Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hooray Luuuuucifer

Dear Friends,

My fellow miracles, there is a new Hard Taco album out today, and it is called Vainglorious.

This is an album of nice wholesome songs. What makes them wholesome? The BPM (beats per minute) is considerably larger than the FBPM (F-bombs per minute.) 60 FBPM, or one F-bomb every second, is really the upper limit of good taste. After that, listeners may become desensitized to high-frequency rhythmic cursing.

I've played this album in public on a few occasions, and each time I sensed energetic disapproval from the people around me. Were they actually booing? Maybe. Or maybe they were watching football games on their phones and cheering for a player with an "oo" sound in his name. John Kuhn, Isaac Bruce, Deuce McAllister, Victor Cruz... Maybe somewhere, one of those guys scored a touchdown. That would certainly make more sense than hundreds of people booing my CD, which as I mentioned, is both nice and wholesome.

And yet, if I took anything away from my freshman world history class, it's that you have to be very careful about how you interpret crowds of people going, "ooooo." Perhaps one of the more egregiously misleading statements ever made was, "Your Majesty, they're not booing.... they're cheering Looooooouis the 16th! You should just keep doing your thing. It's working!"

And Louis XVI was not the only historical figure who failed, because of the vowels in his name, to realize he was being booed. There's John Wilkes Booth, Mussolini, Shaka Zulu, Caligula, and Tupac Shakur, to name a few. Most likely, none of these men knew how terribly unpopular they were until they were being executed or assassinated.

Seriously! Stop shooting me! Wait, does that mean that all this time you guys were saying Boooo and not Raspuuuuutin?

So if you play this new album and immediately hear 100's of decibels of sibilance, be sure to ask the crowd: Are you hissing or just saying Vaingloriousssss?

Finally, I should mention that there is a new song this month, and it's called, "If I Wanted Your Opinion (I Would Beat it Out of You.)" You love yachting, so I know you'll find that this song to be a perfect companion to a quiet afternoon kicking back on your 115 foot yacht. You can close your eyes, let the music wash over you, and feel smooth and satisfied like you're kicking back on a 220 foot superyacht.

What other song can promise to double the length of your luxury watercraft?

With warmest regards,

Hard Taco homepage:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Child Piercing. Pros. Cons.

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called, "Pale Mama Jones." The goal here was to make a tune that would work with a slow-motion action sequence in a Resident Evil movie.
A Place to Put Your Decorative Baubles
Last month, I came home and found a sign taped to the door handle. "Girls Rule, Boys Drule, except when dads let there daughters get there ears pearced."

I recognize that a young daughter who wants pierced ears is not high in the canon of fatherhood tribulations. It's not like she's smoking grapefruit peels or dating a nerd. She just wants to wear earrings. So why is this so hard for me? Part of it is that I've never set foot inside a tattoo parlor or piercing joint, and when I try to imagine what goes on in there, every scenario frightens me.

Scenario 1: A woman with a Mohawk and ripped fatigues presses the end of a coat hanger into her cigar until the metal glows, and then thrusts it into your earlobe, screaming, "Just wiggle your finger when you can't hear me anymore!"

Scenario 2: A misunderstood teenager with eyeliner that is so thick that it forms a contiguous black smear between her eyes sneers at you for thirty straight minutes, but you can't tell, because her face is droopy and expressionless.

Scenario 3: A witch doctor with a bone through his nose blows smoke rings into your face until you hallucinate that a big-eyed hyena is beckoning you to follow it to a white tree. You suddenly wake up from this spirit quest three days later when someone says the code word, "monkeyshines," and find yourself standing above the corpse of a foreign dignitary, holding a bloody twig.

Maybe my kid would have a different experience, but there's simply no denying that ear piercing is a barbaric custom.  If you were a Martian comparative sociology major, and you learned that the dominant organism on Earth condoned poking hooks through the earlobes of their children, what would you think? You would be shocked at the brutality of this primitive ritual... almost as shocked as you would be by the fact that these creatures have earlobes, rather than regular old burrowing insectoid soul matrix-lobes.

I've heard all the arguments against circumcision, but let's be honest here. Ear piercing serves no purpose other than fashion.  Circumcision, well, that's the double threat... it's for health and for fashion! As far as I can tell, the only other difference is that distant relatives don't usually inquire about a boy's circumcision status when choosing him a birthday gift.

I talked about this with some of the soccer moms last week, and apparently none of them get the same icky JonBenet Ramsey vibe from child-piercing that I do. In fact, one of them said that it's better to get girls pierced when they are just a few months old, because they don't have the motor control to reach their earlobes and pick at the holes! That makes sense, I guess, but then when is a good time for children to get their breast implants? My babies were able to touch their chests from day one, and I really don't want them to get infected. Should we pin their elbows in inflexible casts while the breast implants heal, or is it better just to remove the arms all together?

For a few minutes after that comment, everyone seemed really interested in watching the soccer game again.

Then one of the moms mentioned that she was going to take her daughter to a kiosk at the department store where they can pierce both ears at the exact same time. I like that idea, because it reminds me of dining at a fancy restaurant, where a whole parade of waitstaff sets down your entrées in unison. Maybe at the Piercing Pagoda, nine cosmetologists rappel down the walls, ninja-style, and shoot needle guns at your earlobes, nostrils, nipples, navel, eyebrows, and everything else, all at the same moment. Bammity, bam, bam! Now just hold still for a few more seconds while we connect them all with chains. Zippity, zip, zip! All done! Would you like a sucker?

It's a lot to think about, and I'd appreciate any advice, especially advice with the word "clip-ons" in it. The problem is that if I say no, there will be all kinds of fallout. Then next thing you know it's my fault that Boys Drule.

