Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Star Wars: What No One Else Has The Courage To Say About It

Dear Friends,

For the third consecutive month, the Hard Taco jingle focuses on levity and brevity rather than pensiveness and extensiveness. At 78 seconds, "Manchego" is so short, I will only need to spend $11.5 million dollars to play it over a blank screen during the Superbowl.

Two months ago, we treated you to an uncannily accurate prediction of the newest James Bond film. Today, I'm going to do that same breaststroke in a much more crowded pool, and offer heroic predictions about Star Wars Episode VII.

SPOILER ALERT: It's quite possible that I am going to tell it like it is, so read on only if you want the gospel truth and the no nonsense treatment.

What will happen now that Disney owns the rights to the Star Wars franchise?
As soon as The Force Awakens leaves theaters, Disney will make plans to re-release it in exactly 20 years. That's how long it will take for the technology to finally catch up with Walt Disney's original vision of the movie, in which a whistling Han Solo bobs up and down on his noodle-like legs and steers a steamboat.

Will the new Star Wars movie rely heavily on computer-generated graphics?
No. To appease the fan base, they will return to the tradition of implying awesome technology, rather than showing it. As in the original trilogy, characters will simply describe space vehicles as either "operational," "quite operational," or "fully operational," and let the audience imagine how cool they must be.

Why is Luke Skywalker not shown in the preview?
Some time in the last 30 years, Luke became a Sith. They can't show him in the preview without giving this away, because now he has one of the two stigmata of Sith-hood: Horns or a hoodie. (Also known as the "Sith Hood.")

If you watched the end of "Return of the Jedi," you may have had an inkling that Luke was destined for villainy. The most obvious clue is that he was unthinkably rude to his father's corpse. In one scene, he helped Vader remove his mask. In the next scene, he burned his father's remains, and the mask was back on! Let's not forget that removal of that mask was Anakin's dying wish. Luke waited until Anakin was dead, and then immediately put it back on his face! That's pretty damn disrespectful, if you ask me.

Imagine if a loved died after a prolonged ICU stay. Would you reattach the ventilator to the body and bring them both to the morgue to be cremated together?

That vent really helped Dad for a while, so I'm sure he'd prefer that its ashes be eternally intermingled with his own.  And while we're at it, let's take his walker and his dentures and toss those in the fire, too. They were really part of his look there, at the end.

Is Leia also a Sith?
I predict yes! But in name only.

A voice change is typical when someone turns to the Dark Side. When Anakin became Darth Vader, his voice became lower and richer. When Luke gave into his hate, perhaps he chose to mark his transformation with a saucy lisp. In Episode VII, when he sees Leia for the first time in years, he shouts, "Hey, Sith! Join me and carry on the workth of Darth Sidiuth!"

Will Luke Skywalker finally die in this movie?
Definitely. In the interest of time, let's hope he's one of the Jedi who inexplicably disappears when he dies, like Yoda or Obiwan, rather than one of the ones who has to be burned on a pyre, like Anakin or Qui Gon.

Who is the adorable little droid in the preview that rolls around the desert on some sort of gyro-sphere?
Its name is BB-8, and it was built over 50 years after R2D2. Apparently, that's still not enough time for robot manufacturers to develop a friendly sidekick droid that can handle stairs.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween in Hawaii: The Legend of Sleepy Mahalo

Dear Friends,

Aloha from Oahu! It is November where you are, but here in Honolulu, it is still October 31, so I wish you a very happy Helewi! If you can't deduce the meaning of that word from context clues, just remember that Hawaiians treat their consonants like lazy teenagers: They never finish anything and aren't allowed to touch each other.

Goodnight Tushy
This month's Hard Taco song, "Can We Please Just Hang Out Now?" touches on the subject of Hawaii. Here's how it came to be:

Young Malcolm is a typical kid with a typical bedtime routine. He puts on pajamas, brushes his teeth, reads a story, and begs me to pile all of his stuffed animals in a different room because they are possessed by evil spirits. Then, I tuck him in, scratch his back, and turn the lights out. As I walk out of the room, I shake my butt like a Tahitian dancer, and he says, "Goodnight, Tushy." We have imparted a sense of finality to that statement. Once he utters those two words, the day is officially over and he is forbidden from getting out of bed until morning.

Not surprisingly, he has tried everything in his power to postpone saying goodnight to my butt.

"Daddy, I'm thirsty!" Sucks to be you.

"Daddy, I heard a creepy noise!" If you survive until morning, you can show me your scars during breakfast.

Then one day, he strung together a series of words that successfully deferred my rump-shaking. "Daddy, let's write a song together!"

Aw, how can I say no to that? The product of that procrastination session is this month's Hard Taco song, "Can We Please Just Hang Out Now?" Malcolm wanted to explore the subject of friendship. Specifically, the theme is the urgency of wanting to hang out with your friend immediately when he returns from vacation to Hawaii. Malcolm knew that we were planning this trip to the Aloha State, so perhaps he wanted to write a song that his friends could sing to him.

