Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Most Hectares, Tonnes, and Foot-Pounds

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, "Call Guinness." It turns out, Guinness World Records has an online application, not a phone number.

Some years ago, Lauren and I spent an afternoon with friends making a short, mostly improvised movie called "Record Breaker." It was about a young man training to set the Guinness record for breaking the most LPs over his own head in one minute. The driving force behind this storyline was that I owned some old Supertramp albums that I was never going to listen to, and it seemed like a funny idea to smash them on camera.

We had nearly completed filming, when Lauren, in the role of a sports announcer, said, "And will he do it? Will he break the record for... breaking records?"

It was not until that very moment that we realized our entire plot line was based on a Dad joke. I promise you that we did not set out to create a story revolving around a pun, but we managed to do so anyway, and only by complete happenstance. I haven't figured out a way to to describe that moment to people in a way that expresses the gravity of that coincidence. Such improbable flukes should not exist, and when they do, they should be put into the record books.

One of my daughter's favorite books is a kid-friendly version of the Guinness Book of World Records. We were reading through it together, and I realized that it was basically like reading a book of MadLibs that someone had already filled out. Every page just said:

(Adjective ending in -est)
(Units of measurement)."

The largest diamond is 3100 carats. The heaviest rutabaga is 85 pounds. The longest year is 1 leap year.

And we love it. Our brains are capable of being astounded by these strings of seemingly random words. Perhaps, using this format, we could write a best-seller that was nothing but randomly generated numbers, nouns, and adjectives.  Of course, the units and the noun would have to make sense with each other. You can't just write, "the sturdiest stepfather is 20 degrees Fahrenheit," or, "the damnedest diaphragm is 16 nautical miles." That book would set the record for fewest sales.

In the medical field, we are capable of being amazed, even in the absence of units. Try this. Walk up to a doctor or nurse and take take a close-up video of his or her face. Then say, "I saw a patient with a (laboratory study) of (number)."

I saw a patient with a creatinine of 14. I saw a patient with a haptoglobin of 0. I saw a patient with a sedimentation rate of 1000.

And you don't have to bother using units, because none of us know them, anyway.

Now play back the video in slo-mo. You will see the eyes bulging, the brows lifting, the lips parting slightly. The head will tilt backwards, and the medical professional will let out an astonished and satisfied gasp. This will sound like a sexy demon in slo-mo. Analysis of these facial expressions will reveal that the subject is deeply impressed by you and wants to be closer to you, no matter what it takes.

Okay, but what if you don't know any doctors, and you don't have a slo-mo video app on your phone? It's still possible to impress someone with a MadLib made from randomly generated numbers, but that someone has to be a 1st grader. Just crouch down next to that 6-year-old and say, "(number) (animals) in a row."Because the only thing that fascinates little kids more than animals is well-organized animals.

With warmest* regards,

* And I do mean the WARMEST. I will be submitting an application to Guinness online.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Bear Cub Tilted Rectangle of 3rd Grade Achievement

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called, "Not That Kind of Boy." This song is too short for radio, and you're too short for modeling. We'll both get over it.

Malcolm is now in his third year of Cub Scouts, and is working towards earning the Bear Cub Tilted Rectangle of 3rd Grade Achievement. So far, he has fulfilled several of the requirements, including: Meet a Fireman, Whittle Something, and Make a Skit About Meeting a Fireman.  I've been flipping through the Bear Handbook, and it looks like he's on pace to earn the following badges by the end of the school year:

Badge of High Merit - Formerly called "Badge of Participation." Granted to any scout who shows up for the Awards Ceremony. The name change reflects Boy Scouts of American's deep commitment to fostering dignity and self-esteem in all dues-paying humans.

Leave No Trace - Protect the delicate ecosystem of the forest by burying the hitchhiker at least 200 feet from natural water sources, campsites, and trails.

Outdoor Ethics Awareness - Draft a Living Will for a loved one while sitting around a campfire.

Herbalism - Rub leaves between your fingers until you find one that smells vaguely like cinnamon.

Rich Grandparents - Sell over $500 of popcorn without going door-to-door.

Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints - Promote responsible use of outdoor recreational spaces.

Take Pictures and Footprints - Investigate a crime scene.

Take My Picture and Leave With My Footprint - Kick the ass of a paparazzo.

