Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Virtual Drivers Ed

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is called, "Lonely Cozy Family." This song is about all of the the things that have changed this month, some of which are not so bad.

This week, my daughter started Drivers Ed. The first two days of virtual didactics were less than engaging, but what do you expect? You can't learn how to drive a car from listening to lectures. You have to actually get out there and put in some serious hours playing Pole Position on your Atari.

Since we're all homeschooling now, I wanted to help, so I came up with some practice questions to prepare her for the written examination.

Which famous golf caddy is this class named for?
A. Driver Ed
B. Jeremy Iron
C. Wedge Antilles
D. Wood Harrelson


What does this sign mean?

A. Swerve, if necessary, to avoid toppling the carefully balanced piece of burnt candy corn.
B. If you lift your champagne flute up and down too much, the stem will fall off.
C. Free your mind and look at the negative space. It is a fat man sneezing on the letter Y while an old woman looks on.
D. There are air currents around Gene Simmons' tongue.



On a one-way road, a solid yellow line indicates:
A. A very narrow bike lane. You may legally drive into any biker who doesn't keep both tires on the line at all times.
B.  A waste of expensive paint. What are we, made of money? This is my municipality and I say dashed yellow lines are perfectly good.
C. Yellow means cowardice. If you don't have the giggleberries to drive across this line, you're a lily-livered pisspants.
D. The letter T in Morse Code. It's just a really long dash, uninterrupted for miles, as if to say, "Teeeeeeeee....!"


Which of the following is NOT a parking violation?
A. Parking on top of a moving police vehicle.
B. Parking in front of a fire hydrant if the burning house has a grease fire. (Everyone knows you can't extinguish a grease fire with water.)
C. Parking and then removing your windshield wipers. When the parking enforcement officer has no obvious place to tuck your parking ticket, she may throw herself into traffic out of frustration.
D. Parking illegally but leaving your hazard lights on because you're just running inside for a sec to get a hysterectomy.


What does this sign mean?

A. Please turn pages of large book with a closed umbrella.
B. This section of highway cleaned using Swiffer products.
C. Remove dead snitch from your trunk and bury here.
D. If the toast is still breathing, stab it with a spear.


What is the correct placement of apostrophe(s) in Drivers Ed?
A. Driver's Ed, the singular possessive, because only one of you will actually learn this.
B. D'rivers Ed, which is French for "Of rivers, Ed."
C. Drivers 'Ed, which is Cockney for "Drivers head."
D. Drivers Ed''''''', where the apostrophes replace the rest of the letters in "education."

What does this sign mean?
A. Seriously?
B. The sign is just words.
C. Traffic circle ahead. Just kidding. Because if it was that, the sign would have different words.
D. Moral judgments of right and wrong are specific to a cultural or historical period and no standpoint is uniquely privileged above others.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Anagrams for Charm

Darned Fires,

The Cat Hoard song for this month is called, "Enablers." This is a Cat Chutney with a very memorable melody. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, happy Charm! I hope you enjoyed yesterday's Lady Ape. It's nice to get an extra day every once in a while, but I wish it would happen during Mr. Emus rather than at the end of Bear Fury. Nobody really looks forward to a Funny Wintry Rebate, except my friend Adam who was born on that day in 1972. He only gets to host one Try Apathy Bird every four years, so I'm sure yesterday was a special day for him.

But there is plenty to look forward to in March. It's a great time to take the family to somewhere warm to escape the winter Lord Muds. Be careful, though. Some colleges have Banker's Grip at the beginning of the month, so you may want to steer clear of popular party destinations like Casual Bacons at the Southern tip of African Boa Jail in Mexico. That is, unless you enjoy getting drunk and posing topless for the Wriggled Loins video series.

We can also look forward to Dry Piss Attack on March 17th. Don't forget to wear something genre (preferably a harm sock) and pick up a six-pack of Singe Sun and a bottle of Jam Nose. The holiday is in honor of the Nation Parts of Ireland, who came to the country in the 4th century and converted the local pagans to Its Tiny Chair. Some say he drove snakes out of Ireland, but from a historical perspective, that story is a Sort of Chick. 

