Thursday, December 1, 2022

They Grow Up So Erratically

Dear Friends,

Because we are friends (see previous salutation), I have a gift for you in the form of a valuable life lesson in the form of a song. The song (see previous sentence) is called "Juice Ain't Worth the Squeeze," and it lays bare the harrowing cost of so-called hard work and quote-unquote success

For years, I've been trying to admonish my children about this, but they keep getting pushed through the system anyway. But at least they're getting pushed through the system in a completely non-linear fashion. Here are all their First Day of School Pictures from 2015-2022. 

Get a piece of tissue paper ready, because you are going to CRY or at least NEED TO BLOT YOUR LIPSTICK. 


2015



2016



2017



2018




2019



Skipped school in 2020 to play board games in the kitchen. So proud!



2021



2022


With warmest regards,
Zach




Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Endowed Chairs

Dear Friends,

I fell short of some of my goals this year. 

You know, I never returned that throw pillow that my great great grandfather stole from a temple in Bhutan, saddling all his descendants with a generational curse. I don't love that we are all doomed to be stricken with boils, but the pillow really ties in color accents in the living room. It also helps guests feel at ease in our home, because they know we are the kind of casual, folksy hosts who feel comfortable enough in their own skin to just throw a pillow onto the furniture. 

An astute observer, however, would deduce that we are actually uncomfortable in our own skin, because everyone in my family for five generations has been cursed with boils. 

Regardless, I will meet ONE of my goals this year, which was to design and publish four original neurology-themed board or card games. With the imminent release of "Endowed Chairs: Neurology," that objective is within reach!

Endowed Chairs is a quick two-player card game about the history of medicine, specifically the history of women in neurology and neuroscience! My collaborator on this project is Dr. Alison Christy, Vice Chair of the American Academy of Neurology History section, who is compiling biographies of each of the 12 luminaries featured in the game. 

And of course, this month's Hard Taco song, "Endowed Chairs," is a celebration of those 12 luminaries and theme song of the game! 


At the time I’m writing this, there are still a few last-minute loose ends to tie up before you can buy your own copy. In the meantime, you can learn more about the game at www.endowedchairs.com. Come back soon for an instructional video, a buy link, and biographies of these remarkable women.


Meanwhile, if you're still trying to find that perfect holiday gift for the Bhutanese cleric in your life (other than his people's sacred throw pillow, which he is NOT getting back), please consider The Lesion, The Plexus, Cranial Vault, or Foramina!



With warmest regards,
Zach


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Hard Taco Guide to Pixar Sequels

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for October, "More to Say," is not a Mexican Metal song. You're thinking of "Muertese," which is pronounced the same, but means Die in Spanish.

Did anyone else take advantage of that offer where you get a free 6-month subscription to Disney Plus if you buy a new yacht? It seemed like a good deal, but five months later, I had barely turned on the TV because I was too busy yachting about! But now that the weather is cooling down and I've basically yachted my fill for one yacht season, I thought I would take advantage of that subscription and watch all the Pixar sequels in order. If any of you are in the same boat... get off my damn yacht! But if you are in the same boat metaphorically, here is a guide to those movies. 

Toy Story 2 (1999) - Andy swears he left his toys in the chest, but he begins to grow suspicious when he comes home to find his mother bound and gagged in a cauldron of boiling water, with all of his toys encircling the pot as if they had just moments ago been dancing and chanting. 

Toy Story 3 (2010) - By this point, Disney was sick of limiting their characters to classic or unbranded toys. So, they just said screw it and strung together clips of existing toys-themed movies: Transformers, My Little Pony, Trolls, Care Bears, Battleship, American Girls, Bratz, G.I. Joe, Rainbow Brite, and Strawberry Shortcake. 

Cars 2 (2011) - Chief creative officer John Lasseter originally licensed the script for a movie called SARS, an action-comedy about anthropomorphized coronaviruses infecting respiratory epithelial cells and replicating exponentially. But when Chinese censors refused to release the feature in their market, Pixar eventually caved and changed the viruses to cars. Reportedly, Owen Wilson was shooting another film by this point and was unable to re-record his lines, but Lightning McQueen's offensive Chinese accent is never explained in the movie.

