Saturday, September 1, 2018

Where in the World is Carmen Sigurbjorgsdotter?

Dear Friends,

The misuse of statistics for political purposes is among my greatest vexations. In this month's Hard Taco song, "TI-85s," I try to tackle this issue while paying homage to my favorite model of graphing calculator.

But before you listen to it, try to guess where I am right now.

Here's your first hint. I'm writing from a modest house built into the side of a mountain. There is grass on the roof. A sheep is grazing on that grass, and a nearby volcano is firing pellets of molten pumice through that sheep. A lone puffin alights upon a glacial waterfall and nods knowingly. The air smells of sulfur plumes and fish, ancient fish that predate written language.

Here's your second hint. The country is known for long arctic summer days, $35 hamburgers, Elfin runes, and Icelandic death metal.

Here's your final hint. The most honest guidebooks will tell you that no visit to Iceland is complete without leaving Iceland. That makes sense, but the more commercially-oriented ones will tell you that no visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik. The storied museum displays a phallus from every mammal that can be found in Iceland and the surrounding waters. They have penises (with or without accoutrements) cut from reindeer, goats, and seventeen different species of whale. They have a whip made from a bull penis, and two lampshades made from ram scrotums.

Family and friends engage with science by posing next to a sperm whale member preserved in formalin. 
The museum also boasts two penises belonging to Homo Sapiens. Alongside each human specimen is a legally-binding Certificate of Donation confirming that the YAHN-sons (as they are pronounced in Icelandic) were given freely and willingly. One is from a 95-year-old Icelander, and the other is from an anonymous donor. I'm particularly impressed with the altruism of the latter. To give of yourself without any recognition or acknowledgement is truly the highest form of charity. What would you call a man who made such a selfless contribution to science? A penefactor.

Or perhaps a phallanthropist.

Admission is free for children under 13.

There is no indication that the other animals willingly volunteered their specimens. Walruses are notoriously uncharitable creatures, and they lack the cognitive capacity to appreciate the scientific benefit of having their severed penises crammed into mason jars. Similarly, there were no notarized Certificates of Donation from the 10 rams whose scrotums were sewn into lampshades.

Dolphin specimen salted, dried, tanned, hollowed, and placed on a wooden plaque.
Possibly acquired under duress. 

Perhaps most notable is the attention paid to phallology in Icelandic folklore. The museum features the penises of over 20 indigenous creatures of legend, including the changeling, the mountain giant and something called the Icelandic Christmas Lad.

Phalluses of a mountain giant (left) and sea-bull (right). Preserved in formalin. 

I purchased from the gift shop what must certainly be the definitive illustrated book on the subject of mythological phalluses. Some excerpts follow.

Of the Beach Murmurer:
"[The creature] frequently harassed and tried to push unsuspecting visitors into the sea. It was consequently slain and more than two centuries later, it's impressive member was presented to the Icelandic Institute of Phallology."

Of the Hidden Man:
"[The Institute] received its hidden man member in 1989 from an Icelandic parliamentarian without any information about its origin. Due to its delicate nature, [the specimen] needs to preserved in mineral water which has to be renewed yearly."

Of the Catafox:
"Even when trapped it survived multiple stab and club wounds but finally succumbed to a gunshot to the head, when an old silver crucifix was shattered, and pieces used for ammunition. The institute acquired its baculum."
Of the Enriching Beach Mouse:
"From a carcass found in 1993 on the beach by the mountain Fesarfjall close to Grindavik in South West Iceland. The creature's phallus was extremely large relative to its size, but its body, bones, and flesh were so badly ravaged by waves and scavengers that only the penis bone could be salvaged."

We have been in Iceland for six days since visiting this museum, during which time we saw some very nice landscapes. I apologize, but I forgot to take pictures.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Latin Lessons with Garth

Dear Friends,

This month’s Hard Taco song, “19 Something,” is about the year Lauren and I got together. She likes to tell the story that on the day we met, I leapt over a couch to introduce myself. That’s absolutely true, but only because I mistakenly thought she was a talent agent for a parkour-themed sitcom.

Did you know? Iguanas are terrible pets. 

