Friday, December 1, 2017

The iPhone Triple X

Dear friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, “Strain.” I wrote this tune when I was 17, but two decades of song-specific writer’s block prevented me from coming up with the last few lines. Over time, I became so confident that I would never finish it that I actually poached some of the lyrics I liked for other songs. Finally, last month, we dug it out of the vault, and patched it up with some new parts, producing the recording to give it that early Hard Taco vibe. The song came out okay, but most importantly, I feel lighter having recorded it!

Hard Tech-o: We review the iPhone X so you don't have to
Thinking about getting an iPhone X? If so, don’t humiliate yourself my mispronouncing it when you go into the Apple Store. You are supposed to say the Roman numerals, so it is actually pronounced, “One phone Ten.”

The first thing you will notice about the iPhone X is the new 5.8 inch OLED display. Compared to the LCD screens of previous iPhones, blacks look much blacker. In fact, every color in the spectrum looks blacker, so that ROY G. BIV now stands for Raven, Onyx, ebonY, Gorilla Fur, Black as Hell, Inner Space, and Vacuum. If you turn up the brightness on the screen, you can also see shades of Pitch White.

The most impressive new feature is the Genital ID. You just point the camera at your penis, or vice versa, and it unlocks your screen! The iPhone X has both front and rear cameras, so you can unlock your phone no matter where your penis is. How does it work? The 12 MP TrueDepth camera projects and analyzes over 30,000 invisible dots to create a realistic 3D map of the unique contours of your penis. Having to expose your penis to unlock your phone is actually a giant step forwards for privacy, because you can now feel confident that your pictures will be safe if the phone is stolen.

Your new phone will also let you register your partner’s penis, so he can access the music apps while you are driving. In fact, you can register up to 10 penises, so everyone in on the team bus can have a turn to DJ!

Other reviewers have pointed out that potential customers may not have a penis at the time of purchase. Reasonable criticism, but Apple has worked around it by equipping the iPhone X with Face ID. Of course, Genital ID is more secure; it is possible for two people to have the same face.

One glaring fault of the iPhone 7 that Apple neglected to fix was the lack of a headphone jack. Fortunately, Most iPhone X owners prefer to play their music on the crappy built-in speakers, to draw attention to the fact that they are wealthy enough to own a phone with no headphone jack.

Another downside I see is that the housing of the new iPhone X is made out of glass, rendering it more prone to cracks than prior models. So I'm just going to say it: people who live with glass housings shouldn’t throw phones. 

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 185th Hard Taco Digest. This is a significant milestone in my house because 185 is also the name of my family's favorite game to play during road trips, during dinner, and while my kids are trying to do homework or sleep. The rules are simple. Someone suggests a subject, and everyone falls over themselves to tell jokes about that subject. The catch is that all of the jokes are y identical until the last line. The framework of the joke is as follows:

185 [blanks] walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry, we don't serve [blanks] here." 185 [blanks] say, "[punchline]."

It is an exercise in exquisite puncraft, and it favors quantity over quality. A true master must fashion no fewer than 20 bad jokes on any subject to establish his or her puncraftsmanship.

The Hard Taco song for November is called, "Your Best Emily Dickinson." In honor of this song's namesake, I will demonstrate a round of 185 using poets as the subject.

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "No problem. We called a taxi and it's SONNETS way."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Well guys, shall we just go HOMER find a different bar?"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But I already ordered a martini... THE ROAD NOT SHAKEN, but stirred."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "We can't leave yet. Our sister told us to METER here."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But the bouncer just told us to CUMMINGS side!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "I'll leave, but IAMB not happy about it."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "This is the VERSE night of our lives."

185 poets with lisps walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets with lisps here."
185 poets with lisps say, "If I were to make a lisht of bad pubsh, thish one would be on the top of that PUBLISHED."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "'Til we finish the contents of this COUPLET us stay."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "I knew you guys were cons-BYRON to kick us out."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "ODE dear."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Wow. You just said that to our faces point BLAKE."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "But we haven't even had a chance to try out EPIC up line that we've been working on!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Don't make us hire a (walt w)HITMAN to take you out!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Damn MUSE son of a bitch."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Well, it's getting ALITER-ATE anyway, so we should get going."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Isn't there anyone here who STANZA up for us?"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "Can Langston HUGHES the bathroom first? Because, you know, Langston really has to go bad."

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."
185 poets say, "That's illegal discrimination... I'll PROSEcute you!"

185 poets walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry.  We don't serve poets here."

Think you can do better? Hit me with your best shot. (Which is exactly what 185 Pat Benatars would say to a bartender.)

With warmest regards,

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mnemonic Possession

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco Song for this particular October is called, "Not Illegal, But Frowned Upon." I had a tough time deciding whether I wanted this song to be dissonant or boring, so I recorded it twice.

First, I offer you the Sloppy Garage Band version. This was actually recorded in my friend Jon's sloppy garage.

Even if you removed all of the instruments and cables from this garage, it would still be full. 

Also, most of what you hear was recorded in one take, which adds to both the sloppiness and garageness.

