Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sacred Blood Pact or Profane Phlegm-oath?

Dear Friends,

I. You're going to need this: ( )
It's an electronic representation of an opposing thumb and index finger, ready to pinch you. Why do you need electronic pinching? Because there is a glistening new Hard Taco album, “Approach Approach Conflict," and nothing could be dreamier.

The President of the United States has already released this statement:

"Holla, fellow Americans. At this time I wish I was in a deep coma, so I could finally listen to Hard Taco's Approach Approach Conflict 24 hours a day without missing state dinners. I only regret that strangling all nine Supreme Court justices won't free up enough seats to appoint all the marvelous musicians who played on this album. Somebody e-pinch me!"

Get some Hard Taco CDs today, because otherwise I’ll stop bugging you.

II. What is up? Therefore, up is what. Q.E.D.
Remember 17 years ago, when I guaranteed one new Hard Taco song a month, even though I despise doing it with all my heart? I was hoping you’d forget by now, but a promise is a promise. (A = A. Q.E.D.) Whether it was a sacred blood pact or merely a profane phlegm-oath, I suppose I’ll have to make good.

The Hard Taco song for December is called, "Secret Chaver." Unless you're that guy at the soup kitchen who actually ladles the soup, there is no better use of your next four minutes than listening to this song. (Yes, I'm talking to you, guy who buses trays at the soup kitchen.) 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mud: It's for Slinging

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called, “The Penny Seats Are Nothing But Trouble.” These Penny Seats apparently are a theatre company in Ann Arbor, and let me tell you something… they are bad news. If you look up “Up to no good” in the dictionary, you will find that it’s not there, because it’s more of a phrase than a word. If you squint, however, you can imagine a picture of those Penny Seats crammed in the tiny space between “uptight” and “uptown.”

Listen to “The Penny Seats Are Nothing But Trouble,” because Merriam and Webster agree: these lovely Hard Taco songs are the very definition of the word, “Up to Some Good.”

Poll-ish Mustard: How to Forget Not to Vote Tomorrow
This may be the last thing you read before mid-term elections, so I feel obligated to volunteer my endorsements for the Michigan gubernatorial race. I am in a unique position to provide coverage of this race, because I have access to my answering machine. The rest of the year, when I pick up the phone and there’s a long pause, it is usually followed by heavy breathing. But come October of an even-numbered year, that pause is invariably precedes an attack ad against one of the candidates (or if they really want my vote, heavy breathing followed by an attack ad.) Here is what my answering machine has to say about our gubernatorial candidates, Virg Bernero (D) and Rick Snyder (R).

Virg Bernero wants to write a blank check to the same career politicians who spent the last four years trimming the thumbnails of Big Insurance.

Rick Snyder wants the tears of the hard-working working class and occasionally-hard-working upper middle class families to smear the mascara of his right wing agenda all over the dirty hands of the Lansing mandatory abortion lobby.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's More of a Science UNfair, if You Ask Me

Dear Friends,

Last weekend, I was driving around Boca Raton in a rental car, flipping through the Miami radio stations. Normally, I would be the last person to belittle the artistic value of pop music, but I was feeling inexplicably cantankerous. The ubiquitous octogenarians must excrete some kind of pheromone that makes passersby disparaging and close-minded. Every time a new song came on that I didn’t recognize, I said to myself, “Pffff. This could have been written by a 5 year-old.” By time we reached our destination, my eyes were sore from rolling so much.

On the plane ride home I took a few deep breaths and began to think clearly again. (Thanks, Delta Airlines geriatric miasma-removing air filters!) The reason great songs sound like they were written by 5-year-olds is that 5-year olds write great songs. With that premise, I immediately set Scarlett to work.

The result is “I’m on a Plane,” the first Hard Taco song in over a decade with co-authored lyrics. I think you will agree that it contains intangibles.

The Making of an Evil Scientist

I was one of a few students in my 9th grade class chosen to represent our school at the regional science fair. My project, entitled “Up and Add ‘Em,” offered groundbreaking evidence that subjects could complete more math problems in 60 seconds if they were standing up rather than sitting down. Upon closer inspection, I actually proved that standing subjects could do more math problems in 70 seconds than sitting subjects could do in 60 seconds. Also, the smarter kids were placed in the standing group. These were just details, though, and there wasn’t enough room on the poster for details.

To this day, I believe I could have beaten Katrina Sopkovich in the Behavioral Science category if I hadn’t muddled the oral presentation. After I elegantly expounded on the mind-blowing significance of my fraudulent conclusions, a tiny white-haired judge asked me, “What are your dependent and independent variables?”

My what? Seconds ticked by. I heard myself mumbling something like, “Well, it depends. It varies, it’s all variable, actually.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the blue ribbon goes to Ms. Sopkovich for her study on smell memory!

I vowed that I would never make that mistake again. When the time came to devise a 10th grade biology project, I was an authority on scientific methodology, and I was ready to get back to what I did best… fudging data. Ms. Kolb surprised us by announcing that we would each have a $30 budget to cover supplies. (Yes, this was a public school, for those of you feeling nostalgic for the days of adequate educational funding.)

She passed around a 500 page catalog of biological supplies, and it was all in there. Petri dishes with blood agar, Petri dishes with chocolate agar, live fruit flies with different colored eyes, ether for sedating them and cover slips for squishing them. And what do you know? They sell dissection specimens. Fetal pig... $22. Sheep brain... $6. Monkey heart… $11.

Oh my God Monkey vagina… $4 for one or $20 for six.

There wasn’t a picture. Why wasn’t there a picture? They had a picture of the fetal pig. And did that say $20 for six? It was baffling beyond reason that this unusual commodity was in the catalog at all, let alone with an incentive discount. I imagined that somewhere in Germany, a bearded man in a lab coat was ripping the page out of the catalog and shouting to a roomful of collaborators, "True, we only need one to complete our study, but a deal like this can not… must not be ignored!"