Get That Grizzly a Coconut Bra
This reminds me a comic strip I once read in the University of Wisconsin student-run newspaper, The Daily Cardinal. When I was a med student in Madison, The Cardinal was four pages long, and nearly 20% of its ink was wasted on feeble student-drawn comic strips. These strips consistently managed to be both disgusting and migraine-inducing, like a pile of poop in a strobe light. Here's an example:

Stick figure 1: Let's go to the mall.
Stick figure 2: Okay!

Stick figure 1: (Getting attacked by a bear) Aaaahhh!
Stick figure 2: I thought you said, "Let's go to M-A-U-L."

I remember reading this, and actually becoming angry at the young cartoonist who brought this strobe-lit dung into my life. The art, setup, and delivery were pathetic and the pun didn't even make grammatical sense.

But then, a miracle happened. A Labor Day Miracle, you could say, if we were to name miracles after the most proximate holiday.

With a few quick pencil strokes, the comic transformed into this:

Stick figure 1: Let's go to the mall.
Stick figure  2: Okay!

Stick figure  1: (Getting attacked by a bear in a grass skirt) Aaaahhh!
Stick figure 2: I thought you said, "Let's go to M-A-U-I."

Suddenly, this comic was ver funny. If it had been drawn this way in the first place, it may have been worth a chuckle. What made it sidesplittingly, life-alteringly hilarious was the net change in funniness, the humor delta, if you will. The transformation from a negative black hole of failure to something slightly whimsical was such an massive and dramatic shift, my system was unable to handle it.

I erupted in laughter, right in the middle of class. Pushing my lips together in hopes of suppressing the sound only led to mirthful, spasmodic snorting. I had never lost control of my diaphragm before, but I was out-of-control and I actually had to get up and leave the room because I was disrupting class.

In case you don't appreciate why this is funny, let me explain it to you: It is preposterous that someone would travel all the way to Hawaii because of a misunderstanding, only to be attacked by an animal that isn't indigenous to the area, but is trying to fit in by wearing the traditional costume of local... 

Sorry, I can't finish that sentence, because I'm snorting again and have to excuse myself from the computer room.

With warmest regards,

P.S. During this trip, I learned a traditional Hawaiian Halloween joke. I don't remember the setup, but the punch line is, "The SPOOK-ulele." 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Special James Bond Preview

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for October is called "Billowing Parachute Silk." If you have 97 seconds of free time today, you can listen to this whole song. Of course, it may be more manageable if you space it out through the day in 97 one-second increments.

For Your Eyes Alone: 
I can barely quell my excitement about the new James Bond movie. This one promises to have even more spying than the last five Bond films. I did a little armchair espionage and put together this preview from unauthorized interviews.

Movie Title
The Brand New Adventures of James Bond

Opening Sequence
A masked man chases 007 through the streets of Chennai. Bond leaps over a fruit stand. The masked man plows right through it, spilling plums on the cobblestone street.

Clutching a booby-trapped attaché case, Bond races into a petting zoo. The masked man chases him onto a hayride, just as it is pulling into the farm. The adversaries have a fistfight on the hayride, and Bond is outmatched. As the masked man prepares to deliver the decisive blow, the wagon goes under a low bridge. The masked man fails to duck, and is beheaded. The mask stays on. James Bond turns to a nearby goat and introduces himself, last name first.

Suddenly, two assassins approach on a tandem bike and snatch the booby-trapped attaché case. Bond springs from the hay wagon onto the back seat of the bike, dethroning the rear assassin.  As the bike careens crazily down a winding suburban street, Bond wrestles with the other assassin for control of the front seat. He succeeds, forcing the man to the rear seat, where the villain is relegated to peddling while Bond steers.

Suddenly, the bike is overtaken by a duo of henchman on the back of a camel. They are sitting on separate humps. The rear henchman has his hands around the front henchman's waist to avoid falling off.  Bond jumps from the tandem bike to the camel.  He wrestles both henchmen, vying for position on the front hump. The combatants push each other's faces, but Bond does so more vigorously, and the henchmen are both consigned to the rear hump.

Daniel Craig defeats a henchman with a ferocious facepush while on camelback.
Finally, 007 catches up with the notorious El Chevre, a master villain with an eye patch, a soul patch, and a nicotine patch. El Chevre swipes the booby-trapped attaché case, handcuffs it to himself, and runs into an abandoned ice rink. Bond follows him, commandeers a pair of ice skates, and gives chase. Two flunkies and lackey, who have also rented skates, impede Bond's progress. James pirouettes evasively and the flunkies skate into a Zamboni. It explodes.

Bond returns his skates (so he can get his shoes back), and pursues El Chevre to a nearby dock.

"You're too late, James Bond," shouts the villain as he climbs into a paddleboat and starts paddling lazily across the pond. Bond climbs into another paddleboat, and paddles lazily in pursuit. Almost immediately, they are trapped in a strong current and dragged towards a 3000-foot waterfall. At the last second, Bond dives overboard as the two paddleboats lurch over the edge of the waterfall and burst into flames.

As he pulls himself onto the muddy shore, a weary James Bond looks across the pond and sees a courtesan in a yellow fur coat helping El Chevre into a two-rotor helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, El Chevre gazes arrogantly down and twirls his soul patch.

The scene fades to red. The familiar jungle trance surf rock music starts to play. Ian Fleming's name appears over a sequence of writhing nude silhouettes pushing each other's faces on paddleboats.