Second, I offer you the Lightly Plugged version. The guitar is acoustic, so it is tempting to call this Unplugged, but that would be a misnomer. The microphone is plugged into the recording gear, which is plugged into the computer, which is plugged into the wall. Nonetheless,  I wanted to create an experience with as little plugging as possible, so I loosened all of those cables a little without disconnecting them.

For the writing part of this month's digest, I have created a series of helpful mnemonics to aid in the memorization of the nine most difficult concepts.

Which months have 31 days? (January, March, May, July, August, October, December)
Join My Marvelous Journey And/Or Die

Once Earth has been destroyed, how will I remember the order of the planets?
My Venison-Meat Jewelry Shouldn't Upset Nearby Poachers
(Note that once Earth is gone, there will be no one left to object to Pluto's planet status.)

What are the Great Lakes?
First, remember that GREAT LAKES stands for:

Agent of

And who does that describe? Moses.
And how do you say Moses in Hebrew? MOSHE.
Michigan, Ontario, Superior, Huron, Eerie

Which notes in the treble clef are on the lines?
Economically,  George Bush Deliberately Failed

Which notes are on the spaces?
Film Actor Clint Eastwood

What are the strings on a guitar? Assume that I'm a sarcastic teenager learning guitar for the first time. 
Elephants Aren't Dirty, Gray, or Big Enough

What year was America discovered?
In 1491, Columbus had not yet begun... to develop a compelling value proposition for venture capital, and demonstrate market traction to investors.

What are the colors of a rainbow, to a blind person?

How will I remember all the mnemonics discussed here?
Months with 31 days
Notes in the treble clef that are on lines
Earthless planets
Mnemonics using the word mnemonic (This one)
Ontario and other Great Lakes
Notes in the treble clef that are on spaces
In what year did Columbus make final preparations to sail the ocean blue?
Colors that Stevie Wonder sees in a rainbow
Strings on a guitar

With warmest regards,

Friday, September 1, 2017

Who's Your Oom-Pah-Pah?

Dear Friends,

This month's song, "Floval," was performed by the whole Hard Taco Family. All of the singing, drums, and flute on this song were provided by my kids and my sister's kids. This is a significant milestone for us... the last time I recorded a song without any adult vocalists was in 1993 when I was the non-adult.

I am not the first London to long for a family band. My dad was a decent slide trombone player back in the day. As a young man, his version of the American Dream was marrying a trumpet player and having two kids who could play the French horn and the tuba. We would tour the state together as a campy family brass quartet.

Then he met my mom, and dream evolved accordingly. The new plan was that he would marry someone with excellent band-managerial skills, have the two musical protege children, and tour the state as a campy family brass trio.

Then my sister was born, and he started considering the merits of a campy family brass duet. Perhaps my mom and my sister could split time as band manager. He wasn't sure exactly how that would work, but I did my best to keep hope alive. When I was 4 years old, I announced that I wanted tuba lessons. The tuba was shiny, like my three other favorite things:  pennies, doorknobs and zippers. These were all wonderful objects to stare at, but the tuba was alone atop the shiny-things pyramid because it was the size of a toilet. A penny-encrusted toilet.

My dad couldn't believe his luck. He set up a meeting with the local high school band teacher to discuss how best to proceed.

This band teacher had read the 1980 Farmer's Almanac, so he knew that the average weight of a 4-year-old in September was exactly the same as the average weight of a tuba. Perhaps a recorder would be a safer instrument for me to start with, he suggested, because I would be less likely to fall into a recorder and get stuck.

I pouted stubbornly. I didn't want a stupid plastic doodad. I wanted tuba lessons!

The band teacher proposed a compromise. I should wait a few more years, and then start with trumpet lessons. Once I developed my embouchure, and was I was strong enough to hold a tuba on my lap, I could switch.

This guy was clearly just an obstructionist. I knew I would never be satisfied with trumpet embouchure. I wanted tuba embouchure. This was the first time that I had ever requested lessons in anything. If they were going to shoot me down, I was done.

The rest of my childhood was a series of doomed coaching experiments. I became a serial quitter. One after the next, I dropped out of violin, ice skating, swimming, skiing, baseball, piano, basketball, wrestling, trumpet (which was the worst), Hebrew, golf, guitar, tennis, and SCUBA diving, without ever achieving basic proficiency in any of them. I spurned anything that could be construed as a lesson, undermining every opportunity presented to me. I was an ambusher without an embouchure.

The only skills I developed were those I taught myself, which is why I have so few.

But I'm not a kid anymore, and the best dreams never die. Maybe this year I get my fat fingers on the fattest of valves. Maybe this Oktoberfest season, I lay down the baddest oompah in the beer garden. Maybe this time I show the world that I like big brass and I cannot lie.

Maybe this time: tuba lessons.

I have a vision of my first tuba, and I can't get it out of my mind. I crack open the velvet-lined hard case. Soft yellow light pours out, bathing my face in warmth. I reach in with both hands at once, slowly delivering the golden instrument like I'm King Midas, and an obstetrician. I see a distorted version of my mesmerized face reflected in the giant flared bell. I cradle it in my folded arms like the head of a baby that has an enormous flared head. Shush, baby tuba. It's not time to talk yet.

