Sunday, December 1, 2019

Staring Straight At the Moon

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for December is called, "The Heart Is Bound."

Today, as I flip to the last page of my 2019 Alpaca-themed wall calendar, I reflect on the last year.  I had lots of happy moments with my family, felt productive at work more often than not, made some music, and spent many memorable hours looking at precious alpaca photos on my wall calendar.

But there were opportunities that got away from me. In January, there was a Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse, and in July there was a total solar eclipse. In both cases, I forgot to look up.

My New Year's resolution is to recommit myself to viewing rare astronomical events. Let's take a look at what deep space has for us during the next 12 alpaca pictures!

January 10, 2020
The first Full Moon of the year.  And yet, the Moon keeps putting food in its mouth. The moon should listen to its body when it is full, commit to mindful eating, and put its fork down between bites. Soon people will comment on how waning it is, and it will achieve that perfect crescent shape in no time.

March 9, 2020
Supermoon. Nobody suspects that that this is actually the same astronomical body as the clumsy, mild-mannered moon with nerdy glasses.

May 21, 2020
My next dentist appointment.

July 5, 2020
Penumbral lunar eclipse. This is a partial eclipse, where the Earth's shadow covers a tiny sliver of the Moon, giving the impression that the Moon has a rounded dent.
Actually, that IS a moon. It's a penumbral lunar eclipse.

October 31, 2020
Blue moon. This just means a full moon that happens twice in a calendar month. Since the days that we call October have no astronomical significance, this designation is artificial. It's like a sportscaster saying, 'That is the most rushing yards by a quarterback... on Thursday Night Football!"

November 30, 2020
Another penumbral lunar eclipse. This is mostly relevant because of Art Van Furniture's "Second Penumbral Lunar Eclipse of the Year Sale." No money down and no interest until Mars transits Saturn.

Beyond 2020
May 26, 2021
Total lunar eclipse (The Earth is between the Moon and the Sun)

April 8, 2024
Total solar eclipse. (The Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.)

December 30, 2032
Triple Jovian Eclipse (Jupiter's Three Largest Moons lining up across its surface.)

September 8, 2040
Holy Shit Eclipse (The Sun is between the Earth and the Moon. This seems concerning... I'm going to recheck my source.)

July 28, 2061
Halley's Comet returns. You will be able to see it with the naked eye but will need a telescope to see the frozen remains of Mark Twain.

July 15, 2067
Mercury occults Neptune, meaning it blocks it completely. Which is crap, because nobody can see Neptune anyway, especially not 91-year-olds like me.

November 2, 2068
My last dentist appointment.

February 18, 2177
The First Plutonian Anniversary. Pluto will have completed one orbit around the Sun since the day it was discovered. I'm probably going to forget, so I'm setting my alarm.

With warmest regards,

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Coin of the Realm

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for November is called "Days of Love." If I were a gambling man, I would be willing to bet that if you're reading this, there is an 11% chance that you will also listen to the song. I like those odds.

And guess what... I am a gambling man! I've been to Las Vegas twice in my life, and between those two visits, I placed a total of one bet.

My first stopover in Sin City was in the Summer of 1997. It was the final leg of a post-college road trip. Las Vegas, as I learned from our guidebook, is Spanish for "The Vegas." The party animals simply call it Vegas, but these same party animals also say Ohio State University. Neither is grammatically correct without the definite article. You wouldn't say, "I swam in Pacific Ocean, subscribed to New York Times, and got tortured by CIA." The word THE must be used when describing bodies of water, periodicals, and organizations. You know, like, "I swam in The Lake Ontario, subscribed to The Newsweek, and got tortured by The ISIS."

I was 21 years old, and had never sat at a casino table before. Sure, I had stuffed a few quarters into a video poker machine, but I didn't know what a real casino chip would feel like in my hand. We had only one night in Las Vegas to change that, and I wasn't going to waste it pulling handles at some third-rate suburban roadhouse. We were going downtown to hit the classiest casino on The Strip... Excalibur.

The 1990s were the heyday for themed casinos, and Excalibur ruled over all with an iron gauntlet. It was a 100,000 square foot palace with all the trappings of a 15th century gambling den. There were gaudy tapestries, stained glass windows, and bouncers in plate mail. If you were playing slots, you could keep your quarters in a big plastic cup that said, "Capture the Coin of the Realm!" There were turreted balconies and turreted escalators. There were pamphlets for topless clubs strewn on the floor, and they all looked like ancient manuscripts that had been carefully illuminated by horny monks. It was the most magical place in the world.

