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,

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Last Man Standing: Help Us Send Our Friend To the Worst Place In the World

Dear Friends,

Come celebrate friendship and electronic instruments with the new Hard Taco song, "All-Friends Jamboree." 

It's comforting to know you have old friends, but it's even more special when you and your friends are legally bound to each other.  

My senior year in college, there were a bunch of guys living in neighboring rentals on Bowen Street. After graduation, we all left Providence and spread out over the world. I moved back to Wisconsin for medical school. Dan moved to India. Ivan moved to Turkey. Most of the rest of them went to New York or California. 

I don't remember exactly how it started, but at some point in the next few years, a subset of us hatched the plan for the Last Man Standing Contest.

The Last Man Standing refers to the last person, of the 11 participants, to get married. As soon as the 10th guy is legally married (or cohabits long enough to constitute a common law marriage), the 11th is declared the Last Man Standing. Here's my favorite part. As soon as this happens, the other 10 participants must purchase an all-expense paid trip for the Last Man Standing to a destination chosen by the non-winning participants. In other words, the losers get to send the winner on a vacation to the worst place in the world. Because that's the kind of people we are. 
Lauren was a law student when we first came up with this idea, and she drew up a contract, which all 11 guys signed. Here is page 1 of 3. (The rest is available upon request.)  

I got married first, and several of the Bowen boys were at our wedding. By then, Dan and one of the Daves were already engaged, but things slowed down after that. When Jody got married in New Orleans in 2015, it was down to Ivan and McCaleb (a.k.a. Bo.)

On January 5 of this year, Bo sent out a group text. "Wait, did Ivan win Last Man Standing?" Apparently, Bo checked Facebook and it told him that he and Sam had been living together for 4 years, one year longer than the common low marriage threshold described in the contract.  

Ivan's victory surprises no one, but it creates a unique challenge for the rest of us. Ivan works as an international correspondent for CNN, and held a similar role with NPR before that. He routinely reports from war zones and natural disasters. In 2008, he was the target of a car bomb attack in Iraq. He reported from Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and from Syria in 2014.  

So what do you get for the man who has everything? More specifically, how do you pick a terrible vacation for someone who purposely works in the most dangerous places in the world? 

After two weeks of research and two rounds of voting, here are the runners-up:

Silent Meditation Retreat. Ivan goes to northern Ontario in December, and spends a week at a camp where talking is prohibited. A sample morning schedule looks like this: 8 am breakfast, 9 am sitting, 10 am break, 11 am sitting. 

Personality Development Course from the Institute of Creative Excellence. This Hyderabad-based school helps Bollywood actors and actresses learn the "art of attraction" so they can appear more charismatic when talking to the media. 

Mexican Sweat Lodge. First, Ivan slathers mud all over his body. He then crawls into the temazcal, a short circular domed structure that is supposed to represent a womb, but much hotter. When he emerges he is, in s symbolic sense, reborn. He is also filthy and screaming, like a newborn. 

Cruise to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a swirling mass of plastic litter the size of Texas. This cruise is unique in that there are no shore excursions.

Video journalism camp for teens. Even if you've had the same job for 20 years, it's a good idea to take a step back every now and then and review the basics, right?

Singles Cruise. We decided this was too mean-spirited. 

I don't want to spoil the surprise for Ivan by revealing the winning vacation, so it is not listed above.  All I can say is that he will make lots of new friends and come home with some wonderful keepsakes! Hopefully, I'll have an update soon. 

It's hard to fathom, but now that we are on the final leg of this journey, a few of the guys are trying to back out of the contract. They want us to give Ivan the option to forego the solo trip in favor of a fun Guys' Weekend with all of us. What? Sure, I'd love to see everyone, but I don't see what's fun about violating contractual obligations.  

If you know Jay Bakhru, McCaleb Burnett, Je' Carr, or Mike Grossman, please be sure to reach out to them and let them know how you feel about seeing things through to the end. Let them know how you feel about honesty, about integrity, and about irrevocable nature of legally binding contracts. 

With warmest regards,

Monday, January 1, 2018

Parkour: The Only Joie Left In the Vivre

Dear Friends,

As of January 2018, the minimum wage in Michigan is going up to $9.25/hour.  The splendid new Hard Taco song for this month, "By Time Your Hear the Buzzing, It's Too Late," is 3 minutes and 19 seconds long. If you cross-multiply and divide, I would now have to pay someone at least 51 cents to listen to this it, and I just don't have that kind of money. If I did, I would probably spend it on the one other thing that costs exactly 51 cents... a commemorative elongated coin (Classic HT Digest on that subject available here.)