I reach back into the case with both hands and draw out the lustrous mouthpiece. I notice for the first time that it is the exact size and shape of the Holy Grail. I complete the tuba-ssembly and stand the instrument up in my waiting lap. I purse my lips and press them against the mouthpiece.  With eyes closed, I inhale deeply through my nose, drinking in the scents of valve oil and dried spit. I puff out my cheeks as much as I can, and...

...wait for a MTNA-certified music teacher to review the basics of music theory with me. I'm not going to screw this one up by teaching myself. We'll get to Hot Cross Buns eventually, but I've sabotaged too many lessons in my life. I want to do this right.

And if I give this tuba lesson its proper respect, it will be no time at all until my dad and I are touring Wisconsin as an unforgettable family brass duet. We'll play oompah versions of Hot Cross Buns and so much more.

If you want to book us for your event, just call our two band managers.

With warmest regards,

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If Only...

Dear friends,

The newest Hard Taco song is called, "Never Go Home." It is about running away, and it is 100% loosely autobiographical.

I ran away from home in 1981. I can't remember why my parents drove me out of their lives forever, but it had something to do with their desire to project their carbohydrate preferences on me. They were really infatuated with whole grains, while I was more interested in exploring the diverse expressions of simple sugar. So, when they handed me a bowl of Grape-Nuts sprinkled with wheat germ, I knew we were dealing with irreconcilable differences.  It was time to move out.

Of course, I tried diplomacy first. I threw myself on the ground, screaming that they never fed me anything, and that every other 5-year-old got to eat Pixy Stix all the time. This titanic tantrum lasted several minutes, giving them them ample opportunity to plead for forgiveness. But there was to be no detente. Conservative measures had failed.

So I packed everything I would need for a life of self-governance... a sleeping bag and one Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. I informed my parents that I would not be returning. I bid adieu to my stuffed triceratops, and left forever.

The guilt they felt at that moment must have been overwhelming. What if I was run over by a snow plow as soon as I crossed the street, and they never had a chance to apologize?

No, they were probably more worried that I would have a prosperous and fulfilling life, liberated from the shackles of their bran starch-laden custody. In a few short years, I would be the youngest valedictorian at a prominent paleontology school, and my parents would flounder in infinite shame, having driven away the world's most successful son. One day, they'd turn on the TV and see me leading a press conference about my latest discovery, a new dinosaur which I named Tuskodon. It would be he largest dinosaur ever found, with the sharpest teeth and shortest arms that anyone could imagine.

Seeing this, my parents would just turn to each other and whisper, "If only..."

If only... they had tried to understand before it was too late. If only... they had recognized that modern grain processing techniques were capable of removing and destroying the bran and the germ of the wheat. If only... they had simply admitted that every other kid consumed Pixy Stix 24 hours a day without interruption! 

The moment the front door closed behind me, it was official. My parents were doomed to decades of uninterrupted regret.

My first stop was my friend Wilhelm's house. He lived about a block away, and I couldn't leave town without saying goodbye to his dog, Gussie. More importantly, Wilhelm was already 7, which meant he was an excellent resource about autonomy and wilderness survival. All I needed was a quick primer on how to live in the woods until I was 18.

Shortly after I arrived, the phone rang, and Wilhelm's mother answered it.

"Hello? Hi, how are you? Yes, he just got here," she said.

I knew my mom was on the other line. I couldn't hear her side of the conversation, but I'm pretty sure she was just wailing and repeating the phrase, "If only!"

"Okay. Okay, I'll tell him."

Wilhelm's mother wasn't really making any sense, assuming I was right about what my mom was saying.

"Sure. That would be fine. Bye." Mrs. Greuer hung up the phone.

She then told me that my mom was making tacos, but that I was also welcome to stay at their house for dinner.

"What are you having?" I asked.

"Potato salad."

And so ended my defection. I still wonder what would have happened if the dinner plans had been switched that night. What if it the Greuers were having tacos? What if that had catalyzed my play for emancipated minor? What if that was my only chance to find the first Tuskodon?

If only...

With warmest regards,

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Postcards from Panama, Part 8

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for July is called, "Emotional Eating."

Meanwhile, here is the latest installment of Postcards from Panama. For a quick refresher on the complex relationship of Michael and Karen, see here. It's the classic "Will They or Won't They" scenario, but without the uncertainty.

Dear Karen,

I'm deeply sorry that I haven't sent you many postcards this calendar month. I expect that you think about me affectionately when you receive a postcard. I worry that on days that you do not receive a postcard, you think about me longingly. That must be very hard! I just wanted to wait until I had achieved financial security before finalizing our wedding plans. I am happy to report that I have a new investment approach which will allow both of us to feel comfortable proceeding. Stay tuned!

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I heard a wedding can cost upwards of 20K. A different source, almost as reliable, told me that it may even cost 20G! In most human cultures, it is customary for the bride's family to pay for the wedding party. I haven't seen your parents in a large number of years, but I recall that they were similar to people who had a fondness for traditions. With that in mind, I will be happy to let them pay for our venue, catering, rentals, planner, photographer, entertainment, marriage counseling, and flowers. I would like to take responsibility for the invitations and party pumpers, even if that costs some of the K or G.