"I'd like $20 worth of chips, please," I said to the cashier, leaning on the counter and lowering my sunglasses. Oh yeah, I was a serious gambler, and she knew it. This 21-year-old with a Jewfro and a flannel shirt wasn't heading for the penny slots. He was a legit medium roller.

She handed me one chip.

According to, $20 in 1997 would be worth $32 today, so this was a lot of money.  (As an aside, the founders of weren't really thinking ahead when they got that domain name, were they?)

I nodded at the cashier and went straight for the blackjack tables. My Uncle Dick taught me to play blackjack when I was in elementary school, so I knew a thing or two about strategy.  Always hit on 11, always stand on 20, and if any other combination comes up, casually ask the dealer what he would do if he were in my place. You know, like if he woke up earlier that morning, and he and I had mysteriously switched brains.

It was a good plan, but after I watched the other gamblers for a while, my confidence started to slip away. They weren't all hoodie-wearing card sharks, but they seemed experienced and confident. Not once did one of them ask the dealer what he would do in the Freaky Friday scenario. I felt intimidated, and started to wonder if I wasn't cut out to be a medium roller.

And that's when I saw it. Excalibur had a War table. Yes, War. The card game that 5-year-olds play, and the rules were the same:
1. The dealer places a card in front of the player.
2. The dealer places a card in front of herself.
3. Whoever has the higher card wins.

Excalibur had 32 blackjack tables, but only one War table, and nobody was playing. I sat down and slammed my shiny green chip on the table.

The dealer nodded, shuffled the deck, and dealt me a card. Nine of hearts.

Then she placed a card in front of herself. Four of clubs. I was about to ask her what she would do if a magical fortune cookie caused us to switch brains until we showed selfless love, and then I realized that I had already won.

I thanked her, carefully picked up my two chips and walked back to the cashier as inconspicuously as I could. I didn't make eye contact with anyone until my friend and I were back outside in the Nevada sun with $40 in cash.

We couldn't stop giving each other high fives, and wasted the rest of the night speculating about how Excalibur was handling my unexpected payout. Somewhere in the heart of the casino, we imagined, two Armani-suited pit bosses were pointing at footage of me on a security screen and roaring at each other through walkie-talkies. This guy! Who does this guy think he is that he can come out of nowhere and walk away from the War table with enough chips to pay for two nights at a decent campsite?

I decided that I would come back to Excalibur a few years later. The War table would have a different dealer, of course, and I would be a grown man. The Jewfro would be gone, and I would be sporting an entirely different flannel shirt. Even though the dealer and I would have never met, he would sense something familiar about me. I would turn to the waitress to place my drink order, and the dealer would pull out a laminated card from underneath the table, showing a blurry black-and-white picture of me from the 1997 security camera footage. Stamped across the top it would say Do not play War with this man. He has a system and ALWAYS wins.

The dealer would smile at me and push a secret button underneath the table. Moments later, plate-mailed bouncers would grab me from behind and drag me out into the alley. They would throw me to the ground, kick me in the stomach and poke at me with their halberds. As I lay nursing my nosebleed, they would march in formation back into the casino, shouting, "Fie! Ne'er return thee to Excalibur henceforth!"

Eventually, I did make my way back to Las Vegas, but it wasn't until 2019, and none of that happened. None of that happened because this time, I stayed away from gambling.  Everyone knows that in Las Vegas, the House always wins.

Or as the party animals say: In Vegas, House always wins.

With warmest regards,

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

International Waters!

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for October, "Run Randomonium" is frenetic, fresh, frenzied, and Freudian. And for you, it's free.

We're starting to think about planning a family vacation next year, and I intend to advocate for a transatlantic cruise. Caribbean cruises are very pleasant, and I like hurricane-ravaged jewelry shops as much as the next guy, but I have a very good reason for wanting to go all the way across the pond. Once you are 24 nautical miles from the coast, you are no longer subject to the laws of any sovereign nation! If you get caught smuggling exotic plants or murdering an endangered bird, there will be ZERO legal consequences. All you have to do is shout "international waters!" and throw the bodies overboard before the ship gets within 24 nautical miles of your destination.

