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Star Wednesday: Kenny Baker’s Autograph

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I don’t own many autographed items. I have one Atari 2600 cartridge signed by the programmer (Yars’ Revenge, by Howard Scott Warshaw), a show brochure I had autographed by David Copperfield in the mid-1980s, and three books signed by their respective authors: hacker Kevin Mitnick, magicians Penn and Teller, and my writing professor, Deborah Chester.

The only other autographs that I have belong to people who appeared in Star Wars films. I have five action figures autographed by the people who played them in the films: David Prowse (Darth Vader), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3P0), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

The one thing all of these actors have in common is that they are primarily known for playing characters that wear masks. Several of them have cameos and appear as other characters within the films without their masks on (see Anthony Daniels below as Dannl Faytonni, who appeared on screen for just a few seconds in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones).

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For some, however, it was easier to find them unmasked outside the Star Wars universe. When Darth Vader was finally unmasked at the end of Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t David Prowse but rather Sebastian Shaw’s face that appeared. Shaw,not Prowse, also played Anakin Skywalker’s ghost at the end of the unedited original film. It wasn’t until I saw Clockwork Orange that I got my first glimpse of David Prowse acting without his mask and cape on (he plays the bodybuilding bodyguard that appears in the film).

When I was little I thought R2-D2 and C-3P0 were real robots, but it didn’t take long to figure out that C-3P0 — being the same shape and size as an average adult human — probably had a person inside that metal costume. But it didn’t dawn on me for years that there was a little person crouched down inside R2-D2 as well. I owned a remote controlled car as a kid and always assumed that R2-D2 was remote controlled, too. Over the years they’ve experimented with CGI versions and robotic versions of the droid, but looking back, you can see that the man inside that little blue and white astromech droid was actually performing.

It wasn’t until 1981’s Time Bandits that I got to see Kenny Baker actually perform without a silver dome covering his head. Here he is on the far left, standing proudly with a colander on his head… which, now that I think about it, looks a lot like a silver dome covering his head.

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In Flash Gordon and The Elephant Man, Kenny Baker simply played characters named “Dwarf,” but in Time Bandits, he was Fidgit, one of the bandits avoiding both the Supreme Being and evil incarnate as they traveled through time, robbing the rich to feed themselves.

From the moment I saw Kenny Baker in Time Bandits, I always thought of him every time I saw R2-D2 rolling around. I have no idea if he was cramped inside the droid’s body or how much he could see through the costume, but surely rolling around in the desert and on hot sets wasn’t comfortable.

You’re not likely to run into Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher at a run-of-the-mill sci-fi convention, but that’s exactly what brought Kenny Baker to Oklahoma City back in June of 2001: the Sci-Fi Expo and Toy Show.

I think I already had my C-3P0 card signed prior to meeting Baker, so it seemed like the thing to do would be to stick with signed figures rather than 8×10 glossies or posters. I don’t recall what (if anything) the two of us said to one another as he signed my action figure. There were a lot of people in line in front of me and even more behind me. What I do remember is that he smiled, and was kind.

Kenny Baker passed away this past weekend, just a couple of weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. He is the second main cast member to pass away, following Sir Alec “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Guinness who passed away in 2000 at the age of 86.

Sometimes when watching films we see characters and sometimes we see the actors who portray them. It’s hard to watch Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon or O.J. Simpson in The Naked Gun and not think about their real life troubles. Even though we can’t see his face when R2’s dome spins or he emits an excited series of beeps and boops, I plan to make a point to think about Kenny Baker each time I see R2-D2 from now on, and I’ll keep this autographed figure hanging on the wall to remind me of him, too.

Releasing an Apple IIe’s Magic Smoke

On July 21, 2016, Ancient Legends was released for Apple II home computers. The game is similar in design to classic role playing games from the 1980s like Ultima and Bard’s Tale, and I was greatly looking forward to trying it out on my vintage Apple IIe computer.

A few years ago I purchased a CFFA3000 card for my Apple II. The CFFA3000 card allows owners to play Apple II disk images stored on a USB stick. I paid approximately $200 (including the additional remote and shipping) for my CFFA3000, and $1.48 for the computer at a thrift store.

I’m in the middle of rewiring my computer desk (yes, those are boxes of Ghostbusters Twinkies and a ventriloquist doll…) so pardon the mess, but I was able to copy the disk images over to a USB stick and the game booted right up on my vintage Apple IIe computer.