The Jewish holiday Purim is also in March. What is the story of Purim? Piranhas named Jake go shave fans from West Virginia.  Okay, that one's a little tough. I'll give you one freebie. *

And before you know it, it will be Spring. The Tempura Tree will start to rise, and the frozen ground will What? Soon, Elf Rows will start to bloom, and birds will Ragtime back from the South.  Sleeping bears will come out of Robin in Heat and start to Maul Arab Barbers.

That last one is not an anagram, by the way. That's just what bears do when they wake up.

Twist Hardware Germs,
Chaz

* Saving of the Jews from Haman, a Persian king's adviser

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Worst Ski Hill in the 25th Flattest State

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for February is called, "Mud Between My Toes." I'm going to give you the same advice that the old singing tree gave Pocahontas: listen with your heart. Of course, Pocahontas didn't have headphones, so you have more choices.

Wisconsin is the 25th flattest state in the Union. (See Figure 1, The United States Ranked by Flatness.) It is neither flat as a pancake, nor as mountainous as a wedding cake. It is a deflated soufflé, and its topographical mediocrity makes it the ideal downhill skiing destination for those of us who enjoy small hills. I have never skied in Colorado or Montana; I'm just not into long runs. I'm a small hill enthusiast. There is nothing more exhilarating than carving through a fresh line of pow-pow for exactly 1 minute 15 seconds.


Figure 1. Florida's state motto: "The Cross-Country Skier's Delight."

I cut my teeth as a small hill enthusiast in one of Milwaukee's premier middle school ski clubs: Blizzard or Snowstar. I don't remember which one I was in, but I remember that the other one sucked cheese curds. Either Blizzard or Snowstar was full of gnar shredders like me, while Snowstar or Blizzard was just a bunch of gapers, bombers, and snowplowing wannabes.

The kids in the other club pinned their lift tickets to their main zippers. Are you kidding me? We pinned our lift tickets to our pocket zippers.

They preferred camouflage balaclavas. Were they crazy? We preferred balaclavas with fluorescent skull faces.

They preferred small hills that were sick. Whatever, dude. We preferred small hills that were sweet and rad. Obviously, Snowstar or Blizzard was way better than the competition in every way.

The only thing that kids in both clubs agreed on is that we hated skiing at Crystal Ridge Ski Resort. Crystal Ridge was the worst ski park in Southeast Wisconsin because it was built on top of an old Milwaukee County landfill. We never actually saw garbage, but we knew it was there. Looking down from the chairlift, we were convinced that we were not seeing moguls, but subterranean depositions of discarded furniture and dismembered mob snitches.

I don't mean to imply that there is anything wrong with repurposing municipal waste. That part was ingenious. The reason that Crystal Ridge was such a terrible ski hill was not that it was built on a landfill, but that it was built on an old landfill.

A new landfill is a hole in the ground. As garbage is deposited, it becomes progressively less concave. It doesn't achieve "old landfill" status until it is completely full and the trash is flush with the surrounding terrain. An old landfill is a lake of garbage, not a mountain of garbage. Only in Milwaukee would someone think to cover that with snow and call it a ski hill.

My family and I are going skiing up North this weekend. We haven't done this in a couple of years, and Lauren and I are a little nervous, a little more aware of our limits. As we've aged, the cushion that separates a torn meniscus from being abandoned in a nursing is just a bit smaller. On the other hand, the risk of injury is measurably lower than when I was a kid in Wisconsin, because this time, we're skiing in the 22nd flattest state.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Off-Brand Musicals

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January is called, "You've Ruined Misfit New Year's Eve."

It's none of your business, but we're spending New Year's Eve in New York City. (NYB, but it's NYE in NYC.) My kids love musicals, but taking the whole family to a Broadway performance can come with a four-digit price tag. So I figure we'll just get tickets to a few unauthorized Off-Broadway shows. Let me know if you've heard anything good about any of these.

The Brook of Mermen
Every September, the Merfolk from the Atlantic Ocean swim upstream to spawn on gravel beds.