Now that I've picked my trip and premeditated some maritime crimes, I need to choose a cruise line. Here are the top contenders.

Clientele: The decidedly old.
Entertainment: Aaron Copeland impersonators.
Typical amenities: Power scooter-accessible lifeboats, "Teen Club" for travelers between the age of 113 and 118. 
Unique features: Ticket price covered by most long-term care insurance policies.

Clientele: Panhandlers who live in a port city and saved up for two weeks.
Entertainment: Still photos of nautical maps, four seconds of foghorn every third day.
Amenities: 24 hour access to jogging in place.
Unique features: All rooms are interior, there is an "Infinity Pool" which is just you floating in the ocean while the ship sails away.

Clientele: Vikings who can't afford to go on a Viking Cruise.
Entertainment: Opening night meet-and-greet with Cpt. Bjarl Holmlund and Chief Officer Jorn Yngvar Thorkelson-Olafson.
Amenities: Staterooms with balconies, great-rooms with Valkyries
Unique features: Do a Google image search for Henrik Ibsen. That's what your cabin steward will look like. 

Clientele: Pig-tailed adults with Frozen roller-bags
Entertainment: Racist Disney Live! Cabaret singers perform hits like What Makes the Red Man Red, We Are Siamese If You Please, and anything from "Song of the South."

Typical amenities: A variety of bars with names like Buzzed Lightyear, Wrecked Ralph, Tequila and Stitch, (Fucked) Up, A Chug's Life, The Gincredibles, Hakuna Ma-toddy, and Sleeping Boozy.
Unique features: The opening night safety demonstration is replaced with a screening of "Under the Sea."

Royal Caribbean 
Clientele: Discerning, globally minded travelers seeking new adventures in dysentery.
Entertainment: Kitchen worker with contagious gastrointestinal illness tossing dinner rolls into audience.
Typical amenities:  Unchlorinated swimming pools, dishes replaced with Petri dishes.
Unique features: All ships in fleet have similar names, such as Enchantment of Disease, Rhapsody of Disease, or Allure of Disease.

Royal Caribbean Safety Notice:
In the unlikely event that you come face-to-face with a norovirus during your cruise, do NOT turn and run. Just quietly back away and move to another part of the ship. If a norovirus does approach you, make yourself look big, wave your arms, make loud noises, clap your hands, and continue to back away. Most infections occur because an unwitting victim corners a norovirus or gets between it and its newly translated capsid protein.

With warmest regards,

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Drawer, Part 2: The Drawer

Dear Friends,

Lauren is a wonderful singer. I think her default mode is 'plaintive musical theatre ingenue,' but she can croon, whisper, scream, rap, and belt. She can sound sultry, earnest, soulful, operatic, or vapid, and do so in almost any accent, if that's what the song requires. Still, sometimes it's nice to let her exist in her natural element, and this month's Hard Taco song, "Impossible," is one of those times.

Okay, now back to The Drawer. To recap last month's digest, my childhood bedroom has a desk and that desk has a drawer. Until recently, that drawer was home to things I wrote, things I drew, letters from friends, and letters from more-than-friends. The earliest dated entry is from when I was twelve... a D&D adventure idea printed in dot-matrix on three continuous, fan-folded pages.

Things slowed down when I left for college, but I always fed The Drawer fresh letters and poems when I came home from my Summers as a camp counselor. By time I was 20, The Drawer had reached its resting state. It was a prehistoric mosquito that had sucked my teenage blood and would spend the next several millennia trapped in amber.

This July, I finally caved in and packed the contents of The Drawer into grocery bags to bring back to Michigan. I put photos into Bag 1, things I wrote into Bag 2, and letters written to me into Bag 3.

The sorting was easy and engaging in the way that organizing a closet can be once you get into it. Bag 1 was particularly delightful. I got a huge kick out of the wallet-sized 8th grade graduation photos of girls in my grade... The fashion choices. The innocence. The feathered edges. The name of the photography studio (Worzella!) in cursive in the bottom right of each picture. It was just wonderful.