Monsters University (2013) - A few years after the events of Monsters Inc., the city of Monstropolis is stricken with a debilitating energy crisis. The scientists of Monsters University hypothesize that there may be more efficient methods to exploit human children than using their screams or laughter. Mike and Sully conduct clinical trials, attempting to harness the power of children's sneezes, farts, burps, and hiccups, but none are cost-effective. Finally, Boo discovers that the most economic method to generate electricity is a direct conduit to the human brainstem. The closing scene shows human children born in fetus fields and spending their lives in pods, suspended in artificial amniotic fluid, with their headjacks directly feeding into giant underground power plants. Throughout this montage, Randy Newman sings a Southern-accented Americana-influenced song called "We Gotta Work Together to Make this Work." 

Finding Dory (2016) - After Finding Nemo, every spoiled brat wanted their parents to pony up hundreds of dollars to buy them a saltwater aquarium so they could have their own clownfish (Nemo) and a Blue Tang (Dory.) Things got even more expensive after this sequel was released, because those same kids now demanded an octopus (Hank), a beluga whale (Bailey), and a dentist. 

Cars 3 (2017) - Sorry, I can't bring myself to watch this one. 

Incredibles 2 (2018) - Originally called Frozone, this movie featured Mr. Incredible's bosom buddy Lucius Best skating around Metroville, immobilizing thugs with the vapor from his breath and the occasional frozen urine whip. Test audiences loved seeing a strong black super in a leading role, but Disney balked at the proposed title because it was too similar to another movie that was slated to be released the following year. If Pixar had their way, we wouldn't have had Incredibles 2 (2018) and Frozen 2 (2019), but Frozone (2018) and Thawed (2019).

Toy Story 4 (2019) - The only new toy that appeared in this franchise was a spork, so merchandising tie-in opportunities were relatively sparse. Pixar did their best to make up for the lost revenue with key product placements, including Buzz Lightyear's catchphrase, "To Infiniti... and Beyond Burger!"

Lightyear (2022) - After providing voice talents for 22 films, John Ratzenberger had a falling out with Pixar just before the filming of this Toy Story prequel. "It's not about the money," Ratzenberger said. "It's about respect. They don't pay me Joan Cusack money, they don't respect me. And ain't nobody can play [Hamm the Piggybank] as believably as me." Ratzenberger was correct. He was so convincing in the role, Pixar executives were eventually compelled to smash him to pieces with a hammer, and use the spare change that rolled out to hire his replacement. 

With warmest regards,

Zach


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Camelton: The Farewell Tour

Dear friends, 

The Hard Taco song for September, “Lookupable,” is based on my recent browser search history. Every time a random thought or conversation sent me to Google, I put it into the song. As supplementary reading, the appendix at the bottom of this digest contains the answers to all of the questions posed in the song. 

 

Nearly six years ago, we started working on Camelton, the heart-winning and award-warming spoofs of Hamilton songs. I've heard that many of your children grew up with these songs, laughing and molting along with Salamander Camelton, Aaron Bird, George Waspington, The Skylark Sisters, and the rest of their zoological pals.


But when Lin-Manuel Miranda started writing music for Pixar, the global obsession with Hamilton parodies began to wane. By 2021, your children were all clamoring for an Encanto spoof about all my favorite board games, “We Don’t Talk About Uno.” (Confession: nobody was clamoring for this, but if a single person actually asked me to do this, I probably would.) 


But the Camelton playlist felt incomplete. There were too many loose ends! I needed to strut back into octagon one last time and try to give these characters some closure. It was time to launch the flagship of the Camelton flotilla, Naan-Stop. 


We ran into every possible hiccup along the way… blackouts, lost mic cables, cast members losing their mojo, and unexpected controversy about the lyrics (are we allowed to call it Chicken Kiev now, or is it Chicken Kyiv?) But after about a year, it finally came together, and I'm proud to say this is the the longest, funniest, and most appetite-whetting Camelton song in the series:


 

I want to express my sincerest gratitude to all of the singers who have given life to all of this nonsense over the years. This has been so much fun, and I am incredibly grateful to be done with it forever now! 

 

With warmest regards,  

Zach

 

Appendix 1: Answers to all of the questions posed in “Lookupable.”