We just returned from a glorious family trip to Paris. France is a delightful country that has become known for one thing and one thing only... parkour.  Also called French free-running, parkour is a discipline in which urbanites proceed from one place to another as quickly as possible, without using any assistive equipment. Imagine a lithe young person sprinting on all fours, scaling ancient stone walls, and vaulting over statues. Now picture 2.2 million people doing this at the same time. Do they all have great hair, skinny jeans and a scarf? If so, you are picturing Paris in 2018.

A plaque at the base of the Louvre pyramid. In English, "The practice of parkour is mind-blowingly
 awesome. As a public service, the museum will take complete responsibility for any injuries." 

For hundreds of years, tourists have flocked to The City of Lights to see the great monuments. Now they come to climb those monuments and jump off them, customarily in the most badass way possible.

Inscribed on the base of the statue: Saucer par-dessus le bras de Louis.
Please jump over the Louis XIV's arm. 
Naturally, our kids wanted to take parkour lessons from a real traceur. A traceur used to mean a person who practices parkour, but since that includes every able-bodied human in the whole country, it now just means "person." Our instructor's name was Guy de la Lufoquerie, and he allowed us to photograph the lessons.

Guy's Lesson 1: L'ouseau stupide salute our votre bras.
Guy de la Lufoquerie, left, says, "Even a pigeon can jump over someone's arm. Parkour is easy.
Yes, birds have wings, but they are stupid. Are you stupid? Do you have a small, bobbing head?
You don't need wings to jump over the arm of king Louis XIV."
Guy's Lesson 2: Sauter par-dessus un objet minuscule.
Guy says, "Americans have atrocious taste in food, in music, and in hair products.
You are a naturally clumsy people and your parents probably like White Zinfandel,
so don't expect to be good at this. Just leap over something short, like a bench.
Passersby will see me judging you with my face."

Guy's Lesson 3: Marcher sur une chose.

Guy says, "Put your boot on the short thing you just jumped over.
Make your body look big to show dominance."

Guy's Lesson 4: Avoir honte et se coucher.
Guy says, "If you fall on your back during Lesson 3,
don't just lie there, smiling like an idiot.
Look deeply ashamed, then get up and try again."

Guy's Lesson 5: Descendre tous les escaliers à la fois.
Guy says, "Jump down all 50 stairs at Versailles Garden in one leap.
Okay, that's pretty good, but you're wearing tights.
Marie Antoinette used to do that jump twice a day
in a bosom-enhancing bodice and a three-foot mountain of powdered hair.
She was a great traceur, but not good enough to evade capture and execution.
You need to parkour harder."
Guy's Lesson 6: Ne laisse rien débloqué 
Guy says, "You have much left to climb. Parkour is a state of mind, not a set of actions.
The traceur must overcome emotional obstacles, physical barriers, and 'No Trespassing' signs.
You are good at jumping, but you are held back by your atrocious
American taste in art, in scarves, and in mustaches."


Friday, December 1, 2017

The iPhone Triple X

Dear friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, “Strain.” I wrote this tune when I was 17, but two decades of song-specific writer’s block prevented me from coming up with the last few lines. Over time, I became so confident that I would never finish it that I actually poached some of the lyrics I liked for other songs. Finally, last month, we dug it out of the vault, and patched it up with some new parts, producing the recording to give it that early Hard Taco vibe. The song came out okay, but most importantly, I feel lighter having recorded it!

Hard Tech-o: We review the iPhone X so you don't have to
Thinking about getting an iPhone X? If so, don’t humiliate yourself my mispronouncing it when you go into the Apple Store. You are supposed to say the Roman numerals, so it is actually pronounced, “One phone Ten.”

The first thing you will notice about the iPhone X is the new 5.8 inch OLED display. Compared to the LCD screens of previous iPhones, blacks look much blacker. In fact, every color in the spectrum looks blacker, so that ROY G. BIV now stands for Raven, Onyx, ebonY, Gorilla Fur, Black as Hell, Inner Space, and Vacuum. If you turn up the brightness on the screen, you can also see shades of Pitch White.

The most impressive new feature is the Genital ID. You just point the camera at your penis, or vice versa, and it unlocks your screen! The iPhone X has both front and rear cameras, so you can unlock your phone no matter where your penis is. How does it work? The 12 MP TrueDepth camera projects and analyzes over 30,000 invisible dots to create a realistic 3D map of the unique contours of your penis. Having to expose your penis to unlock your phone is actually a giant step forwards for privacy, because you can now feel confident that your pictures will be safe if the phone is stolen.

Your new phone will also let you register your partner’s penis, so he can access the music apps while you are driving. In fact, you can register up to 10 penises, so everyone in on the team bus can have a turn to DJ!