Cub Whisperer - Trap a real tiger, wolf, or bear cub and train it to sit still during the flag ceremony

Pocketknife Safety - Use the white plastic cafeteria knife to cut your pepperoni Hot Pocket and let some of the steam out so you don't burn your tongue when you bite into it.

Bear Necessities - Learn how to read a thermometer (temperature), a barometer (atmospheric pressure), a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure), a mass spectrometer (miscellaneous science) and an infernometer (Hell.)

Gender Dysphoria - Earn any three of the Girl Scout badges discussed in this previous HT Digest.

Bear's Courage - Spend a night in that spooky abandoned condo where the nursing student's Homeowner's Association dues mysteriously vanished in the 1970s.

I Think They Have a Kid About Your Age - Go with your mother to visit some old college friends of hers who she hasn't seen in twenty years.

Duty to God - Cub scouts is for everyone! You certainly don't have to be Christian to pitch a tent! Many of us know a Jewish or Muslim person because we are tolerant! As long as those people exercise their faith according to the traditions of their ancestors and develop a close personal relationship with Jesus or the equivalent, they are welcome in BSA! No atheists or agnostics, please.

Baden-Powell Emblem - Named for Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant-General in the 2nd Boer War, this coveted distinction goes to any Cub Scout who suppresses a Zulu uprising.

With warmest regards,

Know someone who would like to receive the Hard Taco Digest? Too bad, this email list hasn't been updated for five years and I'm very set in my ways. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Colonial Life

Dear Friends,

Led Zeppelin, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead. What's the common thread of these folk rock legends?

They all wrote songs about The Levee.

Oh, The Levee. It holds a singular role in American lore. It's obviously a physical thing, I think. But maybe it's also a metaphor, or perhaps a doctrine of some kind. We don't actually know what The Levee looks like or where to find it, but it clearly represents something we need very deeply. Apparently, we are disappointed when it's not wet, but we fear something bad will happen to it if it gets too wet, right?

For the last 40 years, no one has broached this important subject. The Hard Taco song for October, "Breakwater," reminds us why we so desperately need The Levee, whatever it is, to be strong for us.

Colonial Life

For decades, scientists have known that the Earth has a catastrophic overpopulation problem. To be more precise, they have known that there are too many scientists for all of them to get tenure-track positions.

This has bred renewed interest in relocating humans to space. Elon Musk recently announced a proposal to colonize Mars by 2024. This is great news for people who have job interviews lined up at SpaceX or Tesla, because they will know what to say when the interviewer asks, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?"

But why Mars? The fastest spaceship would take six months to get to the Red Planet. The Moon, on the other hand, is only 3 days away. That's close enough that colonists might still get decent cellphone reception. Plus, if they start to feel lonely or nostalgic, they can squint and convince themselves that they see the Great Wall of China. That wall always makes me feel less homesick!

The Moon has other advantages over Mars. Lower gravity means that lunar colonists will be able to travel by putting on roller skates and peeing. (Their gender will determine whether they travel backwards or upwards.)

The fatal hitch is that The Moon has almost no water. Lunar rovers have spent years digging around in craters and sampling soil, looking for signs that water had once been there, like an empty riverbed or the hoof-prints of a water buffalo. After 50 years of squeezing moon rocks, they've expressed about enough H2O to put a tabletop water feature in the NASA office lobby. As quaint as that is, it is not enough to support a colony of Earth's most reclusive billionaires or Earth's most dangerous criminals, whichever we send up there first.

One solution would be for lunar pilgrims to bring bottled water with them, but everyone knows the TSA agents will just make them throw it all out at security.

Mars, as it turns out, may have as much water as one of our smaller oceans. Not only would all that water slake thirst and satisfy crops, but it would also allow our settlers to do things like run through sprinklers, go tubing, and cheat at Marco Polo.

They will even be able to have sleepovers, and put a Martian's hand in warm water overnight to make it pee in its sleeping bag.*

So if you've got a hankering to colonize a celestial body, Mars is the clear choice. Eight years should be long enough to get your lifeguard training. Just remember to pack a dehumidifier and waterproof camera.