Bond Girls
Name: Viktoriya Sex-Vegetable
Role: Moldovan secret agent
Quote as she dies in James Bond's arms: "Meester Bund. I regret only I deed not keep last name when I get myarried. Feelling out forms when you have hypheenated last name is real pain."

Name: Bath Meat
Role: Danish double agent
Quote as she dies in James Bond's arms: "I trust no one, including the doctors who tell me to refrain from sexual activity until this cavernous abdominal wound heals."

Name: Lisa
Role: New Jersey insurance agent
Quote as she dies in James Bond's arms: "You're... in... good hands with Allstate."

Will 007's Aston Martin have a rear spoiler? 
Spoiler alert: It will.

Closing thoughts
Everything that Q gives to James Bond is an In-SPECTRE Gadget. You're welcome.

With warmest regards,

Bonus Activity: 
Are you one of the 2% who can recognize these James Bond movie titles with one letter changed?

  • The Soy Who Loved Me
  • License to Kiln
  • Die Another Dad
  • Shyfall
  • Ontopussy

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to Argue with a Cop

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for September is called, "Cops! Cops! Cops!" If you have to shout something three times in a row, Cops is much easier than Toy Boat, and much safer than Beetlejuice

You never know when you'll end up on a bus with the man your wife is having an affair with. When it happens, you'll need some fresh ice-breaker ideas to keep things from getting awkward.

Here's a good cop-themed ice-breaker: Do you remember the first time you witnessed an argument between a police officer and a civilian? My first time was almost 20 years ago, and it was exhilarating! Honestly, it is one of my most treasured memories. The suspect was my friend, Jeff, and his alleged crime was driving his car into a drainage ditch. 

Let me set the scene. About ten minutes before the incident, Jeff declared, "The [Ford Bronco II] has four-wheel drive. Everyone knows that, right?" The other passengers and I agreed. Everyone did know that.

Thus, he explained, the police would not only condone him driving around in a dark field, but they would expect it of him. "When you've got an off-road vehicle," he pointed out, "never driving off-road is basically illegal."

I had to admit, that made a whole lot of sense.

Five minutes later, the Ford Bronco II was lodged in a ditch behind the JCC. Ten minutes after that, a policeman showed up and wrote Jeff a citation for reckless driving, 

Jeff was not angry with the policeman... the poor officer was simply misinformed about the situation. Very graciously, Jeff provided a recap of everything that had transpired, none of which was reckless.

First, he pulled up carefully to the scene of he accident, got out of the car, and inspected the slope and lie of the ditch. He meticulously tested the soil firmness and erosion potential with his foot. Then he returned to the car, made sure all passengers were safely restrained, lifted his foot off the brake and idled carefully into the ditch. In this this sober and deliberate manner, the car was marooned hopelessly with it's rear wheels spinning in the air. We were able to corroborate this entire story, and assure the policeman that our driver had lodged the vehicle in the muddy trench with the utmost attention to safety. And as passengers, we found the experience to be not the least bit harrowing or interesting.

At this point, the policeman should have concluded, as I had, that driving directly into the ditch was the only rational decision that Jeff could have made in this set of circumstances. After all, everybody knows that the Ford Bronco II is a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Jeff said that his only regret was that he had miscalculated the aptitude of his three passengers in lifting the car out of the ditch. In conclusion, if he was given a chance to do it all over again, he would do it exactly the same way and change nothing. Everyone miscalculates sometimes, and you can't go through life beating yourself up about it.

The policeman had no rebuttal for any of this. I guess there isn't much to say when confronted with so many layers of shatterproof logic. The bastard just handed Jeff the citation and called a tow-truck for us.

A couple months later, Jeff disputed this ticket in court. He argued that reckless driving was a moving violation. How could he be guilty of a moving violation when his vehicle was NOT moving? If the Ford Bronco II had moved, at least so far as to extricate itself from the ditch, there would have been no problem! Apparently, the judge agreed, and reckless driving was reduced to trespassing, which carried a lower fine and no points. Justice.

Of course, if we really were trespassing, the JCC could have shot us or sicced their dogs on us. I'm sure Jeff would have been just as patient with an irate Dauberman* as he was with the cop. As it lunged towards him, menacing and frothy-mouthed, he would have calmly reassured it that there was nothing to worry about, because his car was an off-road vehicle. Everyone knows that.

With warmest regards,

* An imaginary guard dog only found at the JCC

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Postcards From Panama, Part 7

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for August is the named, "Worth the While," and I like to think it is aptly titled. 

Meanwhile, here is the annual installment of "Postcards from Panama." If you need a refresher on the puzzling relationship of our heroes, you can find it here

Postcards From Panama, Part 7

Dear Karen,

You will be pleased to know that I am a philanthropist now. I donated some of my hair to an organization called, “Locks of Lust.” They are a non-profit that provides used clumps of hair to very sick people. (Apparently, some of the sickest!) It’s not a big deal, except that now I am getting to be known for my beneficence and my large bald spot. 

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen, 

Would you like me to send you a picture of my new comb over? A growing number of people (mostly women our age or slightly younger) have commented to each other about how tasteful it is. I will send you some photos that showcase my comb over from different tasteful angles.