I tried very hard to think of an experiment that would justify this purchase, but I just wasn’t that creative. More to the point, I wasn’t that brave. I couldn’t see myself standing by my poster, telling the judge, “Well, Ma’am, for starters I randomized the monkey vaginas into two groups of three.”

“And before I go further, let me just point out that the independent variable is which of these two groups a given monkey vagina is in.”
No, in the end I spent my $30 on milkweed bugs and sulfuric acid. The project is not worth explaining, but I will tell you this: many bugs died, and my improbable hypothesis was overwhelmingly supported by pages and pages of made up numbers. I’m sure Ms. Kolb was on to me, but she, like every other teacher, was a sucker for neat handwriting and a clear plastic binder.

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

You Can't Make Atonement without Mentos

Dear Friends,

There is a short list of things you have been waiting for you whole life, and the September Hard Taco song, “Jumex Flow,” is certainly on it. It’s somewhere towards the middle of that list, right in between ‘a car with revolving doors’ and ‘never to feel lonely, even for one second.’

Listen to “Jumex Flow” right now. Don’t make me come over there and listen to it for you.  

This month, Jews all over the globe will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the weeks leading up to this holiday, it is customary to seek forgiveness for any bad behavior in the last year. I like the idea of rectifying my wrongdoings, but I’m still a little behind on my payments, apology-wise. To begin with, I have a couple transgressions from when I was in 5th grade that I would like to get off my chest.

Apology #1: I’m sorry I engaged in an imbalanced Garbage Pail Kid trade with a cognitively disabled classmate.
Nikki was a girl in my grade who had been collecting Garbage Pail Kids longer than the rest of us. It was rumored that she had several of the coveted first series cards, including ‘Adam Bomb,’ the crown jewel of the GPK collection. Of possible relevance to this story, Nikki had Down syndrome. One day I cornered her at recess.

Me: Hi, Nikki. Do you want to see my new Garbage Pail Kids? I’ve got ‘Bruised LEE’ and ‘Glandular ANGELA.’
Nikki: Hi, okay. I’m playing with this one… ‘GARRET-ed.’
Me: That’s a cool one. Do you have the other one that looks like that, ‘Garrote-TED?’
Nikki: No. I do not.
Me: Well, check this out… I have two copies of ‘Garrote-TED!’ Hey, you know what would be fun? We should make a trade. I’ll give you one of them for one of your cards, like maybe… ‘ADAM Bomb.’
Nikki: I’ll have to ask my parents.
Me: Come on! You don’t need to ask your parents. Just look at this card I’m holding. It’s a chubby toddler being garroted. His eyes are bulging out and stuff. It’s totally rad!
Nikki: Yeah, it is pretty rad! Okay.

And so went the most lopsided deal in trading card history. As of this morning, ‘ADAM Bomb’ is going on eBay for over $15.00. I could sell it and use the cash to get a haircut… a haircut that should have been Nikki’s. I’ve felt lousy about this for a while, so a few years ago I took steps to assure that I would never forget that I exploited a vulnerable individual. I threw away all my Garbage Pail Kids except for two: ‘ADAM Bomb’ and ‘Special ED.’

Apology #2: I’m sorry I abused the audience-participation privilege at a ComedySportz game by insulting my sister, Sari.

“My sister got glasses and braces and now she’s really ugly!”

I was at an improv comedy club with my family, and when the emcee asked for suggestions from the audience, I shouted out the aforementioned sentence. I think the specific request was for a newspaper headline, but I probably would have yelled out the same thing if he has asked for an emotion or the name of a fictional salad dressing. In my mind, it was just too funny to go unsuggested for a minute longer.

I can see you shaking your head and saying, “Oh, that poor girl!” I admit it was rude, but try to put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Declaring that your sister is ugly is not supposed to be hurtful, nor is it based on empiric observation. You’re nine years old, and you have a limited arsenal of phrases. If you’ve already used, “Give me your Little Debbie,” and, “He who smelt it, dealt it,” the only other combination of sounds that your mouth is capable of generating is something about the repulsive appearance of your siblings.   

At any rate, Sari didn’t think it was very funny, and neither did anyone else in the audience. In fact, several people booed, including some of the performers. Unfortunately for all of us, they were bound by the improvisers’ code to use the suggestion, and grudgingly ad-libbed a hilarious sketch about how the 11-year old girl in the audience was ugly because of her glasses and braces.

Anyway, Sari has probably forgotten about this incident, but I wanted to ask her forgiveness for being such a terribly insensitive younger brother that one time. (As far as I know, there were no other such incidents.) Also, I was hoping she could dig up some old pictures, just to see if the glasses in question were as hideous as I had implied, because maybe that would partially absolve me. Just a thought.

Merry Yom Kippur, everyone!

With warmest regards,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Why I Defect" By Oleg Chernyaev

Dear Friends,

I’ve been on a government watch list for a couple of years now. I trace it back to the time I searched for “pipe bomb parts” on eBay and then clicked “sort by price: high to low.” The only thing that alarms the Department of Homeland Security more than a random guy shopping for pipe bomb parts is a random guy shopping for stylish, brand name pipe bomb parts.

Here is your opportunity to join me as one of the FBI’s most hounded. The delightful new Hard Taco song, “Make a Mint,” contains explicit instructions for counterfeiting U.S. coins. If you download this song or read the lyrics, you will undoubtedly find yourself subjected to cavity searches at airports and bus stops for the rest of your life. Instead of calling you Stephanie, journalists will refer to you as The Radical Cleric Stephanie, because they believe you to be capable of extraordinary anger and beard growth.

I hate to brag, Steph, but this song is worth it.

Here’s something unrelated. (I’ve been working on my segues.)

Why I Defect
By Oleg Chernyaev

As child in Soviet Union I learn squeeze fish. When in old country, men squeeze many many fish. But Oleg, I squeeze fish best.

Impress many women.

Impress Russian Federal Strategic Defense Ministry Space Force Commandant. “Oleg,” he say, “I make you kosmonavt. You squeeze fish for foremost glorious space program.”

