Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Dear all of my friends,

This month, we offer you a twangy folk song about a girl growing up in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town. It's called, "Such a Funny Story," and it's the longest Hard Taco song in years, giving the listener a well-organized five-minute emotional journey through restlessness, listlessness, fecklessness, helplessness, and shitlessness. (Usually, people don't get shitless unless they are extremely bored or extremely scared, but in this case, you'll just get there by being patient.)

In last month's Hard Taco Digest, we opened up the conversation about our search for a designer dog. Since then, we've pored over dozens of back issues of Dog Fancy and reached the conclusion that our next pet needs to be a poodle mix.

You can't broach the subject of poodle mixes without first explaining why purebred poodles are... problematic. On the surface, poodles are the perfect hypoallergenic house pet. What they lack in dander, they make up for in intelligence, affection, and eagerness to please. They are graceful, loyal and good-natured. But it is not these traits that explain the ubiquity of poodle mixes in your neighborhood. Rather, it a quality that is nearly universal to purebred poodles... their promiscuity.

Genghis Khan may have fathered one in ten Mongols, but the standard poodle fathered one in ten mongrels. They are the Wilt Chamberlains of the animal world. Some dogs chase their own tail, but poodles chase every tail that walks by. A poodle will look at a big-boned St. Bernard or a wall-eyed pug and have exactly the same reaction... I'd tap that.

And there are two words I guarantee you will never hear a poodle say: Committed relationship.

We have sensitive children, and young teenagers need a role model, not a libertine lech on a leash. I don't care how perfectly coiffed their hindquarters are... we are not letting that kind of moral turpitude into our house.

But a poodle mix?  That's a different can of Alpo. Who am I to visit the sins of the stud dog on the puppy? And after all, it is the poodle's philandering nature, its hyper-polygamy and penchant for debauchery that have given the world so many beloved crossbreeds.

There's the maltipoo, the labradoodle, and the golden doodle. There's the schnoodle, which get's its athleticism from the schnauzer side. Then we have the yorkipoo, which has the poodle's curly coat, and the Yorkshire terrier's inability to shut the hell up.

The offspring of a poodle and a bichon frise is called a poochon frise, which is the only dog breed that has the word "pooch" in it. 

Then there are the poodle cocker spaniel mixes. Depending on which parent is the poodle, this little hybrid can either be a cockapoo or a cocker-doodle doo. Both are terrible names, but not quite so bad as the shih tzoodle.

The poogle is the most controversial of poodle mixes, because it is the name for both a beagle/poodle and a pug/poodle. The beagle/poodle poogle people purport that pug/poodle poogles should be called puggles, but the pug/poodle poogle proponents professes that beagle/poodle poogles be called peagles.

The rarest of the lot is the St. Berdoodle, which is obviously a 50/50 mix of the poodle and St. Bertrand, the 11th century French archdeacon who was particularly forceful in taking the faithful to task for their sins. (Yes, poodles will even tap that.)

With warmest regards,

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Invisible Paw of Supply and Demand

Dear Friends,

Like every Hard Taco song, the June offering, "Very Special Squirrel," is free. That either means I believe it has no value, or I am trying to undermine artists who rely on payment for their services. If I'm honest with myself, it's probably a little of both.

The kids have been begging for a dog for years, but we have held out. Lauren is allergic, we travel a lot, and we convert our house into a massive sheet fortress for 12 weeks each year. But facing months at home and a possible state-mandated moratorium on fortress parties, we decided to jump on the dog bandwagon. That is to say, we are figuratively committed to leaping onto an unpowered vehicle full of dogs playing Dixieland instruments. It also means we are going to get a puppy.

Unfortunately, the supply chain of puppies has slowed to a trickle. Folks all over the world are hoping to spend more time with animals while sheltering in place. After quarantine enthusiasts bought all the toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and thermometers, there was a run on pet adoptions. It's a Beagle Boom, and the kennels are empty. A walk through the local Humane Society used to be accompanied by a cacophony of barking and whimpering. Now all you hear is a lone hawk screeching over a distant mountain and the occasional crackle of a tumbleweed bouncing down the corridor.

We also have to contend with Lauren's allergies. The most hypoallergenic dogs are designer breeds such as the Portuguese Frorkadoodle, which is made from 30% Portuguese Water Dog, 15% Bichon Frise, 12% Standard Poodle, 8% Yorkshire Terrier, and 35% polyester. The completely revamped 2020 Frorkadoodle has been engineered from the ground up with exciting color options and all-new features like bigger eyes for sustained cuteness. Frorkadoodle puppies also grow twice as fast as off-brand dogs and are resistant to both drought and boll weevils. 

The breeding agency (a subsidiary of Bayer pharmaceuticals) has a creative solution for the supply chain dilemma. We can install software that will allow us to manufacture the puppy in our own home with a proprietary 3D printer.

Portuguese Frorkadoodle Puppies, Sports (left) and Touring (right) packages shown.
For a busy dog-allergic family with no patience the traditional breeding timeline, this is an easy choice. I suppose we could wait around for a sad old rescue named Broderick or Luther, but to keep Lauren's eyes from itching, we'd have to shampoo it twice a week with Selson Blue and Children's Claritin. Or we could download a Portuguese Frorkadoodle named PXB-0137 and have a product that is just as lovable and actually removes dander from the environment, as long as we change the in-mouth HEPA-filter once every three months. 

With warmest regards,

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Play At Home Order

Dear Friends,

   The Hard Taco song for May is called, "The Thing Will Not Come to Pass." It was a collaboration with beloved family and friends, cobbled together piecemeal over many months and many miles.
   In the middle of March, the Londons committed to playing a new board game or card game every night, with the goal of banging out 30 games in 30 days. Of course, when we passed that milestone a couple weeks ago, we had no choice but to keep going.
   Instead of a digest this month, I invite you to explore the fruits of that undertaking, a website called The Play At Home Order.

   As of last night, we are up to 42 games, and each of the four of us developed our own rank list.  For each game, we provide our overall family rank, as well as averaged ranks and short reviews from the kids and the adults.
  So let the Londons help you elevate your Family Game Game (FGG). Why not make your tabletop the envy of all the furniture in your subdivision?
   Our plan is to keep this going until we run out of games and can't afford new ones or the stay-at-home order ends. Keep an eye out for updates!

With warmest regards,
Zach, Lauren, Scarlett, and Malcolm

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,

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,

* 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,

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.

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.

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.

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,