Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ranking the Armstrongs

Dear Friends,

   Here's something unusual. I'm going explain what this month's Hard Taco song is about.  
   In 1997, I decided to write a rock opera about George Armstrong Custer, the storied U.S. cavalry commander who died alongside all his men at the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. The ethically murky American Indian Wars seemed like a good backdrop for a musical, and General Custer made for a great lead character because he was brash and grandiose and tragic. As I read more about Custer's life, however, I was much more fascinated by his second-in-command, Major Marcus Reno. While Custer was charging into battle at Little Bighorn, Reno was leading a disorganized retreat from a skirmish a few miles away. Afterwards, he was a convenient scapegoat for a public that adored Custer and could not believe the U.S. Army had lost a major battle to the native tribes. Custer's widow, Libbie, and his biographer, Frederick Whittaker, made careers out of aggrandizing Custer's memory, and they were among the loudest voices decrying Reno as a coward.
   Three years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, Major Reno requested a court of inquiry into his own conduct during the battle, hoping to clear his name of these allegations. Although he was not officially found guilty of dereliction of duty, he was never acquitted in the public eye, and died penniless a few years later.
   This month's Hard Taco song, "Where Were You," tells a fictionalized account of the aforementioned trial, in which Libbie Custer and Frederick Whittaker stand as Reno's accusers. After this song languished on the most distant of back burners for 16 years, recording it is a major accomplishment for me. Even though I never got around to writing any other Custer songs, I think this one makes for a pretty good stand-alone mini-rock opera. Let me know what you think.
   In the meantime, enjoy this Celebrity Surname Smackdown, in which I rank famous people based on how true they are to their surnames (or in Custer's case, their middle names.)


Rank by arm strength:
Billy Joe Armstrong - Impressive. Sometimes, he stands perfectly still and only moves his arms.
Lance Armstrong - Plenty of leg strength, but I'm sure the systemic effects of the erythropoietin benefit his upper limbs, too.
Louis Armstrong - Spent 24 hours a day holding either a trumpet or a very large joint.
George Armstrong Custer - Had enlisted men trim his glorious moustache for him.
Neil Armstrong - A flag that weighs 5 pounds on earth only weighs 0.8 pounds on the moon. Loser.

Rank by youth:
Angus Young - Age 58.
Neil Young - Age 67.
Henny Youngman - Age 107.
Cy Young - Age 146.
Brigham Young - Age 212.

Rank by baldness:
William Baldwin - No baldness.
Alec Baldwin - No baldness whatsoever.
Stephen Baldwin - Zero baldness. Seriously, these guys all have great hair.
Tammy Baldwin - None, unless you count her fists, which are balled in the war against sexual assault in the military!

Rank by wealth:
50 Cent - Got rich. Did not die tryin'.
Tyra Banks - Gets a nickel every time someone buys a copy of the 1996 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
George Banks - Thanks to Mary Poppins, he got his old job back with a promotion!
Elizabeth Banks - So far she's doing okay, but the star of "Zach and Miri Make a Porno" and "The Hunger Games" will eventually be forced to decide between those two fates.
Lionel Richie - No hits since 1986 + two divorces + inconveniently extravagant daughter.
Joe Buck - Rumor has it that he's just living play-to-play.
Guy Ritchie - During one particularly doomed relationship, he donated his savings to the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles.
Eddie Money - Shouldn't have bought that second ticket to paradise.

Rank by smallness:
Stuart Little - 0'2" tall.
Martin Short - 5'7" tall.
Tiny Tim - 6'1" tall.

Rank by who is from the furthest West:
Adam West - Born in Walla Walla. Very west.
Kanye West - Born in Atlanta. Not very west.
Mae West - Born in Brooklyn.  Only considered the west if you live in Queens.
Oliver North - Born in San Antonio. Even if his last name was West, it would still be wrong.

Rank by who knows how to party hardy:
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Threw the best little house party on the prairie.
Gene Wilder - Two words: tunnel scene. And that's right after sniffing a poppy and singing the line, "Anything you want, do it."
Oscar Wilde - When I heard he spent time in jail for "gross indecency," I thought this guy was an animal! But then I learned the sad truth about his conviction... he was not actually in jail, but in gaol.

Rank by who is stiller?
Ben Stiller - Not at all still. Constantly moving, actually.
Jerry Stiller - As of press time, still not still. I'll keep you posted.

