Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Escapegoat

Dear Friends,

   The Hard Taco song for December is called, "Idiots Who Think They're Happy." Paul McCartney once sang, "Let's all get up and dance to a song that was the shit before your mother was born." He was referring to this song, because it is just that good.
   Don't tell my parents, but music recording hasn't exactly been a money-making venture. Keeping the Hard Taco website going costs about $5 a month, and sometimes I have to replace broken guitar strings. Fortunately, I replace them with other broken guitar strings, which doesn't cost much.
   But the real cost of having a home recording studio is the loss of potential income. As long as we're using the spare bedroom for music-making, we can't rent out the room to sleepy travelers. The idea of taking on boarders is tempting, but I don't like the idea of strangers sleeping in my house. Think about it this way. The average person swallows eight spiders/year during sleep. If I rent out my spare room to travelers, they'll probably swallow some of myspiders. Spiders that might otherwise have crawled into mymouth at a later date. I might not make it to my full quota of eight by New Year's, and that is not acceptable.
   So the solution is to rent out the extra bedroom, but only during the day. And the best way to do that is to turn it into an escape room. And just like every good escape room, the spare bedroom is already partially furnished and full of bric-a-brac. The only additional expenses that I anticipate are a combination lock and a goat. 
   The goat ties in with the theme of the room: EscapeGoat.  
   Hopefully, I can find a used goat that is well-mannered. (Petting zoo experience is preferred.) We'll put the guests and the goat in the room and lock the door with the combination lock. Then I will slip a piece of paper under the door that says, "The combination is... 32-4-31." The goat will know this is coming and will eat most of the paper before anyone gets a chance to read it. The guests will wrest the saliva-soaked note from the goat’s mouth only to realize that the animal swallowed the most important piece of information.
   "That stupid goat messed up our one chance to get out of the room," they will say to each other. At this point they will totally get the theme. People love themes!
   They will spend the rest of the allotted time looking around the room, trying to make sense of the bric-a-brac, but there won't be any other clues. Just some recording equipment and broken guitar strings. 
   And, of course, 8 suicidal spiders for each member of my household.

With warmest regards,
Zach

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bargain Haunting

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called, "The Undead." If you are one of the trailblazers reading this on November 1, drive immediately to the nearest Babies 'R' Us for some amazing deals.

On fake blood and fog machines.

You see, there is no such thing as Babies 'R' Us. The franchise closed its doors in June 2018, and these were not just any doors! They were lead-free, phosphate-free, and had slats no more than 2-3/8" apart to prevent toddlers from trapping their heads. Those neurotically safe doors are now closed forever.

The Babies 'R' Us bankruptcy left dozens of strip mall vacancies all over the country, and it is not easy for developers to find new tenants for 40,000 square feet of retail space.

That is, until September, when the pop-up Halloween stores moved in, replacing every Babies 'R' Us sign with a vinyl one that says, "Spirit Halloween" or "Halloween City." For the first day or two of November, these ephemeral ghost-towns will offer deep discounts on everything in their be-warehouses.

Now here comes my Shark Tank pitch. Sure, the temporary Halloween store has been a successful business model, but could it be better? Babies 'R' Us is only one of many retail giants who filed for bankruptcy in the last few years. I propose that pop-up Halloween stores focus on specialty merchandise that takes advantage of the rich commercial history of their temporary locations.

Here is where you would shop for your Halloween specialty items, sorted by abandoned retailer.


Payless Shoe Source ->
Payless Boo Source
What to get:  Discount costumes, like a used white sheet with some holes cut out of it

Radio Shack ->
Radio Shriek
What to get: A bowl that screams when someone takes a piece of candy

Sears ->
Scars
What to get: Gory makeup

Circuit City ->
Haunted Circus City
What to get: A freak show clown costume

K-Mart ->
Passed Away Mart
What to get:  A variety of home goods, but checking out takes forever, because the cashiers are all dead.

Brookstone ->
Spookstone
What to get: Fake grave markers to make your front yard look like a cemetery

The Sports Authority ->
The Sports Atrocity
What to get:  A zombie football player costume

Pier 1 Imports ->
Fear 1 Grim-ports
What to get: Anything you want, but just like it's predecessor, all merchandise would be handmade by children in Myanmarese sweatshops.

Blockbuster Video ->
Block Monster Video
What to get: A DVD about the Creepers from Minecraft

F.A.O. Schwarz ->
R.I.P. Schwarz
What to get: The toy superstore founder's exsanguinated remains

Babies 'R' Us ->
Babies 'R' Stabbing Us
What to get:  Chucky dolls

With warmest regards,
Zach

Editor's note: I removed the part about The Limited being replaced by the Limbless Dread, because nobody would get it.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Postcards from Panama, Part 9

Dear friends,

The Hard Taco song for October is called, "Delightful Romp," and it is the first song to address the topic of happiness since the song, "Happy," which I did not write.

Meanwhile, and at the same time, here is the latest dispatches from our favorite cringe-worthy expatriate, Michael. The backstory, if you could call it that, can be found here.