Since I haven't seen you in person in an equally large number of years, you may not know if I respect the dollar and have a well-balanced portfolio. I'm not offended by your curiosity. In fact, I'm proud of you for being mature enough to know how important those qualities are in a life-partner.

I reached out to a financial planning group called Frugalidad y Hijos (Frugality and Sons). I had an online chat with the third son, Felix, who recommended the following investment strategy:
30% Short-term large-cap investments
30% Medium-term any-cap investments
20% Tax evasion
20% Stem cells
10% Financial planner fees
5% Unexplained losses

I have been doing this since earlier this calendar month, and I will let you know when it is successful.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Is your father still working as a mid-level executive? When we were kids, I was always impressed at how consistently he went to work on weekdays. He was very methodical! I assume he has been postponing retirement because he hasn't found someone he trusts to turn over the middle management of his business to. Filling his shoes requires some very substantial feet!

I recommend my neighbor, Dignidad. He has been out of work for many years, and has very large feet for a man who is slightly shorter than me when we stand back to back.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

How have you been getting along? I haven't heard back from you for a bit, so I was wondering if you are working on the wedding planning much. I'm happy to do all of it, but I wanted to check to make sure we weren't working on the identical things.

After consulting several women, some of whom might be attracted to me, I recommend that the centerpieces include bowls of clear glass beads. I'm flexible on the color, but I think clear will be a great match for just about any other decoration.

Please note: I did not mention the women to make you jealous! I just brought up that they might be attracted to me because I'm not sure if it affects the integrity of the recommendation for clear glass beads. On one hand, they may be trying to impress me with well-considered, honest advice. On the other hand, they may be passive-aggressively sabotaging our wedding. Maybe we should have no centerpieces, or just use an assortment of local mushrooms.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

I took my accountant's advice, and invested heavily in stem cells! I ordered several test tubes of premium stem cells from a Tijuana-based online dealership, and got an amazing deal. These cells are going to be even more valuable in a few months because commerce between Mexico and the rest of Central America is about to be cut off. The man at the online dealership tells me that the president of Mexico has promised to build a wall between Mexico and Belize and make Belize pay for it.

I got my first shipment yesterday, and I am keeping them in a warm, moist environment, as directed. You can tell they are real Tijuana stem cells because they have the worm in them.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

My neighbor Dignidad would like to know if he will be allowed to work remotely when he replaces your father. He is unwilling to be photographed for a work visa because of extreme shyness. I told him that this won't be a problem, because most businesses in the United States are legally required to be sensitive about different cultural issues. The good news is that Dignidad can still get a National Parks Passport without having his picture taken, so he can work from there. All of Panama's beautiful parks are world-class, but none of them have wi-fi, so your father should make sure the work he leaves for Dignidad can be done on paper and faxed over later.

I realize that speaking English is very important for mid-level managing a business in the United States.  Rest assured that Dignidad speaks conversational English. He has mastered over three English conversations (ordering at a restaurant, baseball scores, and how someone is). This is a great start, but I told him to concentrate on fundamentals before learning more conversational English. We are going to focus on Middle English and perhaps ebonics.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

Today, I practiced Shakespearean English with my neighbor, Dignidad. Did you know that Shakespeare rhymes words based on how they look, rather than how they are pronounced? At one point, he rhymes "fussy" with "pussy." I also think he rhymes "man-bun" with "Cancun," but I can't remember what play it is.

Anyway, Dignidad is such a quick learner! I assured him that your father's company would make him "Employee of the Week" as soon as he starts. This will boost his confidence and reward the hard work that he is planning to do from our beautiful national parks.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

As you probably noticed, I have started sending these postcards through certified mail. The woman at the post office said she had never seen someone do that with a postcard before, but she admits that she has only been working there a few years.

Anyway, it was a fun, and I received my first return-receipt today! I'm so happy that you enjoyed my postcard from July 3, or at least received it! Another way for me to know if you receive my postcards would be if you wrote back to me, but just in case you prefer that I keep sending them all through certified mail, I will.

With warmest regards,

Dear Karen,

My stem cell investment is appreciating nicely, but some of the other investments have had mediocre returns. I worry that some of the Medium-Term Any-Cap companies are not keeping investors' best interests in mind, and I plan to write them a strongly-worded postcard.

The upshot is that I may have to ask your family to cover the cost of the party pumpers at the wedding. Your parents will probably be thrilled about this, because it is customary for the bride's family to pay for everything, and they are traditional people in some ways.

To ensure that they can afford this, it may be best if your father held off on retiring for a few more months. Dignidad is disappointed, but Panamanians are very patient (especially the large-footed ones.) He is willing to remain unemployed as long as it takes, so he can step into your father's job with very little notice after the wedding is paid off. He is a great neighbor, and I am confident that when the time comes, he will get excellent quarterly performance evaluations from your father's company.

With warmest regards,

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Under the Knife

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Everyday Mess."  Give it a listen! After all, do you think I am doing this for my health? (If your answer is yes, you are correct.)