With warmest regards,

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Warring Factions Mostly Fight Each Other, but Occasional Tourist Deaths are Inevitable: A Travel Guide to Dakar, Senegal

Dear Friends,

People of Ann Arbor, you've had over a year to make nice with our Japanese Sister City. Are you ready to bond with our newest metro-sibling, Dakar?

When the West African city became our Li'l Sis in 1997, the hose of cultural dialogue between Ann Arbor and Dakar gushed freely. Regrettably, that stream has slowed to a awkward trickle. Today, let's put our big American thumbs over the mouth of that hose and squirt some high-pressure blasts of intercontinental intercourse at each other!

People of Dakar, I offer you this month's Hard Taco song,  “Baobab Weep,” in honor of the mighty baobab trees that you probably had to cut down to make room for your own Sister Cities sign.  I'd also like to take this opportunity to share with my readers what I've learned about your enchanting little whistle-stop.

Dakar is a multicultural, diverse city full of vibrant arts and traditions!  From the bustling markets of Marche Sandaga to the bustling thieves' dens of the Ouakam district, the people of Dakar know their way around a good bustle. The vast Atlantic coastline offers a pristine haven to watch seabirds and hear a local storyteller make boring-ass allegories about them.

Dakar, Senegal - Quick Facts/Theories 
Population: 2,476,400
Languages: Wolof, but they talk to tourists in French
Emblem: A beggar being pickpocketed by a benevolent tsetse fly
Flower: The Phallic Mangrove
Nickname: Dakar Noir, the classic fragrance by Guy LaRoche
Motto:  “The police force are useless for your safety, but if you speak French, they are good for asking directions.”
Exports: Empty mosquito repellent bottles, gum arabic, Manchester United shirts, conflict diamonds, biodiversity, leprosy clinical trial volunteers
Municipal anthem: “Pluck all your koras (eyebrow hairs), strike all your balafons (sexy poses)"

Politics: Dakar is the capital of Senegal and the home of both the president and prime minister. For decades, both positions have been held by members of the Lâcheté (Cowardice) Party, one of the many holdovers from the French Occupation.

Food and Drink:
Malnourishment is rare, but hunger is common, owing to Dakar's position as the westernmost city in Africa. An easterly wind occasionally carries the distant smells of Chik-fil-A up from the Atlantic. Predictably, this leads to devastating city-wide epidemics of mouth-watering.

Tourists should avoid drinking tap water, except on a dare. While it is unlikely to contain virulent microorganisms, the Dakar water supply is often contaminated with dauntingly large macroorganisms. It is not uncommon to lift a full glass to the lips only to discover that its entire contents are two massive amoebas clanging together. 

Soccer, which they call "foot-ballsport," is the national pastime. They take it so seriously that most Senegalese foosball tables have a line of three plastic men faking knee injuries.

Dakar is home to the world-famous Steam Bar. The room is kept at just over 100 degrees Celsius. The bar, table, stools, chairs and glasses are all made of steam, and the drinks are pre-boiled. This is fortunate, because most mixed drinks contain at least one shot-glass of giant amoeba. 

Useful phrases for Americans in Dakar:

Bonjour, je représente une organisation appelée "Dickheads sans frontières."
Hello, I represent an organization called "Dickheads Without Borders."

Ça vous dérange si mon mari pose pour une photo à côté de votre disparité socio-économique?
Do you mind if my husband poses for a picture next to your socioeconomic disparity?

Votre hospitalité est renommée. Oui, j'aimerais un repas traditionnel des boulettes de poisson et de riz à la pointe du fusil.
Your hospitality is renowned. Yes, I would love a traditional meal of fish balls and rice at gunpoint.

Vos lamas vont mourir, mais vous devez envoyer Heifer International une note de remerciement.
I realize that llamas can’t survive in this climate, but it wouldn’t kill you to send Heifer International a thank you note.

Vous avez raison de dire que ce sont drones américains tête. Essayez de regarder occupé.
You are correct that those are U.S. drones overhead. Try to look busy.

Je suis désolé d'apprendre que la paix dernier Corp bénévole juste assis autour et fumé toute votre marijuana. 
Nous allons essayer de faire mieux.
I am sorry to hear that the last Peace Corp Volunteer just sat around and smoked all your weed. We will try to do better.