So I do. Twenty two month I float around Mir space station squeezing on fish for research. I fill forms, I make on documents, I run system checkings. Not always glamorous. Still, I squeeze fish some few hours a day, and is important work. Know this… number fish I squeeze is highly classified, but Oleg tell you absolutely truth… is enormous number.

After twenty two month, Soyuz craft return me to Earth. To Moskva. Oleg get welcome of hero! Father meet me at base, and bring my girlfriend, Irina, who is very plain but with foremost major endowments.

Father say, “Oleg, you are most welcome back to planet. For gift I give you fish wrapped in nyewspaper. Is Pravda nyewspaper, Oleg, not left-ving Pravda online veersion your Babushka read.” Father hand me fish, I unwrap. Is whole beluga, eyes still on. Very appetizing.

“Go stand next to Irina, Oleg,” he say, “Squeeze fish. I take peecture.”

I smile for picture, I try squeeze fish, but is big struggle. I try and some more try, but hands feel weak. Then I have flashback. I think of words of Pavel Vinogradov, who serve as flight engineer on Mir 24. One day while making on documents together, Pavel say that kosmonavt who squeeze fish in environment of no-gravity have probably troubles with squeezing of fish back on Earth. Ha! I laugh at Pavel, of course, for he is brainless fool flight engineer.

But Pavel not so styupid. Flashback is over, and Father is saying, “What is matter, Oleg? Big fish squeezing man not so big now?”

Girlfriend Irina say, “You’re not big, big squeezing fish man. Oleg go home! You can not even dream of squeezing Irina’s foremost major endowments.”

And that is whole story. Is why I never marry girlfriend. Is why I immigrate here at Indianapolis and get whole new job as health fair coordinator at mall. Now I tell you absolutely truth… I miss Father and Babushka. I like American rally of monster truck, but I miss Moskva. I miss innocent days when Oleg squeeze fish in bath house with many old men watching.

I not really miss Irina. Plenty Indiana women impressed totally with big health fair coordinator man.

With warmest regards,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Adventures of Mr. Smartapple

Dear Friends,

You can’t solve crimes without clues, and there are no better clue-finders than 6th grader Sarah Blevins and her younger brother, Tyler. But in the town of Plaincroft, Vermont, nobody is going to give valuable clues to a couple of meddlesome kids. That is, not until Tyler sits on Sarah’s shoulders and they put on their dad’s overcoat. Now they aren’t just two nosey kids. They are “Mr. Smartapple,” a distinguished gentleman in an ill-fitting bowler hat who knows one thing… it’s clue finding time!

(Scene 1: At the gas station. “Mr. Smartapple” weaves in and makes his way to the checkout counter.)
Tyler: Excuse me, Shopkeeper, I would like to purchase some cigarettes.
Attendant: Are you sure you’re old enough to buy cigarettes?
Tyler: (Guffaws.) Old enough to…? (Guffaws again.) Oh, young Miss, you flatter me. Old enough to buy cigarettes! No, sadly, I am far older than 18, as you can see by the fact that I am over 7 feet tall. Plus, my brow is furrowed.
Attendant: What kind of cigarettes would you like?
Tyler: Oh, whatever you’ve got. Listen, friend, have you seen a man with a handlebar mustache and one abnormally large hand?
Attendant: Hmmm. I do remember a man who looked like that, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. He was in here, oh, just a few days ago. He mentioned something about getting ahead… at the off-track betting facility.  Oh, and he dropped this matchbook from the Burlington Opera House.
: The mysterious man wasn’t talking about a gambling parlor, but a mattress store… Off Track Bedding on
8th Ave.
He wasn’t trying to get ahead, he wanted to get “a head”. A headboard for a bed! But why?
Attendant: Did your abdomen just say a whole bunch of things?
Tyler: No, all of that was just my ringtone. Good afternoon, fellow grown one. (Into his coat.) Time to get some more clues!

(Scene 2: “Off-Track Bedding” Mattress Shop.)
Tyler: Why hello, Miss. I have recently voted in a local election.
Shop girl: Are you sure you’re old enough to vote?
Tyler: (Guffaws.) Amazing! The vitamin cream really works! No, sadly, I have been over 18 years old for longer than I care to remember. Anyway, if you’re curious, I voted the straight party ticket. But let me get right to the point. Have you seen a man with a handlebar mustache and one abnormally large hand?
Shop girl: Definitely not. Although, now that you mention it, there was a man like that in here yesterday. He wanted a particular headboard made out Philippine mahogany. He said he needed it by Friday or none of this would matter anymore. We had a headboard that was similar, but it wasn’t an exact match. He was very angry and rude, but eventually bought it.
Tyler: Was he wearing a shark-tooth necklace?
Shop girl: No, but he was carrying a library book. It had such a strange nonsensical title that I couldn’t help but remember it. It was entitled, “Come Coltivare Le Piante Tossiche.”
Tyler: Thanks you, Miss. I am strongly considering one of these box springs, but I need to discuss it with my wife and many children. We’ll be back! (Into his coat.) Time to get more clues!

(Scene 3: The Library)
Tyler: (Talking into imaginary phone) Yes, I too prefer soft core pornography to crinkle-cut carrots. Goodbye.
Librarian: Excuse me?
Tyler: Oh, I was just finishing up a common conversation with another adult man on my mobile phone. Do you have any more copies of the book, “Come Coltivare Le Piante Tossiche?”
Librarian: No, it was checked out two days ago. But we do have the English translation, “How to Grow Poisonous Plants.”
Tyler: Did the person who checked out the Italian version borrow any other books?
Librarian: Look, I’m really not supposed to tell you that.
Tyler: You can trust us. I mean me! You can trust me. I’m over 7 feet tall.
Librarian: Well, okay. He checked out a book called, “Intermediate level Whittling.”
Tyler: Thank you. I would love to talk further, but I have an appointment with my geriatrician in 15 minutes. (Into his coat.) Time to close this case!