I was expecting the same pleasant rush from Bag 2, but getting inside the head of my 17-year-old self turned out to be less comfortable. I saw patterns, hints of who I am now. I recognized threads of fond memories, but they were transfused with an unfamiliar darkness and tension. 17-year-old brain was a confusing place where minor environmental stimuli triggered intense emotions. 17-year-old brain believed it could conquer the galaxy but was paralyzed by microscopic failures.  Logic was recognized but ignored. 17-year-old brain never got sick of Pink Floyd. It was so torn between expression and repression that neither was successful.

Bag 2 had an essay to no one that literally asked, "Why me?" There was the first draft of a letter I would eventually write to break up with someone. And there were dozens of Jaberwocky-esque nonsense poems. 17-year old brain wrote words that were crisp and ominous but came together to mean absolutely nothing.  

"My spattered stools" describes this whole thing rather well, actually.  
Isn't it nice to know that our Spiny Weavers are so cozy with each other?

But Bag 2 wasn't all brooding gibberish. There was some cheerful nonsense, as well, such as this song that was probably inspired by a Life Savers slogan. 

The artist's vision is that you will sing this entire thing exactly twice.

And on to Bag 3: Letters.

When you send an email, a copy of it goes into your outbox, so you're never really giving anything away. One of the reasons I love recording music (as opposed to, say, playing music) is that I end up with a thing that I can share and keep for myself at the same time.  A hand-written letter, however, is a true gift. It is a piece of the author's creative soul, given freely without any hope of finding its way home again.

Bag 3 had a hundred of these gifts, and reading them gave the false sense that these people who I had not seen in years or decades were in my life again. I laughed a little and cringed a lot. I announced to Lauren that we would definitely still be friends with so-and-so if we lived in the same city. I admitted to myself that so-and-so might be the exception.

Perhaps the hardest thing about Bag 3 was that the one-sided nature left me feeling a little voyeuristic. These letters were theirs, not mine. I was plundering other people's DNA from amber-encrusted mosquitos without their permission. 

So I went on Facebook and announced that I cleaned out The Drawer. I tagged people whose letters I had, and volunteered to return or share them. Some of the authors were brave enough to let me post snapshots of their letters sight unseen, while others asked for copies to be shared privately. More than half of the people I tagged didn't respond at all. Maybe they just don't get on Facebook very often. Maybe they already Mari Kondo'd the memory of me from their lives, and don't need the clutter.  Or maybe they just don't want to spend another terrible second in their teenage headspace.

Somehow, we all survived our 17-year-old brains. We weren't crushed to death by self-pity or kicked off the planet for saying too many dumb things. Congratulations, us!

With warmest regards,

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Drawer. Chapter 1: The Glove

Dear Friends,

This month's Hard Taco song, "I'm Too Tired," is our attempt at a Summer camp cheer. It has shouting, patterns, imaginary words, more shouting, the names of countries, and some shouting.

In September 1993, I moved out of my childhood home in Milwaukee, leaving behind a bedroom full of era-defining bric-a-brac. My favorite Bloom County comic strip was taped to the wall next to my favorite poster of a mediocre rock album that had great cover art. On the desk, there was a stack of Taco Bell ashtrays that I lifted from the Port Washington location the day before they banned smoking at all Taco Bells.  On the shelf were three shrink-wrapped VHS copies of "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West."

Like any lukewarm-blooded teenager, my pop culture tastes were my brand, and my childhood bedroom would be forever saddled with the 1993 version of that brand while I moved on with my life in other cities.

Everything came off the walls within a few years. My parents weren't secretive or malicious about it. In fact, they gave me every opportunity to liberate my fuzzy Led Zeppelin blacklight posters, but Led Zeppelin was not part of my 1996 brand, and neither was fuzziness, so down they went. New wallpaper went up, the desk was cleared off, and now my old bedroom was a perfectly presentable guest room. But I was okay with it, because the contents of my closet and desk drawers remained safe, temporarily, from trespass.

In 2001, Lauren and I married and bought a starter house on the most delightfully-named street in Ann Arbor, Roon the Ben.  It was the moment my parents had been waiting for. The seal had been broken; I could no longer cite lack of space as justification for leaving my crap at their house.

From then on, every visit from Rick and Roberta was punctuated with another box of knick-knacks. My Transformers. My comic book collection. My Dungeons and Dragons modules. The Commodore 64 and 300 floppy disks of pirated games. Each of these articles perfectly embodied the pack-rat's paradox: too valuable to throw away and too useless to ever take out of deep storage.