With warmest regards,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fire Rolls Down the Line

Dear Pardners,

Every cow puncher that rides through these parts has a yarn to tell. Now me, I like the man that keeps it neath his hat. I reckon them flannelmouths who play to the gallery will fetch themselves a punch in the nose every time.

But if you're fixing to rustle cattle in Culberson County, Son, maybe you'd better bend an elbow and pay mind to a ditty I've got for you. This here tune is about our ace high lawman, goes by the name of Oatmeal. Now there's a man you can ride the river with.

Oatmeal. Now, that's a powerful strange thing to call a man, you might say, and you'd be right. But should you ever cross trails with Oatmeal, why you'd best not speak those words to his face. Not lessin' you're hot to wind up on the business end of an Arkansas toothpick.

Oatmeal's brought in more desperadoes than a whorehouse on nickel night. The scuttlebutt is that he keeps his Black Eyed Susan with five beans in the wheel, so that he gets to kill one outlaw in six with his bare hands.

I saw him once with my own two eyebones, down at the Buckhorn Saloon. Some saddlebum by the name of Fess Dalton got roostered on the coffin varnish and started looking for a dog to kick. Oatmeal saunters up to him, slow and easy-like and says, "Fire rolls down the line, Son." That's all he ever says, I reckon, and no one really knows what it means. He just lowers his hat and utters, "Fire rolls down the line." Well, Fess and his four brothers come flying at Oatmeal all horns and rattles but faster than you can say 'cream gravy,' Oatmeal is unshucked and fires three times. Three shots, and all five boys bite the ground directly.

Now I swear that story is as true as the hawse between my knees. There may be some rubbings down and chippings off as might happen in the passing from mouth to mouth, but if you think that's all a bunch of burro's milk, you should try asking one of the other banditos or Bunko artists that Oatmeal put in the bone orchard...

Rusty Buck Judson, Beauregard Booker, Chick Shackleford, Duke "Curly Pete" Willbarger, Hiram "Burly Pete" Hayes, Jethro "Man Boobs" Haskell, Neck Oil Holbrook, Gunner Knox the Cow Chip Hustler, Maverick Ford and the three Jebs, Lyndon Montana "Black Biscuits" McGrady, Slapjack Hayes, Go Fish Jones, Amarillo Jed Crowley, Link "Sutton County Chili Cook-off Second Place" Waller, Fletcher Skunk Eggs Ketchum, Mose Bareback, Leaky Amos Franklin, Austin Hoopskirt Bridger, Crowbait McGinny, Chester Prairie Dew Pecos, Man-hug Crosby, Sonny Last-Nameless, Spur-Lickin' Buddy Williams, Doc Barbecue Calhoun, Rowdy "Holy Heck" Chavez, Loping Tom Kinney, Asswhip Laredo, Deadeye Wiley Graham, Pants-down Oakley, Boone Giant Belt Buckle Nolan, Too Fancy William Crane, Linus Bootsingravy Connors, Whistlin' Jethro Harrison, Dusty Clem Snakehide, Soapy Briscoe, Jasper Hogg, Stagecoach Jim, Appaloosa Jim, Jesus Christ Jim, Nine-toes and That's All on One Foot Jim, Much Too Tall Hank, Cactus Crash Hardy, Brown Gargle Van Zandt, Red "Bad Balls" Redmond, Jericho Bull Moose Durant, Decatur Quint Burgandy, Dreamy Cleve Jefferson, and Kid Slim Kit Doc Duke Tex Sly Jones.

No, Pard.  Getting away with rustling cattle in Culberson County is harder than catching a weasel asleep. Oatmeal is out there somewhere, biding his time for the big roundup, and he won't rest until he sees you and your kind hanging on the Texas Cakewalk.

Best turn your diggers, put on your best bib and tucker, and make for the sunset, Pardner. You might be fixing to say something you'll regret, so remember: The bigger the mouth, the better it looks when shut. All I want to know from you is one thing... What holds up a train?

Bad men.

Get it? Bad men. That there's a joke, Son, so you better start laughin' lest you want to get your plow cleaned directly.

With warmest regards,

Saturday, September 1, 2012

I Do Not Use Drugs, I Have Not Used Drugs...

Dear Friends,

If romantic things make you gag, you may asphyxiate completely when you hear "Sweetly Sleepy," the charmingly saucy new Hard Taco song. Remember that you can always pierce your own larynx with a pen to maintain your airway, although I suppose you could substitute a fork for the pen, and a chicken tender for your larynx.

...And I Will Not Use Drugs Until Elected
For the first couple years of high school, the only retailer other than Taco Bell that wound up with a healthy percentage of my spending money was Wax Stacks, a tiny used record store on the north side of Milwaukee. The checkout counter at Wax Stacks rested on an elevated platform, from which the owner could look down on the customers like a benevolent deity or guy playing Sim City.

One day, my friend Daniel pointed out that the owner was always sniffing. He wasn't sniffling, but sniffing, and that was an important distinction. He's on the nose candy, Daniel told me. Coke heads are always sniffing and rubbing their noses. I walked over to the register where I had a direct sight line into the owner's nostrils. I lingered a bit too long gazing up into his snout, so when he looked down at me from his platform, I felt obligated to say something.

Me: Um, hi. Do you happen to know something for me? Where can I find Supertramp?
Owner: The rock section (sniff) is right behind you. It's alphabetical, so look (sniff) under S."
Me: Okay! Great! So, um, which album is the best? I've got a cool record collection already, but I'm, you know, just starting to get into Supertramp.
Owner: (Shrugging) (Sniff)
Me: Okay, well, I'm going to go take a look. (Pause) I'm mostly interested in first pressings.