Garth was a prickly, loveless, and stinky part of our family for a couple of years when I was in high school. Iguanas won’t breed in captivity, so Garth was probably captured in Mexico as a hatchling. I’m sure this gave him reptilian PTSD, because whenever I tried to pet him, he would sprint back and forth in his terrarium and smash his face against the glass until he had a nosebleed. But other than these phrenetic bouts of self-mutilation, he never moved a muscle. He just basked on his heat rock, unblinking, like one of those street artists who covers themselves with paint and holds perfectly still until you pay them. 

Let me reiterate that iguanas are terrible pets. They are unpleasant to touch, they’re totally disloyal, and if you let them out for even a second, they will run behind your parents’ 600-pound bookshelf and try as hard as they can to freeze to death.

The iguana, however, is not without its redeeming qualities. The first is that it is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, assuming you’ve never seen a lizard before, or a picture of a lizard, or a Jurassic Park movie.

The second is that the common green iguana is a trinomial tautonym, a term I can’t wait to define for you. A tautonym is the scientific name of a species that is made up of multiple copies of the same word. For instance, Lynx lynx, also known as the Eurasian lynx, is a binomial tautonym. 

A trinomial tautonym is an extremely rare scientific name in which the genus, species, and subspecies are all the same word. Garth was an Iguana iguana iguana. This put him in the exclusive company of the glorious Bison bison bison. Here’s a picture I took at the Toledo zoo proving the existence of a third trinomial tautonym in Ohio.



While we’re discussing the Latin origins of animal names, let’s take a half-step back and talk about the word animals itself. The correct use is in reference to a specific grouping of eukaryotic organisms. For example: 
“That idiot Amtrak lady didn’t want to let me bring pythons on board, even though they are obviously my Support Animals.”

When referring to the entire biologic kingdom, it is more accurate to use the Latin term Animalia.  
“The Chuck E. Cheese animatronic show features diverse Animalia.” 
This also holds true for the words genitals and genitalia. Genitals are a specific arrangement of private parts, while the term genitalia refers to the entire biological kingdom of reproductive organs. For example, reread the sample quotations above, but sub in genitals and genitalia for animals and Animalia. 

An important difference between animals and genitals is that the latter word is always plural. You can take a selfie with an animal, but you can’t take a selfie with a genital. Even if it existed, who would want photographic evidence that you were in the same room? Genitals are like scissorstweezers, pliers or pants, in that they are nouns that are found only in the plural form. Why? Because they always come in pairs. 

But hold on. How exactly to genitals come in pairs? As far as I can tell, there is just one. Or perhaps three, depending on the party in question and how conservative your definition of the word is. 

Which brings me back to my iguana. Garth was a healthy wild-caught reptile who had suffered no injuries other than self-inflicted snout bruises. Clearly, this iguana had normal iguana genitals, but if one was to actually count them, they appeared to be zero in number. He had a grand total of zero genitals. 

Perhaps this explains why iguanas don’t breed in captivity. 

So, in conclusion, the numeric range of genitals includes zero, one, and three. Basically, they come in everything but pairs. 

Or maybe I don’t actually know what the word means. 

With warmest regards,
Zach


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Our Cubist Period

Dear Friends,

Over the last few years, I've taken you on culturally-sensitive junket after culturally-sensitive junket of Ann Arbor's Sister Cities.

Together, we slept on waterbeds filled with koi in Hikone, gave belly rubs to giant amoebas in Dakar, dressed up as an umlaut for Oktoberfest in Tubingen, and played out our post-election escape fantasies in Peterborough.



I recently learned that we have an unlisted Sister City, maliciously kept from us by our City Elders: Remedios, Cuba.  According to the Ann Arbor Observer, we have been Sisters with Remedios since 2003, but our miserly City Council refused to spend $1000 to erect a new sign. That would be like if Match.com identified your soulmate but refused to tell you because they didn't want to spend $1000 on a new sign.

It's not a very good analogy, but the point is that you can't trust City Elders.

Since 2003, U.S. Cuban relations have thawed. And frozen again. And then thawed a little bit again. It's just like the stuff in my freezer with all the brownouts we get in my neighborhood. Does that happen in Remedios, too, or just in Ann Arbor? Of course, I wouldn't have to ask that question if our City Elders had just sent a goddamn delegation to Cuba 15 years ago like they were supposed to.