(Scene 4: The police station. The overcoat and bowler hat are on the floor.)
Officer Whelon: Slow down, slow down, kids! Are you telling me you’ve solved the Leonara murder?
Sarah: Yep.
Officer Whelon: And that the killer is none other than the great tenor, Carlo Bergonzi?
Sarah: That’s right!
Officer Whelon: But that’s impossible. Carlo Bergonzi is famous!
Tyler: But Leonara was more famous, so he decided to take her very life.
Sarah: The Burlington Opera House is putting on Verdi’s Oberto this season. Bergonzi’s character is supposed to kill Leonara’s character in the second act by suffocating her with a wreath of bluebells. But Bergonzi replaced them with home-grown mountain laurels. Poisonous mountain laurels. When she inhaled them, she blacked out and cracked her head on the stage bed.
Tyler: In front of a packed house of 1500 unsuspecting audience members! None of them knew she was really dead!
Sarah: Everyone was fooled.
Officer Whelon: Even us?
Sarah: Even the police. All Bergonzi needed to do was replace the bloodstained headboard and he would get away with it.
Tyler: But the headboard was made out of a rare wood, and when he couldn’t find an exact replica, he had to buy the closest match and whittle it to look like the original.
Sarah: Exactly, but in his impatience to finish the job before the next performance, he skipped “Whittling for Beginners” and went straight to the intermediate level lesson. In doing so, he would have missed the basic tenet that a whittling knife needs to be sharpened after every hour of use, or the carvings become rutted and uneven.
Tyler: Bergonzi’s right hand is abnormally large, so he would have carved left-handed, and that means he would have whittled the headboard from left to right.
Sarah: We’re willing to bet that the replacement headboard will have uneven carvings on its right half.
Officer Whelon: That sounds crazy, but I’ll call the opera house and ask. Hold on. (Dials.) Yes, are there rutted or uneven carvings on the right half of the headboard that you use as a set-piece in Oberto? I see. Don’t let Bergonzi leave. I’m coming to arrest him! (Hangs up.) What can I do to thank you kids?
Tyler: (Getting back on Sarah’s shoulders and slipping into overcoat) Kids? What kids? I am Mr. Smartapple, and I was hoping you could direct me to the nearest winery that offers free tastings for fully-developed adults.
Officer Whelon: Your secret is safe with me!

The End

With warmest regards,

P.S. The Hard Taco song for July is called, “Dance Your Life Away.” 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Down with Comic Sans

Dear Friends,

I hate Comic Sans. I really can't stand it. It’s immature, repulsive, and absurdly inappropriate in every context. It is eye-raping. It's like water torture... each letter is like a harmless droplet, but as they relentlessly fall on the page they become a sledge hammer bashing me rhythmically into madness. I find that font entirely loathsome, and I'm not alone. I’m a member of a Delaware-sized society of outraged citizens (a term I prefer to “hate group”) that stands united on this issue.

Download the Hard Taco song, “I Hate Comic Sans,” and see if you have what it takes to be an outraged citizen.

Let me put it another way… if I had a time machine, I would travel back to 1995 and find Vincent Connare, the man who was about to invent Comic Sans. I would give him a choice: A) Go to sleep forever, or B) Take the keys to the time machine. I assume he’d go with B, and with that kind of power, he’d forget all about typography. Either way, we’d be saved from Comic Sans, and although I'd be stuck in 1995, at least I wouldn’t have to wait very long to see the Packers win the Superbowl.

People, Comic Sans is obscene. If the Hard Taco song has not been enough to win you over, I regret I have no choice but to teach you this lesson, Guantanamo Bay-style. Here is the first chapter of an autobiographical novel I’m writing, presented in Comic Sans MS 12 pt. Before you read this, I urge you to contact the nearest hospital and get the pager number for the ophthalmologist on call, because no one gets through this much Comic Sans without developing corneal ulcers.

“Taco Noir”

It was too dark to see out the window, at least not with the half-empty glass of bourbon whiskey tilted back in front of my eyes.  I drained it, and looked out again. They call Ann Arbor the City of Dreams, but I haven't found a dreamer yet, not a real one. Hapless grifters, hardboiled fall guys, aging boxers. I've traced my hand on the walls of every alley, mixed up with characters of every stripe, and let me tell you… they’re all just looking for a way to fill the emptiness between the next two cigarettes.  Not one of them has a dream bigger than tomorrow’s breakfast.

My name is Guy Beakes. Every sap has a story, and maybe yours has a missing sister or a cheating wife. If so, you might know me. I'm a private dick. It’s etched into the glass on my front door. I also have a business card, but I’ve never had to use it. I wish I could say the same about my pistol.

A knock woke me from my reverie. I looked up and saw her leaning in the doorway. A tall brunette framed in a cloud of waltzing smoke. She had lips the color of cheap Shiraz and the saddest eyes I’d ever seen outside of my bathroom mirror. She was worth a stare, but I wasn’t ready to give her the satisfaction.

“Are you the one they call The Beak?” she asked.

Even with my sinus problems, I could smell that she was trouble, and not the kind of trouble I went looking for. She was a silo filled with poison ivy, a dental amalgam made of TNT, a “get well” card dipped in arsenic, and then dipped in chocolate, so you couldn’t see the arsenic. She was here to play me like a second-hand accordion, and all I could do was breathe in and out, trying to make the music she wanted to hear.

“That’s right, Sweetheart,” I said, “I’m Guy Beakes. It says so on my door. I’m a private dick, and a damn good one. That’s on the door, too, but you already knew that, didn’t you, Miss… ?” 

She tapped a Chesterfield out of the box and brought it to her lips. “I’ll tell you that when you're ready to know it, Mr. Beakes,” she said. I offered her a light. She chain-smoked the rest of the pack. “Okay, I think you're ready, now. I’m Tess. Tess Hennnessy.”

