over the competition was that he consisted of two primary colors, red and blue, with yellow claws and black outlines. Yes, I decided, I would paint the Metaluna Mutant. A really big Metaluna Mutant.

The first thing I needed was a reference photo to work from. Google Images returned hundreds of results including original works of art and lots of stills from the film, but ultimately the picture I chose was one of a toy model of the mutant. I needed a mostly frontal pose, and this one was just what I was looking for.

After picking up a 1/4″ 4×8 sheet of plywood from Home Depot, I dug out my netbook and my projector, leaned the sheet of plywood up against my garage door, projected the picture of the mutant up onto the wood, and traced the outline of the mutant’s major features with a black Sharpie.

A couple of notes here. One, even with the wood and the projector as far apart as I could get them in my garage, I could not get the picture large enough. I solved this problem by rotating both the image and my projector. As you can see in the second picture, the Sharpie outline didn’t provide a ton of detail, but it did give me the outline and the proper proportions. With the outline manually transferred over to the wood the next step was to cut the mutant out using a jigsaw. This took about five minutes. After the mutant was cut out I sanded the sides and the edges with a sander. This took another five minutes.

The next step was painting. At this point I had spent an hour or so locating the right photo, hooking up the projector, tracing the drawing, cutting out the mutant, and sanding down the wood. I would spend the next 8 to 10 hours painting.

With the mutant’s bluish-gray skin almost done, the mutant began to resemble a large color-by-numbers project. My goal at this point was to stay only mostly within the lines — any mistakes at this point would be covered up by the red, and the separation between the two colors would be covered up with thick black lines. Note that I also had the reference photo on my iPad, which allowed me to quickly scroll around and zoom in and out in order to reference specific portions of the photo. I did some light shading at this point, but not much — just enough to give the mutant a hint of dimension.

Next up was the red, followed by the black. The paint I used was Plaid brand acrylic craft paint. Save for a large bottle of gray and a small bottle of black, the rest of the paint Susan already had on hand in her craft box. It took far less paint than I thought it would to cover a piece of wood this size. Far less.

Prior to applying the black I had doubts about this project coming together. To be honest it looked pretty terrible at that point. I need to remember that the black outline is what makes everything pop.

Once I was done applying the thick black outlines, the next part involves doing some fine detail work with a black Sharpie. I am sure a skilled artist could do all of these details with a paintbrush, but I am not a skilled artist. Take a look at these before and after pictures of the creature’s claw to see what a difference the Sharpie made.

Take particular note in the picture above of the mutant’s “cuticle” (for lack of a better word), where the yellow claw meets the gray hand. Now look below after the Sharpie details had been applied. I added several cracks and lines to make the claw look more realistic.

I was so impressed on what a difference the detail made that I decided to also do the same thing to all the monster’s blood red veins. I probably spent 30 minutes going around the mutant with a marker drawing highlights, but the final effect really made the veins pop and gave the creature a 3D look that made me glad I spent the time doing it.

Painting took place in the following order: all the blue/gray, all the red, all the yellow, all the black, all the Sharpie details, then all all the touch-ups where I had stuck my hand in wet paint and messed things up. The craft paints are very quick to dry so there was very little waiting involved. Plus when you’re painting something that’s 8′ tall, there are lots of areas you can move to and work on stuff.

The picture below highlights the last two things I painted: the brain and the mouth. I originally tried to draw the curves of the mutant’s brain using a Sharpie, but they were so hard to see that instead I plopped some white paint into the blue-gray bowl and using that slightly lighter shade of gray painted the folds of the brain. The mouth was the last thing I painted. I looked at a dozen pictures online and it seems everybody does the mouth differently. In the end I went with a loose interpretation of what it looked like to me (horizontal lines with some yellow, gray and red in there) and called it a day. One thing I learned is that it’s easy to focus on one detail for a long time, but when you look at the overall finished product no one detail stands out. Like a caricature, the goal here is to capture the essence of the mutant, something I think I did.

The next part was the hardest — waiting for the paint to dry. As I mentioned most of the paint dried very quickly, but a couple of the areas with multiple layers of paint (particularly the mouth and the claws) took much longer.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the base of the painting. From the very beginning I knew I wanted the mutant to have a wide base so that he could safely stand up without falling over. Cutting out the legs at the bottom would have made him to skinny. Some of the pictures I references showed the mutant standing in front of some computer equipment, but painting all that equipment would have taken too much time and paint and made the overall piece too large. I decided to just round the bottom off and paint it to look like rocks. I don’t think they ended up looking much like rocks, but they kind of look like an artistic interpretation of rocks. That’s one good thing about being the artist — you can always pretend like whatever you did was intentional. Plausible deniability, yo.