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Five minutes into the game it began to act up. I was just about to declare the program buggy when I heard a loud POP, followed by the release of magic smoke. (For those who don’t know, all electronics run off of magic smoke. When you let it out, they stop working.) I quickly yanked the power cord out of the back of the computer and opened the case, releasing the smoke and the smell of burned plastic into my room. It didn’t take long to determine the source of the smoke — the machine’s old power supply had given its all and thrown in towel.

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Specifically, that capacitor was the one that did itself in.

There has, and always will be, a debate as to whether emulation is better than real hardware. I, being a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, have long argued that there’s a time and place for each, but I’ve had people from both ends of the spectrum blast my opinion. I do enjoy the real thing when and where I can, but when one of these vintage machines literally blows up, it always makes you reconsider.

A few years ago I had half a dozen Apple II computers. The Franklin Ace 1000 died due to a tragic golf cart accident (don’t ask), one was gutted for parts, the IIc doesn’t accept internal cards like the CFFA3000 (a requirement) and my black Bell and Howell model has never worked. That means, in reality, I have two: the IIe Platinum model that I’ve been using (and is currently dead) and a spare, original, model IIe.

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I don’t know why I leave these prices on my old machines, but I do. It reminds me of those glorious pre-eBay days. As you can see, this one was priced at $3.98 before being lowered to $1.98. After a bit of dusting and cleaning, I swapped my CFFA3000 card into this machine and fired up a couple of games.

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The first one was last year’s “Flapple Bird,” a port of Flappy Bird (remember when that was a thing?). Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear my replacement IIe has a compatible 80-column card installed, which is why the graphics appear garbled.

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For round two I went with an older game, Accolade’s 1985 game “Law of the West.” As you can see, it fired right up.

My friend @QuinnDunki of BlondiHacks fame (if you’ve ever used a soldering iron or touched a vintage computer, you owe it to yourself to check out her website) pointed me to Ultimate Micro, a website that sells replacement power supply kits for Apple II computers. The site is currently down for retooling, but when it comes back, I plan on ordering a replacement power supply for my mostly-dead Apple IIe.

Since my primary Apple IIe imploded I have spent some time playing Ancient Legends through emulation. It’s a fun game. I haven’t got very far yet (I suspect the key to longevity in the game is finding a place to heal!) but it’s been enjoyable, and I can’t wait to take it out for a spin on a real Apple II once I get mine back up and running.

How (Not) to Get Rid of Things

I’ve written 50,000 words on my next book, A Collector of Collections. The more I write, the more I begin to suspect that I’m less of a collector and more of a hoarder. Many of the things I claim to collect are just things I’ve amassed over time and can’t seem to part with. Last Friday, I decided to take a stand. Last Friday, I decided to get rid of something. Anything.

With gusto, I walked over to my toy shelves and scanned them for something I could get rid of. Just one thing. Anything. After looking for a minute or two, I found it — er, them.

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I don’t remember when or where I acquired these plush figures, which is both a good and bad sign. They mean nothing to me. There are six of them, each one representing a different General Mills cereal. There’s the chef from Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the Honey Bee from Cheerios, Sonny from Cocoa Puffs, Lucky the Leprechaun from Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, and Chip the Cookie Hound from Cookie Crisp. A couple of them still have their tags attached to them, identifying them as General Mills Breakfast Babies. They were obviously a cash-in on Beanie Babies.

My first thought was to toss them in the trash, but I quickly decided donating them to the thrift store would be better. Before I scooped them up, I had to check online and see what they were worth. I searched online for “General Mills Breakfast Babies” and discovered that there weren’t just six Breakfast Babies released. There were seven.

I was missing Trix the Rabbit.

One “buy it now” later…

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Well, that didn’t go well.

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Twists and Turns

Ten years ago (or was it fifteen?) I got a Dremel for Christmas. I wanted a Dremel, because I saw my friend Andy using one and it looked useful. If you’ve never seen one, a Dremel is a wand-shaped tool that spins really fast. You can put attachments on the end and use it to cut, grind, sand, and drill stuff.

Below my desk is a plastic briefcase full of “blending” markers. A couple of years ago, I watched someone on YouTube draw using a set of blending markers. It fascinated me. The next day I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a wide assortment of blending markers. Good blending markers, like Copic brand, cost $6 each, and according to every thirteen-year-old girl on YouTube you need at least 2,583 markers to draw anything. I went the “cheap” route and bought a 32 pack of off-brand markers for around a hundred dollars. I came home and drew a picture of Malachai from Children of the Corn. Then I put the markers in a plastic briefcase and pushed it under my desk. My foot is resting on the briefcase under my desk right now, where it will remain until I die.