One year we hosted a family Chanukah party and my parents showed up with about ten bags of beautifully wrapped presents, none of which had cards or labels.  They were up for grabs, and any kid or grandkid could open them, with the caveat that whoever unwrapped a gift had to keep it or dispose of it. I loved this idea, in theory, but when the wrapping paper starting coming off I realized that most of these 'gifts' were the remaining contents of my closet... a cylindrical Quaker Oats box full of marbles, some cassingles, and my collection of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures.

They even had the gall to regift my precious fingerless glove! That same glove had warmed my right hand (or at least my palm) throughout high school. It always made me look tough-as-shit, even when I was sad, like in this yearbook photo.

While my nephews were squabbling over the marble collection, I quickly snatched up the glove. Even with two of the knuckle spikes missing, it still made me feel pumped for all manner of hard-boiled badassery.

Balding man taking selfie in kids' bathroom is geared up for alarming amounts of fingers-out punk rowdiness. 

As pleased as I was to reclaim my forgotten battle gauntlet, I was indignant that anyone would want to relocate my worthless memorabilia. It was as if a federally-protected wildlife refuge had been rezoned for oil drilling. Pieces of my former self were being peeled away relentlessly, and it made me feel like the Giving Tree. (You know, from that book where the tree is minding its own business and some dude keeps trying to throw away its collection of Taco Bell ashtrays.)

With the closet cleared out, there was only one unspoiled sanctuary left in my childhood bedroom, a drawer in the built-in desk. This drawer had enjoyed longstanding protected status, perhaps by virtue of being filled with an unorganized jumble of personal letters, creative writings, and doodles.

Every few years, when passing through town, I would open the drawer and run my hands through the heap of letters, churning them like I was playing in a leaf pile or sifting through a mountain of gold coins. Oddly, I never had the faintest urge to read any of them. It was just comforting to know that they were there, and that the impenetrable drawer would grant them perennial asylum.

Somewhere along the way, I wrote a little acoustic song called, "The Only Serious Thing." It opens with the line, "There is a drawer of letters, poems, and plays / That somehow survived a dozen moving days." That was in 2004, and I was already sentimental about this silly old drawer.

Lauren and I were in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, and my parents confirmed the rumor that they are thinking about downsizing. Perhaps they'll get a lakeside condo. Or maybe they'll move down to a retirement community in Florida.

(Just kidding: Rick and Roberta would rather be torn apart by scarab beetles than live in Florida. It's just not their brand.)

While no move is imminent, they have become fixated on purging non-essentials. The drawer that had been invulnerable for 26 years was now in the crosshairs.

And that, dear chums, is where I will leave you for now. Next month, we will unpack this drawer together and you can help me decide what is worth keeping, and what should be tossed out with the fuzzy Led Zeppelin posters.

With warmest regards,

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Water of Life

Dear Friends,

If you're considering swearing on stack of graveyards to record one song a month, I recommend against it. Sometimes, I wish I had made a promise that would be easier to keep, like making an annual donation to the Audubon Society, or getting a facial tattoo of every Pink Floyd album cover.

I was at a work event the other night, and a casual acquaintance asked if I was still writing a song every day. I told her no, just one a month. "Are you sure?" she asked, "I was pretty sure it was every day."

It was clear that even when she thought I was 30 times more prolific, it was only barely interesting enough to talk about. Now she couldn't even understand why it was a thing. It's like asking a colleague if he is still doing 120 sit-ups a day, only to learn that his regimen has always been 4 sit-ups a day, but yes, he is sticking with it. On one hand, who gives a crap either way, but on the other hand, if it's only 4, why do you even associate this guy with sit-ups?

I found myself apologizing. "I'm really sorry it's just one a month," I told her, trying to redirect the conversation, "How are your 60 school-aged children?"

So here's the new Hard Taco song for the entire month of July 2019, "Peepholes Are Peepholes." I'm happy with it, but not quite as happy as I would have been with a Dark Side of the Moon forehead tattoo.