Tess Hennessy. Of course. I knew her family. The Hennessy’s were law-abiding insurance investigators. Unless she was one of the South Side Hennessy’s… they were alienated plainclothes policemen. There were also the Midtown Hennessy’s, who ran numbers, and not the good kind. A gruesome lot of bottom feeders and candy striper molls with questionable virtues. I like questionable virtues, because you’re never really sure. Are they good virtues or bad virtues? If you knew the answer, they wouldn’t be questionable anymore.

“Well, Ms. Hennessy,” I began, “there are three types of people in the world…”

“I know,” she interrupted, “but that’s not why I’m here.”

My jaw dropped like a lead pigeon. Nobody cut me off before I could enumerate the three types of people in the world. Nobody. It was practically part of my contract.

“Mr. Beakes, I’ve got a problem, and I’ve heard you’re the kind of guy who makes problems go away.”

"Sweetheart," I said, "that's why they call me Guy." I knew her story before she said another word. “It’s your husband, isn't it? Mr. Hennessey's a snake... comes home late or not at all, and you think he’s two-timing or worse. You want him tailed. Smoked out. You came to me because I worm out double dealers and I don’t ask questions. It says so on my door.”

“Mr. Beakes, I need to know that you can be… discrete.”

She meant discreet, of course. Discrete means distinct or separate, but it didn’t matter. I’m both. (That’s also written my door.)

“Sweetheart, if you’ve got $40 a day plus expenses and a picture of Mr. Hennessy in that purse of yours, I’ll be your bloodhound,” I told her, “It’s like I said, there are three types of people in this world...“

“I know, Mr. Beakes,” she said, caressing a roll of greenbacks onto my desk. Again, she wasn’t letting me say my bit about the three different types of people. It’s a really good bit. This dame knew how to frustrate a guy.

“I don’t have a picture of my husband, Mr. Beakes, but you won't need one. He has black hair and a mysterious past that continues to haunt him, hunting him down with a fatalism that taunts him relentlessly before delivering the final blow. He usually wears a hat. Do you think you can find the man that meets that description?”

“As sure as my name is Guy Beakes, PI,” I told her. I turned around to pour half a glass of Blue Hills Single-barrel, and when I looked back, she was gone.

I never knew Ann Arbor before the war, with its chintzy string quartets, its ersatz glamour, its rose-colored storefronts and echoing sidewalks. I swirled the whiskey in my glass as I watched the door swinging shut, and wondered for the hundredth time why I went to the trouble of writing so much stuff on it. 

With warmest regards,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Serendipity and Sharin' Da Pity

Dear Friends,

Admit the following: there is something satisfying about a choir of British orphans. Inevitably, one can only blast “Food Glorious Food” and “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” so many times before otherwise friendly people start pulling one's hair. The Hard Taco song for May is called “Foundling Tokens,” and if you like orphan choirs and mixed metaphors, you can stick this one right up your alley.

Show some mercy, Guv’na, and listen to “Foundling Tokens.”

There is an historical basis for this song. In 1748, the shipbuilder Thomas Coram opened the Foundling Hospital in London as a refuge for deserted children. Mothers could abandon their babies at the door of the hospital, no questions asked, with just one stipulation. The mother had to leave some sort of trinket or token by which the child could be identified if the mother ever decided to come back for it. I learned about the Foundling Hospital because I accidentally ran a web search for "fondling Tolkien," and Google asked me if I meant "foundling token." Yes, Google! That is, of course, what I meant!

To summarize, I did not discover this topic inadvertently while looking up something repulsive. In contrast, a number of great discoveries and inventions have been made by accident. That brings us to this month's topic: Great moments of SERENDIPITY in history.

Charles Goodyear made this discovery while burning natural rubber with sulfur, hoping to create a pencil eraser that emitted a foul odor when used. The "reeking eraser" had been commissioned by a syndicate of wicked schoolmarms who were looking for a way to make the children of Akron suffer for making a writing error in the first place. To the chagrin of the wicked schoolmarms, Goodyear's new polymer was the key ingredient for making tire swings, which are basically the most fun things ever.

One morning, a Scottish dairy owner named Alexander Fleming knocked a cheese wheel into a vat of yogurt, and didn't have time to fish it out before leaving for his 8 am tee time. When Fleming returned to the farm that afternoon, the yogurt was gone and the cheese had expanded to fill the vat. He correctly surmised that the cheese mold had killed the bacterial culture in the yogurt, and that this would usher in a new era of antimicrobial medicine. He verified this hypothesis by demonstrating that he was unable to contract impetigo or syphilis while standing in the vat. 

In 1781, William Herschel was tracking a meteorite's descent to the Earth using a telescope of his own design. He was in the process of describing the crater created by the impact when he noticed that it contained a fixed bluish light source with a regular orbit. Hershel was flummoxed, not realizing that his sister was leaning on the telescope, and it was pointing back towards the heavens rather than the crater. When he reported his findings to the Royal Astronomical Society, they wrote him back, stating, "We regret that you were unable to tell Uranus from a hole in the ground."

Drs. Bausch and Lomb made this breakthrough in eye care when they accidentally crashed their lab carts into each other. The subsequent conversation was later documented by a bystander.

Bausch: Fool! You got your salt in my deionized water!
Lomb: Moron! You got your deionized water all over my salt!
Bystander: You both got all your stuff on my gas permeable lenses. And they feel... great!
Bausch: Eureka! We'll be rich!
Lomb: I agree: Eureka! Of course, I would have to give up my important research on cosmetically whitening salt.
Bausch: And I would have to divert my attention from my daughter's science fair project, "Does Water Make Subjects Less Thirsty Than Placebo?"
Lomb: Perhaps this bystander will commercialize our discovery, and use our names so this day will live on?
Bystander: I swear I will.
Bausch: To us! (All three raise a glass of water or placebo.)  