Outlander! (1024)

Anyway, back to the Dremel. The Dremel is the tool-world’s version of a Ginsu knife (or Gallagher’s “Sledge-O-Matic”). It does a whole lot of things, depending on which attachment you use. The Dremel I received came with only a small handful of accessories, so immediately acquiring more became paramount. At a garage sale, I found some poor sod who used to own a Dremel but was getting rid of it. He had a lot of little packages of cutting attachments. I bought them all, along with another big mamma-jamma container full of 150 tiny bits.

The reason I’m writing about my Dremel is because I need to solder something. A Dremel can’t solder things — that’s what a soldering iron is for — but my soldering iron has a bunch of old solder caked on it. I searched YouTube for “how to get old solder off a soldering iron” and found a guy who said you can sand it off using a Dremel.

The only reason I own a soldering iron is because of mod chips. Mod chips were chips that could be installed in video game consoles that allowed you to bypass copy protection and play pirated games. The first mod chips for the original PlayStation came with four wires that needed to be soldered to the system’s motherboard. I bought a soldering iron for that purpose. The first soldering iron I bought was under-powered, so I bought a second one. That one got gunked up with dried solder all over it, so I bought a third one. That one was garbage, too. I haven’t soldered anything since the late 1990s, but I’ve own three soldering irons. I just threw the two cheap ones away. That leaves me with one that is covered in old solder.

So, right, the Dremel. I couldn’t find it. I found some of the accessories, then I found some more of them, but I couldn’t find the Dremel. Some of the accessories were in my red toolbox. Some were in a plastic shoe box. Finally, I found the Dremel in the bottom of a different toolbox.

Yesterday I decided it was dumb to have my Dremel and its accessories stored in three different locations, so I went to Big Lots in search of a tackle box to store everything in. I couldn’t find a tackle box, but they did have a three-level plastic storage thing designed to carry lunches. I thought it would work great, so I bought it and brought it home. I then spent a couple of hours finding every one of my Dremel accessories and sorting them into little bins. The grinding wheels went in one bin and the buffing pads went in another one. The Dremel gets a tray all by itself, one that was probably designed to carry sandwiches. The third tray is full of random accessories. I don’t know what any of them do but it seems important to keep them.

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So after finding my Dremel and all my accessories, sorting all the attachments into my my carrying case, digging out my old soldering iron, and cleaning off a place to work in the garage, I sanded all the old solder off of my soldering iron. It took about thirty seconds.

I still don’t know what all these Dremel attachments are for. I will spend some time today looking each one up on the internet and figuring it out. Maybe I will make a little cheat sheet using my $100 marker set and tape it to the inside of my plastic lunch container that has been refashioned into a Dremel carrying case.

I forgot what I was going to solder.

When Memories Meet Scissors

Last night, my wife opened up a storage tub of t-shirts I’ve been saving for twenty years and, using a pair of scissors, systematically cut each one of them in half as I squirmed and watched.

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The majority of shirts in the tub were concert t-shirts, most of which I purchased at concerts decades ago. There were Danzig, Stone Temple Pilots, Motley Crue, Faith No More, Pantera, and a whole lot of Metallica shirts in the tub. Almost all of the ones I purchased at concerts had Oklahoma City listed as one of the tour dates on the back of the shirt. Concert t-shirts used to be more affordable than they are now, sometimes less than the cost of the ticket. Also in the tub were a couple of shirts from bands like Slayer and Primus that I didn’t buy at concerts, but from local record shops like Midnight Music and Happy Days Records.

The oldest shirt in the tub, I think, was a black Harley Davidson shirt that came from the shop just down the street from my Grandma’s house in Homewood, Illinois. I’m pretty sure I got the shirt when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. The shirt is thinner now than it was then. I wish I could say the same for myself.

Rob on couch in Harley shirt

None of these shirts fit anymore, nor will they ever again. Most of them were extra-larges that had shrunk from hundreds of washings. Some of them didn’t fit all that well when I was in high-school. If I lost half my body weight, still none of them would fit. Many of them, even if they fit, I wouldn’t wear anymore. Some of them contain vulgar language in big, bold letters — rebellious when you’re 12 years old, borderline funny when you’re 22, embarrassing when you’re 32 and downright offensive when you’re 42.