Pouvez-vous croire que les filles équipe de plongée de Pioneer a gagné de nouveau en 2006?
Can you believe the Pioneer Girls Swim and Dive team won nationals again in 2006?

Plus, a few time-tested pickup lines:

Vous ne serez pas attraper scrumpox parce que j'ai des herbes dans mon pantalon.
You will probably not catch scrumpox from me, for I just applied an herbal remedy in the bathroom. 

Vos yeux énormes me font penser à un bébé occupé suscité.
Your enormous eyes remind me of a bushbaby in heat.

Aucun de nous comme parler de navires négriers.
I couldn't help but notice that you seem very uncomfortable discussing the history of the slave trade here. 
That makes two of us!

Puis-je vous acheter une amibe taille de balles de golf et tonique?
Can I buy you a golf-ball sized amoeba and tonic?

Non, Cal Tech a été mon école de sauvegarde.
No, Cal Tech was my safety school.

With warmest regards,

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What's in YOUR Bucket?

Dear Friends,

    The Hard Taco song for October is called, "The Balloonman." I know of no nobler profession than the dauntless balloon driver of yesteryear, or even the somewhat less purposeful balloon driver of yesterweek. You, Balloonman, are the very image of strength, your lusty arm guiding our nation to prosperity with a firm tug on that cord... the one that adds more hot to the hot air.
    Riding a hot air balloon is actually the entirety of my bucket list. To clarify, I'm using the original definition of a bucket list, which is a slate of activities one hopes to pursue while standing in a bucket. My list used to include, "do an impression of the Nefarious Man-Mop," but I got to cross that one off last Halloween.
   The more familiar kind of bucket list, of course, is inclusive of both intrabucket and extrabucket activities. When you finish everything on this bucket list, it's time for you to die. As of this morning, hot air ballooning was the only thing I had on that list, too. This is cause for concern, since I hope to go on a balloon ride in the near future, and I'm hardly ready to be dead.
   This led me to, where you can write personal goals or steal them from other people, and then check them off as you accomplish them. Everything on my list is a genuine ambition of mine. Maybe some of them are no great shakes; I could probably bang out half of these in a weekend. Others, however, are implausible enough to keep me alive for quite a while.

  • Ride in a hot air balloon.
  • Pinch a celebrity's cheeks.
  • Serve my family a spaghetti dinner with no plates and no silverware. Just our hands and a tabletop covered with spaghetti, sauce, and Parmesan cheese.
  • Go airport bar-hopping. (Fly from airport to airport and have a drink at each one.) 
  • Get a hollow body guitar.
  • Run across a rope bridge in the Andes.
  • Set fire to a pile of money.
  • Write thank you notes to a few of my favorite teachers.
  • Go on a vacation, but don't pick the destination until getting to the airport.
  • Have an actual live Hard Taco show.
  • Have an injury that requires stitches.
  • Shoot a dingo who has wronged me.
  • Write a strongly-worded letter to a corrupt official.
  • Fill out a Mad Lib narrative without any potty words, and have it still be funny.
  • Find the wristwatch my dad lost in the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes in the 50's.
  • Ride an octopus.
  • Go Skijoring (Cross country skiing, pulled by a horse.)
  • Design a corn maze in the shape of a bank logo.
  • Go to Oktoberfest, Carnival, Day of the Dead, The Running of the Bulls, and Mardi Gras with Ricky Gervais.
  • Let a goat walk around my house unsupervised.
  • Join the "Furlong High Club" (A furlong is 1/8 of a mile, so this goal can only be achieved during take-off or landing.)
  • Fall in love all over again in a Native American Sweat Lodge.
  • Adopt a three legged animal or child.
  • Throw a dart at a map and travel to wherever it lands.
  • Throw a dart at the blueprints of my house and go into whichever room it lands.
  • Pick someone's pocket.
  • Learn to ride a unicycle.
  • Return a stolen wallet while riding a unicycle.
  • Own a four poster canopy bed with translucent sheets for walls and ceiling.
  • Go swimming with a camel.
  • Win more than $10 on a scratch off lottery game.
  • Give a TED Talk or a celebrity roast.
  • Eat illegal meat.
  • Get into a fistfight.
  • Ride a snowmobile out of a helicopter into a seaplane.
  • Pay a surprise visit to an old friend who lives in another part of the world.
  • Fall off a dogsled (I did this one already.) 
  • Ride a mattress down a staircase without spilling the goldfish.
  • Help someone else accomplish something on his or her bucket list.  