Unfortunately, there is only one place around here that develops film, and I don’t trust the suspicious-looking boy who works there. What if he makes extra copies of my comb over pictures for his own purposes? I know this photo is important to you, so I will risk it.

With warmest regards, 

Dear Karen,

My neighbor, Dignidad, is in a support group for people who suffer from emotional eating. I sometimes eat when I am hungry. I assume hunger is an emotion, so perhaps I should join the group? They meet on Thursday afternoons at one of the mall kiosks. It is next to the place that develops film, so I can excuse myself from the support group every few minutes to spy on the suspicious-looking film boy. 

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

What a night! You would be amazed to learn about all the different emotions that can lead to binge eating! Obviously, sadness is the big one, but tonight I met people who stuff their faces when they feel all kinds of things... timid, detached, trusting, or even indignant. 

As you may expect, there was much less diversity in the type of foods involved. Everyone in the support group overeats the same traditional diet of plantains, root vegetables, and tropical fruits. 

With warmest regards, 

Dear Karen,

The woman who mediates the emotional eating support group is named Nobleza Moralidad, which means Nobility Morality. She is a recovering emotional eater, and she has a Panamanian Unibrow. This is different from the unibrows you see in the United States, where the two eyebrows meet in the middle of the forehead. Nobleza Moralidad’s eyebrows extend outwards around the sides of the head and meet in the back. It is very unflattering, but I won’t tell her that, because it might send her into a corkscrew of shame and cause her to relapse. 

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Nobleza Moralidad invited me to dinner at her favorite mid-scale restaurant, Chorizo on Skewers. I assumed she was vetting me to verify my status as a card-carrying emotional eater. 

Over dinner, I mostly talked about you, and about how we agreed to get married after 20 years if both of us were still single. This made me a little emotional (4 on a 10 point scale), so I ate three chorizo skewers. I told her that you and I never got around to exchanging promise rings, but if we had, I wouldn’t be able to wear one anymore because my fingers had become fat from all of the emotional eating. After that, I cried for fifteen minutes and ate ten more chorizo skewers. Mostly, I ate them with my mouth open, so I could keep crying. 

As we were leaving the restaurant, she informed me that she had not been vetting me for the support group. It turns out that our dinner had been a date! Either way, I think it went pretty well.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Oh no! There was an old mestizo woman selling photos of my comb over at the Farmer’s Market today! I don’t know how she got them, but I am positive that it has something to do with the suspicious-looking boy at the photo shop! The silver lining to this whole fiasco is that I was able to buy every copy she had, and I will send them all to you shortly. Would you prefer them in 12-panel frame or a more organic-looking photo collage?

With warmest regards,


Dear Karen,

I broke up with Nobleza Moralidad this afternoon. I could tell she was angry, because she immediately turned around and started gorging herself with plantains and root vegetables. The other clue to her anger was the furrowed unibrow on the back of her head. 

Karen,  I know that you and I have been “keeping it loose,” but I think I’m finally ready to take it to the next level with you. Please write back and let me know your daytime phone number and how you are doing. Also, please include detailed information regarding whether you think that taking it to the next level is something we should do this very minute, or if we should wait a couple more weeks. I am willing to wait two weeks so your co-workers don’t accuse you of being my rebound wife.

With warmest regards, 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fievel Goes West

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for July is called, "Brady." It's about this guy, whose owner was savvy enough to beat the rest of high society to commissioning a Hard Taco song. If you have designs on appointing a splendid Court Composer, I am now available.

Sorry for the delay, Flemish duchesses. I've been working on this.

Placid Teenage Hormones
McDonald's once had a promotion that anyone who bought a sandwich would become eligible to purchase An American Tail: Fievel Goes West on VHS for $3. I was 16 years old, and although I had not seen this movie or its predecessor, An American Tail, I found myself spending down my allowance savings so I could have four copies. 

I was in a phase, I suppose, and it probably had to do with hormones. Not the ordinary teenage hormones often portrayed as raging, but the lesser-known glandular secretions that drive young men to purchase impractical and obscure things as a means of self-expression. For Chanukah, I gave my parents and sister the autobiographies of different Star Trek actors, even though none of us were Trek-heads. I tried to explain that the memoir of a still-closeted George Takei was the campiest and most bizarre thing in the bookstore. Thanks to hormones, my developing teenage brain concluded that this randomness made it relevant. So relevant, that asking for a gift receipt would have been sacrilege. Why couldn't my family appreciate that?

These same hormones left me indifferent to mediocre movies, but furiously obsessed with REALLY bad ones. That was why I had no choice but to buy four copies of Fievel Goes West.

I was surprised to discover, then, that Fievel Goes West was actually a wonderful movie. It had a strong cast, beautiful hand-drawn art, and a gorgeous score (R.I.P. James Horner). Notably, by changing one letter in the titles of both the original movie and the sequel, one could make a series of perfectly acceptable porn parodies... IN American Tail and Fievel Does West.

(Of less interest is that by changing just a couple more letters, one could make an archaic religious propaganda brochure... Fie, evil! God's Best.)