Scotch Tasting Notes
We've been on holiday in Scotland since Friday, and the most remarkable thing I've learned so far is how to spell Whisky. It's from the old Scottish tongue for "water of life." In Ireland, they call it whiskey, which is Gaelic for, "We put extra e's in every feckin' word, like feckin' and Gaelic." In the U.S., we also call it whiskey, because the first bottles came across the pond with Irish immigrants during the potatoe famine, which is Gaelic for, "Here we go again with all the feckin' gratuitous e's".

Scotch malt whisky comes from six main regions: Islay, Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Campbelltown, and the other Islands. Here's everything you need to know before you pour your first measure.

Most famous distilleries: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavullin
Islay malts tend to have a peaty flavor. Scotch aficionados use that word a lot, but I wanted to know what it really meant, so I spent my first day on the island licking a peat bog. I would describe it as firm, smoky, dignified, austere, rich, complex, layered, tarry, balanced, youthful, subtle, sweet, succulent, vibrant, soft, thick, creamy, peaty, and difficult to describe.

Most famous distilleries: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Macallan.
The Speyside region is small but has more distilleries than the rest of Scotland. Speyside whiskies are often described as having hints of grass, hints of oak, hints of pepper, and hints of orange rinds, colostrum, moth wings, Elmer's glue, stage fright, shingles rash, moon craters, and justice. Only an expert-level connoisseur can drink an entire glass of Speyside whisky without asking for any hints.

Most famous distilleries: Glenmorangie, Dalmore
Highlanders mistrust outsiders, and insist on using their own adjectives to describe their whisky, such as fleich, daggie, drell, snookit, nump, smeelit, tartan-brighty, plowtery, smirr, speefle, flitters, and watergaw.

Most famous distilleries: Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie
Lowland whisky creates powerful connections between the olfactory centers and the hippocampus, making it the perfect dram for drumming up repressed memories. A sniff of Auchentoshan, for example, may bring to mind your physically-abusive schoolmarm or your war buddy dying in your arms, while the mouthfeel of Bladnoch is more likely to invoke the time Aggie MacDougal called you a dobber and you pissed your kilt.

Most famous distilleries: Glengyle, Springbank
Not to be confused with the smash hit show tune with the same name, Campbelltown Scotches are inexpensive and keep well. Many Scots stock their bomb shelters with shelves full of Campbelltown flavors such as vegetarian vegetable, cream of mushroom, tomato, and Chunky old-fashioned vegetable beef.

Most famous distilleries: Talisker, Jura
The Scotch Whisky Association does not recognize the islands as a separate region, instead considering them to be part of the Highlands. This makes sense, because at one point, the whole landmass of the world was one supercontinent called Pangea, and Scotland was connected to Greenland. The Western Islands will probably be considered a separate whisky region as soon as the Scotch Whisky Association looks at a map that is not 270 million years out of date.

With warmest regards,

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Welcome to the Hobby

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for June is called, "Billion Lines of Code."

We haven't gone completely paperless at work, but the need to preserve physical documents is less each year. In early 2018, I made the decision to do get rid of the oversized and underused file cabinet that came with my office and replace it with this freshwater aquarium.

This action has augmented my social situation in the workplace. Almost daily, a colleague passes my office door, waves, and asks, "How are the fish?" I've learned that if I keep my answer to a single word, the officemate is more likely to ask me again the next day. I value regular interpersonal connections, so I usually just reply, "Great!"

It's not much of a conversation, but before I had the aquarium, nobody ever asked me how my hanging file folders were.

Anyway, as a new pet owner, I hope to interrupt your Me-Time and show you adorable pictures of my fish. You owe me this courtesy for all the times you've made me look at pictures of your kids. (Note that this does not apply to friends who are infertile, or fertile people who are not my friends.)

My fish are like children in so many ways... they do better with lots of space, they swallow anything they can fit in their mouth, and I usually put the dead ones in the conference room wastebasket so don't have to walk all the way to the bathroom.

The first fish I introduced into the tank was the harlequin rasbora, shown below. A great fish for beginners, the harlequin rasbora doesn't give a rat's ass about water parameters. Mine is perfectly happy as long as the pH is under 14, the water is in a liquid state, and I feed her either sometimes or never. The harlequin rasbora can live comfortably in an aquarium filled with vodka, bleach, Visine, or any other clear liquid.

If you can spit in a bowl, you can raise a harlequin rasbora.