For 48 hours I stood (mostly hunched) over this mutant, circling around him with half a dozen Tupperware bowls full of cheap paint, hoping against hope that this thing would turn out like I had envisioned it would. It wasn’t until the paint was completely dry and I was finally able to stand the finished product up and look at it that I was convinced everything was okay.

After dusting any errant sawdust off the mutant’s base one last time it was time to move him inside. Morgan made a Christmas tag for him and suggested that we add a Santa hat to his head, which we did (with help from a step stool).

For now, the Metaluna Mutant is still at our house — bad weather has prevented the mutant from making his final journey from my house to Dad’s. This weekend he will complete his journey from the planet of Metaluna to Dad’s house. I don’t know that Dad has a spot planned for his latest acquisition of “large art” yet, but I do know that I met my original goal and Dad confirmed that he did not already have a hand-painted one-of-a-kind Metaluna Mutant. Whew, what a relief!

(You can view all the pictures I took of the project in this photo album).

I finished my Christmas shopping surprisingly early this year, almost two full weeks before the arrival of the holiday. I shop for Susan, and Susan shops for everybody else. Over the past couple of months Sue gave me a list of five gift ideas. I got four of them. (The antique radio she mentioned at The Rink was long gone by the time I made my way back there.)

With the fiscal cliff looming Susan and I honestly didn’t know if we were going to get Christmas Eve off from work. In the end we did, which turned the Christmas holiday into a four-day weekend. Around here you need a four-day weekend to celebrate Christmas the way we do. We have Christmas Eve Dinner at our house. We eat lunch on Christmas Day at my mom’s house, and dinner that night at Susan’s sister’s house. The kids went over to Susan’s sister’s house one night to make Christmas cookies. We went and looked at Christmas lights at least three times. Even with four days to celebrate, there’s not a lot of holiday down time.

The last two years have not been White Christmases in Oklahoma, but the local weathermen predicted a veritable blizzard for 2012. They were wrong, and somehow the snow missed us even though the ice didn’t. Technically you could call it a White Christmas by the dusting of ice pellets, but it was worthless for making snowballs. Just ask Mason; he tried more a dozen times, with each fist full of hurled white dust disintegrating in the wind just as fast as he could throw them.

Christmas sort of came and went as a blur this year. Tonight, Mason’s upstairs playing his new video games while Morgan is downstairs with her nose in her nose in her new iPod, waiting for the weather to change so she can try out her new bicycle. After a day of teleworking from the house today, tomorrow it’ll be time to dig out a clean pair of pants and head back to work.

With all the horrible news over the past month of shootings and murders and people dying in house fires on Christmas, all the gifts we gave and received this year seem secondary to just being able to see everything this year and knowing that my friends and family are safe.

Merry Christmas, 2012. Now it’s time to get back to the grind.

Over the weekend ABCNews posted their list of the 50 best albums of 2012. I used to enjoy dabbling in a bit of internal debate with these lists — “Yes, I agree with that!” or “No, how could they list that?!” These days, my response to the vast majority of the entries is, “Who are these people?” Below are the Best 50 Albums of 2012 according to ABCNews.com.

I know these artists, and have heard these albums:

30. P!NK – “The Truth About Love”
27. SOUNDGARDEN – “King Animal” (Deluxe Edition)
15. DEFTONES – “Koi No Yokan”

Comments: I obtained these three albums before one of my recent cross country road trips. I’ve listened to each of them exactly once, and will probably listen to the Soundgarden and Deftones albums again.

I know these artists. I would listen to these albums, but haven’t yet:

39. SMASHING PUMPKINS – “Oceania”
18. GARBAGE – “Not Your Kind of People” (Deluxe Edition)
16. GREEN DAY – ” ¡Uno!” / ” ¡Dos!” / ” ¡Tré!”
13. KID KOALA – “12 Bit Blues”
08. NAS – “Life Is Good” (Deluxe Edition)

Comments: Most of these I didn’t know existed until I read the list. “Current” Green Day is so far from the Green Day I enjoyed back in the day, but I might give it a spin. Ditto for Smashing Pumpkins.