With warmest regards,

* The poor Martian would never live that kind of humiliation down, especially once the kids started calling it Martian van Urine.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Damnation of the Spine'd

Dear Friends,

There are over 100 million songs published online. In the face of this complete market saturation, it is reckless to bring new songs into the world. To combat overpopulation, China enforces a one-song-per-household limit. Not so in Ireland, where young couples are always getting drunk and recording unwanted duets, with no thought of how they're going to mix or master them later.  Obviously, the only surefire way to prevent songs is to not sing at all, but if you have to sing, at least cover the microphone until you're emotionally ready to record a full album.

But hey, I am a grown man. A married homeowner with a stable income. There is nothing morally irresponsible about my wife and I recording a song or two.

And I admit it, Lauren and I probably talk about our songs way too much. But who wouldn't? Our songs are the best. Still, I bet it's really annoying for my brother and sister-in-law, who haven't yet decided if they want to record songs of their own.

The Hard Taco song for September is called, "Hide." Everyone tells me that this song has my wife's voice, but I think I hear a little of myself in it. Don't you think it's beautiful and unique as a snowflake? It's so special, I just know it could be a hit single someday, if it wants to.

But maybe I'm just projecting. Maybe I should stop telling the song what I want it to be and just listen to it.

A few seconds ago, I learned this word. Guess which definition of "Backmastering" is correct:
  A. The second subtitle of the Jillian Michaels DVD, "Jillian Michaels: Total Body Toning Crush."
  B. The German term for wielding a riding crop.
  C. Inserting backwards Satanic messages into Classic Rock songs.

It's C. Subliminal devil worship has long typified the genre of Classic Rock, though the musicians rarely acknowledged it.  Robert "The Seeds of Deceit and Corruption Must We" Plant famously told interviewers that the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven were "complete nonsense, and certainly not about my everlasting alliance with the Antichrist whose name is to be exalted/extolled." Then he looked at the interviewer, his long hair covering the Mark of the Beast on his forehead, and whispered in slow motion, "nataS teews ym to s'ereH."

And I'm sure you've noticed that The Beatles: Revolver unscrambles to "Vertebrates Love: Hel." That last word is gibberish, but try saying it aloud, and the message will become clear. The Liverpudlians sought to levy perdition upon not only mankind, but all 64,000 backbone-having species. Not fab, Fab Four. Not fab at all.

My father has an old medical textbook that refers to Occultist's Elbow, a condition that afflicted burnout teenagers in the 1970s. It was basically a repetitive stress injury caused by rotating records counter-clockwise. This is a very unnatural movement for any elbow, and many of these young miscreants had to ice their forearms for hours every time they wanted to hear their next command from the Prince of Darkness.

By time I was in high school, it was no longer practical for entertainers to mandate unspeakable acts of heresy and black magic. Most of us couldn't figure out how to play a CD backwards. And so some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

But now there are apps that play music files in reverse, which makes it remarkably easy to record new versions of Classic Rock songs. Try this at home. Record yourself saying the following:

His Satanic Majesty, the Great Deceiver, shall flay the skin of the innocent and scorch the Earth in hellfire. O harbinger of wickedness and fomenter of devilment, Father of Avarice, Underminer of Virtue, bid the streets of Gomorrah run red with the blood products of the righteous. Lo.

Now run it through a reversing app. Go on, I'll wait.

See? It sounds exactly like the 1981 Stevie Nicks hit, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."

With warmest moral outrage,

Monday, August 1, 2016

NASCAR's Tiny Advertising Flotilla

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for August is called, "Wrap the Babe in Damask." I hope you like it, even if the subject material (trading your infant to a River Witch in exchange for a bountiful harvest) feels a bit old hat.

My Nissan Murano is over 10 years old now. It's still comfortable and reliable, and the tape deck still works like a champ. Plus, it gets 16 miles a gallon. Think your car can do better? Maybe, but 16 m.p.g. is still pretty amazing. If I put my car in neutral, a high school crew team might be able to push it 100 feet on a flat surface before needing to hit the showers. But one little gallon of gasoline can carry this 4000-pound object 16 miles in any direction. That's enough to drive my whole family to downtown Ann Arbor and back two times, and still have enough gas leftover to blow up your car that gets better mileage.

The maintenance costs have been rising every year, though. To defray some of these expenses costs, I was hoping to cover the car with ads, like a NASCAR vehicle.