Last week, my daughter had an appendectomy. When it became clear that her abdominal pain was not just an attack of insufficient farting, we brought her into the pediatric emergency room. To calm my nerves, I started counting how many times the ER staff asked her the same questions. I kept this tally going throughout the entire perioperative period.

(Note: Peri- is a prefix, often used in medicine, that means around. A periscope looks around, a periodontist takes care of the stuff around your teeth, and if something is around 1 meter in length, you can say it's perimeter.)

The most common question that Scarlett was asked during her stay was, "How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1-10?" This picture was often provided as a visual aid.

She would always rate her pain at a 4, which is the bravest thing a kid can say. It means, "I'm in so much pain my eyes aren't quite pointing the same direction, but I'm still smiling, at least a little."

The second most commonly asked question was, "Do you have any allergies?" She does not. But since they kept repeating the question, I wondered if we should be testing her more frequently. I was willing to pass the time by re-exposing her to shellfish, dust mites, and bee stings every five minutes, but it the ER was not stocked with these resources.

"Are you wearing any underwear?"

She was only asked that question once, but we were all caught off guard. So much so that she neglected her manners. The polite reply politely to the anesthesiologist would have been, "Yes, sir. And you?"

The most perplexing question she got was, "Is this related to a car accident?" At first, we thought the clerk was just a moron, but then we realized that this was a kind of existential riddle.

Somewhere in China, a motorist swerves to avoid a dog and crashes into a telephone pole. This leads to a cascade of seemingly trivial events, each contingent upon the last. One domino after another falls, and soon a 12-year-old girl on the other side of the world has an inflamed colon. This thread of consequences is at once infinitely far-fetched and unyieldingly true, leading to one inevitable conclusion: The operation must be covered by the Chinese man's 10-year powertrain warranty.

Anyway, she was a real trooper. She certainly kept it together better than I did when I was 22 and had to have an infected cyst removed from my tailbone.

At my father's recommendation, I had made an appointment with Dr. Jay Goodman, a respected general surgeon, who told me that he would take the cyst out if I wanted him to. Spoiler alert: that's basically the denouement of any surgery clinic visit. "I can probably take that thing out... if you want me to."

Dr. Goodman wasn't exactly the most emotionally available guy. I can say with confidence that he had a bedside manner. It wasn't a great one, but it was a manner. Most importantly, he provided reassurance about two things that were weighing heavily on me. First, he promised me that the infected cyst was unavoidable and had nothing to do with my personal hygiene. Second, he explained that this was not technically a butt abscess. It was peri-butt abscess, and he could probably take it out. If I wanted him to.

After the operation, I had enough peri-butt discomfort that I had to sit on an inflatable doughnut for a while. To add to my humiliation, there was a little bit of drainage from the surgical site for a couple of weeks. Every morning, I would bend over while Lauren removed a 4" x 4" piece of gauze from my coccyx and taped on a fresh one. On the first morning, when she did this without complaining, I decided to ask her to marry me. (Although I waited a couple years, because it might have been awkward to reach down between my legs and hand her the ring.)

A few days into this adventure, when a medical school buddy named Andy was quizzing me, he abruptly stopped talking mid-sentence. I followed his eyes down to my ankles and saw in horror that a pink-tinged 4" x 4" piece of gauze had disengaged from my peri-derriere, sidled down my pant leg, and was now lying on my shoe. He looked at it, then back up at me imploringly, as if to say Please make up a story about what this is and make it not be gross. Lie if you have to.

I consider myself to be a rather creative liar, but at that moment I was at a complete loss. We both just looked at the soiled dressing in dismay and said nothing. After a moment, Andy returned to staring blankly at "First Aid for the USMLE Step 1." He was done quizzing me for the day. In fact, maybe he would just study on his own for the rest of his life.

I quietly picked up my buttock rag, put it in my pocket, and went home to have Lauren fit me with a new one.

With warmest regards,

Monday, May 1, 2017

Discussing Uganda

Dear Friends,

Where there is Yin, there is always Yang. I learned that from someone who hadn't really mastered English yet, but I think he meant that life is a balance of opposing forces. Where there is earnestness, there must also be silliness. Last month's Hard Taco song was all Yin... it was uncharacteristically earnest. And so, to maintain equilibrium, the song for May, "Sightings," has a more Yang then I know what to do with.

Speaking of more Yang than I know what to do with, my parents have a giant cobblestone phallus in their yard.

My high school friend Jeremy named it Uganda. He had read that in the 1970s, "Discussing Uganda" had been a euphemism for sex. We found this phrase delightfully anachronistic. This was the 1990s, after all, and the English language had at least five other euphemisms for sex by then, all of which were variations of  "___-ing the horizontal ___."

We agreed to call it Uganda as sort of a retro homage to a time when people were less creative with their euphemisms.
May 1, 1993. Getting ready for senior prom. Back row: Jay, Uganda, Paula, Nicole. Front row: Zach.

The actual origin and purpose of this structure has been lost to time. My parents' house is over 100 years old, and as far as we can tell, Uganda was there since the beginning. Most neighborhood historians agree that it was built by the early settlers of suburban Milwaukee as a part of World War I era fertility ritual. It even has a hole on top, about three inches in diameter. My parents' hypothesize that this hole held a flagpole.