10/1/18
Dear Karen,

I have lived in Panama a large number of years now, but I am not afraid to learn new facts about the people and the economy. One item that you will be delighted to know is that Panama outstrips American innovation in three areas: adhesives, cement, and small bitter bananas you can cook with.

P.S. Do you remember on August 1, 1989 when we made the unbreakable promise that if we were single 20 years hence, we would marry each other? We were quite young at the time, but old enough to understand the durable nature of such a promise. I suspect you have you managed to remember this conversation over the years because of its extreme importance. I have too! But on that day, I also created a mnemonic device to ensure retention. The elaborate coding technique is the word MAKO, which is a kind of shark. The M and A stand for marry, the K for Karen, and the O for '09, which is the year we were supposed to get married if we were able to reconnect, hopefully by a series of postcards.

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/2/18
Dear Karen,

Another item of plausible interest to you is that Panama's first classic rock band, Austeridad Calva ("bald austerity") did not form until 2002, almost 40 years after the classic rock was discovered in the United States.  If you ever want to hear a song that is known for its disciplined grooves and conservative guitar solos, download the complete works of Austeridad Calva.

What are you up to!

(That sentence was supposed to end with a question mark, not an exclamation point, but I didn't want to waste this postcard, which has a beautiful picture of two of our three great innovations: cement and cooking bananas.)

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/6/18
Dear Karen,

As you are aware, 2019 will start on a Tuesday, which is amazing news for my neighbor, Dignidad, who I have told you about. He still has his wall calendars from both 2002 and 2013, which also started on Tuesdays. He is lending me the 2002 one so that neither of us has to purchase a new wall calendar this year. He is very thoughtful.

Not that I necessarily deserve to be described as thoughtful, also, but I ordered you a diverse selection of 2002 and 2013 calendars from an online auction house. They will arrive sporadically over the coming weeks. Let me know when you get them and which one(s) you will select to keep track of your 2019 appointments. Feel free to save the ones you don't use until 2030, which will be the next non-leap year that starts on a Tuesday.

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/12/18
Dear Karen,

You and I have not had children together as of the time I am writing this postcard. That said, we may one day have conversations (filled with honesty) and mutually decide as a couple that we want to start a family. Thus, I decided to make an appointment with a pediatrician to start relationship-building now.

There are two pediatricians on staff at the local children's clinic. According to the website, Dr. Sosa specializes in "preventive care." In his picture, he has a lazy eye and gray hair. I love this combination! It suggests that he has overcome the adversity of misaligned eyes for many years. Or, less likely, he has failed to overcome the adversity, and this caused his hair to turn gray prematurely.

They don't have a picture of Dr. Molina on the website, but I decided to make an appointment with her. Anyone who can interact with a lazy-eyed person every day without it getting awkward must have a great bedside manner! She also specializes in preventive care.

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/22/18
Dear Karen,

On the taxi ride to Dr. Molina's office, I was listening to Panama's #1 classic rock radio station, Caliente 97.1. Apparently Austeridad Calva is planning a reunion tour, followed by two farewell tours. I'm sure that you agree that this combination of tours solidifies their status as a classic rock band.

Dr. Molina was running behind, so I sat in the waiting room for 20 minutes. They have a freshwater aquarium with fake plants and no fish. They were also playing Panama's #1 classic rock radio station, Caliente 97.1. I will not need a mnemonic device to remember the Austeridad Calva is planning multiple farewell tours, because I have now heard about it twice.

I will tell you about the visit to the pediatrician on a different postcard. I ran out of space on this one because I tried to draw the letters in "Caliente 97.1" as lightning bolts, like they do on their promotional T-shirts. 

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/22/18
Dear Karen,

Dr. Molina's first question, which was very astute, was why I didn't bring any children to the appointment. I thought this might come up, so I showed her the 2002 wall calendar that Dignidad gave me, which features the works of world-famous baby photographer Anne Geddes. I explained that babies in the calendar were not mine, but similar in size and shape to the children that my fiancé Karen and I would one day have. She was not familiar with Anne Geddes and did not understand why the babies I showed her were dressed up as water lilies and peeking out of buckets.

I also explained that since the calendar is from 2002, it is likely that most of the babies are now on the cusp of adulthood and would need to transfer their care to a specialist in adult medicine. But again, since they were not actually my children, this important transition would probably take place in Australia, or wherever Anne Geddes lives and works. Dr. Molina and I agreed that we did not need to discuss this further, but by then there was only a few minutes left to delve into the importance of preventive care.

Before I left, I promised Dr. Molina that when we were ready, the three of us (Dr. Molina and the two of us) would have a mutual discussion, filled with honesty, about whether our children should have the specific vaccinations that she (Dr. Molina) recommends.

With warmest regards,
Michael


10/24/18
Dear Karen,

I'm just looking ahead at my wall calendar for next year and appears the Winter Olympics will be in Salt Lake City. Should we consider meeting there for an in-person discussion? It would be fun for you to enjoy professional quality ice dancing in your own country. Please write back and let me know!

With warmest regards,
Michael

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