If you look closely at this picture, you will see familiar logos like Coca-Cola, Target, Sunoco, Clorox, 3M, Mobil, Cottonelle, McDonald's, Goodyear, and a dozen others I haven't heard of. One of them is a company that makes lubricant for ball bearings, and I've never heard of them because I am smart enough to realize that ball bearings are plenty damn slippery without lubrication.  That's like making banana peel lubricant.

So if you're that unknown company, what do you hope to get in return for the thousands of dollars you budgeted to put a sticker under one headlight of a high performance stock car? (See location E above.)

First, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the people who attend NASCAR races are your target demographic. I realize it's a stretch, but let's just say all 140,000 of them desperately need their ball bearings lubed up for some reason.  I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt a second time and say only 50% of these potential customers too drunk to read the word "NASCAR" on their own T-Shirts. That leaves 70,000 mostly-sober clients with pathologically dry ball bearings. They only need to gaze upon your logo to be overtaken with a fierce sense of consumer inspiration.

As you know, your company is not the only NASCAR patron that went for the lowest price point. Your logo is the size of an instant oatmeal packet and it's a tiny shareholder in that busy little advertising flotilla by the front wheel well. The average person in the crowd is about 30 rows back, but some of them have binoculars, and your logo is really distinctive. Oh wait, now the car is moving at 190 MILES PER HOUR. This is starting to look like maybe it wasn't the greatest investment.

Oh, and one more little detail. The driver's side of the car, the side with your logo on it, always faces the inside of the track. So, everything I wrote in the last two paragraphs doesn't matter, because the people in the stands will NEVER be able to see your logo.

Anyway, the idea of plastering vehicles with promotional materials was pioneered by the Wright Brothers. The picture below was distributed to potential advertisers after the first flight, and within a few days, every inch of the famed biplane was caked in corporate logos and slogans.

A) Coca-cola ("Share a Coke with Wilbur!")

B) Philip Morris ("We would like to remind you that smoking is permitted on the entire aircraft, including the lavatories.")

C) James Dewar's Vacuum Flask ("For when you want absolutely nothing inside your flask.")

D) The Marconi Radio ("First in in-flight entertainment!")

E) Tesla ("Nikolai Tesla's steam-powered mechanical oscillator coming in 1904. Pre-order with a $1000 down payment."*)

F) U.S. Steel ("The Best Pinkertons, Scabs, and Strikebreakers in Kitty Hawk.")

G) Crayola ("16 in a box. All of them are grey.")

H) Eli Whitney Inc. ("I misunderstood the call for advertisements, and instead of providing a logo, I made a fully functioning cotton gin to glue to the wing of the plane. My bad.)

* After 1904, this was replaced with "Tesla: Fasten your seatbelt... we are experiencing unexpected SERB-ulence!"

With warmest regards,

Friday, July 1, 2016

Glass Houses

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for July is called, "All Manner of Lovely Things." Do me a favor, and imagine that this second sentence increases your interest in listening to it by about 20%.

You can always tell which Ann Arbor residents exist in harmony with themselves and their environment, because they wear Eastern textiles. I was in Berkeley California last weekend, and I saw folks wearing textiles from even farther east. Clearly, they understand progressivism and self-awareness at a deep level.  I was under the misconception that my hometown was a socially-enlightened nerve center, but compared to Berkeley, Ann Arbor is nothing more than a polluted relic, marinating in narrow-minded orthodoxy.

In Ann Arbor, we're still preoccupied with the Farm-to-Table Movement. In Berkeley, they recognize that lifting food three feet off the ground to place it on a table wastes energy and transplants these vegetables to a biologically artificial environment. Why would anyone willfully participate in biodeviance? They solve that problem in Berkeley by skipping the harvesting step, and composting their vegetables directly in their garden beds.

More than anything, my trip to Berkeley showed me positive role models for sustainable, ecosystematically-responsible living. I know I have a long journey ahead of me, but I’m through being part of the problem. It’s time for me to be part of the solution!

Actually, I fully intend to be all of the solution, but on my first pass, I’ll settle for part.

Let’s start by chastising the glass beer bottle sitting next to me on the table. Bottle, you are part of the problem. Glass can take over 50,000 years to decompose.  Here are some strategies I plan to employ to reduce my glass footprint.