Dock of Wages
Drew just wants to play hot guitar licks, oversleep, and show up late for his day job as a bus boy. That's coming out of your paycheck, Drew.

Weightress
When Jenna realizes how delicious her pies look, she stops singing and starts pigging out. She eats pies nonstop for the next two hours, even during the 15-minute intermission.

Median Girls
Cady was raised to be spiteful and backstabbing, but she has to pretend to be good at statistics to fit in with the kids at her new school.

The Briquettes Christmas Spectacular
Lumps of charcoal do a bunch of high kicks.

Fetaljuice
A musical remake of the 1988 hit anti-abortion protestor sign.

Ain't Two-Browed
The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo.

Osama bin Aladdin
Something involving hijacking a magic carpet. Nope, still too soon.

Come from Amway
On September 11, 2001, several of the Devos family yachts were diverted to a little known port in the Caribbean, where the billionaires and locals formed lifelong bonds. Also still too soon.

Enamelton
Just because teeth are white doesn't mean they have to played by white actors.

So you know, these are basically the real deal, at least as far as my kids are concerned. They are only 14 and 11, so they're not going to remember this trip anyway.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Staring Straight At the Moon

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, "The Heart Is Bound."

Today, as I flip to the last page of my 2019 Alpaca-themed wall calendar, I reflect on the last year.  I had lots of happy moments with my family, felt productive at work more often than not, made some music, and spent many memorable hours looking at precious alpaca photos on my wall calendar.

But there were opportunities that got away from me. In January, there was a Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse, and in July there was a total solar eclipse. In both cases, I forgot to look up.

My New Year's resolution is to recommit myself to viewing rare astronomical events. Let's take a look at what deep space has for us during the next 12 alpaca pictures!

January 10, 2020
The first Full Moon of the year.  And yet, the Moon keeps putting food in its mouth. The moon should listen to its body when it is full, commit to mindful eating, and put its fork down between bites. Soon people will comment on how waning it is, and it will achieve that perfect crescent shape in no time.

March 9, 2020
Supermoon. Nobody suspects that that this is actually the same astronomical body as the clumsy, mild-mannered moon with nerdy glasses.

May 21, 2020
My next dentist appointment.

July 5, 2020
Penumbral lunar eclipse. This is a partial eclipse, where the Earth's shadow covers a tiny sliver of the Moon, giving the impression that the Moon has a rounded dent.
Actually, that IS a moon. It's a penumbral lunar eclipse.

October 31, 2020
Blue moon. This just means a full moon that happens twice in a calendar month. Since the days that we call October have no astronomical significance, this designation is artificial. It's like a sportscaster saying, 'That is the most rushing yards by a quarterback... on Thursday Night Football!"

November 30, 2020
Another penumbral lunar eclipse. This is mostly relevant because of Art Van Furniture's "Second Penumbral Lunar Eclipse of the Year Sale." No money down and no interest until Mars transits Saturn.

Beyond 2020
May 26, 2021
Total lunar eclipse (The Earth is between the Moon and the Sun)

April 8, 2024
Total solar eclipse. (The Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.)

December 30, 2032
Triple Jovian Eclipse (Jupiter's Three Largest Moons lining up across its surface.)

September 8, 2040
Holy Shit Eclipse (The Sun is between the Earth and the Moon. This seems concerning... I'm going to recheck my source.)

July 28, 2061
Halley's Comet returns. You will be able to see it with the naked eye but will need a telescope to see the frozen remains of Mark Twain.

July 15, 2067
Mercury occults Neptune, meaning it blocks it completely. Which is crap, because nobody can see Neptune anyway, especially not 91-year-olds like me.

November 2, 2068
My last dentist appointment.

February 18, 2177
The First Plutonian Anniversary. Pluto will have completed one orbit around the Sun since the day it was discovered. I'm probably going to forget, so I'm setting my alarm.



With warmest regards,
Zach

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Coin of the Realm

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called "Days of Love." If I were a gambling man, I would be willing to bet that if you're reading this, there is an 11% chance that you will also listen to the song. I like those odds.

And guess what... I am a gambling man! I've been to Las Vegas twice in my life, and between those two visits, I placed a total of one bet.