Other reviewers have pointed out that potential customers may not have a penis at the time of purchase. Reasonable criticism, but Apple has worked around it by equipping the iPhone X with Face ID. Of course, Genital ID is more secure; it is possible for two people to have the same face.

One glaring fault of the iPhone 7 that Apple neglected to fix was the lack of a headphone jack. Fortunately, Most iPhone X owners prefer to play their music on the crappy built-in speakers, to draw attention to the fact that they are wealthy enough to own a phone with no headphone jack.

Another downside I see is that the housing of the new iPhone X is made out of glass, rendering it more prone to cracks than prior models. So I'm just going to say it: people who live with glass housings shouldn’t throw phones. 

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 185th Hard Taco Digest. This is a significant milestone in my house because 185 is also the name of my family's favorite game to play during road trips, during dinner, and while my kids are trying to do homework or sleep. The rules are simple. Someone suggests a subject, and everyone falls over themselves to tell jokes about that subject. The catch is that all of the jokes are y identical until the last line. The framework of the joke is as follows:

185 [blanks] walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry, we don't serve [blanks] here." 185 [blanks] say, "[punchline]."

It is an exercise in exquisite puncraft, and it favors quantity over quality. A true master must fashion no fewer than 20 bad jokes on any subject to establish his or her puncraftsmanship.

The Hard Taco song for November is called, "Your Best Emily Dickinson." In honor of this song's namesake, I will demonstrate a round of 185 using poets as the subject.

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "No problem. We called a taxi and it's SONNETS way."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Well guys, shall we just go HOMER find a different bar?"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But I already ordered a martini... THE ROAD NOT SHAKEN, but stirred."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "We can't leave yet. Our sister told us to METER here."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But the bouncer just told us to CUMMINGS side!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "I'll leave, but IAMB not happy about it."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "This is the VERSE night of our lives."

185 poets with lisps walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets with lisps here."
185 poets with lisps say, "If I were to make a lisht of bad pubsh, thish one would be on the top of that PUBLISHED."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "'Til we finish the contents of this COUPLET us stay."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "I knew you guys were cons-BYRON to kick us out."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "ODE dear."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Wow. You just said that to our faces point BLAKE."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But we haven't even had a chance to try out EPIC up line that we've been working on!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Don't make us hire a (walt w)HITMAN to take you out!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Damn MUSE son of a bitch."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Well, it's getting ALITER-ATE anyway, so we should get going."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Isn't there anyone here who STANZA up for us?"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Can Langston HUGHES the bathroom first? Because, you know, Langston really has to go bad."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "That's illegal discrimination... I'll PROSEcute you!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."

Think you can do better? Hit me with your best shot. (Which is exactly what 185 Pat Benatars would say to a bartender.)

With warmest regards,

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mnemonic Possession

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco Song for this particular October is called, "Not Illegal, But Frowned Upon." I had a tough time deciding whether I wanted this song to be dissonant or boring, so I recorded it twice.

First, I offer you the Sloppy Garage Band version. This was actually recorded in my friend Jon's sloppy garage.

Even if you removed all of the instruments and cables from this garage, it would still be full. 

Also, most of what you hear was recorded in one take, which adds to both the sloppiness and garageness.

Second, I offer you the Lightly Plugged version. The guitar is acoustic, so it is tempting to call this Unplugged, but that would be a misnomer. The microphone is plugged into the recording gear, which is plugged into the computer, which is plugged into the wall. Nonetheless,  I wanted to create an experience with as little plugging as possible, so I loosened all of those cables a little without disconnecting them.

For the writing part of this month's digest, I have created a series of helpful mnemonics to aid in the memorization of the nine most difficult concepts.

Which months have 31 days? (January, March, May, July, August, October, December)
Join My Marvelous Journey And/Or Die

Once Earth has been destroyed, how will I remember the order of the planets?
My Venison-Meat Jewelry Shouldn't Upset Nearby Poachers
(Note that once Earth is gone, there will be no one left to object to Pluto's planet status.)

What are the Great Lakes?
First, remember that GREAT LAKES stands for:

Agent of

And who does that describe? Moses.
And how do you say Moses in Hebrew? MOSHE.
Michigan, Ontario, Superior, Huron, Eerie

Which notes in the treble clef are on the lines?
Economically,  George Bush Deliberately Failed

Which notes are on the spaces?
Film Actor Clint Eastwood

What are the strings on a guitar? Assume that I'm a sarcastic teenager learning guitar for the first time. 
Elephants Aren't Dirty, Gray, or Big Enough

What year was America discovered?
In 1491, Columbus had not yet begun... to develop a compelling value proposition for venture capital, and demonstrate market traction to investors.