And yet, I still had them, waiting out in the garage, for something.

I’ve always wanted one of those t-shirt quilts that people make. The difference between Susan and me is that I will spend twenty years wishing I had or had done something, while if you mention it to her, twenty minutes later she’s on the phone making things happen.

The company Susan found requires thirty t-shirts (14″ squares) for a king-size quilt. Technically that could be as few as fifteen shirts (if you included both the front and back). Their other requirement is that you cut the shirts in half, and only send the side you want included on the quilt.

With a nod and a sigh, I gave my blessing.

SNIP!

The cat felt my hesitation and did her best to flop down anywhere Susan prepared to cut.

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Before long, the deed was done. Metallica? SNIP. Slayer? SNIP. There were a few shirts that didn’t make the cut because they didn’t mean anything to me. Funny how I will save a shirt for almost three decades only to decide it holds absolutely no sentimental value to me whatsoever. I didn’t keep any of the shirts, whether they were used or not. All of the unused backs, along with all the shirts that didn’t make the cut, are gone. The ones with graphics are going into the trash. The ones that are plain will go to my dad’s garage and become cleaning rags.

The t-shirts are being packed into a FedEx shipping box and mailed away. We’ll see what I get back in a few weeks!

Star Wednesday: A Plastic C-3P0 and Orange Rex

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Every time the word “Commodore” appears on my local Craigslist, I receive an email alert. Sometimes the alerts link to people selling cars or boats, but most of the time, it’s the computer. I received one such alert last Friday night, informing me about a computer for sale at a garage sale. I need another Commodore 64 like I need a hole in the head, and the one pictured in the ad looked pretty sad (incomplete and with a few mismatched parts), but where there’s smoke, as they say, there’s often fire.

Sometimes literally.

I didn’t make it down to the garage sale until 10 a.m., Sunday morning. When Susan and I arrived, we were greeted by a colorful character who goes by the name Orange Rex. “I’ve worn orange every day for the past twenty years,” he informed the two of us as we began to poke around the interesting items in the man’s front yard. Susan found a box of what appeared to be teaching supplies, and asked the somewhat eccentric man if he was a professor at the nearby college.

“Actually, I’m a fire breather,” Orange Rex replied. A quick Google search confirmed this fact.

The items at Orange Rex’s garage sale seemed to be split — half of them were items targeted toward college students returning to school for the fall semester, while other items were more interesting. On one side of the garage sale sat a table and chairs, some pots and pans, silverware, and other household goods. On the other side sat a few Atari 2600 cartridges, some vintage electronics, vinyl albums, books on UFOs, and all kinds of interesting things.

As Susan continued to dig around, Rex and I talked about Tiny Houses, 3D Printing, journalism, and Rubik’s Cubes. Eventually Susan asked about the Commodore (it had sold at 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning), but as the conversation turned toward vintage video games, I soon found myself in Rex’s living room, admiring his very minty collection of boxed Atari 2600 games.

At some point while I was inside, Susan found a small plastic C-3P0 and thought that I might want it. I did, but not for the reason she thought. I left the garage sale with a couple of puzzles, a book about Rubik’s Cubes, a book about UFOs and mind control, and a plastic C-3P0 from McDonald’s 2001 Clone Wars Happy Meal collection.

“Variety is the spice of life,” Susan always says after we meet someone interesting, and Orange Rex is definitely an interesting fellow. I look forward to continuing our conversations online. Maybe someday he’ll teach me how to breathe fire in return.

The C-3P0 figure is now sitting on a shelf when you enter my Star Wars room. As far as C-3P0 toys go, it’s dreadful; caramel colored instead of chrome, with weird kung-fu hands and poor posture. I didn’t buy him for any of those reasons, of course. I bought him because each time I come upstairs, I want to look at him and remember that variety is the spice of life.

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Fixing to Fix Things

When Susan and I got married twenty-one years ago, our dear friend Carol bought us a wooden serving tray. It’s made of slats of wood, with two handles that swivel. Susan loves it and still uses it. A few years ago, one of the side slats came loose. Whenever it comes loose, Susan lines up the holes where the staple used to go and pushes it back together.