So what's on your list? If all you want to do before you die is fake a realistic seizure, I can definitely help you with that!

With warmest regards,

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Render Unto Roger Goodell...

Dear Friends,

   J.S. Bach famously claimed that the sole purpose of harmony was for the glory of God, and that all other use is but the idle jinglings of Satan. So true! I would amend this slightly, though, to assert that harmony also should be employed to further the glory of the Green Bay Packers. I consecrate unto them the new Hard Taco song, "One Nation Under Cheese."

  The game of football has changed. It's no longer sufficient for athletes to excel at their sport. They now have to develop and protect their brand. Every word that athletes say is subject to intense media scrutiny, so they must have a clear strategy before they step in front of a camera. Here's an example of a savvy young superjock delivering a flawless sports interview.

  This kid just oozes confidence, team pride, and leadership. He's a champion's champion. You can tell he's the first one to practice in the morning and the last one leaving the film room at night (even when they're not having an Ingmar Bergman marathon.) That kind of presence takes hours of preparation. Let's take a look at the same athlete before he underwent media training.

Careful, rookie! Contracts and endorsements have been blown by a few ill-chosen words or an errant tweet! 

My suggestion for the greenhorns out there is that if the journalist ever ambushes you with a gotcha question, just answer in Latin. No one has ever lost face speaking in Latin.

Interviewer: Let's talk about their interception at the end of the first half? How did you let that happen?
Athlete:  Emeritus salutem captus Ave Maria! (The veteran safety caught the Hail Mary!)

Interviewer: I'm sorry? What?
Athlete: Manus habet molli. (He has soft hands.)

Interviewer: Um. Okay. The Giants blocked what would have been a game-tying field goal. What went wrong?
Athlete: Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes. (Their short guys stood on their shoulders. The shoulders of Giants.) 

Interviewer: Moving on. How will this affect your division race?
Athlete: Leonum nonquam vincere NFC borealis. (The Lions will never ever win the NFC North.)

Interviewer: Okay, then. Any last thoughts?
Athlete:  et... Ursus... sugatis!!!!!

With warmest regards,

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Postcards From Panama, pt. 5

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for August is called, "The C Word." It's gentle and wistful, like the ghost of a beloved grandmother smiling at you from her perch in the haunted cupboard.

Here is the annual installment of "Postcards from Panama." You should be able to jump right in, but if you want a refresher on how we got here, click here

Postcards From Panama, Part 5

Dear Karen,

Have I told you about my neighbor, Dignidad? He believes in all kinds of mythological organisms. He is afraid of chupacabras, and every time he sees a dead goat with all of its blood sucked out, he thinks it is proof that chupacabras are real. He also believes in beavers. As if the only explanation for a dam in the river is a mysterious flat-tailed beast with giant teeth and a superhuman work ethic! Why has no one ever seen one, Dignidad? Why?

He says it's because they are nocturnal. (How convenient...)

But Karen, if you believe in mythological organisms, I won’t think you are naïve like my neighbor. When we are married, you and I will stay up late discussing our beliefs about chupacabras and beavers, and quickly learn to respect each other’s viewpoints. We can also discuss politics, religious texts, and whether or not you believe in imps. (I do not.) Just let me know when you would like to begin this process.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I have a new goal. By the end of the month I’m going to SLEEP ON A BED OF NAILS. I will keep you updated on the latest developments.

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I’m getting closer to my goal of sleeping on a bed of nails. In the twenty minutes since I wrote you the last postcard, I’ve moved from the visioning stage to the needs assessment stage.

Karen, I know you are a modern independent woman who is not easily impressed by displays of machismo. That is why, when I am done sleeping on this incredibly dangerous bed, I will complain about how uncomfortable it was. I know we haven't talked in person since 1992, but I am certain you would like that. A modern independent woman prefers a lover who is capable of very macho deeds, but is emotionally present enough to whine about them like a whiny little girl.

To be fully honest with myself at this time, I have another reason for wanting to sleep on the bed of nails. As of yesterday, I still have issues with bed-wetting. The bed of nails will have excellent drainage, especially if I tilt the head of the bed up a few degrees.