I can't remember exactly what I saw inside that nose, but I know it was convincing. Yep, cocaine for sure. I turned back to my friend with my eyes bulging, and we nodded knowingly at each other. I had just talked to a real live junkie! What's more, by buying records from him, I became an enabler... an accomplice! Whoa.

It occurred to me that the owner might have thought we were people like him... drug-doing people. We certainly were not! Still, I was quite curious about what he thought. Because maybe after I said I was primarily interested in first pressings, maybe that appealed to his sensibilities as a music aficionado. And maybe that helped him start to see me in a new light, like I was the kind of customer who might peruse Zeppelin records in the afternoon and go home to do some drugs in the evening. If it was a quiet night, maybe he pictured me doing a single serving of drugs and curling up with a good book. If there was a good party or some kind of function that night, maybe he figured I was taking drugs by the handful. Wait, can you actually touch cocaine with your hands or are you supposed to use some kind of standardized scoopula? Anyway, he probably even thought we were bigger cokeheads than him... vicious dope fiends with great music taste and enormous willpower to suppress our own sniffs.

Well, if that's what he was thinking, he was dead wrong. Sorry to disappoint, but no thanks! I'm just a music junkie, and that's it. I'm strung out on life.

Later that day at Taco Bell, Daniel and I talked about the fact that the sniffing guy had watery eyes, as well, a sure indicator that he was a regular user of other drugs besides just cocaine. He probably mixed them together, Daniel postulated, which you're never supposed to do unless you don't give a crap about anything.

Damn, I thought, shaking my head slowly. That would explain why he didn't seem to have a favorite Supertramp album.

Years later, when I heard that Wax Stacks went out of business, a thousand scenarios ran through my mind. DEA raid? Some kind of dealer-initiated violence? Maybe the owner OD'd on his polysubstance cocktail, and his heirs had to sell off the whole record collection to pay for their drug habits! Yeah, or maybe he just went out of business because no one was buying records anymore, and the sniffing was because of seasonal allergies.

No, no, that's not it, because he was definitely sniffing, not sniffling. It's an important distinction, you know.

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Postcards from Panama, part 4

Dear Friends,

  The Hard Taco song for August, "Goblin Bride," features a solo by an instrument at a formant frequency that is imperceptible to human ears.

With warmest regards,

Postcards from Panama, Part 4
(This has become an annual installment. You can review the rest of the series here: part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Dear Karen,

I wanted to send your father something for Father's Day because when you and I marry, he will be my dad too! Isn't that weird? I emailed my own parents and asked them if your dad has a career, and they wrote back that he is a some kind of medieval executive. What an intriguing job! This information has substantially helped me focus my gift search. I am now debating whether to get him a monogrammed chalice, tankard, goblet, or little glass potion bottle. Since you probably see him more often than I do (I haven't seen him in over 20 years), can you fill me in on the type of monogrammed medieval vessel that he would most like to store his fluids in at work?

I will also need to know his middle initial.

Do you think he'd prefer to be called Pop or just Karen's Dad? I will use whichever term is better for expressing the utmost respect.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I went back and reread the email from my folks, and I realized that they were calling your father a "mid level executive," not a medieval one. I'm embarrassed! Please don't tell him I'm dyslexic, because I'm not. I haven't seen a neuro-psychologist to verify this, but I'm pretty sure I just misread that one word. If you want me to see a neuro-psychologist, I will, but just for reassurance.

I have decided to proceed with sending your father the monogrammed chalice, tankard, goblet, and potion bottle for Father's Day, if that's okay. The way I see it, he will need to remain well-hydrated if wants to become an upper level executive!

I also bought him a monogrammed flagon.

Do you think Karen's Mom would like a monogrammed flagon, as well? What is her middle initial? Even if your parents don't work at the same office, they can both drink from their respective monogrammed flagons at a predetermined time and feel some kind of interesting marital connection. I know you and I will have that kind of connection! :)

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

There is a church a couple blocks from my apartment called Iglesia de Plácido Domingo ("Church of Calm Sunday.")  They do weddings there, sometimes. I made an appointment with the local padre and recommended that he put up a sign, close to the street, with interchangeable letters. He didn't realize that all of the best churches in the U.S. have these.  Once I saw a particularly pithy church sign that said, "To prevent sinburn, use Sonscreen." The padre didn't seem to understand why it was so pithy, even when I translated it into Spanish. Nonetheless, he was clearly impressed when I told him that such a sign would increase his congregation by 10%. 

I confess (to you, not him) that I made up that figure, but good news: when I got home that day, I went through the calculations, and it turns out that my estimate of 10% was almost exactly correct!

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

Do you wonder why I keep sending you dozens of post-cards instead of just sending you one or two really long emails? Part of the reason is that I need to use up several sheets of hammerhead shark-themed postage stamps I bought a few months ago. A percentage of the sale of these stamps is going to protect this misunderstood species from the poaching nets of vigilante fisherfolk.

Also, I don't have your email address! Please send it to me as soon as possibly convenient. Don't worry... you'll still be able to see scenic and historical images of Panama, because I plan to scan new postcard pictures and send them as attachments with each email! I don't know whether or not it's legal to scan postage stamps without canceling them first, but I'll find out. In the meantime, I've been practicing canceling them by hand, just in case that is what I'm supposed to do.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

The dwarf lanternshark is the smallest shark in the world. That is probably why it is featured on the one centisimo stamp. I bought several pages of dwarf lanternshark one centisimo stamps just in case the postal rates go up, but they have not, so I've started putting a couple on each postcard as a gratuity for the postal worker. Gracias! I admit that two centisimos is a modest gratuity, but postcards aren't very heavy.

I will start tipping more if you worry that I'm being stingy.