  • Both imposter and impostor are correct spellings.
  • Gose, the beer, is pronounced goze in the U.S. and goze-uh in Germany.
  • The average gas price in Michigan today is $3.83/gallon.
  • It isn’t dangerous for dogs to eat grass, but it can be a sign of anxiety.
  • The song uses sampled drums, not a real drum set. 
  • Jell-o is kosher and considered pareve (not dairy or meat), even though gelatin is made from an animal product. I’m guessing that the rabbi who made that decision was under the thumb of BIG COLLAGEN.
  • Stevie Nicks read a cheap paperback book about a girl who was possessed by a Welsh goddess named Rhiannon. She thought the name was cool, and wanted to include it in a song. 
  • Sunset tonight is at 8:09 pm.
  • Patrick Stewart played Prospero in the 2006 touring company of The Tempest that came to Ann Arbor in 2006.
  • Ross Perot died of leukemia.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and I Still Hate Phoenix

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for August, "Rude Hiker," was inspired by some of the people we met on our weeklong hiking trip to the Southwest. 

As discussed in the most recent digest, we spent the first 24 hours in Phoenix, nursing our heat strokes and reminding ourselves that nothing good in the world has an "oe" that is pronounced "ee." Such as:

  • Subpoena. Nobody every fist-pumps when they get one of these. 
  • Amoeba. Gastrointestinal disease AND hemorrhagic meningitis? In this economy?
  • Foetus. A silly British way to spell something that's already rather nasty, if we're being honest. 

So of course, Phoenix was going to be miserable. And to top it off, the hotel we stayed at was way overpriced. If our financial system was truly based on supply and demand, Phoenix hotels would pay guests to stay there.  Or at list NIX the PHOE. 

Okay, I think I'm finally done bashing Phoenix. Wait until you hear about all the fun places we visited afterwards! (BTW, Phoenix sucks!) 


Sedona

Sedona is a like a cosmic laundry snafu. God accidentally washed his red rocks with his white crystals, and now all the Jeeps are pink. 

The people there, who lovingly call themselves Sedonuts, are intensely, aggressively spiritual. Not only do most of them have a therapy pet, but many also have an aromatherapy pet. And the corrupt government officials are all under the thumb of Big Essential Oil. 

Here's the conversation I overheard at the hotel restaurant:

"Welcome to Star Seed Origin Organic Cafe. I know my name tag says Kaitlyn, but you can call me Namaste Das. Can I get you started with some vibrational kosmic matcha latte?"

"Yes, hi. Is your Reishi Boost germinated in polar, geomagnetic ocean minerals?"

"Of course, and all of our chia-based superfoods are adaptogenic."

"Great! Okay, for starters, I'd like a circle of boiling pachouli oil poured around our seating area, and for my main course, a sage enema."

"Excellent choice! I'll be back with some bread and a bucket to collect your negative energies."


The Grand Canyon

The award for the laziest National Park namer goes to John Wiley Powell, a one-armed Civil War Veteran who popularized the term "The Grand Canyon" in 1871*. Prior to that, European explorers had called it "The Big Canyon," while the Paiute Indians called it "Standard Canyon, people. Not much to see. Move along." 

But at least the term Grand Canyon is descriptive, right? If only! Grand can mean almost any size. Sure, a grand piano is a big piano, but a grandchild is smaller than a child, and a grande Frappuccino is the most medium-sized of all Frappuccinos. 

Regardless, the Grand Canyon is a backpacker's paradise, and we were ready to hike it like a long snapper. The geologic history of the canyon is mind-boggling. Every step down the South Kaibab Trail takes you past rock formations that are 10 million years older than the last. It really helps put everything else into perspective, like what a hellhole Phoenix is. 

Zion and Bryce

Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon are only a couple hours away from each other, so tourists can check out both in the same vacation week. But we only budgeted enough time to go to one, so we picked based on religious preference. 

Obviously, Zion is a more comfortable destination for Jews because Zion is what Jewish people call Israel. And Bryce is clearly going to appeal to white Evangelical Christians, judging by the fact that it is what they name all their children. 

Imagine my surprise then, when we arrived at Zion, only to find that the most popular hike is called Angels Landing. It sounds like something right out of an apostolic hymnal.