  • Whenever possible, I will use cardboard milk cartons for my Molotov cocktails and colored construction paper instead of stained glass windows. 
  • Drinking draft beer is no better than drinking bottled beer, because it requires the use of glass cups. I will help change this culture of waste by putting my mouth directly on the tap. 
  • Not all renewable energy sources are equal. While using a glass magnifying lens to incinerate ants utilizes solar power, it also wastes glass. I will switch to pulverizing ants in a windmill.
  • I will throw all of my glass bottles into the ocean so people stranded on islands can use them for distress messages. Obviously, I will need to throw lots of pens and paper into the ocean, as well. 
  • Glass is mostly made out of sand. A practical way to reuse old glass bottles is to smash them into tiny shards and spread them around the sandbox at a local playground.
  • Wine bottles can be repurposed as candleholders. Unfortunately, candles are not an energy-efficient source of light, so this should never ever be done.
  • Using only the finest imported fossil fuels, I will heat my oven to 2800 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the temperature necessary to melt down my 16-ounce bottle so that I can mold it into the desired shape of a new 16 ounce bottle.
  • Unlike the glass used for beverages, window glass is not recyclable.  I will therefore attack my adversary with a smashed beer bottle rather than hurling him through the window of the saloon.
  • Separating green glass from clear glass is required in some cities, but separating Ira Glass from Frederick Douglass is just racist. 
With warmest regards,


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Learning to Code

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called "The Cross-Examination of the Bee." This is the third and final song about the on-again, off-again feud between The Elephant and The Bee.

I have a challenge for you. Name Apple's all-time top competitor.

You might be thinking of Google, Microsoft, or Samsung. Maybe you'll reach back a few years and come up with Dell, Palm, or even IBM.

Nope. Many of these companies have managed to grab some of the market share, but saying they have a genuine turf war with Apple is like saying the Cleveland Browns have a rivalry with anyone. It's not a rivalry unless there's a history, and both sides are emotionally invested. As far as I am concerned, there is only one competitor that ever came close to matching Apple toe-to-toe. Commodore.

The Londons were a loyal Commodore family. We early-adopted the living hell out of the Commodore 64 in 1983.  Something had to fill the ten year void between the death of Orson Welles and the birth of Miley Cyrus, and the C64 did so charmingly. As soon as I touched its sleek, tan little body, I knew that I was laying my hands on the future. When I closed my eyes and tried to picture the 21st century, all I could imagine was people with Commodore keyboards and disk drives taped to their torsos. For some reason, these people always had shiny, asymmetric hairdos and button-down shirts with triangle patterns.

We set up the C64 in the pantry; the computer room hadn't been invented yet. The first time we plugged it in, I painstakingly typed "PLAY PAC MAN" and hit return.


Okay, that was disappointing. But then I realized that this was just the Commodore's way of saying, "I love you. Keep trying. We'll get through this together."

Soon I learned to speak its exotic language. There is nothing as simple, as perfect, or as elegant as BASIC. It only utilized capital letters, so everything you typed looked like shouting. This felt very natural to my seven-year-old brain.

Within a year, I was programming unique interactive games, like this one:

20 IF A$ = "YES" GOTO 40
30 GOTO 10
50 GOTO 10

Soon, I was writing programs that were hundreds of lines long. Interactive adventure games with complex environments, graphics and music. There were just so many creative ways to accuse the user of playing with doo-doo!

Notice that I have not used the word code. The first time I ever heard someone use that word in reference to computer programming was years later, when I was in college. My freshman roommate was a computer science major, and he found a way to use word at least once in every sentence. "We have to code a system that tells an imaginary elevator what floor to go to. I have to write 500 lines of code by Monday. If anyone calls while I'm coding, tell them I'll get back to them when I finish all my lines of code." Come on, Josh. What are you, a military cryptographer?

My son turned eight this month, and he expressed interest in learning to write computer programs, so we downloaded this amazing bit of software called Scratch. It's a kid-friendly programming platform designed by the good folks at M.I.T. Malcolm thinks it's pretty cool, but I am OBSESSED. Somehow, for nearly 30 years, I forgot how much I loved doing this. Now I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else.