I know these artists. I have no interest in these albums:

50. AIMEE MANN – “Charmer”
46. BOBBY WOMACK – “The Bravest Man in the Universe”
12. FIONA APPLE – “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You
11. DINOSAUR JR. – “I Bet on the Sky”
06. …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD – “Lost Songs” (Deluxe Limited Edition)
05. NORAH JONES – “Little Broken Hearts”

Comments: I’ve heard these people’s names. I guess that’s something?

And finally …

Artists I have never heard of:

49. TYVEK – “On Triple Beams”
48. JIMMY CLIFF – “Rebirth”
47. MAXIMO PARK – “The National Health”
45. BAT FOR LASHES – “The Haunted Man”
44. BLOC PARTY – “Four” (Deluxe Edition)
43. MOON HOOCH – “The Moon Hooch Album”
42. LEE RANALDO – “Between the Times and the Tides”
41. JJ DOOM – “Key to the Kuffs”
40. KATE HAVNEVIK – “You”
38. THE WALLFLOWERS – “Glad All Over”
37. JAPANDROIDS – “Celebration Rock”
36. METZ – “Metz”
35. REDD KROSS – “Researching the Blues”
34. MICHAEL KIWANUKA – “Home Again”
33. OF MONSTERS AND MEN – “My Head Is an Animal”
32. ROCKET JUICE & THE MOON – “Rocket Juice & the Moon”
31. MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO’S – “Rot Gut Domestic”
29. NADA SURF – “The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy”
28. BEST COAST – “THE ONLY PLACE”
26. MIKE DOUGHTY – “The Flip Is Another Honey”
25. THE WALKMEN – “Heaven”
24. P.O.S. – “We Don’t Even Live Here”
23. A.C. NEWMAN – “Shut Down the Streets”
22. TAME IMPALA – “Lonerism”
21. TY SEGALL – “Hair” / “Slaughterhouse” / “Twins”
20. CAT POWER – “Sun”
19. FOUR TET – “Pink”
17. MASTA ACE/DOOM: MA_DOOM – “Son of Yvonne”
14. FLYING LOTUS – “Until the Quiet Comes”
10. JESCA HOOP – “The House That Jack Built”
09. SHARON VAN ETTEN – “Tramp”
07. SCOUT – “All Those Relays”
04. SKELETON KEY – “Gravity Is the Enemy”
03. MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS – “The Heist”
02. FRANK OCEAN – “channel ORANGE”
01. REGINA SPEKTOR – “What We Saw from the Cheap Seats”

There you have it. I’m out of touch and old.

Long before digital photo frames could be found at places like Walgreens, I experimented with making one of my own. Using an old laptop I copied a bunch of pictures on to it and, using an old version of LView, set up my own little photo slide show. It wasn’t the best solution and it didn’t look anything like a photo frame, but the seed was there. Later when wireless networking began permeating our lives I moved my digital photos to a shared network folder and streamed them wirelessly to the laptop.

I retired that system years ago when someone — my Dad, I think — bought me a digital photo frame. The screen size is smaller than some of the frames they have available today, but it’s worked great for me for many years. It reads pictures from an SD card, which works great, and even came with a remote for controlling things. I’ve had the photo frame for at least five years now hanging on the outside of my cubicle at work. I change the pictures regularly and people always stop and make small talk about whatever location or event that happens to be taking place in the photo that’s on display when they walk by. Life’s been good.

At work a couple of weeks ago at work I moved from one building to another. I haven’t talked about it much because frankly it’s a bit of a sore subject, but suffice it to say I no longer sit in the same building that I’ve spent 15 of the past 17 years sitting in. That being said, it is what it is, and a place to sit is a place to sit. During the move I ended up taking most of my personal items home to lighten the migration, and only in the last couple of days have I started setting up anything other than work-related items in my cubicle. One thing I set up was my old photo frame.

If you’ve ever worked in a cubicle you know that sometimes you have to be creative. My whiteboard currently hangs from a couple of handmade hooks, custom-bent just so by a pair of pliers. Our calendar hung from a chain of paperclips fastened together for years.