What are the colors of a rainbow, to a blind person?

How will I remember all the mnemonics discussed here?
Months with 31 days
Notes in the treble clef that are on lines
Earthless planets
Mnemonics using the word mnemonic (This one)
Ontario and other Great Lakes
Notes in the treble clef that are on spaces
In what year did Columbus make final preparations to sail the ocean blue?
Colors that Stevie Wonder sees in a rainbow
Strings on a guitar

With warmest regards,

Friday, September 1, 2017

Who's Your Oom-Pah-Pah?

Dear Friends,

This month's song, "Floval," was performed by the whole Hard Taco Family. All of the singing, drums, and flute on this song were provided by my kids and my sister's kids. This is a significant milestone for us... the last time I recorded a song without any adult vocalists was in 1993 when I was the non-adult.

I am not the first London to long for a family band. My dad was a decent slide trombone player back in the day. As a young man, his version of the American Dream was marrying a trumpet player and having two kids who could play the French horn and the tuba. We would tour the state together as a campy family brass quartet.

Then he met my mom, and dream evolved accordingly. The new plan was that he would marry someone with excellent band-managerial skills, have the two musical protege children, and tour the state as a campy family brass trio.

Then my sister was born, and he started considering the merits of a campy family brass duet. Perhaps my mom and my sister could split time as band manager. He wasn't sure exactly how that would work, but I did my best to keep hope alive. When I was 4 years old, I announced that I wanted tuba lessons. The tuba was shiny, like my three other favorite things:  pennies, doorknobs and zippers. These were all wonderful objects to stare at, but the tuba was alone atop the shiny-things pyramid because it was the size of a toilet. A penny-encrusted toilet.

My dad couldn't believe his luck. He set up a meeting with the local high school band teacher to discuss how best to proceed.

This band teacher had read the 1980 Farmer's Almanac, so he knew that the average weight of a 4-year-old in September was exactly the same as the average weight of a tuba. Perhaps a recorder would be a safer instrument for me to start with, he suggested, because I would be less likely to fall into a recorder and get stuck.

I pouted stubbornly. I didn't want a stupid plastic doodad. I wanted tuba lessons!

The band teacher proposed a compromise. I should wait a few more years, and then start with trumpet lessons. Once I developed my embouchure, and was I was strong enough to hold a tuba on my lap, I could switch.

This guy was clearly just an obstructionist. I knew I would never be satisfied with trumpet embouchure. I wanted tuba embouchure. This was the first time that I had ever requested lessons in anything. If they were going to shoot me down, I was done.

The rest of my childhood was a series of doomed coaching experiments. I became a serial quitter. One after the next, I dropped out of violin, ice skating, swimming, skiing, baseball, piano, basketball, wrestling, trumpet (which was the worst), Hebrew, golf, guitar, tennis, and SCUBA diving, without ever achieving basic proficiency in any of them. I spurned anything that could be construed as a lesson, undermining every opportunity presented to me. I was an ambusher without an embouchure.

The only skills I developed were those I taught myself, which is why I have so few.

But I'm not a kid anymore, and the best dreams never die. Maybe this year I get my fat fingers on the fattest of valves. Maybe this Oktoberfest season, I lay down the baddest oompah in the beer garden. Maybe this time I show the world that I like big brass and I cannot lie.

Maybe this time: tuba lessons.

I have a vision of my first tuba, and I can't get it out of my mind. I crack open the velvet-lined hard case. Soft yellow light pours out, bathing my face in warmth. I reach in with both hands at once, slowly delivering the golden instrument like I'm King Midas, and an obstetrician. I see a distorted version of my mesmerized face reflected in the giant flared bell. I cradle it in my folded arms like the head of a baby that has an enormous flared head. Shush, baby tuba. It's not time to talk yet.

I reach back into the case with both hands and draw out the lustrous mouthpiece. I notice for the first time that it is the exact size and shape of the Holy Grail. I complete the tuba-ssembly and stand the instrument up in my waiting lap. I purse my lips and press them against the mouthpiece.  With eyes closed, I inhale deeply through my nose, drinking in the scents of valve oil and dried spit. I puff out my cheeks as much as I can, and...

...wait for a MTNA-certified music teacher to review the basics of music theory with me. I'm not going to screw this one up by teaching myself. We'll get to Hot Cross Buns eventually, but I've sabotaged too many lessons in my life. I want to do this right.

And if I give this tuba lesson its proper respect, it will be no time at all until my dad and I are touring Wisconsin as an unforgettable family brass duet. We'll play oompah versions of Hot Cross Buns and so much more.

If you want to book us for your event, just call our two band managers.

With warmest regards,