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I tried to get an appointment with a neuro-psychologist to help prove I don't have dyslexia, but the person I called turned out to be a handwriting analyst. Her name is Señora Chen, DSSH. I didn't know if I could trust a stranger with a full handwriting sample, so I sent her a couple pages of lower case m's. She studied it closely and told me that I was spirited, wary, and ignoble. Impressive, right? If you ever write me back, I would like your permission to have Señora Chen, DSSH analyze your handwriting, too. I'm not sure what the letters after her name stand for, but I think it is some kind of advanced degree that will qualify her to tell us that you and I are a good  match for each other.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I've happened to notice that you haven't written me back. Probably this is because you would like for to send you a template.  How is this?
"Dear Michael, it's Karen here, hand writing a letter for easy analysis. I agree that postal workers should get a very small gratuity for each postcard, but that it will add up over time.  Here's a funny word I heard. <____________> ! If you don't think it's funny, I guess you had to be there! I miss you and I'm sorry I haven't written in recent years. Here is the email address I use for personal communications: <___________>. I check it regularly. XOXO, Karen."
With warmest regards,

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Wide World of Wendell

Dear Friends,

Lauren works for a company called Bosch. This great organization is based in Germany, where it has a proud history and an austere, athletic workforce. I didn't go to business school or anything, but I think they should consider adapting the new Hard Taco song, "The Kibosh," as their corporate jingle. True, they'd have to change the name of their company, but just a tiny schnipsel, and you don't climb to the top of the Vermögen 500 by shying away from risk. Besides, the prefix "ki-" has a well-established track record of imparting a congenial feeling to things. Would you rather that your Geisha have a kimono or have mono?

Granddad always said that you don't get to be all this (spokesmodel pose) without accumulating a few skeletons in the old closet. Today, I'm going to dig out one of my own skeletons and wrestle with it a little on the bedroom floor.  Here goes: Long before I was a provocative newsletter distributor, I endeavored to be a terrible cartoonist.

This was almost, but not quite as hilarious
when it was drawn in 1990.

I came of age in an era that may some day be referred to as The Canadian Invasion, when The Kids in the Hall briefly aired on CBS instead of CBT. Two of the songs in the top 10 were Canadian... "Everything I Do, (I Do it For You)" and, "(Everything I Do), I Do it For You.* There was even a comic strip, For Better or For Worse, that shattered all kinds of stereotypes by showing that regular everyday families in Ontario could remain boring for three uninterrupted decades.

If For Better or For Worse failed to tickle my funny bone, the saccharine malapropisms of its contemporary, The Family Circus, treated that bone to a violent compound fracture. Billy, Dolly, Jeffy, and that heartwarming little shit P.J. have induced more groans than a salad bar full of brains at a zombie-infested Ponderosa. Have you ever noticed that all four Family Circus cherubs have their mother's Kool Aid pitcher-shaped head, while dad and grandma have vertical egg-shaped heads? So tell us, you little bastards, who is your biological father? Not Me! Ida Know! Can I have more pa-sketti? Graah! Brains!!! 

So it was probably a reactionary impulse that led me to draw my own comic strip.  What I lacked in talent, I made up for in misplaced elitism.  Bloom County, as I asserted to anyone who dared stand within shouting distance, was the shining gold standard to which all other comic strips must be held. Possessing this conviction was the only qualification I had, or needed, to author my own strip.
Wendell and his not-at-all-based-on-Opus
stuffed penguin, Quacketta.
And so I set to work on Wendell Comix. Hold on... you just laughed out loud when you saw that inappropriate 'x,' didn't you? I knew you would! Let me fill you in on a little cartoonist trade secret: replacing the letters "cs" with an "x" inflicts busting on all nearby guts. Try saying this out loud: The lunatix who support eugenix don't know that the Special Olympix are in Tuxon. Ouch, you're good!

Unfortunately, the gratuitous 'x' was about the only thing that Wendell Comix had going for it. The characters and situations were derivative. The artwork was abysmal, and I was only able to draw Wendell facing left. The jokes were will-worn puns, and many of them were frankly plagiarized. Here are some of the stronger Wendell Comix punch lines:
  • Now THAT's what I call animal magnetism.
  • Never use God's name... in veins!
  • You really pack a punch. (Said to a person packing Hawaiian punch into a suitcase.)
  • Assault... to taste!

Dad looks skeptical. He suspects a pun is coming.
In December 1990, I photocopied a few dozen books of Wendell Comix and sold copies to my classmates. I'm sure most of them were thrown away by the end of the school week, but I live in fear that an errant copy will find its way into the hands of one of my coworkers. It's kind of like that feeling you get when you make fun of the Ayatollah on the playground without realizing it's him, and then spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. I hate that feeling.
Not sure what the joke is here. Maybe the Bart Simpson
look-alike can't drink root beer because he doesn't
have elbows? Or maybe this was supposed to be
one of the heartwarming ones.
So the lesson is that we shouldn't equate fanhood with personal talent. The poster child for this platitude is not me, but Francis Ford Coppola. Remember that time he was on his way home from a party, and realized that his deep appreciation for being wasted qualified him to own a vineyard? Next thing you know, he's blowing good money on grapes when he should have been saving up for canvas chairs, megaphones, and those little snapping rectangles that the production assistant closes when he requests action.

With warmest regards,

*  Nomadic parentheses, Bryan Adams? Seriously, what's that all aboot?

Happy Summer from all of us here at Wendell Comix!

Friday, June 1, 2012

HAI to the Victors

Dear Friends,

Did you know that my family is part of a citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between international communities? Yeah, that's us, because we live in Ann Arbor, so we've got this:

This month, let us lay a wreath of delicately arranged respect at the feet of one of our beloved sister cities: Hikone, Japan.