I've seen Fievel Goes West over 30 times. Hands down, it is my favorite movie. I transcribed the whole script and memorized every line. I scoured eBay for Fievel-themed trading cards. I wrote fan fiction. I spent hours at the library looking up old newspaper reviews of the movie, photocopied them and compiled them into a three ring binder. I even wrote a Rocky Horror-eque script for audience participation, in which there is a great running gag about Fievel's father having no neck. Here are some examples:

Papa: Fievel's birthday is coming. And we don't even have enough money (FOR A NECK!!!) for presents.

Cat R. Waul: Now for my part.
(We can't see your part because you're wearing a @&*$! HAT!!!)

Chula: Hey Boss, what's a (MAYFLY???) subversive?    
Cat R. Waul: Someone who doesn't have very long to live.

Papa: Ha! Our little Fievel is not so little no more!

I recommend joining me for a screening. It's one of the few socially acceptable forums for screaming obscenities at immigrants.

Amblin Entertainment made one serious mistake that doomed Fievel to humdrum box office mojo. The movie appeared in theaters on November 22, 1991, the exact same day that Disney released Beauty and the BeastIt's hard to fault the holiday moviegoers for choosing Princess Belle over Fievel Mousekewitz.

In contrast, I'm sure the XXX Fievel parody fared better than Booty and the Yeast, which was admittedly intended for a niche market.

With warmest regards,

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Bureau of Taco-hol, Tobacco, and Fire Sauce

Dear friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Cute As a Button." It's a Taco-rific Taco-gasmic Taco-palooza.

See what I did there? I started with an ordinary word (taco) and treated it to three bastard suffixes in the same sentence! This is not to say that words ending in -rific and -gasmic are not legitimate English. Quite to the contrary, these words are so pleasant and utterly NOT ANNOYING that babies born out of wedlock should be honored by the comparison.

I have this idea for a children's show called "Tards." It sounds offensive, but it's not what you think... Tards is actually short for Bastards. The main character is Bastard, a complete bastard who is always making up excuses for not doing his chores. His obstinate half-sibling, Conservatard, is also a complete bastard. You can tell just by looking at his smug face. The premise (which gives the title its rich double meaning), is that the two of them primarily talk in words with bastard suffixes.  Here's the opening scene of the pilot.

Tards - Episode 1
"The Shirk-monger"

Bastard: It must be May. The melting snow always sets off my May-dar.
Conservatard: It's melt-astic.
Bastard: It's defrostacular. But it's happening at an alarming rate.
Conservatard: Thawmageddon.
Bastard: Exactamundo... Thawpocalypse!
Conservatard: Check out the ground now. Stick-o-rama.
Bastard: Twigtopia?
Conservatard: Twignarok. No time for a May-cation. We're going to have a Spring Cleanupalooza this weekend.
Bastard: Sorry. Can't help out with the yard-workathon.
Conservatard: Why are you always such a slack-omatic shirk-aholic?
Bastard: I was a yard-workaholic, but I've been on the wagon since I got caught at school with an elevated blood yard-workohol level.
Conservatard: I remember that. It was scandalicious. Everyone was talking about yard-workgate.
Bastard: Bastards.

My second idea for a children's show is slightly more controversial. It's called "Three Litt7e Pigs." In it, my family wears fake animal noses and reenacts fairy tales. We will never explain why there is a 7 in the title.

The first episode is a totally straight rendition of the Three Little Pigs story.

Once we've secured our contract with PBS, we'll start filming the more obscure and morbid fairy tales, like "The Merry Headsman and the Randy Beggar," or "FrankenKeller: The Zombie Who Mastered Braille."

With warmest regards,

Friday, May 1, 2015


Dear Friends,

This month's Hard Taco song, "Catan Catan," was strongly influenced by the Beatles. You could argue that 'strongly influenced' could be replaced with 'directly stolen from.' You could also argue that after 382 consecutive original songs, I have earned the right to dip my ladle into someone else's creative punch bowl and stir up a few bubbles.

Naturally, I was worried about the legal ramifications of borrowing a beloved melody and claiming sole authorship credit. No need! My lawyer-wife assures me that I cannot be sued for musical plagiarism because "[this] song kicks ass compared to the original." To avoid any breach of copyright law, she also recommends that I end this paragraph with the phrase, "Suck it, Sir Paul."

I have learned a good deal about the law by cohabitating with an attorney, even if she is kind of a potty mouth. True story: In reference to a case she was working on, Lauren once said, "It wasn't the helicopter crash that killed them... it was the magma." That was probably the only time I ever thought that being an attorney sounded cool. I really wanted to hear the rest of the story, but at the time, her rate was $300/hour.

Her current job eschews the billable hours system. To take advantage of this, I've asked Lauren to answer some of the Frequently Asked Legal Statutory Inquests on Every Subject:

Is there a sketch artist with colored pencils at every trial?
No. Cameras are not allowed in courtrooms, but they only employ colored-pencil sketch artists for high profile cases. In small claims court, artists must create representations of the defendant with mixed media compositions employing found objects.

What happens when two enemies fill out Form 741-8 in the presence of a notary public and file it at the county courthouse?
They become sworn enemies.

Can a movie reviewer write, "Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow sizzle in this timeless tale," even if they didn't especially sizzle?