Christopher Columbus was looking for the New World, but mistakenly docked his ships in India. He met with the native religious leaders, and since Columbus assumed that he was in the Caribbean, he referred to them as Bahamans.  Columbus was a great admiral, but his calligraphy was dismal. When Queen Isabella read his dispatches, she thought he was calling the people "Baramans." The name stuck, even after Columbus realized he was in India, and even today, many natives of India still refer to themselves by this name.

With warmest regards,

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Dear Puddin' Pie,

The Hard Taco song for April is called "Sweet Tooth Trollop." To coincide with the release of this ridiculously splendid song, I am also unveiling a brand new swing dance move, the "Bob Cratchit." It goes like this: the couple is dancing... they're dancing... they're dancing, and then suddenly the man FLINGS the woman straight up in the air. There is another man waiting in the second story window, and he does a quick Charleston kick with the girl as she flies by. Then all three partners yell "Bob Cratchit!" (Some day, my biographer will criticize the fact that every dance move I invented features the dancers yelling out the name of the move as they do it. My preemptive rebuttal: that's why you're the biographer and I'm the dance move-inventor.)

Download Sweet Tooth Trollop, and other songs that make you want to Bob Cratchit the night away.

Love + Candy = Better Love
I'm totally going to get into trouble for this, but I’m prepared to disclose the unofficial list of NECCO's Candy Conversation Hearts phrases for next year. These phrases are chosen 9 months in advance because the recipe for the candies calls for both barrel-aging and a process called "The Trials," a confectionary boot camp in which imprinted candy hearts are subjected to extreme temperatures, white noise, and violent desiccation.

In a recent phone conversation, a NECCO employee detailed this lengthy process to me, saying, "HAND-CARVD. HARD WORK. CARPL TUNNL. MISS FAMLY. WORTH W8ING. THEY RULE." He then added, "LET'S KISS."

Why would anyone care about the Sweetheart phrases for 2011? Let’s just say there is a girl you are sweet on. (If you are a woman, then you are hypothetically bi-curious in this scenario.) You work out a can’t-fail strategy of giving her a Valentine's candy heart inscribed with phrase, "SWEET ON U." You draft a mock-up for this plan on real blueprints. Everything is all sunbeams and buttercups, until you buy a box in January and learn that: Holy Buckets! The phrase "SWEET ON U" has been discontinued!

Did I mention that it's already January?! 

That's why I'm leaking the 2011 candy conversation phrases now. I want to ensure you have ample time to construct your intricate bi-curious wooing strategy around them. Here goes:

 (I believe the idea of this one is that consumers can scratch off either the B or the last O, depending on their needs)


The last three are somewhat enigmatic right now, but it is my belief that they are topical and will make sense to us by the end of the calendar year. Sweetheart phrases often have predicted cultural trends for the following year, such as "Tweet Me" (2009), "Dwarf Planet" (2005, in reference to Pluto), or "Ripken Streak" (1982-1998). 

Was BPaul BBunyan a Blumberjack?
Technically, he was a blogger (groan!), and while I'm blogging about food (still groaning from prior joke!), I wanted to rant about the fact that the health food is just food with more adjectives. Like “health.” Let’s compare Triscuits to their Trader Joe’s equivalent.

Triscuits contain: wheat, soybean and/or palm oil, salt. Warning: Contains wheat.

Wendy's Organic Woven Weaves contain: whole-grain bulgar durum semolina flour, pure deionized Cascade Mountain fair trade Spring water, sun-ripened Baltic sea salt, organic expeller-pressed eastern pasque flower oil and/or hemp-filtered rapeseed oil, hand-teased early autumn butcher's yeast, high fructose free-range Indian corn syrup, 100% anti-oxidant enriched privy-aged dung butter. Warning: Hand-woven on wooden wheat looms that are also used to process traces of weathered prune masa.

Which cracker would you rather eat? Neither! Because like the rest of us, you are saving your appetite for January 2011, when you can eat platefuls of XBOXO!

With warmest regards,

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Telegram is Coming From Inside the Log Cabin

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for March is called, "The Old Tongue." If you listen to it right now, you can stop reading, which will free up your eyes for four minutes of seductive fluttering. 

If you prefer to read, and there is no one between you and the computer screen you want to seduce, this is your lucky email. This month's literary offering is the synopsis of a terrifying new chiller/thriller I am writing/optioning. This story follows the sexy lives and gruesome deaths of four smoking-hot former First Ladies. The title (and I'm prouder of this than anything else I've ever done) will be, "Body Count Gushmore." At first, it reminds you of Mount Rushmore, but this title has layers of meaning, and the second layer makes you think about grisly murder.

Body Count Gushmore*
by Zach London

Chapter 1:
(The Mount Vernon library.)
Martha Dandridge Custin Washington trips over a loose floorboard and lands on all fours. She lifts up the floorboard to reveal an ancient book, bound in peculiar pale leather that has nipples and a rash. The book is called the "Lexicon Asmocropolai", and it contains incantations for summoning demons. Martha decides to undress slowly, and read the book aloud while taking a hot, steamy bath. Suddenly, the bathwater starts to boil, and a swarm of winged hellbeasts pours out of the fireplace and into her screaming mouth. Special effects occur, and she dies.

Chapter 2:
(The streets of Richmond, Virginia.)
Martha Wales Skelton Jefferson turns up her nose at a haggard street augur. The jilted fortune teller vows to get revenge. Martha laughs dismissively, and returns home with the intention of undressing slowly and enjoying a hot, steamy bath. While she is rubbing lotion on her arms, the street augur sneaks into her parlor and replaces her husband's bottle of wig powder with a different bottle; one that is shaped like a claw and glows a little. That evening, Thomas Jefferson applies the cursed powder to his wig, and gradually develops an unquenchable craving for brain-based cuisine. He chases Martha around the oval office, trying to puncture her skull with a quill. Eventually, she loses him, and leans against a wall to catch her breath. Ah! His arms burst through the wall and grab her. Somewhere, the augur is laughing violently. 