Still, the bed-wetting might not be a dire issue for much longer, because I am up to 62% dry nights (+/- 2 standard deviations.) I don't think you can appreciate the significance of this accomplishment until you have the raw data in your hands, so I will mail you my dryness diary.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Once we are married, we will probably want to move out of my apartment and into an executive yurt. To ensure that we choose the best executive yurt, I’ve been bookmarking the realty listings in a local free periodical called Panama Vida. Unfortunately, these listings are often on the back cover, which is very hard to bookmark. How do other yurt enthusiasts deal with this problem? Am I supposed to paperclip the bookmark to the back cover? Maybe I should just rip an unwanted page out of the middle of periodical, affix it to the back cover along one edge, and slide the bookmark between them.

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I took the commuter bus downtown today, hoping to find a licensed fakir who could sell me a bed of nails. I did not find a fakir who was willing to display his licensure, but I met a panhandler named Miguel Animosidad Del Pueblo ("Michael, Animosity of the People.") I am certain he was a panhandler, because he was actually handling a pan when I approached him.

Mr. Animosidad Del Pueblo astutely suggested that I make a D.I.Y. bed of nails, rather than purchasing one. I hadn’t thought of that! He also recommended that if I need a large volume of nails, I purchase them at a wholesale store.

This fake fakir is ugly on the outside, but it is possible that he is beautiful on the inside. I do not know him well enough to comment. Nevertheless, he has my confidence, because our first names are the same in Spanish.

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I should not have trusted that panhandler. His advice about going to a wholesale store was disingenuous. I guess I was beguiled by the way he manipulated that pan with his fingers. Now I know that he is ugly through and through.

The wholesale store was a great place to buy chicken thighs and pita bread in bulk (which I did) but the hardware section was disappointing. Long story short, Karen, they had no nails whatsoever. Nonetheless, the clerk in the hardware section was so helpful in telling me this, I felt obligated to buy something from her, so I purchased a crate of wing nuts.

I guess I'll just use those. 

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Yesterday, Dignidad helped me screw all of the wing nuts into a piece of particle board. It took us all afternoon. (We ate a whole bag of pita bread while we were working on it, so I have only nine bags left.) I was so exhausted by the end that I rolled right onto it and went to sleep immediately.

If I had to pick just a three adjectives to describe my experience of sleeping on a bed of wing nuts, I would say: humbling, emotionally present, and macho. I am feeling very refreshed and humbled today.  

Did you know that REM stands for Rapid Eye Motions? It is one of the five stages of normal sleep. Last night, while lying on my treacherous bed of wing nuts, I counted my sleep stages, and there were at least six! I wonder if this has ever been reported in the scientific journals?  In fact, I may have had even more sleep stages, but I stopped counting when I got to six, because it’s hard to concentrate when you’re asleep.

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I'm afraid I have to ask you to mail my dryness diary back to me. Without it, I don’t have a good sense of how I am doing (+/- 2 standard deviations.)

One thing is clear, though: The drainage on a wing nut bed is not ideal. Do you think I should switch to hex nuts? Please write back if it isn't a bother.

With warmest regards, 

Monday, July 1, 2013

El Lobo Grande y Mal

Dear Friends,

If it's that good old time religion that you seek, look no further than the gospel according to Hard Taco and our newest song, "Put My Hand on Heaven's Plow."

I could probably use a little divine aid in the coming days. Later this month, I'm going to be performing in a stage play for the first time in 20 years. I am proud to report that the Penny Seats theater company has invited me to join the cast of "Little Me."

I will be playing the role of B.A. Baracus.

When this opportunity fell in my lap, my first instinct was to stand up and wipe it off as quickly as possible. But my wife persuaded me to defer judgment and let it mellow in my lap for a few days, maybe let it seep into my pants a little. And boy, did it seep. Now, I couldn't be more excited about it!

Unfortunately, my character's name is not actually B.A. Baracus, but I swear on a pile of free religious pamphlets that you won't know the difference when you see the show. Before each rehearsal, while the rest of the cast sings, "Druggie baby fuzzy bunkers" in all major keys, I glower at the mirror in the changing room and repeat the phrase, "I ain't gettin' on no plane, Hannibal!" This week, I must have made some progress, because I sort of scared myself. Holy Snakes! That guy in the mirror will never consent to riding on an airplane, especially not with that crazy Murdock at the controls.

I am the least experienced actor in the troupe, and oh yes, it is obvious. I don't instinctively know, for instance, where the hell to put my hands. Should I just scratch my face a lot? Constant up and down face-scratching with both hands seems like a natural thing that real people might do.  Or do tough guys scratch their faces horizontally? When I walk, should I lead with my chest or with my groin? When other characters are talking, should I stare at their lips and nod or scrunch my eyes closed and hum until they shut up?