People of Hikone, I looked at your municipal website and it is BREATHTAKING. I'm so so so sorry that you got stuck with Ann Arbor as your Sister City. There's a chance that you'll dig the Naked Mile and the Hash Bash, but if you're expecting us to go toe-to-toe with you on lakes and castles, our cultural exchange is sure to disappoint.

I only hope that I can mitigate that disappointment by contributing something to our inter-metropolitan communion.  People of Hikone, I offer you this month's Hard Taco song, "Sushi Fun Song," and dedicate it to your rich history and rich natural surroundings that I keep reading about on your website. "Sushi Fun Song" is essentially indistinguishable from your own traditional music, except that it is many times better, because it is not gong-based. On behalf of my mayor (who is indistinguishable from your own), we hope that this familiar sonic landscape will prime you for more adventurous cultural intercourse in the years to come.

People of Ann Arbor, when you're done sprinting through the Diag, I invite you to put some clothes on for God's sake, or at least cover up with a towel or something, and meet your Sister City.

Hikone, Japan
Population: 110,132
Emblem: A majestic volcano slurping noodles
Flower: Raw horse meat arranged beautifully
Tree: The bonsai version of the Michigan state tree, whatever that is.
Nickname: The Fugitive Whaler-Harboring City
Motto: "Shave your head and apologize more."
Exports: Valves, kendo sticks, blush saké, carp-shaped wind socks
Pokemon of choice: Woobat
Traditional Sodoku series, horizontal: 346 791 528
Traditional Soduku series, veritcal: 378 124 569 
Current Mayor: Hiko Nyan, defender of Castle Hikone

Hikone, an historical city in the prefecture of Shiga, is where ancient tradition meets early 20th century tradition. The same kimono-clad, umbrella-bearing women that shuffle around the city by day may later be found at a singles bar, sporting English language T-shirts with provocative messages such as, "Do not small parts in mouth avoid eating" or, "Measurable which designated prudently alive please."

The people of Hikone take pride in being among the most apologetic in Japan. Often, the greeting yee watashia moto ko wishinay is repeated twice by each party upon meeting. It means, “No, I repent more. No, I repent more.” A popular bunraku puppet theater production features dozens of elaborately crafted puppets trying to shout this sentence over each other for four and a half hours.

Useful Phrases, by setting:
At a restaurant:
  • We pray for the lasting prosperity of the poisonous blowfish.
  • A nation weeps for the dealer who sold you this soy sauce.
  • With rice, please bring me something that was scraped from beneath the sumo wrestler's colorful belly band. 
  • My miso has natto, my natto has no miso. (Apparently, this is a pun that can mean two things depending on your inflection. One meaning is high political satire and the other is crude joke about earthquake-induced radiation damage. Be sure to use the former inflection, because it is too soon for the latter.) 

At a business meeting:

  • My benefactor derives his supremacy from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.
  • Silence! Respect-for-the-Aged-Day is celebrated on the 3rd Monday in September. That is months from now.
  • It is said that a man with so many roofs on his pagoda must be compensating for something.
  • I will remove my shoes and put on slippers before stepping onto your ritual elliptical trainer.

At a nightclub:

  • Forgive me if I'm too forward, but would you enjoy hanging this carp-shaped windsock from a pole?

  • Nice to meet you, too. Please cut your sash and bind us together so we will look beautiful in death.
  • There are no tigers in Japan, so I will call my autobiography, “Battle Hymn of the Snow Macaque Mother.” 
  • Pardon my wheelbarrow. There are 1,945 Japanese characters and I really wanted a full keyboard on my smartphone.

At a tourist center:

  • I wish to defile an enemy shrine. Is there one nearby?
  • Where can I find dumplings that have survived from the peaceful Edo period (1603-1868)?
  • Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement. I should not have to tell you this, because you work at a tourist center.

With warmest regards,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Six Greatest Maritime Mysteries of All Maritime

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for May is called, "Mary Celeste." The Mary Celeste was a ghost ship that was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. There was plenty of food and the cargo was untouched, but the crew was missing, prompting the ship's discovery to be dubbed the greatest maritime mystery of all time. Here are the other maritime mysteries that round out the top six.

# 6 The Bermuda Triangle
I'm not sure whether it's due to magnetic anomalies, rogue waves, or aliens, but most of us are able to accept that the lines connecting Miami, San Juan, and Bermuda form a three-sided figure. 

The concept of the Bermuda Triangle was conceived by a bored guy with a newspaper subscription, a map, and some pushpins. I don't know who this guy was, but I'm sure Scotland Yard could have tapped into his unique skill set to track and capture serial killers. 

Gentleman, if you look at my map and pushpins, you will see that all of Jack the Ripper's victims lived in this England-shaped island just off the coast of Europe. But why? Detectives who are used to doing things the way they have always been done may now go home to your families, but I'm going to stare at these pins deep into the night until I see the connection.

#5 The Loch Ness Monster
Like a prehistoric Keyser Söze, the greatest trick this camera-shy plesiosaurus every played was convincing the world she didn't exist. Even with a brain the size and texture of a golf ball, Nessie has enough gumption to sustain herself at the bottom of a lake for thousands of years, and enough savvy to evade every five letter acronym we've thrown her way... SONAR, RADAR, LASER, and even SCUBA. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we won't have better luck finding her with TASER, SEALs, NAFTA, NSAIDS, or BiPAP.

#4 Atlantis 
I've heard that the History Channel has dedicated hundreds of hours to exploring the mysteries of this ancient sunken island-city, but I remain unconvinced of its existence. Anyone who understands the basics of plate tectonics knows that there is no scientific justification to support the presence of such a thing as the History Channel on basic cable.