My first stopover in Sin City was in the Summer of 1997. It was the final leg of a post-college road trip. Las Vegas, as I learned from our guidebook, is Spanish for "The Vegas." The party animals simply call it Vegas, but these same party animals also say Ohio State University. Neither is grammatically correct without the definite article. You wouldn't say, "I swam in Pacific Ocean, subscribed to New York Times, and got tortured by CIA." The word THE must be used when describing bodies of water, periodicals, and organizations. You know, like, "I swam in The Lake Ontario, subscribed to The Newsweek, and got tortured by The ISIS."

I was 21 years old, and had never sat at a casino table before. Sure, I had stuffed a few quarters into a video poker machine, but I didn't know what a real casino chip would feel like in my hand. We had only one night in Las Vegas to change that, and I wasn't going to waste it pulling handles at some third-rate suburban roadhouse. We were going downtown to hit the classiest casino on The Strip... Excalibur.

The 1990s were the heyday for themed casinos, and Excalibur ruled over all with an iron gauntlet. It was a 100,000 square foot palace with all the trappings of a 15th century gambling den. There were gaudy tapestries, stained glass windows, and bouncers in plate mail. If you were playing slots, you could keep your quarters in a big plastic cup that said, "Capture the Coin of the Realm!" There were turreted balconies and turreted escalators. There were pamphlets for topless clubs strewn on the floor, and they all looked like ancient manuscripts that had been carefully illuminated by horny monks. It was the most magical place in the world.

"I'd like $20 worth of chips, please," I said to the cashier, leaning on the counter and lowering my sunglasses. Oh yeah, I was a serious gambler, and she knew it. This 21-year-old with a Jewfro and a flannel shirt wasn't heading for the penny slots. He was a legit medium roller.

She handed me one chip.

According to www.in2013dollars.com, $20 in 1997 would be worth $32 today, so this was a lot of money.  (As an aside, the founders of www.in2013dollars.com weren't really thinking ahead when they got that domain name, were they?)

I nodded at the cashier and went straight for the blackjack tables. My Uncle Dick taught me to play blackjack when I was in elementary school, so I knew a thing or two about strategy.  Always hit on 11, always stand on 20, and if any other combination comes up, casually ask the dealer what he would do if he were in my place. You know, like if he woke up earlier that morning, and he and I had mysteriously switched brains.

It was a good plan, but after I watched the other gamblers for a while, my confidence started to slip away. They weren't all hoodie-wearing card sharks, but they seemed experienced and confident. Not once did one of them ask the dealer what he would do in the Freaky Friday scenario. I felt intimidated, and started to wonder if I wasn't cut out to be a medium roller.

And that's when I saw it. Excalibur had a War table. Yes, War. The card game that 5-year-olds play, and the rules were the same:
1. The dealer places a card in front of the player.
2. The dealer places a card in front of herself.
3. Whoever has the higher card wins.

Excalibur had 32 blackjack tables, but only one War table, and nobody was playing. I sat down and slammed my shiny green chip on the table.

The dealer nodded, shuffled the deck, and dealt me a card. Nine of hearts.

Then she placed a card in front of herself. Four of clubs. I was about to ask her what she would do if a magical fortune cookie caused us to switch brains until we showed selfless love, and then I realized that I had already won.

I thanked her, carefully picked up my two chips and walked back to the cashier as inconspicuously as I could. I didn't make eye contact with anyone until my friend and I were back outside in the Nevada sun with $40 in cash.

We couldn't stop giving each other high fives, and wasted the rest of the night speculating about how Excalibur was handling my unexpected payout. Somewhere in the heart of the casino, we imagined, two Armani-suited pit bosses were pointing at footage of me on a security screen and roaring at each other through walkie-talkies. This guy! Who does this guy think he is that he can come out of nowhere and walk away from the War table with enough chips to pay for two nights at a decent campsite?