That's a nice theory. But you and I know that if Sigmund Freud could come back from the dead, he would flick cigar ashes at my parents and tell them to stop being so naive. This was never a flagpole, and the original homeowners weren't patriots.

This was Bonehenge.

Sitting in someone's lawn for 100 years can take its toll on even the heartiest of ceremonial phallic symbols. The cement holding Uganda together has started to wear down, and some of the stones have chipped.

A few months ago, my dad hired a trusted stonemason to give us an estimate for repairs. The news was not good. There was water damage that ran deep. He estimated that it would probably be cheaper to replace the whole thing than to repair it.

I really wish I could have been there for this conversation. He was volunteering to replace it. Replace it with what, exactly? How do you go about building something from scratch when neither you nor the customer knows what it is?

Okay, let's say we ask him to replicate the original as much as possible, and we don't spring for any upgrades (although I can imagine some great ones!) Even if we rebuild it stone for stone and change nothing, we are going to run into all kinds of trouble with zoning restrictions and safety ordinances. Quite simply, Uganda is fine, but a new giant lawncock would have to built to code, and approved by the neighborhood association.

So we've got some things to think about. In the meantime, it's May Day people, so get out there, and dance around your own Maypole!

With warmest regards,

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spring Training

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is called "Dilettantes." This song will get into your head, and creepily watch you sleep (from the inside.)

Baseball brings fathers and sons together. The smell of freshly cut grass. The crack of the bat. Some other stuff, probably. It's a language that we all speak. There is no wound deep enough that it can't be healed by a quick game of catch with your ghost dad.

Malcolm and I learned these lessons from Field of Dreams. Since we watched it together a few months ago, he couldn't wait for Spring so he could join Little League.

His first practice was this week, and when I came to pick him up, Coach Andy was timing each of the players as they ran the bases. I showed up just as Malcolm was finishing his sprint.

"17.3 seconds," the coach announced.

A few minutes later, practice broke up, and Malcolm ran over to the fence to put his glove into his baseball bag. I asked if he had fun.

"Yep!" he said brightly, accepting my high five through the fence. Then, after a pause, "Guess what... I'm the slowest player on the team!"

I didn't know if 17.3 seconds was a good time, but I suspected it might not be.  Only one other player ran after Malcolm, and when that kid found out that he clocked in at 16.3 seconds, he ripped off his hat, threw it on the ground, and let out a primal cry of despair.

Okay, then. I don't know baseball statistics, but I'm quite facile with the Transitive Property: If A < B and B = C, then A < C. In other words, if Malcolm is slower then Unstable Kid, and Unstable Kid is slow enough to throw a tantrum about it, Malcolm is slow enough to throw a tantrum about it.

But he didn't even seem disappointed. To him, it was just a conversation point.

"Really?" I said. "Well, I'm glad you had fun."

And I was really glad. My own childhood was a mosaic of athletic bankruptcy. I spent three years as a Little League benchwarmer, and I couldn't even do that well. When I went up to bat, it was not unusual for another player to sit down in the space I had vacated and complain about how cold the bench was. "Come on, London! You had one job!"

I had another job, and that was right fielder. In The Minors, hardly anybody could hit the ball anywhere near right field. Unfortunately, when a ball did come my way, I wasn't quite strong enough to throw it to second or third base to prevent the runners from advancing. When Coach Blumenfeld became aware of this, he tried me out in left field, but a lot more balls came my way, and that wasn't good either.

In my three years of baseball, I only got to play a different position once, and that was for one inning. I couldn't believe my luck when the coach sent me out to second base, until I realized what was missing. Dandelions. The dandelions were in bloom in the outfield, and here there was nothing but dirt to engage me. But I wasn't going to let that stop me. I was so good at being distracted that I found a way to pay attention to the dirt rather than the game.

And so it was back to right field.

Batting always felt unnatural.  It was easier if I just closed my eyes.  Not the whole time, but just at the moment the ball left the pitcher's hand. This removed any correlation between the trajectory of the ball and the likelihood that I would swing. With that, my best chance of getting on base was if I was lucky enough to get hit by the ball.

Little known fact: If you get hit by a pitch, and swing anyway, it counts as a strike. This comes up so rarely in baseball that none of the Little League umpires knew of the rule. They were just confused by the fact that some kid would swing at a pitch that had already beaned him in the butt, and they would send me to first base out of sympathy.

By time I got to sixth grade, all of my friends were in The Majors. My parents encouraged me to join them, but that would have necessitated a try-out, and I was pretty sure how that would go. Ultimately, I decided that the pitchers in The Majors would be too accurate, and that would deprive me of opportunities to get hit by wild balls.

No thanks. I wanted to be able to help my team.

In my final year of Little League, the only other sixth grader on my team was Marty Oxman. What Marty lacked in skills, he made up for in pro swagger. Before every swing, he would step back from the plate, adjust his helmet, spit, and inspect his bat. Then he would sweep home plate with his foot to clear off some of the dirt, tap the plate with the end of his bat, spit again, get into a deep crouch, and whiff at the ball three times in a row. My mom was impressed, and encouraged me to emulate him.