I had no choice but to send a strongly worded postcard to the National Park Service about this overt antisemitism. And good news! They wrote back immediately and have agreed to change the name of the trail to Bagels Landing.

With warmest regards,

Zach


* Runner up for Laziest National Park namer goes to French fur trade Legardeur St. Pierre, the creative mind behind "The Rocky Mountains." If St. Pierre hadn't been slapped in the head by so many beaver tails, he might have remembered that 100% of Earth's mountains are made of rock.  But he was happy for the win after failing to get Dry Desert and Lake Wettest to catch on. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

But It's a Dry Heat

Dear friends,

Every year, civilization collectively crowns one radio hit as The Song of the Summer. Remember "Baby Got Back" (1992) and "Hot in Herre" (2002)? They reflected the society's obsessions at the time; enormous butts and meteorology, respectively. 

I'm hoping that this year, society is so confused and dystopian that it considers this month's Hard Taco song, "My Grandmother's Grape," for this honor. If it's not anthemic enough to serve as The Song of the Summer, I hope that it can at least be a finalist for the Song of July 1, 2022 Between 9:00-9:04 am.

Speaking of it being Hot in Herre, Lauren and I purposely decided to spend our annual summer getaway in Arizona. Full travel recommendations will follow, but in this digest, we're going to focus on the place we rented a car and got out of as fast as possible, Phoenix.

Welcome to the city where it takes two air conditioning units in every outlet to keep the indoor temperatures below the melting point of human cells. The city's official motto is, "We Know, But It's a Dry Heat," but the lady at the airport information booth just kept saying, "If You're Here in the Summer, You Did This to Your Own Damn Self."  


Photo taken inside the Family Restroom at the Phoenix Airport.

The sun is not a friend in Phoenix. Instead of supporting cellular respiration of plants through photosynthesis, the Phoenix sun is an angry and vindictive star that endeavors to lay waste to all vegetation through the opposite chemical process... photo-annihilation. 

If you think SPF 50 will protect you from the sun's wrath, you probably also believe a cardigan made of beef jerky would safeguard you from grizzly bear bites. (Spoiler alert: It won't. Grizzlies have nimble claws and excel at unbuttoning sweaters.) 

Phoenix offers an expansive sprawl of cookie cutter homes and office parks. That's not just to say they all look alike, which they do, but that they are built from discarded aluminum cookie cutters. This helps reflect the sun's UV radiation, so your corneas can be ravaged from all angles.

Do you like rolling your ankles on an uneven bed of jagged volcanic moon rocks? If so, you'll love walking in Phoenix! Every step makes a jarring crunch that reverberates in your skull as if God was chewing Froot Loops with his mouth open. 

But before you go on that walk, be sure to shake your shoes upside to dislodge that family of scorpions. Don't worry... these scorpions weren't planning to move in permanently. They were just renting them for the night from other scorpions who bought every shoe in the neighborhood and turned them into Airbnbs. Most local scorpions can't afford a shoe. 

You will also need to coax rattlesnakes out of your socks and coyotes out of your formalwear and reading glasses. And before you get into your car, you will need to dig up the flesh-ripping agave bushes that took root on the driver's seat overnight. 

Finally, summer in an even-numbered year is Primary season! Garish red campaign signs cover every square inch of public space. These aren't the modest pillowcase-sized signs you'll find in other cities, but twin sheet-sized cardboard billboards sprouting out of the pumice like saguaros, each promising to out-Republican the others with slogans like "Kari Lake will drink liberal tears." This shows you just how bad things have gotten in Arizona; even the gubernatorial candidates must resort to extreme measures to stay hydrated. 

So our final recommendation for travelers? Phoenix is a 108-degree heap of shit.

But it's a dry heap. 

With warmest regards,
Zach

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

I Can't Believe It's Been 25 Years. You Look Awful.

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Glad Tidings," and I bet has the fewest rhymes of any song you will hear all week. In fact, if there was company that delivered mom jeans to your house, the name of that company, Jordache Door Dash, would have more rhymes than this entire song.

Speaking of mom jeans, I attended my (gulp) 25th College Reunion last weekend. (By the way, that gulp was because I am chugging bubble tea, not because I am trying to draw attention to how many years it has been since I was in college.) I'm not really good with names or faces, but I developed a trick for identifying people who were in my class. If they had the same amount of hair loss as me, I would run up to them and hug them tightly, and I was right 100% of the time.