The rummy nose tetra was the 2018 winner of "Best Fish Named After a Card Game." Runners-up included the canasta guppy, the contract bridge loach, the crazy eights pleco, and the go fish fish.

I had a lovely dwarf gourami for a while, but she died before I could get a good picture of her. This is a picture of a different dwarf gourami from the label of my fish food canister. All dwarf gouramis look exactly alike, so this is a perfect copy of my dead one.

You might think that all squirrels look alike, or all Canadians, but at least squirrels and Canadians can tell themselves apart from other squirrels and Canadians. Not so with dwarf gouramis. Mine probably saw the fish food canister on the desk next to the aquarium, and thought, "Well crap, that's ME outside of the tank," and stopped breathing. If I ever get another gourami, I'll cover up the label with a picture of a Justin Trudeau, and it won't matter if the gourami thinks it's actually Ryan Gosling.  

I love my invertebrates, too! They may not have a spine, but these jumbo Amano shrimps are the backbone of my cleanup crew. They love nibbling on unsightly algae, decaying plants, and other detritus. If I let them out of the tank the morning after a party, they'll wipe down the countertops and put all the empties in the recycling bin. They're that good. 

This jumbo Amano shrimp knows all the secrets for getting barf stains out of Oriental rugs.

My other favorite invertebrate is the cherry red shrimp. This little guy is so adorable, I can hardly stand it. He's always so busy! And here's the cutest part... do you know what the rows of little shrimp feet are called? Swimmerets. Isn't that just darling?

Don't you just want to pinch his precious little scapherocite and give him a rubby on his abdominal segments? Who's a good neocardinia? You are! 
Unfortunately, there's also a neon tetra in my tank. This haughty son-of-a-bitch acts like he's God's gift to the freshwater habitat because he's named after some noble gas. I seriously cannot deal with this pretentious gill-bag sashaying back and forth all day like he's cock-of-the-walk. Ugh. Look at his self-satisfied little caudal fins and his big stupid eye and tell me you don't want to overfeed this insufferable little schmuck. 

Fuck you, neon tetra. 

With warmest regards,

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

When You Have No Ideas After You Run Out of Your Own Name

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for May, "The Lesion," is the new theme song for our history of medicine-themed board game by the same name.

The late 19th century was a momentous era of medical discovery. Hundreds of new neurologic diseases, syndromes, signs, and reflexes were discovered and described by otherwise brilliant men who lacked the creativity to come up with names for anything other than their own.

Jean-Martin Charcot has 12 medical terms associated with his name, including a joint, a foot, several diseases, two triads, a crystal, and an aneurysm. Joseph Babinski donated his surname to four signs, two reflexes, a test, a rule, and at least six syndromes.

Charcot demonstrates a classic case of the Charcot's sign in a patient with Charcot's syndrome to a roomful of admirers, who were known as the Great White Charcs.
You might not use math every day, but it's hard to have a conversation without using any eponyms, medical or otherwise. Here are some favorites:

The Guppy - Named for the British naturalist Robert Guppy who discovered the small fish while skinny-dipping in Trinidad in 1866. Colleagues noted that Guppy was pretty much naked all the time, which is how he came to be known as a "naturalist."

Braille and Morse Code - Louis Braille and Samuel Morse engaged in a much-publicized race to discover the best use for the most fashionable new invention of 1830, the dot.

The Caesar salad - The main ingredients, Romaine, Worcestershire, Dijon, and Parmesan, were all regions in Europe where Julius Caesar owned rental properties.

The Apgar Score - The method to quickly summarize the health of the newborn was named for New York anesthesiologist Virginia Apgar, whose last name became a convenient acronym for a friendly competition among hospital staff. Doctors and nurses would give themselves points for refraining from subjecting whiny newborns to Asphyxiation, Pummeling, Garroting, Arsenic poisoning, and Radiation exposure.

The Petri Dish - Julius Richard Petri was trying to make molds for Jell-O shots, when one of his Jell-O shots grew mold. And the rest is history.

Shrapnel - Let me just go back to Petri for a second. The phrase, "the rest is history" is a  cliché. Obviously, history did not start at that moment. That was rotten writing, and you deserve better from me. Anyway, Henry Shrapnel was a British artillery officer who found a more efficient way to mutilate people. Everything that happened before, during, and after that moment is history. 