"That Marty Oxman looks really good striking out. You should try that," she said. "Or maybe try keeping your eyes open when you're batting."

All of these memories came trickling back as I was driving Malcolm home from his first practice. And when he cheerfully told me he was the slowest kid on the team, I felt genuinely proud.

And as we drove by a cornfield, I though I heard a mysterious deep voice say something.

"Sucking at baseball brings fathers and sons together, too." 

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pimp to Live. Live to Pimp.

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco Song for March is called "This Library Isn't Big Enough." This song subverts and disrupts all of the norms. I'm having some problems uploading large files on the new Hard Taco site today. The link to the song still works, but the file is in Dropbox rather than the Hard Taco site. I hope to have this fixed within a few days, so we can all go back to propagating and engendering norms, rather than subverting and disrupting them.

Do I Pimp? Indeed, I do. I certainly don't engage in it every day, but I muster up a good pimping at least twice a week.

If you've ever been a medical student, or had to sit next to one on a long bus ride, you are familiar with this terminology. Pimping is when the teaching physician peppers you with questions to test your knowledge, usually in a public setting. Here's an example:

Med Student 1: Dr. Gelb likes to pimp people about tropical camel pox, so be sure to read up about that before you work with him.
Med Student 2: I'll have to read about it online. My pimp doesn't let me pay full price for textbooks.

(In this scenario, Med Student 2 is also an actual prostitute.)

No one has ever explained to me what pimping has to do with medical education. Exposing a student's ignorance of rote facts can be humiliating, but I fail to see the parallels with facilitating business for a sex worker and demanding a percentage of the earnings. True, doctors and pimps both wear shin-length coats, but one is white polyester and the other is exotic fur and purple velvet.  True also, the reflex hammer is the functional equivalent of the leopard glass pimp cane, but beyond that, there are few similarities. I predict that one of the two meanings of pimping will fall out of favor in the coming years, but which one?

Anyway, one of my most embarrassing moments as a medical student was a time I got a pimp question right.

I was on my obstetrics and gynecology rotation. It was my first true overnight call, and I was thoroughly uncomfortable with everything. In order to look busy, I spent the early evening going from room to room and asking pregnant women if they needed more ginger ale.

At some point, the attending obstetrician recognized that I was actively useless and told me to tag along with her. Unbeknown to me (or "unbeknownst to me" if you're reading this aloud at a Ren Faire), this attending was essentially a pack of flashcards with feet. Clearly, she had spent years elevating her pimping game to new levels of speed and monotony.

What is HELLP syndrome?
I'm not sure.

What is Chadwick's sign?
I've heard of that...

How do you calculate the amniotic fluid index?
The volume of the amniotic fluid divided by... I'm not sure.

What are the signs of ectopic pregnancy?
Um. Shouldn't I go see if the patient in 314 needs someone to top off her ginger ale?

I was batting 0.000. I literally knew none of the answers, and she just kept going. In the midst of this, we walked into a room where an expectant mother was actively pushing. The obstetrician put on a fresh pair of gloves and got down in the hoo hoo area to take a look. (As you can see, I truly learned nothing on my obstetrics rotation.)

Things were happening down there, but the obstetrician just kept pimping like she had rack of 24 karat teeth.

What are the three types of decelerations on a fetal heart monitor?
Mild? Is mild one of them?

Meanwhile, the miracle of birth was unfolding before us. The baby was crowning, the mom was clenching and hyperventilating, and her husband was standing off to the side with a video camera, clearly indecisive about where to point it. He kept going back and forth between her face and crotch, obviously aware that neither subject was really looking its best at that moment.

Finally, the obstetrician pulled the whole baby out, lifted it up, and said in a cheerful voice, "Okay, Dad, what is it?"

And before she could even flip the baby over to face them, I yelled, "It's a BOY!"

The obstetrician handed the baby to mom, looked at me and said between gritted teeth, "I was talking to him, Dumbfart." Except she didn't say fart.

To be fair, every sentence out of her mouth up until that point had a been a pimp question directed at me. And to be even more fair, "Okay, Dad, what is it" sounds a lot like "Okay, Zach, what is it," although the odds that she knew my first name were precisely zero.  Still, I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to get one right. I saw this baby before anyone else and I immediately recognized that it had a penis. I knew this one! I got this! In my mind, I was finally going to redeem myself for hours of ineptitude.

That baby is probably graduating from high school this year. I didn't stick around long enough to learn his name, so I'll address him as Boy.

Boy, I was there when you came into this world. Assuming your parents haven't shown you the video of your birth, let me play spoiler for a second time in your life. Here's what happens in that home movie: Your mom's face, your mom's crotch, your mom's face, your mom's crotch, lots of screaming, lots of swearing, lots of mucus, and a big popping sound. Some lady who looks like she should have a gold dollar sign necklace starts holding you up, Simba-style.

Then, in an extraordinary display of perception, a young stranger quickly synthesizes three years of intensive medical training, and loudly deduces a very compelling explanation for the appearance of your genitalia: You are a boy.