Do lawyers really refer to the Supreme Court Rulings Of the United States as SCROTUS?
Yes, we are all potty mouths.

Is flag burning still legal?
On this planet, it is considered Freedom of Speech. This does not hold true vis-à-vis the American flags on the Moon. No oxygen means no burning, and no speech. 

I want to point at strangers and yell "Citizen's arrest!" Is this awesome and advisable or just awesome?
(Mumble mumble. I don't think she did very well in criminal law class.)

What do you call a group of opossums?
If they are your crew, your homies, and they always have your back, then you can call them your oposse. 

Which is more irritating, the word legalese, or the words it describes?
It's very close. I will say both of these out loud and we will make note of the point at which someone punches me in the throat.
1. Legalese.
2. Restrictive provisions hereinafter appearing forthwith comply with said jurisprudence (SWAK! THROAT PUNCH!) negligent civil remedies and promissory estoppel code sections 33, 40, 74T (My God, she's still talking! SWAK! SWAK! DOUBLE THROAT PUNCH!)

With warmest regards,

Disclaimer: The statements attributed to Lauren London in this document are for entertainment purposes only. No persons are liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential, or exemplary damages arising from anything stated above or in any other document. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Million Megabytes

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is a richly textured bedtime story called, "Grandfather Bluebird." It's a long song, but I promise that its length will not decay with time. Thousands of years after you and I are gone, when all of the world's compost piles have turned into crude oil and heart-shaped diamonds, this song will still be nearly 6 and a half minutes long.

The Time I Hit Someone In Anger
They say you don't really know yourself until you've been in a fight. I never have, but I like to imagine what that kind of self-discovery will feel like.

Wow, I will tell myself afterwards. I never knew I could curl into a fetal position that tightly! I mean, when things got tough, I really reached down... and pulled my knees much closer to my chest than I thought I could. I guess when the adrenaline kicks in and instinct takes over, I can really squeeze my eyes shut and cover my face with my hands!

Until that day comes, I can only draw on the closest experience I've had. This is the story of the only time I ever hit someone in anger.

All of the violence in this story stemmed from this:

It's a brainteaser. You set up matchsticks in this formation, and you are allowed to move one matchstick, and one matchstick only, to make the equation true.

Darren Bodner, a second tier friend who sat next to me in Sunday school, drew this problem out for me one day. "You're good at math," he said, "so this should be easy for you."

No problem. I'll just move one of the matchsticks diagonally across the equals sign so it says 6 is not equal to 1.

"No. That's not it," he said, an infuriating giggle building up behind his words. "Why aren't you getting it? It's super easy!"

Rather than acknowledging that my answer was perfectly acceptable, he started punching me lightly in the shoulder and repeating the same maddening question. "Why aren't you getting it? Huh? Huh?"

My tormentor was not a traditional bully... he was more like an annoying ventriloquist. Whenever Darren needled someone, he would get this huge grin and squinty eyes. Somehow, the more insulting his words were, the less his lips would move. "Why aren't you getting it? Aren't you good at math?"

In the appropriate context, this young man's ability to say "math" without his lips touching could have been a powerful ally in the war on terror. He could have handed off a flash drive to an undercover agent and whispered, "It has one million megabytes of memory," in full view of the security cameras. The greatest ventriloquists in the world would have faltered in that scenario, but not Darren Bodner. Up in the control room, the terrorists watching the footage would just see his Cheshire Cat grin and unmoving lips. They would conclude that he was an irritating schmuck, but they would have no idea how much memory was on the flash drive.

So perhaps, in another life, Darren's talents could have been leveraged for good. But on that day in Sunday school, his lipless derision and rhythmic blows to my shoulder drove me to thoughts of murder.

And I snapped.

I leapt onto the desk, howling wildly and punching him in the chest. To be clear, I wanted to hurt him very badly, but my flailing didn't seem to bother him at all. He just kept laughing and repeating those painfully accurate questions... Why wasn't I getting it? Wasn't I good at math?

Eventually, the teacher pulled me off him. Mercifully, before sending me to the principal's office, she made Darren tell me the answer to the question. He was right... it was easy. And at that moment I hated myself and everyone I had ever met. Most of all I hated matchsticks.

Maybe I didn't learn much about myself during that "fight," but I like to think that the experience shaped Darren's future. That was the day he discovered how much he enjoyed mathematical grandstanding. Perhaps that is what drove him into a career in accounting rather than, for instance, espionage.

That said, if you're still trying to solve the brainteaser, I assure you it has nothing to do with tax preparation.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

21 mg Transdermal

Dear Friends,

It takes an astute doctor to distinguish a touch of the winter doldrums from a case of the winter blahs. Both cause mopeyness, that draggy feeling, and episodes of down-in-the-dumps. Whichever you have, the treatment of choice is the latest Hard Taco song, “Surfing Instructor from the 1960s.” This drop of concentrated sunshine will alleviate all but the most intractable eruptions of the winter ho hums.