I was in a handful of high school plays, but I can't really build on those experiences, because I never got any tough guy roles.  As a sophomore with an angelically high voice, I was cast in a Molière play as an androgynous cook with a bowl cut wig. My character was in two scenes, both of which ended with me squealing while the master of house beat me with a riding crop. It must have been very funny for the 17th century French nobility in the audience, but it was a very confusing time in my life.

So to channel my inner Mr. T, I have to go back even further, to my very first public performance. My mom recently reminded me that I had played the Big Bad Wolf in a 7th grade Spanish class production of Carperucita Roja.  I still remember every line of the scene (although it may not make sense because my browser doesn't support upside down exclamation points.)

Lobo: Ja! Ja! Ja! Buenos tardes, Abuela!
          (Ha! Ha! Ha! Good afternoon, grandma!)

Abuela: Ai! Un lobo grande! y también mal!
             (Hey there! A big and also bad lobo!)

Lobo: Gua gua gua!
          (Nom nom nom!)

Roja: O Abuela! Hola! Tengo comida en mi cesta! Chili con queso!
         (Oh Grandma! Hello! I have food in my basket! Chili with queso!)

Lobo: Salsa fresca?
         (Fresh salsa?)

Roja: Salsa verde!
          (Verde sauce!)

Lobo: Pollo asado?
         (Acid chicken?)

Roja: Huevos rancheros!
         (Raunchy eggs!)

Lobo: Carne asado!
          (Barbecued carnies!)

Roja: Dulce de leche
         (Candy de milk!)

Lobo: Gua gua gua!
           (Verde sauce!)

Anyway, if I can pull off el lobo mal y también grande, I should be able play a hard-bitten military man who scratches his face horizontally. I just feel bad because I will have to miss two performances of "Little Me" for a work thing. The understudy is a very good actor, but I am openly worried about what is going to happen while I am gone. What if the fools go unpitied?

With warmest regards,

Saturday, June 1, 2013

This is my foot. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Dear friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Tiny Hearted." This song has a favorable bit resolution and a very pleasing ratio of zeros to ones. It's a digital dream, much like a good piece of MARPAT.

What is MARPAT? You would certainly recognize MARPAT if you weren't a tree-humping bedwetting limousine liberal. MARPAT is the large pixel-based camouflage pattern on the modern Marine uniforms. Compared to the Army's unsightly camo splotches, the lo-res graphics and rough boundaries of the MARPAT (MARine PATtern) uniforms provide more effective concealment, whether you're in a modern combat arena or the original Nintendo Legend of Zelda game.

Specialized MARPAT uniform swatches for  A) woodland areas, B) desert areas, and C) Hyrule overworld areas.
 Other than excitement of receiving three patented MARPAT utility uniforms, Marine boot camp must be rather tedious. You have to learn multitasking (jogging AND wearing a backpack). You have to memorize the regulations about whether to shout "Sir" at the beginning or the end of a given sentence. You must walk endlessly up and down airport concourses. Or so I assume, because that's the only place I ever encounter men in military fatigues.

Can you spot the U.S. Marine in this  low resolution digital airport? Probably not, thanks to MARPAT.

A few months ago, my family was boarding a plane, and there was a gentleman in a desert-themed MARPAT utility uniform in a first class aisle seat. He was just sitting there, thumbing through Hemispheres Magazine like a real person. As we passed, Lauren smiled at him and said, "Thank you for your service."
This is one of the more astonishing things I have heard my wife say in the (***find out before publishing final draft***) years we've been together. It seemed entirely unprecedented. I can think of dozens of situations where the phrase, "Thank you for your service," would be more appropriate. For instance:
  • My opponent gave the shuttlecock a swift underhand smack and it's coming directly to me. Thank you for your service!
  • The rabbi just finished the closing prayers and wants to talk to me. Is he fishing for compliments? Thank you for your service!
  • We didn't register for enough plates to accommodate all the guests at this function. But wait, you brought over a 16 piece dinnerware set? Thank you for your service (for four)!
So why was Lauren thanking this barely visible stranger? Maybe she assumed he was a high ranking officer because he was sitting in first class. If that was the case, would that make him any more trustworthy? Last time I checked, highly decorated Marine officers were best known for trying to take over Alcatraz and attack San Francisco and order subordinates to beat each other to death.