A few weeks ago, I decided to fix it for her. First, I needed some wood glue. That part was easy. Next, I needed a clamp long enough to hold the thing together while the glue dried. This is called a “trigger clamp.” I found a 12″ one locally for around $20. I don’t know that I will ever use it again, which puts it in the same category as 75% of the rest of my tools.

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Good as new!

Around the same time we received this tray, my dad gave me a copy of the Fix-It-Yourself Manual from Reader’s Digest. I got rid of the book when the Internet became everyone’s source of reference material, but I probably shouldn’t have. Most home repairs, from replacing a garbage disposal to patching drywall, haven’t changed significantly in the past twenty (or even fifty) years.

About three years ago, I got into a fight with our sliding shower doors. One stopped sliding, which was okay, but then the second one began to implode. I had never seen the types of wheels used to keep sliding shower doors rolling until the time I got trapped inside the shower and had to force one of the doors open. After a good shove, I saw tiny bearings fall down into the shower pan and roll around before going down the drain. For the past three years, Susan and I have developed different techniques for taking showers. I have found that by pushing the bottom of the door along with my foot, you can balance the door’s weight and get it to slide, kind of. Susan’s solution was to simply quit closing the door. We got so desperate at one point that we considered replacing the entire shower, although we got cold feet when we got the $5,000 estimate.

I decided last week to fix the shower doors. On YouTube, I watched several videos by handymen who showed how easy the doors were to fix. After removing a tiny block at the bottom of the doors, they lift up and off a rolling track, just like closet doors. When I removed ours, I found one wheel, and three spots where wheels had once been. The two packages of replacement wheels at Home Depot were 3.50 each. I replaced the wheels in about five minutes while Susan cleaned the doors and replaced the bottom guide piece.

We have been fighting those doors for three years. Excluding the drive time to and from Home Depot, the total time to replace them was ten minutes, and that’s only because I had never done it before. I could do it next time in half that time.

Last month, the ice maker in our refrigerator stopped working. So far, we’ve put two bags of ice into the ice bin until we can figure out what to do. YouTube, don’t fail me now…

The End of VHS

It was announced this week that the Funai Electric Company will stop producing VHS video cassette recorders at the end of July. “Who on earth still owns a VCR?” I hear you asking.

Well, I do.

I installed a capture card in my computer and connected a VCR to it that allows me to convert video tapes into computer video files. Yes, I’ve tried those DVD/VCR combo units, but I like the freedom and options that this system affords me. I can edit them easier that way, and half the time I’m just capturing them to send them to YouTube anyway, so it saves me a step (and a blank DVD).

I actually owned a cheap Funai VCR a few years ago. When it stopped working, I was under the delusion that if I opened it up, I might be able to fix it. My first warning should have been that the entire thing seemed to only weight a couple of pounds, a far cry from the old VCRs that took two hands and a pile of muscles to move. After removing half a dozen screws, I found a motor and a small selection of permanently mounted chips. Into the trash it went.

When I went to find a replacement VCR, I couldn’t find new ones for sale. Again, this was a few years ago. Walmart has several VHS/DVD combo units for sale, but no VHS-only units. I guess the demand just isn’t there. I was leery of buying one from a garage sale or thrift store, and didn’t want to spend the money on ordering one only. Fortunately, my mom came through (she had a spare one in her garage) and I’ve been using it ever since.

I personally don’t have any interest in movies on VHS tape that have since been released on DVD, but like I said, lots of movies (thousands) never made it to DVD. Occasionally if I’m in a thrift store or garage sale and run across one such movie, I’ll pick it up and convert it from VHS to MP4 when I get home. I also really enjoy finding old VHS tapes from the 80s (and less so, the 90s) with recordings of television programs, mostly for the commercials. I’ve ripped almost 200 commercials from thrift store tapes I’ve purchased this year, and created a YouTube playlist if you want to watch them all.

VHS tapes (by design) won’t last forever, and some would argue that at least when it comes to tapes containing McRib commercials, that’s probably okay. And maybe they’re right, I don’t know, but I enjoy doing it. It’s kind of like a little treasure hunt, looking for old tapes that contain old commercials that I remember from my childhood. When I mention hobbies like this to Susan she shrugs her shoulders and says, “people are bored.”

I know two people who have large collections of VHS tapes — kids movies, mostly — and still have VCRs hooked up in their living rooms. Again, yes, most if not all of those movies have been released on DVD (and they both own DVD players), but if you have a collection of VHS tapes, why not let kids watch them until they wear out?