#3 The Edmund Fitzgerald
As a child, I loved sitting in the bathtub and trying to guess the relative buoyancy of different objects. I experimented with whatever I had at my disposal... Paperclips. Crayons. Apples. Aluminum foil. Urine. Larger humans than myself have applied this experimental method to other hypotheses: Witches float. Floats sink. Sinks also sink.  Steel sinks, but ships made out of steel float, a puzzling fact that engineers are often challenged to explain at job interviews. All we know is that when a ship goes down, our fundamental assumptions about flotation are rocked to their very cores. (Exception: When Gordon Lightfoot sings about those assumptions, they are merely folked to their very cores.)

The E-Fitz, as we serious buoyancy-enthusiasts call it, sank in a storm in 1975, somewhere in L-Supe. The usual culprits have been blamed... rogue waves, icebergs, sea quakes, aliens, ice sculptures, fresh-water pirates. Gordon Lightfoot biographers agree that one of these was probably not much of a factor, but which one?

#2: The Laugh Track on The Love Boat
Here's the thing: there was no laugh track on The Love Boat. According to legend, dozens of studio audience members died during the filming of the pilot when they were trapped in the soundstage during a grease fire. Throughout the nine year run of the show, the victims of that fire haunted the post-production suite, their ghostly laughter mysteriously appearing after every punch line. There were even peals of corpselike chuckling following topical jokes that shouldn't have made sense to people who died in 1977. How did they even get those jokes if they were too dead to follow the news?

If we knew the answer, it wouldn't be the second greatest maritime mystery of all time.

With warmest regards, 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fanfare for the Featured Townsperson

Dear Friends,

Off-Broadway, here we come! The Hard Taco song for April is called, "Happy in My Neighborhood," and with all the Off-Broadway potential this song has, you'd think my middle name was Lloyd. (In other words, this song has no potential, and I should go back to being a famous purveyor of organic architecture.)

Why do we love musicals? They touch us and inspire us with images of cowboys who do gymnastics. Orphanages teeming with aspiring tap-dancers. Sparkly-eyed heroines who look so beautiful from the seats you can afford, but grotesquely over-painted from the first few rows. Musicals transport us to a world where all people yearn for the same thing... an excuse to stop doing whatever it is they are doing and sing about it instead. This difficult transition can be eased by an effective lead-in line. A good one creates a tension that can only be broken with a full scale musical show stopper. Let's test your musical theater IQ and see if you can remember the lead-in lines to these well-known numbers.

1: "Summer Nights" - Grease!
2:  "If I Were a Rich Man" - Fiddler on the Roof!
3:  "Food Glorious Food" - Oliver!
4:  "Hard Knock Life" - Annie!
5:  "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats" - Cats!
6:  "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" - Evita!
7.  Every song in Les Miserables (or for the English speaking world, Those without exclamation points.)

1: "So Danny, what happened to your eyebrows? Yeah, tell us!" 
2: "Lord, you made a lot of poor people.  But what would have been so terrible if I got to feel up Geri Halliwell just once?" 
3:  "Is that grid-cut pizza?"
4: "That pizza isn't grid-cut. Not a smidge!"
5: "If you thought that was effeminate, watch this!"
6: "Come on, girls. You believe in love? 'Cause I got something to say about it and it goes something like this."
7: "The babysitting service wouldn't have sent a leprechaun... would they?"

Detractors of the genre complain that characters breaking into song is unrealistic and disconcerting, but I find it more difficult to relate to straight plays. I hardly ever die in childbirth in Grover's Corners and come back to re-live just one bittersweet day. Three or four times an hour, on the other hand, I stop doing whatever it is I'm doing and sing about it instead, often accompanied by tap-dancing orphans on a nearby stairwell. 

Why Lady Fiona Grosvener, do you not simply relish the the-a-tre?
I have only one significant gripe with you theater people. I despise (with all my soul) the spelling of the word theater with the r and the e in the wrong places. In this world, there is nothing good or pure that ends in "tre." SPECTRE, Jean-Paul Sartre, The Sallow Harbour Townshippe Shopping Centre... this is not the company you want to keep.

"Theatre" is nothing more than vulgar Anglophilia. Not to brag, but the American Revolutionary War was a total beat down, am I right? (Cue small group of men grunting in assent.) When a certain number of red coats acquired a certain number of musket ball holes, there was an explosion of sticky, wet freedom. Besides getting to count stamps as a tax exemption, we were able to cast off the shackles of moronic British spellings, forever liberated from sentences such as, "Your neighbour does not realise that he has faeces on his wife-beatre.

If Patrick Henry knew that some of you still felt compelled to write the words metre, litre, or theatre, he would thank his lucky stars and stripes that he got to be dead for the last 200 years. You should be grateful, too, because if Patrick Henry was alive today he would smack the living spotted dick out of you.

And THAT is what I call a good old-fashioned lead-in line. Cue music. Where are my orphans?

With warmest regards,

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Know It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Think About Every Seven Seconds)

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for March is called, "Ratmen Are Sort of a Person, Too." If you do not listen to the song, everyone will know that it's because you are racist, and you are not open to my message of tolerance and reaching-out-ness.

QuitFit as a Fiddle

Last week, we gave in and let our three-year-old son drop out of violin lessons. When Lauren sent the email to his wonderful violin teacher telling her that we were "taking a break" from class, I felt genuinely sad. Our dream of raising the next Itzhak Perlman crumbled. (Although technically, we had already jeopardized that dream several years ago by giving our son his first polio vaccine.)