Chapter 3:
(A log cabin, somewhere in a scary as hell forest.)
Mary Todd Lincoln is babysitting. The "little twerps" are misbehaving, so she puts them to bed early. As she is undressing slowly to take a hot, steamy bath, she receives a telegram that reads, "are you alone? -(STOP)-" At first she shrugs it off, but 10 minutes later, she receives another telegram, this one reading, "mary tod lincoln is gong to be stabbed at  -(STOP)-"

Now terrified, she writes a two-page letter explaining her situation, and dispatches a pony express rider to the nearest police outpost, 20 miles downriver. When the police receive her letter, they send a courier by steamship to the Telegraph and Cable Office. As Mary Todd Lincoln anxiously waits for assurances from them, the windows keep blowing open. Finally, a dispatcher arrives with an urgent communiqué from the Telegraph and Cable Office. It reads, "Dear valued customer: Get out now, the telegram is coming from inside the log cabin!" She tries to escape, but it is too late.

Chapter 4:
(The executive mansion, Washington, D.C.)
Ignoring the pleas of everyone, Edith Kermit Cardow Roosevelt makes arrangements for a new East Wing of the White House to be built on an Indian burial mound. To expedite construction, she digs up all the graves herself, displacing the bones of Chief Otaktay ("Killer Among Killers") and pocketing an amulet that she pries out of his skeletonized hand.

Since it is midnight and she is alone, she decides to strip down to her underwear and use the light of the full moon to complete the final calculations for her unholy cloning research. While slowly undressing, she inadvertently knocks an old blind man into the grave. In his dying breath, the blind man asks her if she was aware that people in their neighborhood have been disappearing mysteriously. He also mentions that he hears a surge of poisonous beetles on the horizon. 

Mrs. Roosevelt ignores these warnings and hides the man's body under her porch. Proceeding inside, she sees her children hovering eerily in the hallway, their eyes rolled back, babbling an octave too low in an ancient language. Just to make sure they are okay, she hugs and kisses each of them. Then she remembers that she left something important under the porch with the dead blind man. As she squeezes into the dark crawlspace, she finds an artifact that can only be described as "a puzzle to unlock a portal to Hell," and she solves it.

Then she goes inside and takes a hot, steamy bath.

With warmest regards,

* Alternate title: Mount Much-Gore

Monday, February 1, 2010

1000 Generations of Rock

Dear Friends,

   At the beginning of a post-college summer road trip around the country, my companion and I endeavored to write a song about every state through which we passed. We dubbed the entire campaign, "Road Trip '97: A Thousand Generations of Rock," and by the end of the first week, we had penned anthems about Indiana, Kentucky, TennesseeGeorgia, and Florida. By time it was North Carolina's turn, unfortunately, the well we beginning to run dry, and we had to think about revising our objectives. Here is what I had written in my journal from that day:

Possible dream goals/life missions:
1. Write a song for every state. (Not realistic. Veto.)
2. Have sex with a unicorn in every state. (Repulsive, even less realistic. Veto.)
3. Eat at a Taco Bell in every state (Delicious, and very realistic. In fact, we already did this in the first seven states without noticing.) (Also, Crunchy.)  

And that, as you may have guessed, is quite possibly where the name "Hard Taco" came from. One song per state for one month turned into one taco per state for one month, which eventually turned into Hard Taco: one song per month. Do you believe it? I wouldn't.

This month's Hard Taco song, "For North Carolina and the Others," summarizes the rest of that road trip. It's sweet and nostalgic, and does not involve bestiality, mythical or otherwise.   

Ever since I Found America, I have been longing to share my favorite experiences with the rest of you. Here is a guide to the nation's most excellent tourist attractions. 

Tennessee - Be sure to visit the Museum of Appalachia, where you can stroll through a garden of overturned outhouses and detuned banjos. Then, watch a video of an edentulous woman holding sheep by their hind legs while enumerating her home remedies for their fulminant skin diseases. By then it will become apparent why the early settlers named the region Appalachia, the Latin word for "anything appalling."
South Carolina - Be sure to get tickets to the Comedy Cabana in Myrtle Beach, where every Friday is Yeats Impersonators Night. My opinion: "Young Yeats" has a better Irish accent, but "Fat Yeats" is truer to the poet's unremitting self-realization of the cyclical countertheories of spiritual life.

Georgia - Be sure to visit the beautiful coastal city of Savannah. Motor traffic in the downtown area is terrible thanks to an 1834 city ordinance that mandated that a historic anchor be placed on a pedestal in the middle of every intersection.

Florida - Be sure to visit the secluded home of Ward Stone Ireland, the man who invented the court reporter typewriter ("the stenotype machine") but didn't tell anyone, and just used it for his own home court reporting needs.
Alabama - Be sure to listen to music made by dead people while passing through Alabama. If you drive through the state at the speed limit on Interstate 65, there will be precisely enough time to listen to one song by every musician who committed suicide. If you take interstate 10 through the Southern part of the state, there will only be enough time to listen to songs by musicians who died from urinary tract infections.

Nebraska - Be sure to visit the Omaha headquarters of Bozell Worldwide, one of the oldest advertising agencies in the world. They have kept complete video archives of their client interactions dating back to the founding of the company in 1921. Highlights include a black and white film of a mustachioed advertising executive making one of their most famous pitches:

   "You're looking for something sleek, a logo with simple lines and contrasting colors that says, 'Hey, check me out!' Ladies and gentleman of the National Socialist Party, I give you... the swastika! Imagine, if you will, this eye-popping logo on T-shirts, on billboards, and on thousands of armbands. It grabs your attention, it pulls you in, it makes you want to march!"

Washington - Be sure to check out the Pike's Place market, where they are famous for throwing fish against the wall to knock off some of the loose mercury. These fish are quite pricey, but budget shoppers can purchase "no mercury added" fish.
Oregon - Be sure to visit Coast Redwood National Forest. The unique species of sequoia that is native to this region is the only tree on Earth that can used to make ultrathin cardboard. After a devastating forest fire here in 1992, the business reply card industry was paralyzed for several years, and no one could renew their magazine subscriptions.