And what service do Marines actually provide, anyway? Everyone knows that all they do is line up on rocky promontories and twirl rifles. It's a very impressive skill, but one with dubious military value. If the rifle had a bayonet and the enemy was throwing cucumbers, sure, that would be something, but how often does that happen in a combat situation? If I'm ever in a war and have to choose a platoon for the vanguard, I'd forgo the Marines in favor of a line of Rockettes. At least they can kick people in the face.

Well done, Girls! Now get your left feet ready... here comes the second wave.
With warmest regards,

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mother's Day Gift Suggestion Meme

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for May is called, "Love Is In the Very Air."

Now that you're pondering the month of May and the institution of Love, let's solidify some Mother's Day plans!

I'm not going to argue against the allegation that Mother's Day has become too commercialized. It's easy to forget that Mother's Day is, of course, a religious holiday... All Hedon's Eve. It's nice to have a standing phone date with our parents, but we must also remember that the true meaning of this day is to consecrate the deflowering of the pagan fertility daemon Eostreg in the glow of spring's first gibbous moon. When we get caught up in the spending, wrapping, and visiting, we forget that the Eostreg the winged womb wraith chose this day among all others to lay her inverted pentacle at the base of the holly maypole and birth the two-headed druid of the gate, Scrotus the Excrete-agog.

Perhaps Mother's Day has turned into more of a "Hallmark Holiday," but is that so bad? I look around and I see families spending time together and showing genuine gratitude to their wives and mothers. That is how All Hedon's Eve should be celebrated, if you ask me. If we don't appreciate each other, the tradition of invoking the chaos magick of fur and feather by splattering a blindfolded virgin with hot beeswax loses meaning.

So I suppose there's nothing wrong with a little gift-buying this Mother's Day. In fact, I'd like to help you pick the perfect one for your mother, wife, or baby mama, in one simple step.

Step 1: Stop giving her personalized coupon books.
This coupon good for a 12 hour calf rub.
This coupon good for one new palindrome that starts with, "Partyboob." 
This coupon good for a high five, and guess what! It's double coupon day!

Epic yawn. Do you want your mother to leave you nothing but a coupon book in her will?
This coupon good for one guilty memory about your dead mother.

All you need to know in order to select an original personalized gift for your mother, wife, or baby mama is how much you love her, her first initial, and her birthdate. This is still part of Step 1. Check out how easy this system is:

Level of Love for Mother/Wife/Baby Mama (On a 32 point scale.)

1. Army surplus
2. Halfway House Made
3. Gingham and rhinestone
4. Gently used
5. Beer-battered
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Distressed balsa
8. Single use
9. Bacon-wrapped
10. Gryffindor
11. Celery-scented
12. Cut down a little belly fat each day with this one weird old
13. Bose
14. His and hers engraved
15. Hands free
16. Navajo
17. Electrolyte-infused
18. Shiatsu
19. Free trade
20. Micro fleece
21. Wrought iron
22. Helen Keller autographed
23. Airplane grade
24. Seahorse hair
25. Cuban
26. Two Tickets to Cirque du
27. Motor Trend's Most Dependable Mid-sized
28. Vice Presidential
29. Yeti hide
30. Actually tasteful
31. Self-aware
32. Hope Diamond-encrusted
First Initial of Your Mother/Wife/Baby Mama
A. Loose leaf tea
B. Clutch
C. Zumba DVD
D. "Massager"
E.  Nanny cam
F. iPhone skin
G. Book of Dirty Mad Libs
H. Amazon gift card
I. Burnt offering
J. Moccasins
K. Hip flask
L. Fashion scarf
M. Nude sculpture of you
N. Wind chimes
O. Gary Coleman skull
P. Hand juicer
Q. Claddagh ring
R. Skin whitening system
S. Photo collage
T. Water feature
U. Spa basket
V. Wine decanter
W. Gargoyle
X. Dog tags
Y. Hangover serum
Z. Tote

What day of the month was your Mother/Wife/Baby Mama born on?
1-20. (no suffix/modifier)
21. Groupon
22. Cozy
23. 40th Anniversary Edition
24. Of the Month Club
25. Labeler
26. As Originally Envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright
27. -Opoly, the Board Game
28. In Pink with a Portion of Proceeds Going To Fight Breast Cancer
29. Shipped in a genuine kangaroo pouch
30. Shipped in a genuine Shroud of Turin
31. With certificate of authenticity

Now there's a present that will keep you in good standing until the next nativity of Scrotus the Excrete-agog. Good work!