Here's something I've been working on for a little over a week. I gave it the dorkiest 80s video game title I could come up with. If you want to actually play it, download Scratch and I'll email you the file.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for May is called, "Danny Devito." The music is based loosely on the Chopin sonata of the same name. If that doesn't entertain you enough, here are some games that might distract you from your job, just long enough to cause a major workplace accident.


Instructions: This ghost is made out of the words from Hard Taco song titles. See if you can find and circle the following mash-ups.

Dance, Please, Big Bear Person
Big-calved Abominable One-legged Cranes
Rotisserie Cheese
Kid Rock
International wedding
Sea Life
Special American Troll
Indispensable Little Schneiderman
Grandfather Needs Diabetic Minstrel's Heart
Foolish Boy Feelings
One Wrong Part
Roughhousing Mama
Yer Love Man Saga
Ass Central
Hey, Dog


N I E S C I J T M P S D Y A B 
K D A N A U J I R A M H P L R 
B W A T A Y A I U A M A L L I 
C B C M G L M N P M J B N A T 
W I A F M A A A Z A H A A H I 
V R M H D A P O M B L W I F S 
K I E O A C H A K A S A G A H 
R W N P T M S U P L B K M F G 
I N Q J A A A M M A D F A E U 
A G M X V N I S B E I V D A I 
D O G M A P R O M I S E O N A 
C X V U L T I M O V R T N A N 
L W J O L W P U P C Z J N U A 
U I T P L I E C I F F O A G I 
T R Z S L N W W V C E C T I S 

Instructions: None of these words rhyme with the president's name. Can you find them anyway?


3   ____ ground, to begin construction of a building
5   ____ down, to separate a chemical compound into its constituent molecules
7   Smash, split or divide
8   Act contrary to, as in a law
9   Fracture a bone of
10 ____ off, to stop suddenly
11 Overcome, as a cigarette habit
12 ____ down, to have a mental collapse

1   A sudden dash, as toward something
2   An interruption of continuity
4   Don't do this to my heart
6   ____ into song
7   ____ in, to enter by force
8   Dump, with up with
9   ____ in, to initiate
10 ____ down, to become ineffective

With warmest regards,

Friday, April 1, 2016

Amazing Life Hacks

Dear Friends,

This month's Hard Taco song is a melancholy campfire jam called, "Namesake Chain." Let's push that one out of the nest and see if it flies or flops.

Meanwhile, here are:

10 Amazing Life Hacks That Will Make Each Moment Seem Richer.

With warmest regards,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

As the Day You Were Born

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for March is called, "Dang." When power chords are poetry, the lyrics don't have to be.

My Grandpa London became a widower around age 70, and spent the next 15 years traveling as much as he could. Grandpa was a true world explorer, but he had a particular affinity for the Caribbean. He preferred the French and Dutch islands over the U.S. or British ones. When I was 14, he took our family to Guadeloupe, and I learned why he felt this way.

It was the breasts.  The first time we walked to the ocean, I was struck by how many of them there were! Some of them were sunbathing, some of them were casually strolling down the beach, and some of them were floating in the waves.  I must have known that they weren't free-standing structures, that they existed in the context of a larger organism. Yet, this awareness didn't sink in until noises began to emanate from above them. Nasal, sanctimonious noises. Yep, these breasts were attached to French people!

That week in Guadeloupe was emotionally draining for my underdeveloped teenage brain. By the end of the trip, I told my parents that if I never saw another breast, it would be too soon.

I should point out that I do not hold to traditional gender norms regarding toplessness. Women and men should have the same right to show off or not show off their nipples in public. That is the very definition of social justice.

The funny thing is, I didn't go bare-chested in Guadeloupe at all. In fact, I refused to swim without a T-shirt on until I was almost 17. I think I was embarrassed about something, but I can't remember what it was. I wasn't chubby and I had a perfectly normal belly button. Maybe I didn't want the world to know that didn't have hair on my back yet? That would be ironic, because  when I turned 35, I resumed swimming with a T-shirt on, and for the exact opposite reason.

My whole life, I've been troubled by social circumstances that warrant any level of public nudity. Why did every men's locker room have a naked middle-aged guy parading around like he owned the place? What made these men so comfortable with their bodies, and why did so many of them look like Danny Devito?