I decided that I would come back to Excalibur a few years later. The War table would have a different dealer, of course, and I would be a grown man. The Jewfro would be gone, and I would be sporting an entirely different flannel shirt. Even though the dealer and I would have never met, he would sense something familiar about me. I would turn to the waitress to place my drink order, and the dealer would pull out a laminated card from underneath the table, showing a blurry black-and-white picture of me from the 1997 security camera footage. Stamped across the top it would say Do not play War with this man. He has a system and ALWAYS wins.

The dealer would smile at me and push a secret button underneath the table. Moments later, plate-mailed bouncers would grab me from behind and drag me out into the alley. They would throw me to the ground, kick me in the stomach and poke at me with their halberds. As I lay nursing my nosebleed, they would march in formation back into the casino, shouting, "Fie! Ne'er return thee to Excalibur henceforth!"

Eventually, I did make my way back to Las Vegas, but it wasn't until 2019, and none of that happened. None of that happened because this time, I stayed away from gambling.  Everyone knows that in Las Vegas, the House always wins.

Or as the party animals say: In Vegas, House always wins.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

International Waters!

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for October, "Run Randomonium" is frenetic, fresh, frenzied, and Freudian. And for you, it's free.

We're starting to think about planning a family vacation next year, and I intend to advocate for a transatlantic cruise. Caribbean cruises are very pleasant, and I like hurricane-ravaged jewelry shops as much as the next guy, but I have a very good reason for wanting to go all the way across the pond. Once you are 24 nautical miles from the coast, you are no longer subject to the laws of any sovereign nation! If you get caught smuggling exotic plants or murdering an endangered bird, there will be ZERO legal consequences. All you have to do is shout "international waters!" and throw the bodies overboard before the ship gets within 24 nautical miles of your destination.

Now that I've picked my trip and premeditated some maritime crimes, I need to choose a cruise line. Here are the top contenders.

Princess
Clientele: The decidedly old.
Entertainment: Aaron Copeland impersonators.
Typical amenities: Power scooter-accessible lifeboats, "Teen Club" for travelers between the age of 113 and 118. 
Unique features: Ticket price covered by most long-term care insurance policies.

Carnival
Clientele: Panhandlers who live in a port city and saved up for two weeks.
Entertainment: Still photos of nautical maps, four seconds of foghorn every third day.
Amenities: 24 hour access to jogging in place.
Unique features: All rooms are interior, there is an "Infinity Pool" which is just you floating in the ocean while the ship sails away.

Norwegian
Clientele: Vikings who can't afford to go on a Viking Cruise.
Entertainment: Opening night meet-and-greet with Cpt. Bjarl Holmlund and Chief Officer Jorn Yngvar Thorkelson-Olafson.
Amenities: Staterooms with balconies, great-rooms with Valkyries
Unique features: Do a Google image search for Henrik Ibsen. That's what your cabin steward will look like. 

Disney
Clientele: Pig-tailed adults with Frozen roller-bags
Entertainment: Racist Disney Live! Cabaret singers perform hits like What Makes the Red Man Red, We Are Siamese If You Please, and anything from "Song of the South."



Typical amenities: A variety of bars with names like Buzzed Lightyear, Wrecked Ralph, Tequila and Stitch, (Fucked) Up, A Chug's Life, The Gincredibles, Hakuna Ma-toddy, and Sleeping Boozy.
Unique features: The opening night safety demonstration is replaced with a screening of "Under the Sea."

Royal Caribbean 
Clientele: Discerning, globally minded travelers seeking new adventures in dysentery.
Entertainment: Kitchen worker with contagious gastrointestinal illness tossing dinner rolls into audience.
Typical amenities:  Unchlorinated swimming pools, dishes replaced with Petri dishes.
Unique features: All ships in fleet have similar names, such as Enchantment of Disease, Rhapsody of Disease, or Allure of Disease.

Royal Caribbean Safety Notice:
In the unlikely event that you come face-to-face with a norovirus during your cruise, do NOT turn and run. Just quietly back away and move to another part of the ship. If a norovirus does approach you, make yourself look big, wave your arms, make loud noises, clap your hands, and continue to back away. Most infections occur because an unwitting victim corners a norovirus or gets between it and its newly translated capsid protein.


With warmest regards,
Zach