Putting that aside, Ann Arbor and Remedios are absolutely perfect Sister Cities. Both are in the same time zone. We live in a flyover state. They live in a no-flyover state. Ann Arbor is known as "A Squared." Someone from Cuba is known as "A Cube."

And so, people of Remedios, here we are. Urban siblings who shared the same metropolitan uterus, but at different times. Sisters at last. As a gesture of goodwill, I named this month's Hard Taco song, "Mateo," after about 125 of you.

And for my Michigan-based readers who would like to dip their skewers into the boiling fondue pot of cultural intercourse, I offer the following hunch-based hard facts about your beautiful little sister.

Remedios, Cuba - Frequently Answered Questions

Population: 46,482. The census bureau estimated this number by counting sales of commemorative "It's a Boy" cigars and multiplying by two.
Number of citizens named Mateo: About 128. (3 boys were born in the last minute, and their parents were inspired by the new Hard Taco song.)
City name translates to: Remedies
City name unscrambles to: Emeroids
Preparation H and Tucks Medicated Pads: Remedies for 'emeroids.
Top Paying Medical Profession: Castro-enterology
Most Important Exports/Imports: Elian Gonzalez/Elian Gonzalez
Most popular political affiliations: Plantain Apologist, Cuban Sandwich Party
Biggest cultural challenge: Marital strife with Lucille Ball
Most Popular Gay Bar: The Anal Vista Social Club
Traditional food: A beret with a red star served on a bed of black beans and rice
Why the ocean water is so warm: The Gulf Stream carries water down from the west coast of Florida, and a lot of kids in Tampa just pee when they're swimming.
Most Popular Freedom Fighter: Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Most Popular Hip-hop Artist: Shawn "Che-Z" Carter
Endemic diseases:  The Cuban Sniffle Crisis, Pork-puller's Elbow
Quien es mas macho? Not the guy sipping a mojito.
High School Mascot: A Stogie with Googly Eyes
Rival High School: The Gitmo Enhanced Interro-Gators. (A waterboarded alligator, also with googly eyes.)

With warmest regards,
Zach

Friday, June 1, 2018

Not That Kind of Book Club

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Before the Labs." The idea of this song is that something amazing or terrible happens to everyone eventually. When it does, we'll look back and think of how pleasantly normal life was when we recorded this particular song last week.

Did I mention that it's June? A whole month with no holidays? It's great if you work at a bank because you don't have to deal with days off! But for the rest of us, there's only one way to escape the June doldrums: A nice, stimulating book club. I'm starting one right now, so bring your girlfriends over to my place. We'll slurp some Pinot Grigio and discuss classic American novels that we supposedly read in high school, but didn't! I'll go first.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

  • The author, Ernest Wheming, was better known by his Pig Latin name. 
  • The story takes place during the Spanish Civil War, when the president was a man named Spanish Abraham Lincoln.
  • If you kill someone for their copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, it is considered Justifiable Whomicide.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  • Mark Twain famously said, "I am famous for my sayings." 
  • The character of Huckleberry originally appeared in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, making his own novel the fourth most popular spinoff of all time, behind Frasier, Laverne and Shirley, and Better Call Saul.
  • Huck has brothers named Bloob, Rasp, Cran, and Dingle. Ironically, Mrs. Finn didn't really like berries.


Moby Dick

  • Another well-known spinoff of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The White Whale's first appearance is as Tom's pal, Moby Dickleberry. 
  • Young readers may find this this 585-page book to be incredibly boring, but scholars believe that Melville's masterpiece is nothing short of irritating and tedious. 
  • The famous first line of the novel was an abridged version of Melville's first draft. Much to the author's chagrin, his editors removed the original opening phrase, "I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my number..." 


Catcher in the Rye

  • The word depraved is never used in the English language, except to describe books you want to ban from school libraries.
  • When John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan, authorities found a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his hotel room, along with a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, and the first three Harry Potter books. 
  • Depraved.


The Great Gatsby




  • Since every sentence of this book provides relevant plot information that brings the reader closer to the shocking conclusion, Fitzgerald prefaced every line with "Spoiler alert!"
  • East Egg is a fictional representation of Port Washington, Long Island. The Great Gatsby is a fictional representation of The Great Muppet Caper.

Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Mister Steinbeck and Ms. Lee, there is nothing more annoying than book titles that seem to start in the middle of a sentence. Do your readers a favor and include the preceding phrase, "Looks Like Mama's Hurling a Bloody Bucket."

With warmest regards,
Zach


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Half-Life of Womanhood

Dear Friends,

The May Hard Taco song is an autobiographical piece about, and called, "Skipping Kindergarten." I don't know how my parents convinced the elementary school principal to move me directly into first grade, but I assume they used the word challenged. Zach won't be challenged in kindergarten. He needs more opportunities to feel intellectually challenged, pressured, and strained. Opportunities to wring any remnants of complacency out of his 5-year-old mind with physical and mental hardships designed for much older children.

Anyway, I only started writing songs because of a school project for a specific high school English class. If I hadn't skipped kindergarten, I would have taken that class a year later, and there would be exactly 12 fewer Hard Taco songs, including this one.

Watch me B'nai Nai
This weekend will be my daughter's Bat Mitzvah, and we couldn't be more excited and proud! For those of you who aren't part of The Tribe, the difference between a Bar Mitzvah and a Bat Mitzvah comes down to whether planning it makes you want to pass out under a bar or smash everything in sight with a bat.

Either way, it is a rite of passage that represents the transition from childhood to womanhood or manhood. I think most of us would agree that the words "thirteen" and "womanhood" should not be used in the same sentence, but keep in mind that Bar Mitzvahs were invented a long time ago. In Biblical times, 13-year-olds were adults in every sense. They could raise families, gamble in the fighting pits, and even rent chariots when they were out of town for work. Remember when Jesus turned water into wine at the Wedding of Cana? There were a bunch of nervous 12-year-olds in line at the bar saying, "Wow! I'm so flattered. I haven't been carded in years!"



As for modern 13-year-olds? Definitely children... physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Universal Pictures has a policy forbidding the depiction of tobacco smoking in any movie rated PG-13 or lower. If our society can't trust 13-year-olds to look at people pretending to smoke, we certainly aren't going to let them do grown-up things like get tattoos and have Facebook accounts.

I went to a distant cousin's Bat Mitzvah a few years ago, and her dad told me something that stuck with me. No one would think of his daughter as adult, he told me, but at 13, she was capable of behaving like an adult exactly half the time. She was equally likely to have a thoughtful, intelligent conversation as to scream and throw herself on the ground because someone touched her toy. If we waited until someone is a full-blown adult before celebrating, we'd never get to have a party, because there is no such time.

It is similar to describing the decay of a radioactive substance in terms of half-life. Much like toddler-esque tantrums, radioactivity approaches zero over time, but never quite gets there. Thus, the only mathematically useful label is the half-way point, and for human maturity, that is 13 years.

In 13 years, Scarlett will be twice as much of an adult as she is now. In another 13 years, she'll be four times as mature as she is now. And when she's 52, she will only be throwing herself on the ground about 12.5% of the time. That sounds about right.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A High Pranking Official

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is called, "Lifelong Memories." It's certainly true that both songs and smells can bring back childhood memories. Now let's see if a song about memory can bring back childhood smells.

Hey, Reader. Did you hear that they changed the calendar so that today is March 32nd? I'm not kidding. I swear on cemetery-full of dead relatives that I'm telling the truth!

Not.

Oh, Reader, you're such a gullible dope. We're all pointing at you because you fell for the oldest prank in the proverbial eBook. You've got so much egg on your face, guests have started asking the chef at the omelet bar if they could get theirs with a human nose, too.

It's actually April 1st on the Gregorian calendar, and that means you have the opportunity to pay it forward. Here are the 15 freshest japes to try out on your naive friends and co-workers before midnight.

ONE
Hide a baby monitor in crawlspace above the ceiling and transmit recordings of medieval battle through it.

TWO
Gradually replace all the framed family photos in the house with pictures of Laura Bush.

THREE
Convince warring medieval tribes to have an actual battle in the crawlspace above the ceiling.

FOUR
Put a note on someone's car that says, "I'm sorry about the meteorite damage."

FIVE
Write a co-worker's name on the waistband of some underwear and bury it in an undisclosed location in the woods while the co-worker is wearing it.