While I know there are others, VCRs are a technology that came and left during my lifetime. It’s weird to see kids today not know what a VHS tape is or how to use a VCR (my kids were aghast when I explained to them the concept of “rewinding” something). Even though VCRs served us well and and had a fruitful life, it’s still a little sad to read news like this.

PS: My friend SteveW recently recommended the documentary Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector, a film about the hobby of collecting VHS tapes. I can only imagine the guys that appear in this film have a spare VHS or two (or a dozen) stashed away.

Kevin Durant’s Exit: My Two Cents

The world needs another article about Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State like the Warriors need another three-point shooter, but regardless, now that I’m back from vacation I feel compelled to write something.

As an adult in my forties, I don’t believe anything any celebrity says, ever. When you’ve watched the President of the United States lie to the entire country on television under oath about not having a sexual relationship with his intern, why should we believe anything anyone else has to say? Musicians routinely cancel concerts due to exhaustion (read: drug overdoses) and “happily married” Hollywood couples get divorced every day. I put as much stock in the evening news as I do the National Enquirer. Entertainment reporting has always been more about entertainment than reporting, and once you reach my age, it’s not even that entertaining.

Ever since the Thunder spectacularly imploded during this year’s playoff run (blowing a 3-1 game lead against the Golden State Warriors), rumors began to swirl that Kevin Durant — our hero — might leave Oklahoma City. These rumors sparked a lot of online speculation and local watercooler talk, but for me personally, it caused my two kids — one of whom has his entire bathroom decorated in Oklahoma City Thunder memorabilia — to ask me what Kevin Durant was going to do.

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Now of course I don’t own a crystal ball (and surprisingly my tweets to Number 35 went unanswered), but I did have some good information to go on. Based on what I know about Kevin Durant, what his teammates said about him during their exit interviews, and what I learned from watching the evening news, reading articles, and listening to podcasts, I was 99% sure Kevin Durant was staying put here in OKC.

On October 15, 2008, Susan and I attended the very first pre-season home game of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back then the Thunder were ranked 30th out of 30 teams, dead last in the league. Despite being “nothing,” the Thunder never gave up, and only lost by two points to the Los Angeles Clippers (98-100). Durant may not have been the team’s de facto leader back then (Nick Collison, Nenad Krstic and Desmond Mason were all crowd favorites at the time), but the team went down swinging. They fought like hungry, scrappy dogs.

They weren’t quitters.

April 1, 2014 was Thunder Appreciation Day. Season ticket holders were invited to a special event at the Chesapeake Arena. Among other activities, my kids were invited to go down to the court and shoot a few baskets with Thunder players.

Here’s Morgan, shooting shots with with Russell Westbrook.

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And here’s Mason tossing up a wild two-handed shot after being fed the ball by Kevin Durant.

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After the fun and games were over, the team’s big four — Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Collison — took to the stage. The quartet was asked a series of questions through a panel moderator. The final question was a tough one. Someone asked Kevin Durant if he planned on staying in Oklahoma City or leaving.

Kevin picked up the microphone and said, slowly and deliberately, “I will retire as an Oklahoma City Thunder player.”

The crowd went wild.

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I know you can’t hear it, but this is a picture of Kevin Durant saying those words. I heard it, my kids heard it, and the 10,000 Thunder fans who came down to the Chesapeake Arena to support our local team heard it. So when my kids came to me and asked if Kevin Durant was going to stay in Oklahoma, I told them I knew he would.

Because he told us he would.

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma has affected more than just sports fans. Sure, Thunder fans were upset and disappointed that he chose to leave, but others were affected as well. Between volunteer work, donations, and community outreach, Kevin Durant has done a lot for Oklahoma off the court, too.

There’s an Oklahoma ethic that’s hard to define but easy to see. Drive around town and you’ll having complete strangers smiling, greeting, and waving at you. Walk into any restaurant or store and you’ll have someone hold the door for you. During times of crisis — the Murrah bombing and tornado destruction come to mind — Okies band together. They help one another. They rise to the occasion. They don’t quit, they don’t take the easy road, and they don’t walk away from a challenge.

“But Rob,” I hear you say, “Kevin Durant isn’t even from Oklahoma. He was born in D.C. and went to college in Austin, Texas. He’s not an Okie!”

Exactly.