But for the most part, it was a pretty similar experience to my 10-year reunion and the 15-year reunion that I skipped. In each case, I found myself having to reiterate the same tedious stories about my life to everyone that I was hugging tightly. This time, it seemed like the only alumni who showed up were members of the Reunion Committee, and all they wanted to do was convince me to donate money to the University. 

Wouldn't it be great, they would say, if you gave enough money to tear down the old Science Library and have the torn down library renamed after your family?

One of them even asked if I wanted to make a Legacy Donation? I'm sorry, did you say a Legacy Donation? If that's what I think it is, ew. I'm perfectly happy with the two kids I made the old-fashioned way, and I'm not about to go into some sterile lab full of dirty magazines and donate a bunch of "Legacy" to a stranger.

Anyway, for the 1300 members of the Class of '97 who had the wisdom to stay home, I still think we should catch each other up. Should I go first? Okay, it looks like I'm going first. Here are some of the updates I gave some of my classmates about my career path:

1. I'm the editor-in-chief for The Middle England Journal of Medicine. We only publish 500-year-old research, such as observational studies on bloodlettings, trepanation, and methods for draining yellow bile. 
If I'm being honest, I think people go out of their way to support us because they we are a competitor to the New England Journal of Medicine, and most people just really hate the Patriots.

2. I work for Amazon as the Director of Flatus Skills. Have you ever asked Alexa to play 30 minutes of gentle farts to help you sleep? My division recorded that fart library.

3. I work for the government, and that's all I'm authorized to tell you. (Two drinks later, I spill the beans. You ever wave your hands under a soap dispenser in an airport bathroom, and no soap comes out? You assume it's broken, or maybe just empty, right? Wrong, idiot. The government puts fake soap dispensers in every airport, and they have sensors in them to scan your hands. Then, when you leave the bathroom, we already have your fingerprints when we arrest you for not washing your hands with soap.)

4. I name ski hills. Sigh. Back in Wisconsin, everyone told me how amazing my ski hill names were. They'd be like, "You're the guy who came up with Battle-Hardened and Tenth Youth? That's amazing!" But I had bigger dreams, and that meant moving out to Colorado. I know the competition would tough, but I had no idea it would be this cutthroat. Aspen only opens a few new runs a year, and pretty much everyone out here was the best ski hill-namer in their home state. I'm not giving up on my dream, but for now I'm waiting tables at the slope-side restaurant to pay the bills.

5. I rice things. You know, like cauliflower. Cauliflower doesn't just rice itself, you know.

6. I work for Apple. Mostly my division tries to figure out how to make your old iPhone break when the new one comes out. Everyone knows that old phones slow down when we release new versions of the operating system, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. What most people don't know is that iPhones also get slipperier after 2 years, so you are more likely to drop them. Also, cell phones cause brain tumors, and we place those tumors in specific nuclei to encourage reckless spending.

7. It's kind of embarrassing, but for a while after college, I was working as an erotic baker. But then I moved to the Midwest and now I design corn mazes. Erotic corn mazes.

8. I work for the state legislature, but every bill I have written has been wildly unpopular. It might be because they all start with, "You know what your problem is?"

9. I invented an app called the Whole Enchiladle. It's like Worldle, Quordle, and Octordle, but instead of trying to guess 1, 4, or 8 words, you need to guess all the words. All 158,390 five-letter words in the English language. 

10. I make those funny T-shirts that everybody has. They're definitely funny, but also wise. Here's one you probably know: "A skateboard is just a roller bag where you're the bag." That one cracks everybody up, but it also makes you think.  

11. I give the most elite conservative congressman money to vote for legislation that benefits Hobby Lobby. It's not really a career, per se. I just do it in my free time, and I use my own money. So I guess you could say I'm a Snobby Hobby Lobby Lobbyist Hobbyist.

12. I'm just here for the Port-a-Potty Convention. Lots of great Port-a-Potties out here tonight, and such a cool coincidence that so many people I went to college with showed up also!

Anyway, I would love to hear from the rest of you! Class of '97 rules! (Also note: Class of '98 drools.)

With Warmest Regards,
Zach