Biographies of Vice, Part A:Trysts with Tobacco

A recent study suggested that the human nose can distinguish one trillion odors. If we took a moment to arrange these smells from most pleasant to least pleasant, cigarette smoke would fall towards the bottom of the list.
  • (998 billion smells....)
  • Primordial cesspools
  • Infected glands
  • What it would smell like if an egg farted
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cigar smoke
  • Cat poo that makes you run outside and scream because you smelled it
  • When you find a hiker who has been dead for a month and light her hair on fire
Context is important, though, because olfaction is tied to the emotional centers in our brains. If there was a large cash prize for finding burning hiker corpses, you may begin to enjoy the smell. This partially explains the fact that I once had a Pavlovian attraction to clothes that reeked of cigarette smoke. My first three high school girlfriends were smokers.

Okay, fine, Memoir Police. Maybe I didn’t have three girlfriends in high school. The person I’m counting as number two portrayed my girlfriend in a play. She smoked, and I’m counting it.
Anyway, Smoker GF#1 enjoyed the fact that I was the last tobacco-naive person in our friend group. Before high school graduation, she hatched the following plan: She would spread a rumor that I was planning to smoke my very first cigarette at a friend’s graduation party. Then, the day before, she would teach me how to smoke, first with a twig, and then with a genuine secret practice cigarette. I would show up at the party, casually burn through my alleged first cigarette without coughing, everyone would be amused and impressed, the girlfriend and I would never fight, and we would go to college together and/or elope.

And what a plan it was! Seamlessly it worked, up to and including the “without coughing” part.

Smoker GF#3 was the real deal. Not as a girlfriend, but as a smoker. Her brand was Marlboro Reds.

We were both summer camp counselors. Most Friday nights, after the kids were asleep, we would go down to the storage area with one her friends. The three of us would sit on an overturned rowboat, and I would watch the two of them smoke. Sometimes (but no more than once a week), I would take a single slow drag and tell them how high I was. I was being funny, and they appreciated that, but this is one of those things that was funny because it was true. To someone accustomed to nicotine-celibacy, a Marlboro Red might as well be speed.

“They’re funded by the KKK, you know,” she told me one night, pointing to the red chevrons on the Marlboro box. Sure enough, they looked like the letter K, and if you rotated the box, there were three of them.

"It's true," said the friend.

I was skeptical. I didn’t know much about the Klan or their 501c3 status, but I suspected that they were primarily donor-funded. It just didn’t seem fiscally responsible to funnel their limited assets into subliminal advertising on cigarette boxes. Plus, smokers were not really the KKK’s target demographic... the masks didn’t even have mouth holes.

“And check this out,” she said, “If you turn the Marlboro logo upside-down, see what it says?”

I didn’t.

“It spells out OROBLJeW. It’s HORRIBLE JEW without the H.”

"It's true," said the friend.

Holy cow, they were right. Orrobl Jew! There’s absolutely no way that could be a coincidence. “Then why do you still smoke them?”

Both of them just rolled her eyes at me. “I’m addicted, you idiot.”

Oh, my poor summer fling. I knew I would be out of the picture during her (yet inevitable) battle with lung disease, but it was still sad. What made it worse was that the CEO of Philip-Morris was apparently some kind of cockney bigot, who took pleasure in the infirmity of my people. He probably had a giant projection TV in his office that would cycle through a morbid slideshow of my cancer-stricken ex-girlfriend and her co-counselor. I imagined him prancing back and forth in front of the screen, pointing and howling with delight.

‘Orrible Jew! ‘Orrible Jew!

A few years later, I had my last memorable cigarette-related incident, and it didn’t involve tobacco. I was a first year medical student, and we had a lecture about how to discuss smoking cessation with patients. The speaker brought a sample box of nicotine patches, and passed them out for us to look at. I decided to try on a 21 mg patch, the highest available dose.

Real smokers know that 21 milligrams of transdermal nicotine confers absolutely no benefit. I have since seen patients with a patch on each limb running out of the hospital, dragging iv lines behind them, so they could get back to their smokes.

That was not my experience. By the 1-minute mark, I was frankly lightheaded. By 5 minutes, I felt like there was a wind tunnel running between my eyes and my throat. I started pacing. I started grabbing my classmates' wrists and telling them that they were my best friends and that I really meant it. When I would turn my head, the their faces had vapor trails. By 7 minutes I was kneeling in front of the toilet.

That was my last nicotine high, and I haven't missed it at all. By then, I was dating the love of my life, and coffee breath had replaced smoky sweatshirts as my olfactory turn-on.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Roll Out the Pork Barrel

Dear Friends,

Look, we've talked about this before, but if you're determined to have a baby in the 2010s, there are only two acceptable methods for choosing a name.

1. Your child may one day stumble upon an enchanted time shaft and wake up in 19th century England. Studies show that if he is named after one of the contemporary professions, it will be easier for him to find meaningful work. With that eventuality in mind, you should name him Cooper, Thatcher, Hunter, Mason, Tanner, or Wayne (which is short for Waynewright.)

2. Most traditional names evoke a specific gender, but what if your child is born with ambiguous genitalia? Or what if it's completely unambiguous, but you're too embarrassed to look? No probs! Keep its pants on, paint the nursery yellow, and give it a name that celebrates its androgyny.
  • Consonant or consonant sound
  • A or AY
  • L or D
  • EN

Examples include Jaden, Jaylen, Dalen, Bayden, Calen, Graylen, Braden, Bralen, Galen, Hayden, or Baleen.