While maintenance personnel was busy peeling posters of Kevin Durant’s face off the windows of Chesapeake Arena and whoever manages the social media accounts of KD’s restaurant were busy squelching sarcastic Yelp reviews and deleting hateful tweets, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the San Antonio Spurs. Drafted in 1997 to the third worst team in the league, Duncan spent his entire career — nineteen straight years — in San Antonio, helping his team win a total of five NBA championships. Like anyone who spends two decades playing in the league Tim Duncan has accomplished a lot of amazing things, but perhaps the most amazing one is that he helped build a nearly last place team, and lead them to the finals every year. I wish he had shared with Kevin Durant what that felt like before he left.

Then again, comparing Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant is unfair. At 40 years old, Duncan, like me, is a member of Generation X. Durant, age 27, is Generation Y. According to Jason Dorsey, an expert on Millennials, here are three of the defining characteristics of Generation Y (people born between 1977 and 1995, like Durant):

– Gen Y often has a feeling of entitlement.

– Gen Y loves instant gratification.

– Gen Y is known for having big expectations but not always knowing or valuing the steps involved to reach those expectations.

When discussing Millennials and the workplace, Dorsey adds the following: “Gen Y is the only generation in the workforce that has never expected to work for one company their entire lives.”

Maybe I didn’t need a crystal ball, after all.

At the end of the day, “sports is sports.” Players (and sometimes franchises) come and go. Sometimes as fans, we feel like our loyalty to a team somehow translates to a player’s loyalty to that same team. It doesn’t. Players are frequently lured away by promises of mega-million-dollar deals and promises of championships. I’m not so delusional as to think hobnobbing with the rich and famous in Hollywood isn’t more fun than cow tipping in Oklahoma. While I can’t blame my kids for taking down their tributes to Kevin Durant, I hope he finds in California what Oklahoma couldn’t offer him.

I just hope he doesn’t tell anybody he’s an Okie.

Dealing with Doo Doo

So our rented RV has two waste water tanks: one gray, one black. Water that goes into the sink and the shower ends up in the gray tank. Anything that goes into the toilet ends up in the black tank. All of it eventually ends up in a hole in a ground. The owner (or renter, in our case) of the RV gets the esteemed honor of putting it there.

As I mentioned yesterday, there’s a panel inside the RV covered with switches and little lights that allows you to control and monitor features of the vehicle. This morning, after eating a bowl of oatmeal and drinking a large mug of coffee, I retreated to the RV’s luxurious 3’x3′ bathroom and pooped. I’ll spare you the details, save for the part about how I ended up with one leg in the shower, with toilet paper in one hand and a can of air freshener in the other. And when I was all done, believe me, try as that little vent fan could, I sure wished I was not in that tiny hot poop closet.

When I walked out of the bathroom, a new light was blinking on the wall. The black tank was now full.

For the most part we’ve only been doing “number ones” in the RV while saving “number twos” for rest stops, restaurants, and bath houses. I have no idea how big the black tank on this RV is, but … this is all science I just don’t know. I don’t know how much waste comes out of people on average and how big the tank in this RV is to hold it — math was never really my strong suit — but at the end of the day, you don’t need to know any of that.

When the light comes on it’s time to empty the tanks, and that’s all you need to know.

Every RV campground (I’m assuming?) has a place where visitors can dump their tanks. If you were hoping for a high-tech solution here, you will be disappointed. Dumping your tanks involves connecting one end of a big black hose to the RV and sticking the other end down into a hole — far enough that it won’t pop back out, but not far enough to touch “anything” that we all know is down in that hole. Once you are absolutely sure the hose is properly connected, you pull the black handle first, followed by the gray handle. The black handle dumps all the poo poo and pee pee out of the black tank into the hole in the ground. The gray handle dumps all the sink and shower water through the same hose, ostensibly also flushing out anything that was left in the hose. There’s no motorized suction thing performing any of this magic — it’s just you, a (thank God not transparent) hose, and good ol’ gravity.

Oh yeah… and, your nose. The black hose may be liquid-tight, but it sure isn’t odor-tight, I can tell you that. Plus, the other end is literally plunged down into a hole full of other hombres’ caca. There’s no seal around that end at all. I’m sure with a flashlight you could see things that could never be unseen down there.

Aaaaaand… that was pretty much it! With the tanks empty we drove the RV back around to our parking spot, hooked back up to power and water, and set out in the rental car to explore Santa Fe!

(Also, Santa Fe business owners, if you saw us using the restroom in every restaurant and museum we visited yesterday, now you know why.)