I've been thinking about this again, because Lauren and I bought a family gym membership a couple weeks ago. Before joining, we took a tour of the facilities. One of the trainers brought me into the men's locker room, and sure enough, there was a middle-aged naked man walking from the sauna to the showers. Granted, it was a busy day, and there were plenty of clothed people, as well, so I didn't think anything of it.

So we joined, and I came in Monday before work. When I entered the locker room that morning, there were two people in there, and one of them was naked. On Tuesday morning, there was only an older gentleman standing naked in front of the mirror, spraying his armpits with aerosol deodorant. The next day, a different guy was showering with the curtain wide open.  I have now been to the gym seven times, and there is always ALWAYS a naked middle-aged man in the locker room, going about his business as if he were in his own bathroom. Actually,  that's not even fair, because nobody would need to spend that much time naked in their own bathroom. Five naked minutes? Ten naked minutes? What are they trying to accomplish? I timed it myself. To remove a towel and put on underwear should take no longer than six seconds, and that's with a pulled hamstring.

Six naked seconds is all you need, guys.

Last Saturday morning, I went to drop off my bag in the locker room and sure enough, there was naked man standing on the scale, staring at his feet. A half hour later, I came back to change into my bathing suit so I could meet the kids at the pool.  The man was gone. In fact, everyone was gone. For the first time since we joined, I had the entire locker room to myself!

Just as I stripped down to put on my bathing suit, one of the trainers walked in with a prospective member. "So here's the men's locker room," he said, and started explaining where to find towels.

I stood there, bathing suit in hand, and realized that I had completed my transformation. Less than two weeks of gym membership, and I was one of them. I nodded at the prospective member and gave him a sober stare, imbued with worldly wisdom.

I'm a naked middle-aged man, and I own this place.

With warmest regards,

Monday, February 1, 2016

Bet Your Bottom Loonie

Dear Friends,

I used to wonder if my life would have been easier if I had committed to writing one dirty limerick a month rather than one song a month. Probably not. Undoubtedly, life would have been more glamorous, but not easier. There are only so many stories one can tell about a man from Nantucket, and the pressure to come up with new variations that don't sound derivative would be overwhelming. I'll stick with songs for now.  The new one for this month is called, "Why Won't You Cry?"

Here's a brain teaser. Fill in the blank:

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling ____"

The correct answer is that there isn't a correct answer. It's a trick question. The sentence makes no sense, because the blank is in the wrong spot. It should be The Sister ____hood of the Traveling, and the answer is, "City Increases the Likeli."

Sorry. If it was easy, it wouldn't be a brain teaser.

Visiting a Sister City is like borrowing your best friend's shorts. (Yes, I said shorts, not pants. Why do you keep bringing up pants?) Ann Arbor has a half dozen, and each sister is more twisted than the last. I, for one, intend to sightsee the living hell out of all of them.

In recent years, I provided exhaustive stereotype-free travel guides for Hikone, Dakar, and Tübingen. Today, we stand parallel to the world map and crane our necks backwards to examine our Sister in the far North: Peterborough, Ontario.

Nestled on the Ontonabee River, Peterborough is a strikingly small city, appropriately named for handsome screen actor Peter Dinklage.

English is the first language of most residents, but their proximity to Quebec gives them ample opportunities to speak with hilarious French accents, much like the city's namesake, handsome screen actor Peter Sellers.

Known as the "Electric City," Peterborough was the first municipality in Ontario to install wall outlets in every residential home and commercial igloo. The coal-burning electric plants have led to an alarming rash of lung cancer, with a prevalence comparable to that of the city's namesake, handsome television news anchor Peter Jennings.

After AC and DC electricity, tourism is Peterborough's third largest industry. The array of museums, theaters, and cultural exhibitions never seems to grow old, much like the city's namesake, handsome musical cross-dresser Peter Pan.