But let's back up here. Is anyone surprised that a three-year-old boy has no interest in practicing Lightly Row on the violin? A perfectly valid perspective might be: what the freaking hell were we thinking? On a good day, the poor little guy has the attention span of a house fly after a Red Bull bender. He's not even old enough to pronounce the word "Suzuki" right, and after three months of lessons, we should be happy that he learned how to hold the correct end of the bow in the correct fist while hacking at my leg with it.

My own childhood experiences with music instruction were equally disastrous. After two unpleasant years of piano and four downright miserable years of trumpet lessons, the sound of those instruments gives me something my doctor calls psychogenic gastroenterosis.

But then there was the guitar.

It is no coincidence that barre chord and whammy bar have the same root word as bar mitzvah. Around the age of thirteen, boys develop a powerful urge to touch and experiment with electric guitars. It has something to do with glands.

In pretty much all ways, I was a late bloomer, so I didn't have my first electric guitar experience until my fourteenth birthday. My parents bought me an unfinished Peavey Rockmaster, the bequeathing of which was contingent upon my consenting to take lessons at the local guitar shop. I agreed, contingent upon my secret plan to take two lessons and then intentionally injure myself to get out of taking any more. It had worked for wrestling class and skiing lessons, so why shouldn't it work with guitar?

In the two weeks between the arrival of the guitar and my first lesson, I taught myself how to play Salt 'n' Pepa's Push It on the top two strings. And oh yeah, it just so happens that I mastered the first five notes of Wish You Were Here. Clearly, lessons would be superfluous, but there was no arguing my way out of my obligation.

The cloud of skepticism grew when I met the man who would be my teacher. Doug was in his mid-20's, but his qualifications as an electric guitarist were dubious. His hair was short and he had no visible tattoos or jewelry. I could have named a whole slew of letters near the end of the alphabet, and Doug's guitar didn't look like any of them.

"So what would you like to learn how to play?" he asked. His voice was friendly, and he didn't reek of cigarette smoke even a little bit. This reminded me an awful lot of my trumpet teacher, and I didn't like it.

"Whatever, I don't know."

"Well, what kind of music do you listen to?"

"Pretty much everything. Rush, Pink Floyd, some local bands. That kind of thing."

I pretty much only listened to Pink Floyd, actually, but I thought that including Rush and some unnamed local bands would peg me as a serious musician. The kind who didn't need lessons from a well-groomed guitar shop loser who probably enjoys showering and getting haircuts. To drive home the point that I wasn't the usual kind of no-talent wannabe he was used to seeing, I nonchalantly played the first five notes of Wish You Were Here a few times.

"Well, I see this isn't the first time you've picked up the guitar! Okay, Zach, what do you say we start working our way through your lesson book?"

Time out, what? Guitarists used lesson books? Even electric guitarists? It had taken me years to purge the stain on my soul that was called, "Hal Leonard's Play Trumpet Today Beginner Pack," and I was not going back to that life again. If Doug showed me so much as one black and white picture of Mel Bay demonstrating an A minor chord, that was it... I was running directly into the storeroom to trip over an amplifier and break my arm.

Instead, he produced a lavender Trapper Keeper labeled, "The Rock and Roll Fake Book." Inside were photocopies of chord charts and lyrics to the following:
  • Rock and Roll (J. Page)
  • Rock and Roll Band (T. Scholz)
  • Rock and Roll Music (C. Berry)
  • Rock and Roll All Night (G. Simmons)
  • Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo (R. Derringer)
  • The Heart of Rock and Roll (H. Lewis and the N.)
  • Old Time Rock and Roll (B. Seger)
  • Still Rock and Roll to Me (B. Joel)
  • I Love Rock and Roll (J. Jett)
  • Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die (J. Tull)
I actually thought this was pretty cool, and I decided that Doug might be all right, but his method of instruction was simply not conducive to my learning style. I was really looking for a more modern system that didn't require me to practice the instrument at all. After two weeks, when I still couldn't play the Rick Derringer riff, a routine hike in the ravine suddenly turned tragic. Just minutes before my third lesson, I slipped off a log and fell into the stream, scraping my shin and completely soaking my jeans. There was no time to change, so we had to cancel the lesson.

And all future lessons, too. (My jeans were REALLY wet.)

So let's be honest with ourselves. Does the guy who pulled that stunt really have the right to feel disillusioned by a preschooler who won't practice Mississippi Hot Dog on the violin? I suppose not. Maybe if I give him space, he'll follow his old man's footsteps, go back to the instrument in his own time, and work just hard enough to be really mediocre at it...

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Senior Party Central: Move your dorsal, shake your ventral

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for February, "Senior Party Central," is dedicated to Brown Class of '97. I regret that I will not be attending the reunion this year, but please accept this reunion-themed song in my stead. And although I don't say it outright in the song, I hope it is implied: Class of '98 drools.

Ice Cream Parlours I have Known
By the way, Class of '97, I find myself wondering if you, too, are slowly morphing into fuddy duddies. As the years dribble by, do you also reminisce loudly about simpler times when a nickel would buy you a 3 oz Cherry Coke or a 200 mg PepsiColace? And don't get me started about the death of good customer service! Drug dealers these days can't be bothered to politely count the change into your hand after your purchase. And why won't strangers carry bags onto a plane for me anymore? Nobody trusts anybody else anymore, and the airlines have all these weird rules. Smaller bombs under the seat in front of you, reserving the overhead bins for larger explosive items.

But if there is one thing that proves once and for all that I'm Fogy-licious, it's this: I still use Hotmail.

A Dying Breed, Like Cowboys, or Some Breeds of Cows
I am proud to say that I am one of the last 364 million users of the Hotmail. Go ahead and chastise me for my "sad devotion to that ancient [web-based email program]," but I find your lack of faith disturbing, and I will Force-choke you. I'm a vintage emailer. My Hotmail address has been my pride AND my joy since the late 90s, when Microsoft shrewdly purchased the rights to the word 'HTML' and added vowels to it.