California - Be sure to see the Ronald Reagan Presidential Diet Museum, and see videos and news clips about all the diets that the former president went on during his terms of office. The attached Presidential Diet Library contains his impressive private collection of over 20,000 nutritional brochures and over 30 years of the president's personal calorie counting logs.

Colorado - Be sure to bring your sweetheart to Invesco Field, where the two of you will be harnessed and suspended by "Bronco-crane" in front of the Jumbotron. Now pucker up, you lovebirds! The Mile High Photographer will take your picture kissing with the giant screen in the background. When your friends see this picture, they will be convinced that you were caught smooching on the Jumbotron!

With warmest regards,

Friday, January 1, 2010

Postcards from Panama, Part 2

Dear Friends,

   The Hard Taco song for January is called, "Poof (Are You Unna Dance?)." People sometimes ask me if I ever get tired of coming up with the genre-defining hip hop songs that shape the format for decades to come. The answer is yes, it's exhausting.
With warmest regards,

Postcards from Panama, Part 2
Dear Karen,

Thank you so much for writing back! I read your letter a vast number of times, and I couldn't help but notice the part where you said that you are allergic to oats. That may be hard to explain at restaurants, especially down here in Panama if you don't speak Spanish. I have decided to order you a custom T-shirt with a smiling Quaker and a big red X over his face. The size of the shirt will be medium. I realize that you could fit into a small, and I am in no way implying that you are in any way fat, but I think that the Panamanian waiters may be embarrassed to look at your T-shirt if it is too tight (they are very polite), and might miss the message that you are not in favor of oats.

Speaking of T-shirts, I saw a great slogan that I believe in with all my heart: "Be living simply so that simple people can also live." It struck a chord with me, because I don't believe in unnecessary luxuries. If you are looking for a man who will invest in opulent frills like a giant round bed, you will need to look elsewhere! It's hard enough to find sheets for a giant round mattress, let alone plastic sheets if one still has a problem with bed-wetting. (I'm taking a class on self-hypnosis and by time we are married, I guarantee this will no longer be a dire issue.)

After reconsideration, I will order custom-made round bedsheets, in case you conclude that my rectangular mattress is a "deal-breaker."

With warnest regards,

Dear Karen,

I took a closer look at your letter, and I think you actually wrote that you're allergic to cats, not oats. Your handwriting is fine (it's actually really nice.) I was probably just reading the letter too fast or at the wrong angle. I'm guessing that you were mentioning your cat allergy because I informed you that my cat, Otis Redding, will live with us when we are married. Your letter makes more sense now, although I thought you were mentioning your oat allergy out of the blue as a "getting to know you" kind of thing.

I am going to go ahead and send you the medium-sized anti-Quaker shirt anyway, because I was already done designing it online by time I figured out the mistake. You shouldn't wear it to restaurants, because they will incorrectly deduce that you don't want lots of oats, but you could still wear it to church, assuming that you do not go to a Quaker church. 

Have you ever seen the comic strip where the Sarge says %$@! in one frame and *&@# in the next frame? I'm not naive... I  know these are supposed to be swear words, but I have been trying to crack the code to figure out WHICH swear words. I think @ is a vowel or a very common consonant, because it seems to be in both words.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

When you move down here, be sure to vacuum before the movers come. Here's a cautionary tale that explains why: You probably remember my family moved away after 10th grade. (The science fair incident was a factor in that decision, but there were lots of other factors.) My dad had arthritis in his pelvis, so we hired some Mexican movers to pack and unpack for us. Three of the five of them were brothers. They were not very tall, but not a single one of them had joint aches or other joint-related problems like my dad. Here's the part that is amazing: The movers picked up stray pieces of shredded cheese that had fallen under the kitchen table, packed them in bubble wrap, boxed them up, and labeled the boxes "Kitchen." When we got to our new house in Carson City, they unpacked the shredded cheese underneath the kitchen table again. Doesn't that just make your jaw drop? I was just in high school at the time, but I know we gave them an excellent tip.

My neighbor, Dignidad, is teaching me how to make paper. You'll never guess what the main ingredient is. It's paper! You actually put paper in a blender with water and a few other ingredients, and roll it out to make new sheets of paper. Apparently, this is how it is done the world over.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I wanted you to know that I gave away my cat, Otis Redding, so you can safely move here any time that is convenient for you. Even if you weren't allergic to her, I was going to give her away anyway, because she needs more freedom than I can ever provide her. She will be living next door with my neighbor, Dignidad, and we can visit her any time.  I still have a small vial of her blood from when we were thinking about screening her for feline leukemia, but they wouldn't run the test because the vet couldn't accept personal checks. The vial is airtight, so you should be safe from the blood allergens, but I will put clear tape over the top of it, because you can never be too sure about these things!

Dignidad is a man, in case you were curious. His name means dignity. A lot of Panamanians name their children after virtues like tranquility, etiquette, good value, or loftiness. Dignidad's wife is named Cortesia Sobriedad, which means courtesy sobriety, and she has promised that Otis Redding will be well-cared for. Unlike SOME cultures, the Panamanian people do not eat cats, so don't be worried. 

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,
I went back and looked at your original letter again. Even though the letter was very short, I could tell that you are a great writer because you used a theme sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. I would certainly like to honor your request to "please stop writing," but before I do, I'm going to have to ask for a clarification.  Do you want me to stop writing? Please let me know exactly what you mean by this, preferably by sending me another letter with more details about your life and your feelings. Also, please include a return address, because I'm still writing to you at your parents' house! I certainly do not want to bug you if you find these letters annoying or not informative enough, so I will try to make them more informative. Did you know that the Panamanian tamborito is a Spanish dance blended with Native American rhythms, themes, and dance moves?

I'm thinking about coming back to the United States at some point. There is simply too much grocery cart theft here, and I don't want our children to be exposed to that. Let me know how you are doing. What have you been up to?

With warmest regards,