Peterborough, Ontario - Quick Facts and Guesstimates
Population (February 2016): 80,000
Population (February 2017): Unknown millions, when 49% of the population of the United States fulfills their promise to move to Canada after someone they hate is elected president.
Most common occupations, age under 60: Lumberjack, fur trader, being a flying squirrel
Most common occupation, age over 60: Not being drafted in the Vietnam War
Namesake of City: Handsome singer-songwriter Peter Frampton
Most popular TV show: The Biggest Hoser
What to do if attacked by a grizzly bear: Act like a fish. Then it will hit your head against a rock to stun you before mauling you.
Most popular hate group: The Neo-NotZeds
Legendary hero: Some medieval knight who body-checked a dragon into the walls of a castle.
Other Popular Folk Tales: There are plenty of good ones. When it comes to Canadian mythos, this Digest is not my first beaver rodeo.
Motto: Always carry a camera, in case you need to prove you saw a Sasquatch secretly paying his respects at the grave of a deceased Mountie.
Namesake of City: "Pedro" from Napoleon Dynamite, who is muy guapo
Traditional prom corsage: A bouquet of Molson bottles taped to moose antlers
Driving time to Ann Arbor: 5h 23m by car, 20h 13m by dogsled, 132h 31m by Zamboni (because you have to go back and forth three times to cover the entire road.)
Favorite Judy Blume book: "Tales of a Grade Four Nothing."

With warmest regards,

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: A Beard in Review

Dear Friends,

The inaugural Hard Taco Song for 2016 is called, "A Sexy Chord Progression." That's the only link on this page that will fully satisfy your curiosity. The rest of them will leave you wanting.

Exactly one year ago today, I asked myself, "Can you patent a beard?" The answer can be found on a nearby web page. You sure can.

Here's how it works. Anyone can register a unique beard with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Census Bureau tracks epidemiological trends in beard demographics, and distributes royalties to patent holders. These monies come from an excise tax on beard oils and waxes.

Many beard styles are now in the public domain, but a few facial hair pioneers have retained their claims. The descendants of Martin Van Buren and Ambrose Burnside each earn over $50,000 a year, thanks to the cult followings enjoyed by Side-whiskers and Friendly Muttonchops, respectively. Distributions from the Horseshoe Mustache have afforded Hulk Hogan the opportunity to retire from wrestling at the young age of 61.

Facial hair franchising is far from a sure investment. The returns depend on the popularity of the beard or mustache in question. That's why the Hitler family barely breaks even most years.

My New Year's resolution for 2015 was to develop and patent at least one popular new beard. I rented a Selfie-Stick for the year to document my campaign.

January 2015

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Happy New Year!
I will stop shaving at precisely this moment. Let's break a champagne bottle across my jaw to celebrate my face's maiden voyage towards beardedness!

March 2015

Feeling optimistic. The facial hair may not be coming in as quickly or as symmetrically as I had hoped, but I'm in this for the long haul. I bought tubes of "beard balm" and "ruff wax" so I can tame the frizzy flyaways that are likely to develop in the coming weeks.

Possible names for this beard:
  • Five-o-clock muff
  • Imperial tomato fuzz
  • The left cheek mustache

May 2015

I think my co-workers are starting to notice, but they haven't said anything yet. That's okay... you never want to ask a man if he's growing a beard until you are 100% sure. That is like asking a woman if she is pregnant or asking a different woman if she is choking.

Possible names for this beard:
  • Mouth gauntlet
  • The petite walrus
  • The stubble helix

July 2015

Still haven't heard back from the Patent Office, but I'm moving forward with confidence! Lauren and I disagree about whether we should write "Patent Pending" on the photo that we submit with the application. I say yes! Neither of us is a patent attorney, per se, but I feel that I have a firmer grasp of what "pending" means. 

Possible names for this beard:
  • Motown chops
  • The jockstrap thatch
  • Douchebag Royale

September 2015

Almost there! This beard feels surprisingly marketable, but I think a few more weeks of steady growth might turn it into something transcendent. I really hope the hipster revolution lasts that long!

Possible names for this beard:
  • The chin valance
  • Goat bristles
  • The Jew Manchu

November 2015

There's a happy camper! It has taken over 10 tedious months, but I have finally achieved a face full of of downy, indulgent tufts. Never have my cheeks felt so luxurious, so fleecy, so self-aware.  I'm going to burn some vacation days this week so I can spend more time fluffing.

Possible names for this epic beard:
  • Neckbeard supreme
  • The Dwalin
  • Z.L. Top

January 2016
This year is full of possibilities... for my investors! Realistically, my trademarked beards aren't going to dethrone the Soul Patch or the Goatee any time soon, but with a little venture capital, I bet we can overtake the Shenandoah and the Dali this year! Does anyone know how to use Kickstarter?

With warmest regards (and warmest jowls),