To hang the photo frame, I first re-used the same sticky double-sided Velcro that had already been holding it in place for years. I pressed everything down tight and was confident it would do the trick. The next day when I returned to work my friend Howard had already picked the photo frame up off the ground and placed it on my desk. My second attempt was a bit more kludgey and used a small clip, another custom-bent paperclip, and a bit of masking tape. I’m sure it would have held forever as long as nobody ever touched it — but if you’ve ever worked in a cube, you know that’s not very likely. For my third attempt I went back to Velcro. During lunch on Friday I picked up some sticky-backed Velcro from Family Dollar and used it to stick the photo frame to the outside of my cube. Perfect! Perfect, that is, for about ten minutes. Then I heard the crash. This fall had not been so kind to the photo frame.

Not visible in this picture is the fact that the front and the back of the photo frame completely separated. I spent about ten minutes reattaching wires into plugs and small, paper-thin ribbons into their proper places, but even with the delicate wires replaced there was no fixing the screen. After any salvageable bits were saved, into the trash it went.

Today is December 22nd. Christmas shopping for everyone, I hope, is done. Santa’s Elves are done making toys and are busy wrapping gifts and doing last minute errands. I know it’s too late for Santa to get a new digital photo frame into my stocking this year, and I dare not break the family rule of buying myself something before every last gift has been opened. For now I remain frameless … but if anyone sees any go on sale the day after Christmas, let me know, eh?

I’ve been brainstorming for a couple of days now, trying to come up with a single word to describe movie sequels that simply recycle the plots and jokes from the original film. The word I finally came up with was “requel.” A requel is a sequels that can be explained with a single sentence that begins with “It’s exactly like the first movie, except X,” where X is something like “the werewolf is now a wrestler instead of a basketball player” (Teen Wolf Too) or “this time Kevin is in New York instead of Chicago” (Home Alone 2).

A Christmas Story 2 is exactly like the first movie, except this time around fifteen-year-old Ralphie wants a car instead of a Red Ryder BB Gun.

Don’t think that I am simply rallying against needless sequels; I am not. I happen to own original DVDs of Revenge of the Nerds part 4, Police Academy part 7, and Friday the 13th part 10. I have no aversion to sequels in general. It’s requals that I cannot stand as they serve absolutely no purpose (except perhaps to make us long for the originals).

So this is Ralphie, five years after the original Christmas Story took place and with a weird plastic hair helmet instead of normal human hair. Ralphie lives in the same town with the same family and has the same friends so everything is exactly the same, except of course everybody in this movie is obviously played by different actors so nobody looks or sounds remotely the same. They didn’t even try to find people that resembled the original cast. They just hired some random people and threw a pair of red glasses on Ralphie there and called it good. (It’s not good.) Possibly the worst is Daniel Stern, who plays Mr. Parker. Yes. The patriarch of the Parker family is now played by Marv, one of the Wet Bandits from Home Alone.

As the movie opens we learn that all Ralphie wants for Christmas is a car, which sounds very similar to the plot of the original film. Soon we see Ralphie’s father, who is cussing up a storm because he has to go down into the basement to work on the furnace. Hey, I remember that from the first film! Then Ralphie gets in trouble for saying “son of a bitch,” and his mother asks him where he heard such a phrase, and then we get to hear his father say it too. I remember that joke from the original too! Then Ralphie drops something and says “fuuuuuuuuuuudge,” just like he did in the first movie. HI-LAR-I-OUS! Fortunately in this movie we don’t see Ralphie getting a pink bunny costume again for Christmas from Aunt Clara. Instead, she sends his little brother Randy gets s sailor suit.

The list goes on. Instead of turkey this year, the Parker’s plan on having fish. They redo the gag of kids vising an impatient Santa. The family ends up in a Chinese restaurant. Oh, and remember when I said Ralphie doesn’t end up in a pink bunny suit again? He doesn’t — he ends up wearing a brown reindeer suit. Yes, every single plot point of the original film finds its way into this terrible sequel, including this one:

Yes. There’s another leg lamp. And it gets put in the front window of the Parker’s house. And Mrs. Parker doesn’t like it one bit. And Randy touches the leg in a sensual manner. Where have I seen all of this before?