With warmest regards,

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bridal Party Contest Part 2

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is entitled, "Drinking and Sailing." Is this song an instant classic? Maybe, maybe not, but you can't stop me from putting in a hashtag. #instantclassic

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month's Hard Taco Wedding Toast Contest and lost! You are free to resent the big winner, Carina. She was the only contestant to recognize that a roomful of Nazis was the only thing missing from our otherwise perfect Jewish wedding.

The Winning Toast. I'm not sure who Will O'Hare is.

Although this is wrong for so many reasons, Carina has been retroactively awarded the title of 7th Groomsman and her image has been inserted into the back row of this photo of our bridal party, which is now in the Library of Congress.

When you're done with this picture, please put it in the
Library of Congress after-hours drop box.

I have also retroactively added her to this thank-you speech which I gave the night before the wedding. Even if you don't know these people, I hope you can appreciate the sentiments... friendship and brotherhood are universal!

Zach and Lauren Groomsmen Speech March 10, 2001 (Final draft)

I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to my groomsmen. You are my brothers, my best friends, my most trusted confidantes. Sometimes, life can dole out some cruel hiccups, but I know that whatever happens, the seven of you will always be there for me. I think it would be fair to say that the likelihood of any of us ever growing apart is about the same as the chance of a terrorist attack on American soil. It's just never going to happen!

Brian. When I first heard you were dating my sister, I thought, "Who is this guy?" Then I found out that you could belch the alphabet in nine languages! Or is it always the English alphabet, but with nine different accents? Either way, come on, get up here and show us. Bri-an! Bri-an! Yahhh! Wooo!

Jeff K. A lot of people don't know this, but you used to have so many pimples. (Pause for laughter and applause.) To commemorate our friendship, here are dozens of tubes of zit cream. Just kidding, Bro! I'm just giving you a hard time... because of the zits!

Ethan. What can I say? I've known you since fourth grade. Sometimes, when people accuse me of not having any black friends, I lie to them and tell them that you are black. Is that weird? Maybe, but I'm sure you understand better than anyone why I do it. Anyway, interesting fact about Ethan... he's the only person in Wisconsin to ever get trapped inside of a riding lawn mower on live TV. True story.

Other Jeff. Let me share an amusing anecdote. Last year, Other Jeff and I went to a performance by Carl the PG-13 Rated Hypnotist. The gimmick is that Carl hypnotizes volunteers from the audience and makes them do and say things that may be inappropriate for children under 13. It's a riot. Anyway, Jeff volunteered, and once he was fully hypnotized, he started telling the audience that he was a Crib Death Survivor! I hadn't known this about him, but his parents later confirmed it for me... he suffered from a bad case of crib death when he was a baby, but at the last minute he made it. I have so much more respect for him now that I know what he's been through. Clearly, he never would have opened up like that for the PG-rated hypnotist we usually go to.

Josh. What's up, Roomie? This guy (pat Josh's head, if available) is the king of elbow grease. One time in college, there was some calypso music playing at our dorm party, and Josh yells, "Conga Line!" Then suddenly everyone else is like, "Did somebody say CONGA LINE?" It was unreal. I guess you had to be there.

Carina. Where are your yarmulke and bow tie? I hate to call you out in front of everybody, but frankly, it's disrespectful. All the other groomsmen are wearing yarmulkes and bow ties, and you're just wearing some kind of fuzzy scarf. If this is your passive aggressive way of getting back at the rest of us for not inviting you to the bachelor party, congratulations, it worked. The wedding pictures are ruined. I hope you're happy. 

Russell. To my new little brother, I only have one thing so say: "Beep! Beep! Initiating startup sequence! Beep! Beep!" That's a private joke between Russ and I, and there's no way I'm going to explain what it means to the rest of you!

Here's another one: "Officer down! Officer down!" Hilarious.

Or how about this one: "Who wants to play some KENO? Anyone? Keno?" That one's an instant classic. #instantclassic

So that's it. My only question is, who is going to be my wingman tonight and dance with the other brides so I can hit on the hot one? (Pat Lauren's head, if available.)

With warmest regards,