Now that you know what to type on the birth certificate, it's time to select a pet name for your child.  This month's Hard Taco song, "Big Guy," is about finding the perfect moniker for your cutie wittle babykins.

The London House Rules
Not to toot my own kazoo but (TooOOT! TooOOT!) Lauren and I are better parents than you will ever be. Our kids have survived in this horrible world for an aggregate of 15 person-years, and neither of them tortures worms or screams "I hate you!" at the mirror while dying their eyebrows.

The secret to raising prosperous, natural-browed children is to be very strict about a limited number of rules. Too many rules will drive children away, only to be found five years later in the Sudanese Sacred Army of Brainwashed Child Machine Gun Holders. If they have too few rules, they will grow up and become King Joffrey.

We maintain a happy medium with the London House Rules. We printed this eloquent list of tenets in an austere font and taped it to the kitchen wall at the children's eye level.

1. Be kind. Always.
2. No screen time until you've finished your homework.
3. No chanting (i.e. "Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream!") because that's f**ing annoying.

Strictly speaking, there are 11 other London House Rules, but we don't even attempt to enforce the other eight. They are just Styrofoam peanuts to cushion the Big Three. That may seem like a low ratio of wheat to chaff, but it's better than the 10 Commandments. How many of those do we actually enforce? Two... no killing and no stealing. What about no coveting your neighbor's crap? Styrofoam peanuts.

There's actually a cute story there. When Moses first presented the two tablets, he talked them up as "all killer, no filler," but nobody bought it. A bunch of the Commandments were last minute riders, an ingenious tactic to pass controversial provisions by the Hebrews. This was a political masterstroke on God's part. He predicted that nobody would ratify "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" unless it was tied to the popular clause prohibiting murder.

And since he was all-knowing and all-powerful, God was well aware that the line item veto wouldn't be invented for nearly 4000 years.

Biblical scholars have deduced that some of the Hebrews were kvetchy about having to bend to special interests. The High Priest, Aaron, publicly blasted The Almighty for enacting pork-barrel legislation, leading newspapers to run the headline: High Priest Denounces Pork.

So that's how that happened, probably.

With warmest regards,

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Auld Ang Syne

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January is called, "Attack Ads." I hope listeners know me enough to recognize that this is not simply a send-up of our political system.  Nor is it a style-parody of songs that mimic political farces. Rather, it is a lyrical pasquinade that deconstructs the recipe for lampooning pastiches that impersonate parodies of political spoofs. In other words, it is a Gobstopper of satire, with so many layers that no one is cultured enough to appreciate it on the level it was intended.

Conversely, the most popular songs in the English language have only one layer. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, and they are:

1. Happy Birthday To You
2. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
3. Auld Ang Syne

One cannot mention these three songs without, in the same breath, discussing their discrepancies in copyright status. Warner Communications claims that it holds all rights to "Happy Birthday To You" until 2030. As a result, a live performance of this song costs $700 in royalties, and inclusion of the song in a movie costs $10,000. Thus, birthday parties in film often culminate with a sing-along of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," a song that is so asinine that no one has confessed to any part of its authorship.

"Auld Ang Syne" is also in the public domain, and thus free. It notable for being the third most popular English language song, despite the fact that it clearly is not in English. The lyrics were written by the Scottish military leader, William Wallace, of "Braveheart" fame. In 1305, King Edward found Wallace guilty of violating a number of intellectual property laws and sentenced him to public disembowelment. Witnesses to the execution transcribed the nonsensical Scottish interjections that Wallace mumbled during his disembowelment, and later cobbled them together to make the lyrics to "Auld Ang Syne."

According to legend, as his final intestine was removed, Wallace shouted, "I immediately revoke all personal or corporate rights to this song or any derivative thereof, pronounce it to be forthwith in the intellectual commons, will seek neither injunctions nor monetary damages, and without duress grant freedom to all parties for its reproduction for any purpose in perpetuity!!!"

This, of course, is the remarkable quote for which William Wallace is best remembered. It is carved into the cornerstone of Edinburgh City Chambers. Scottish children recite it each morning before class, and again whenever someone sneezes. In the filming of "Braveheart," Mel Gibson screamed the whole line with Oscar-winning intensity during the disembowelment scene. Unfortunately, the theatrical release was already pushing three hours, so the editors trimmed it down to, "Freedom!"

That Mr. Wallace sacrificed his viscera to promote the free use of "Auld Ang Syne" only throws into sharp relief the greed of a music industry that would do anything to enforce their dubious rights to the birthday song. Marilyn Monroe famously sang "Happy Birthday to You" to John F. Kennedy, and refused to pay the $700 to Warner Communications. Where was she three months later? Dead of mysterious causes! (Quite possibly public disembowelment.)

That is why my wife and I have come to regret choosing the song, "Happy Birthday to You" as our safe word. Yes, it's sixteen words, and it's not always easy to carry a tune when someone is firing a squirt gun full of hot wax at your forehead. But the main reason I rarely use it is that I'm too much of a cheapskate. Who wants to forfeit $700 in royalties just to avoid a few stiletto marks on the lower back?

Or, um, $10,000 for that one time?

With warmest regards,