Not only does this film rip off every single gag from the original film, but it’s done with poor acting. Nobody appearing in this film comes off as being remotely likable. I did not laugh one time while watching this movie. I didn’t even smile — and yet, I couldn’t look away. It was like watching the train from Polar Express running over Santa’s reindeer, splattering their guts all over the North Pole. Except instead of reindeer, it was my childhood.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Ralphie tries pulling a towel out from underneath the wheel of his dream car, a 1939 Mercury 8. When he does, the car begins rolling down the driveway. Before it can roll out into the street, a young fifteen-year-old girl runs up and stops it from rolling. I checked Wikipedia; a 1939 Mercury 8 weighs between 3,500 and 4,000 pounds. I would really like to know if (a) a vehicle weighing two tons can be started rolling by pulling a towel out from beneath its wheel, and (b) what would happen to a fifteen-year-girl who attempted to stop said led sled from rolling? It’s such a small, insignificant point in the movie to ponder, but after sitting through over 100 minutes of people acting the opposite of how they would in real life, I don’t know why it should be surprising that the physics in this movie don’t make any sense either.

There is a subplot to the movie, one that involves Ralphie and his friends taking jobs in an attempt to raise money and pay back a used car salesman after Ralphie damages one of his cars. Of course the salesman doesn’t call Ralphie’s father because, hey, a fifteen-year-old kid must be good for it, right? Of course the fifteen-year-old boys are able to find jobs in a single day and are able to raise some money, even though I found myself rooting against them for the most part.

Not only is A Christmas Story 2 a requel, it’s a reek-quel. It reeks. It stinks. It’s so bad, it almost makes me like the original a little less. Watching this film is like biting into a rotten fruit log. The first bite is terrible and the aftertaste is worse. This film isn’t even bad in a good way. It’s just bad, bad, bad. Every single person involved in the production of this film deserves to be on Santa’s naughty list.

Avoid at all costs — something I assume will not be difficult to do.

Wednesday night for Mason’s birthday, Susan, the kids and I attended the Thunder vs. Hornets game. From the moment we found our seats and sat down I knew there were going to be problems. The people sitting directly behind us were already drunk and being loud and belligerent. This was 20 minutes before tip off.

You know you’re going to be dealing with obnoxious drunks when they shout “USA YEAH MAN WOO!” during the opening prayer, which is exactly what happened. A few minutes into the game, the two guys directly behind us began shouting “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” That is a perfectly acceptable thing to do when your team — or any team, really — is on defense. It’s moronic to do so when the home team is shooting free throws. Later, during one of the timeouts, the Redneck Duo discussed whether or not they could hit a player from there with their hunting bow. The longer the game went on, the louder these two got.

At the end of the first quarter, one of the guys left to go buy three beers even though the venue is only supposed to sell you two at a time. When he returned, he told the stranger next to him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” When his other buddy returned behind us, he told him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” Then when his girlfriend returned to her seat, he told her how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” During the third telling of the story, we all chimed in and did the punch line with him — “damn, that was fast!” Annoying.

Right after those three beers is then the f-bombs started. F this game, F the Hornets, F everybody. I finally turned around and told them to watch the F-bombs. Then they returned to yelling “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” and whistling so loud that every time they did it Morgan would jump and plug her ears with her fingers. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with people enjoying a game, but a modicum of self-control in public is expected. Shortly after asking them to refrain from using the F-word, I heard them say, “F them, we paid our $10!”

When Susan had had enough she texted guest services. At the beginning of every game, fans are told that if someone is being unruly, you can text a number and they will send someone over to address the issue. So she did, and the response she got back was, “go find an usher.” This was during the middle of the second quarter and we were sitting in seats 14, 15, 16 and 17 in the nosebleed section. Finding an usher is not the easiest thing to do at that point.

And so with about a minute left in the first half, we decided to leave. For the record, this is when *I* began dropping f-bombs, out of the range of my children’s ears (I hope). When I stood up and turned around … let’s just say, words were exchanged. The drunker of the two told me what he thought about me and I told him what I was about to do to him. After a long stare down Susan began pulling me in one direction and this drunk buffoon continued yelling about his “19 and 0 record,” which could have only referred to cow tipping.

Out in the hallway Susan found a vendor and complained about the people to him. The man said he couldn’t leave his station, but began actively looking for an usher. We had already received that advice, via text. After 5 minutes of standing around, we did eventually find an usher, who asked where the group was sitting. Susan then asked if we could be relocated somewhere else and the usher shook his head no. And then we left, with one kid (Morgan) confused and the other one crying because we had just left the game on his birthday. On the way home we stopped by Cold Stone Creamery and had some ice cream. When that didn’t cheer him up, we stopped by GameStop and bought him a copy of NBA2K13 for the PS3. Thank god that cheered him up because I was about to go broke.