SIX
Replace someone's deodorant with a deck of cards and watch them flip out as they rub the cards up and down their armpit over and over.

SEVEN
Superglue a quarter to the sidewalk and when someone bends down to pick it up, superglue their hand to the sidewalk, too. Now superglue another quarter to their butt and wait for the next gullible passerby.

EIGHT
Lean over the parapet and pour boiling oil on to your enemies. Shout, "April Fuels!"

NINE
Offer to teach your friend the world's best palindromes, but instead, teach him or her phrases that only sound like palindromes, such as:

  • Banana moms bomb Panama
  • A dog appendix in Nepal is a pagoda
  • Acrobats stab acorns and an orca
  • Trick a new anus? I won, Ma. Or is it Mom? Mammy? Or are we now Nana? Christ.


TEN
Cut the main power line to your city so your friend's CPAP machine stops working. Now the snoring will keep his wife awake half the night.

ELEVEN
Cover the sensor on the remote control with a piece of clear tape. While your kids are tied up with the frustration of not being able to turn the TV on, cover the sensors on the fire alarm and the carbon monoxide detector.

TWELVE
Tape a piece of paper with the phrase, "Patient voice activated only" to one of the ventilators in the ICU.

THIRTEEN
Pour out the ketchup and replace it with fish blood. Serve your friend some French fries while they are in shark-infested waters.

FOURTEEN
Hand someone a newspaper and tape the following over the headline: "Authorities Determine April 1st to be Renamed February 60th."

FIFTEEN
Water down someone's food coloring, which will make their own April Fools pranks modestly less effective.

With warmest regards,
Zach





Thursday, March 1, 2018

Romulus and Remus - The Dark Side of Foster Care

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for March is called "Romans." In honor of this ode to the ancients, let us retell the story of how Rome was founded.

Once there was an ancient Latin she-wolf who really wanted children, but she was already seven years old; her mythological clock was ticking.

She went to the local adoption agency to discuss fostering a human boy. The agent was happy to introduce her to the orphans, all of whom had names ending in -us. 

This is Tiberius. He is the rightful heir to Tibur, and was abandoned on a mountaintop by the king's brother.

This is Titus, the rightful heir to Crustumerium. He was left to die in a forest clearing because there is a prophesy that he'll kill his father someday. 

Here we have Cyrus Atticus, the illegitimate son of Jupiter and a random woman who was sleeping when he came to her in the form of a golden rain that seeped in through the roof and went straight up her womb. Since the sleeping woman was to blame for temping the god, Juno turned her into a crippled newt, and abandoned the baby in a cave. 

This is Marcus Justus. He was abandoned by a river god and was about to be consumed by a valley siren when he was found by a wood sprite, who took pity on him and brought him to a ditch nymph. 

This is Gus. The seers haven't said anything about him, but I have a hunch he will marry his own mother on the eve of his 18th birthday. 

Finally, meet Romulus and Remus. Twin sons of Mars and a vestal virgin. Another classic non-consensual pairing. These little spitfires were abandoned in a wicker basket and set afloat in the river. 

The she-wolf felt a real connection to the twins, but she didn't think she could handle two crying infants. She was a single mom, and she wasn't exactly 3 years old anymore!

The agent sensed her hesitation. "I couldn't help but notice you have eight teats, which is more than enough for two manchilds to give suck. And more to the point, you wouldn't separate siblings, would you?"

She agreed that the brothers would have an easier time adjusting if they grew up together. She also admitted that she had a lot of teats she wasn't using.

And so she brought home the twins, and proceeded to suckle them with her eight great teats. They (the boys) grew quickly, and within a few years, they were shepherds, warriors, and respected leaders in the community.

One day, they decided to build a city together. The construction went very quickly. They erected buildings, columns and aqueducts in a matter of hours. By 10 pm, the city was really coming together, when the twins got into a disagreement about transportation accessibility, and everything came to a grinding halt. Romulus felt that all roads should lead to this new city, while Remus believed that it would be adequate if some roads led there. Things escalated, and after nearly an hour of arguing, Romulus impaled his brother with a spear. Due to fratricide-related construction delays, Rome was not built in a day. It took about a day and a half.

The lesson, I suppose, is that it's best to separate siblings when you adopt.

With warmest regards,
Zach