Bill Gates and his team of goobers were on to something big. When people see those four consonants... H T M L, they know they're in for some serious web-business. It was brilliant, but the Gates goober team never took it to the next level.

That's why I've modified that recipe just enough to stay fresh. I've purchased the rights to

Go ahead and click on it. Okay, there's not much to see yet, but let me paint you a picture for you. Hit Mule... A powerful web presence. Shall I keep painting? Hit Mule. It invokes images of empowerment, hard work, great music, violence against animals, but nothing too gruesome. The future is almost now and it's Hit Mule. It's simple, edgy, and simple. And that's it, I'm out of paint.

If I had gone with Hit Mule instead of Hard Taco in the first place,  I'd have 3 million followers on my blog right now instead of three. (Thanks Lauren, Mom, and our friend Becca! You're the best!) Basically, I've found the formula for success, and it's so eloquent that it chafes. + nothing = success. And by the transitive property, success - = 0.

But what about folks who Hate Mila? If Mila Kunis really gets your goat, there's no website where you can commiserate with other Mila haters. It just makes me so sad. That's why when Hit Mule starts generating mad revenue, I won't let a penny of those profits graze the walls of my change purse until I have also registered other essential H T M L domains, including and  (The latter is for Frenchmen who would like to see Ms. Kunis drizzle foie gras with truffle sauce.)

In time, we will also register OH! Tmeal, a website that targets the burgeoning demographic of people surprised by oatmeal. Ohio Tamale will be next, and finally, if I can convince you that Y is sometimes a vowel, we'll complete our web domination with Ahoy, Eat Emily!

Financial Projections
The profits from Hit Mule will be expressed in numbers with so many digits, you'll have to look through the wrong end of a telescope to see the whole thing at once. For my 16 year reunion, I'll roll up College Hill in a satin limousine with a champagne flute-shaped Jacuzzi in the back. That means the Jacuzzi will be really tall and thin, with enough room for just one person to be submerged vertically up to the neck. I will have a satin banner on the side of the satin limousine that says, "Seniors from 1998 Drool." I'm sorry, but that is just how I will be rolling at that time.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Sorcerer's Kidney Stone

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January, "Kentucky," tells the touching story of a journey home at the end of one's life. Traveling great distances to die at home is common to both Kentuckians and salmon. Here are some other similarities: 1. Often raised on farms.  2. Bite anything shiny.

There's Talent, Oh Yes, and a Thirst to Prove Yourself. But Where Shall I Put You?
There was a lab section during the renal pathophysiology course in medical school that had achieved quite a bit of notoriety. We heard rumors from the class ahead of us, rumors which filled us with wonder and fear. The students, they told us, would be divided into four groups: beer, Pepsi, water, and broth. We would be obligated to drink as much of the assigned beverage as we could endure, collect our urine, and run tests on it. Through this, we would learn about how the human kidney handles alcohol, caffeine, and salt.

Also, we would get to see what our classmates' pee looked like, so there was that.

When we got to the renal unit, the lab instructor read off our libation assignments. He used carefully placed pregnant pauses, ushering our anticipation to a fever pitch.

Jason Baker... Beer!
Peggy Berdelman... Water!

Jason and Peggy pumped their fists and ran over to their lab benches where their new beverage buddies waited with cheers and high fives.

Zach London....

I had recently read the first Harry Potter book, so I tried influencing the outcome the way Harry would have. I closed my eyes tightly and concentrated. Not broth, not broth.

   Are you sure? You could do great with broth. It's all there in your kidneys, and broth could help you on the way to greatness... there's no doubt about that.

Not broth, anything but broth.

   Okay, if you're sure, better be... BROTH!

The real Hogwarts Sorting Hat wasn't a jackass, but I wasn't so lucky. And so, for an entire afternoon, my six comrades and I guzzled cup after briny cup of room temperature beef bouillon. We were soon nauseated, our mouths were tacky, and our bladders were bursting with all sorts of unnatural electrolytes, but we soldiered on. When the need arose, we excused ourselves, filled up our flasks, brought them back and emptied them into a giant communal beaker reserved for broth urinators.

The short walk from the men's room to the lab was particularly humiliating.  Acquaintances passing in the other direction kept surreptitiously checking out my Erlenmeyer, probably taking note of my color, volume, turbidity, and specific gravity. They were judging me. On exactly what basis I didn't know, but I could tell by their deriding glances that something about my urine was not cool. I had the urge to stop each of them and say, "It's all the powdered meat I've been drinking, dude! That's why the pH is so low. I swear it's not usually like this!"

But the beer group, wow. They didn't seem the least bit self-conscious about any of this. They were an animated circle of good-looking, racially diverse 20-somethings clinking High Life bottles together, enjoying life and doing plenty of what beer drinkers do best... pissing a whole lot.  Other than that last part, they could have been a Miller commercial. They waved their flasks around confidently, as if each of them had brewed a unique single malt, and when they proudly pooled their efforts in the giant volumetric beaker they had concocted a fine blended whiskey.

Then there was the Pepsi group. They were energized, focused, and completed their work quickly and accurately. Encouraged by their success that day, many of them would go on to become nephrologists.

There was no swagger in the broth group, though. We couldn't even look at each other. I quietly trudged through the urinalysis, occasionally rubbing my eyes to wipe away the thin film beef stock that had begun to coat them. In the end, the tests confirmed what I had feared... my bladder was an environment conducive to raising saltwater fish.

The seven of us never spoke of that day to each other again, and ever since, I cringe a little when a waitress asks me if I want soup with my entree.

No, salad, please. Definitely salad.

With warmest regards,