When CiCi’s Pizza first opened their doors they charged $2.99 for their all you can eat pizza buffet. What I dislike most about CiCi’s isn’t their pizza (although it can be pretty bad) — it’s being around people that can only afford $2.99 pizza. (It really is the dearth of humanity.) I now feel the same way about the nosebleed section at Chesapeake Arena. The problem with buying $10 tickets is that you end up sitting by people who can only afford $10 tickets. (At our last game, it was a row of Hispanic kids who spent half the game kicking our chairs, and the other half kicking me in the head.) It’s a shame because I don’t think you should have to expect to put up with things like that. I don’t think that “comes with the territory” just because you bought cheaper seats.

Susan sent a follow up message to the Thunder organization, so we’ll see what if anything comes of that. We have tickets to three more games and we’re debating on whether to hang on to them or sell them. I’d rather buy one or two pairs of semi-expensive tickets next year than half a dozen pairs of cheap ones and have to deal with this again. Unacceptable.

Mason was four or five years old when he attended his first NBA game, sometime during those two seasons when the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Back then Mason was more into the food and halftime antics than he was the game, but there was something about basketball that stuck with him. Since then he’s played one season of soccer and took a couple of month’s worth of karate, but all along he’s said what he really wanted to do was play basketball.

When we moved into our old house we inherited a mounted-in-concrete basketball goal that faced the street. Because you had to stand out in the street to use the goal and because he was so little, Susan and I would take turns out in the street with Mason while he shot baskets. Long before he was physically capable of launching the ball high enough to send it through the hoop, he was out there trying. A crack in the street was designated as the free throw line; the opposite curb marked three-point range. Mason was as happy as a clam standing out in the street shooting baskets, sometimes hours on end.

A couple of years ago I did one of those things that as a parent you should never do. When Mason told me he was going to grow up and be a professional basketball player, I told him that was pretty unlikely. At that point he kind of stopped playing basketball. It took us a couple of weeks to put two and two together. When we did, I did one of those backtracking things (“What I meant to say was …”) and he began playing basketball again. So, parental lesson learned.

When we moved to our new house in 2011, one of the things Mason said he was sad about was losing his basketball goal. Last spring, my friend Howard gave us his old goal that needed a backboard, and my friend Andy gave us his backboard that needed a goal. A few screws and zip ties later and the two were united.

That brings us to last month, when we discovered that the YMCA near our home has youth league basketball. After much pleading from Mason, we signed him up for the 8-10 year old league. To be honest I didn’t think he would enjoy it much. I know Mason likes shooting baskets, but I was unsure how much he would enjoy attending practice, and dribbling, and playing defense, and running laps. Turns out, he loves it all. Every last bit of it. He loves being on the court.

After only two practices, Mason’s team — the OKC Celtics — played their first game. I was pretty nervous before the game, and I told Mason the truth: I didn’t care if his team won or lost, I just cared that he got to play and that he had a good time.

None of us knew this was going to happen, but Mason was chosen to perform the opening tip off for his team. I guess there’s something I’ve left out of this story up until this point — Mason’s tall. He’s the tallest kid in his class (“except for the kid that got held back,” he always says), he’s the tallest kid on his team, and except for the referees, he was the tallest kid on the court. (And, in full disclose, because of his birth date, he was probably also one of the oldest kids on the floor.) When the referee threw the ball up, Mason sailed way above his opponent, swatting the ball down toward his teammate. Game ON.

Although Mason’s team has only had two practices, I guess they learned what their positions are. I guess I shouldn’t call them positions at this point; it’s more like, “where to stand.” Mason’s spot to stand is underneath the goal. After the tip off, Mason ran to his spot. One of his teammates launched a bounce pass to him. Mason threw up a layup and it went in. The score was 2-0, and the crowd went wild.

As the Celtic’s opponents began to come back down court, they lost control of the ball. One of Mason’s teammates grabbed the ball. The kids ran to their spots. Someone passed it to Mason, and he threw the ball through the hoop. 4-0. One of Mason’s teammates scored, making it 6-0. On their next possession they went back to “Operation Mason” and he threw another ball through the hoop, making it 8-0 with Mason scoring six of the eight and shooting 100%.

Mason got pulled out during the second quarter, partially because the YMCA has a rule that every kid gets to play at least half the game (a rule we support 100%) and partially because due to Mason’s bright red face and a misunderstanding, they thought he was over-exerted. He wasn’t, and was dying to get back on the court. He eventually did, playing all of the third quarter and half of the fourth. Mason ended up scoring a couple more times, including the last bucket of the game. The final score was 20-5, I think. (In many youth leagues they stop keeping score if one team gets too far ahead of the other, which is what happened during this game.)