The obstetrician then deduces that he is a dumbfuck. End scene.

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Boaters, Bowlers, and Berets

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for February is called, "Tribute to the Rhythm King." This song features two iconic pieces of colonial headgear... the Pith Helmet and the Giant Bone in the Hair.

Which gives us a nice segue to play a little game I like to call...


I know. The phrase, "a little game I like to call" has only ever been used for wicked purposes. But I can tell you're curious. Here's the deal. If I correctly guess what kind of hat you are, you have to listen to the new song.

Are you cone-shaped?
  Do you kind of look like a cymbal?
    You are an Asian Rice Farmer Hat
    Are you stiff?
      Do you make your wearer look like an idiot?
        Do you have pictures of stars and moons?
          You are a Wizard's Hat
          When your wearer kisses a frog, does it turn into a dude?
            You are a Princess Hat
            You are a Dunce Cap
        No such hat exists. Start over.
      You strike joy into the hearts of... 
        You are a Santa Cap
        You are a Klansman Hood
  Which U.S. President looked like a total badass wearing you?
    You are a Tricorne Hat
    You are a Top Hat
  Teddy Roosevelt
    You are a Panama Hat
  Bush Jr.
    You are a Cowboy Hat
  Harrison/Ford (mixing presidents here)
    You are a Fedora
    Are you meant to be thrown?
      Do you have a tassel?
        You are a Graduation Cap.
        You are Oddjob's deadly Bowler Cap from "Goldfinger."
      Do you have a propeller?
        You are a Beanie.
      NO, because the tail would get caught in it
        You are a Coonskin Cap.
      NO, because it might scratch the glass ceiling of the Popemobile
        You are a Miter.
      NO, because I am a Sombrero
        You are a Sombrero.
      NO, for any other reason
        Might you be seen in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace?
          Which of the following is most likely said while wearing you?
          "WHAT'S ALL THAT, THEN?"
             You are a British Constable Hat.
          "GOOD LUCK, GUV'NA!"
             You are a Chimney Sweep Hat.
             You are an Ascot Cap.
          (Nothing at all.) 
             You are a Big Black Furry Bearskin Queen's Guard Hat.
          "Dude, check this out. He won't talk! Hey Guard.... You suck!!!!" 
             You are a tourist's Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Cap.
          Does everyone who sees you want to rip you off and stomp on you?
            Do you have a brim? 
              You're an Enormous Kentucky Derby Hat. 
               You're a Toque (Chef's Hat)
            Do you actually exist?
              You're a Fez or a Hard Hat. (No other question can distinguish these)
              You're a Thinking Cap.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Thousand Year Retrospective

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January, "A Better Whatever," tries to capture the hope, insecurity, and spirit of personal growth of the new year. This has been an emotionally difficult year for many of us, punctuated by tragic, high-profile celebrity deaths. In fact, the last thousand years have been tough in that regard. Let's take a moment to remember...

Those We Lost in 1016:

  • Ætheired the Unready. A whole generation remembers where they were when this quirky despot ordered the ill-advised St. Brice's Day Massacre.
  • King Edmund Ironside. Best known for resisting the first invasion of Cnut the Great, Edmund dedicated his later years to social concerns, such as advocating for primae noctis
  • Badis ibn Mansur. Yes, he was the third ruler of the Zirid dynasty, but those close to him remember him as the guy who loved his camels and oversaw the completion of the largest bazaar in Algiers. 

Speaking of camels, I believe many of you have had an opportunity to see Camelton, a three-song Hamilton parody that I recently posted on YouTube.

I know that throwing my hat onto the crowded hat rack of Hamilton parodies is a brazen move. I am not blind to the fact that every major late night show, YouTube star, and crappy a cappella group has already recorded a Hamilton parody. There are dozens about Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Luke Skywalker, and at least one for every Jewish holiday. (You know that Jewish stereotype that we love writing song parodies? It's totally true. In many communities, it's a compulsory part of Bar Mitzvah prep.)

On top of all that, Hamilton author Lin-Manuel Miranda has written parodies of his own songs. That's awesome in the same way as Vincent Van Gogh using his first self-portrait as the model for his second self-portrait, ending up with this:

If you're a Hamilton fan, I guarantee that you will enjoy Camelton more than the any of those other offerings, because frankly, it is not about anything. It's simply an homage to the greatness of the original songs, paired with pictures of every animal on Earth. I also feel compelled to advertise that the flipping mayor of Ann Arbor plays the role of Aaron Bird. Ohio State beat us in football this year, but we will not concede they are the better program until the mayor of Columbus coughs up us his Hamilton parody.

Shortly after releasing Camelton, I also posted a playlist of 11 original Oompa Loompa song parodies.

As of this morning, each of the Camelton videos has more than 2500 YouTube views, while the Oompa Loompa videos average 1 view each, and that was me testing them.

I'm not the least bit disappointed, though. I know how these things work. There will be a resurgence of interest in these Oompa Loompa videos, along with anything else Gene Wilder-related, in late 3016. That, of course, is when someone publishes the next 1000-year retrospective of celebrity deaths.

With warmest regards,