Mason’s a lot like me in the fact that he has more interests than time. He’s got school, he’s got reading, he’s got his video games and gadgets and now he’s got basketball. Maybe he’ll play high school ball or college ball or professional ball and maybe he won’t. It doesn’t matter to me at all. What matters to me the most is that Mason’s doing what he wants to do, and for right now, that’s basketball. Thunder up, Mason, and Happy Birthday son.

While I have phone apps on the brain, I decided to bang out a quick note about Downcast. Downcast is a podcast management tool for iOS (iPhones, iPods, and iPads). Unlike Any.do it’s not free, but if you own an iOS device and are even remotely into listening to podcasts, you should buy this app.

Downcast is a complete podcast management tool that operates independently of iTunes. If you’re like me and rarely (if at all) use iTunes, Downcast is a lifesaver. By entering in the iTunes or RSS feeds of your favorite podcasts, Downcast will (when launched) automatically download the latest episodes. Among other options, you can configure how many episodes of each podcast you with the app to download and/or save. I have mine to save the five latest episodes of each one on my phone. If you want to listen to older episodes that are no longer on your phone, or brand new episodes that you haven’t downloaded yet, Downcast supports streaming.

Downcast has a built in search feature that links to the iTunes podcast category. You can search by title or genre or keyword and find podcasts to listen to. The app handles both audio and video podcasts, and also supports simply listening to the audio of video podcasts if bandwidth is an issue.

Where Downcast absolutely excels is in its settings. You can set the app to only download when connected to wi-fi, to take it easy on your data plan. You can schedule when you want the app to check for updates by time or location. You can configure it to retain a set number of podcasts, or a set number of unlistened to podcasts. You can set up playlists. You can set it to play back audio at a higher rate of speed. One feature I love is, if you use iCloud, you can configure the app to share your podcast lists with other iOS devices — that means the podcasts I subscribe to on my phone will also appear on my iPad. Too cool.

Downcast costs $1.99 in the App Store and is worth 10x that to anyone on the go who likes listening to podcasts.

I use my smartphone all the time for sending and receiving e-mail, engaging in social media, playing games — oh, and occasionally making phone calls! Lately I’ve been looking at some productivity apps to help me with various tasks. A lot of times these apps get installed and removed within a matter of hours after discovering that they either (a) don’t work as advertised, or (b) I simply don’t use them. The ones I find myself using for more than a week, I typically keep. One I’ve been using for over a month now is Any.do.

Any.do is a simple task management application that allows you to schedule and juggle tasks.

The first thing you’ll notice is that instead of using a calendar, the app’s default view displays four folders: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and Later. This makes so much more sense to me. Let’s say I need to wrap some Christmas gifts. I can add myself a note to do it tomorrow. Tomorrow, that task gets moved to Today, and the app will remind me to do it. Cool! As tasks are completed you can draw a line through them with your finger. Tasks can also easily be reordered or moved to different folders by dropping and dragging them with your finger.

Another cool feature of the app is that it can sync with other phones. If you use Google Chrome, you can install a Google Chrome app and sync with it, too. By using the Google app, if I’m sitting at my computer and think of something I need to do tomorrow, I can add it to the app and it’ll sync to my phone. More typically though, I think of things I need to do tomorrow or next week while driving, or watching television, or sitting at my desk at work. In those cases I simply add the tasks to the phone. If I need to re-prioritize them later, I can do do. Any.do is promising a web version of their app is “coming soon.”

Any.do offers Facebook and Twitter integration as well, features I don’t use. I don’t need my phone sending out tweets or posting to my timeline every time I mail out a package or wash the car. Any.do can also access your contact info (if you let it), if you want to add tasks that involve other people. I always freak out when apps ask for access to anything extra so I initially denied it, but later recanted and granted it.

Did I mention Any.do is free? Any.do is free. Free for the iPhone, free for Android, and free for Chrome. I don’t know if the web version will be free or not, but I assume it will be. I have no idea how the creators of Any.do make money or how they plan to make money.

Any.do has been panned by some who say that it doesn’t have enough features. For me, that’s exactly the beauty of it — Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Later. It’s very simple to install and begin using. And, it’s free.