The Teddy Bear - To prepare for foreign policy meetings, hairy-backed Theodore Roosevelt would barricade himself in the West Wing and pose for boudoir photos in the one-piece satin lingerie that now bears his name.

The Leotard - French engineer Jules Leotard developed the first self-propelled ice resurfacer, but a mix-up at the patent office left Leotard's name on the product license filed by acrobat and costume designer Frank Zamboni.

The Jacuzzi - The ghost of Italian inventor Candido Jacuzzi spends most of the afterlife haunting hotel owners who falsely advertise in-room Jacuzzis, when what they really offer is off-brand hot tub time machines. 

The Stairwell - Named for the popular Game of Thrones character Stairwell Tarly.

With warmest regards, 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Current Events 1918-2008

Dear Friends,   

The Hard Taco song for April is called "Sloppy." This song will allow you to channel your inner pigeon and bob your head quasi-rhythmically.

I've been spending the weekend with some relatives, so I took the opportunity to outsource this month's Hard Taco Digest to them. Each of them was asked to write a poem about something from the news the year he or she was born. Here are those poems, in reverse chronological order.

by Malcolm London (son)

You did it!
You launched Falcon 1 without any delay.
You showed NASA that you can do it yourself
But I hope you find room on your trophy shelf.

by Shaina Wolkenberg (niece)

Walking along the sidewalk
Backwards because the snow
Only made it across one block
Because of the blizzards we all know.

Through Denver and Chicago
Then Kansas gets a blow
From a tornado spinning fastly
2007, here we go. 

2005 Haikus
 by Scarlett London (daughter)

Hurricanes are bad
Katrina was terrible
Lots of people died

Many people fled
They did not want to perish
In the hurricane

It was very sad
Because lots of people died
In the hurricane

Lots of lives were lost
In hurricane Katrina
They were very sad

The hurricane struck
People sprinted for their lives
To escape the storm

It was very sad
When the hurricane happened
Because there was death

Dogs and humans died
In that nasty hurricane
Most everyone's dead

It was very big
It was category five
It was scary, too

Lots of pets perished
The owners were very sad
Then the owners died

Everybody died
In hurricane Katrina
It was quite quite sad

by Lauren London (lead singer)

COD WARS! The conflict scarcely known
Just who could own sweet abalone.

In North Atlantic waters cold,
Did Iceland stalk her coasts, so bold.
But British schooners also claim'd
those famous fisheries untam'd. 
Oh! Fishers brandishing their spears,
Jeering temper'd trawlers' leers.
Thrice the parties met in ire!
With fish a-floppin' to acquire.
Just smell the mighty drying pile
of pescatorial carcass vile.
Thrice did Iceland get its wish
Oh, fate befalling chips and fish!
But peace in '76 returned,
And Celtics each their cod have earned. 

by Nina Schwartz (mother-in-law)

Joseph McCarthy, or "Tail-Gunner Joe"
Demagogue, liar, and everyone's foe
Started the Red Scare by claiming to know
A who's who of commies. It just wasn't so.
He stated the U.S. Department of State
Was harboring pinkos, in fact, quite a spate
Said he had a paper, right there in his hand
And the House forced some good guys to take the stand.
Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, Fred Zinnemann, Pete Seeger
All came under their gavel eager
He finally earned censure in 1954
And we thought the the big lie had been killed evermore.

by Bob Schwartz (father-in-law)

78s are breakable
45s are stackable
We make that change
In 1949

Song would have more runtime
But for music, not a fun time
Pop tunes a drag
In 1949

U.S. leaves Korea
Stalin says, "We'll see ya."
The boys come home
In 1949

Mao says, "I rule China."
Gives Chaing Kai Shek a shinah
So he takes Taiwan 
In 1949

Russia tests its big tomato
The U.S.A. and pals form NATO
It's two armed camps
In 1949

Then George Orwell has a vision
Sees the future with precision
Guns kill folks but lies kill even more
His book is his prediction
It isn't only fiction
Suddenly it's 1984.

by Carol Wulfson (aunt-in-law)

The most amazing news
Was the ending of diaspora for all o the Jews
And even though we were celebrating
Different wars were gestating
Why is there never peace?

by Roberta Wine London (mother)

It is post World War Two and and the babies are a boom.
The year is 1948,  and peace can't come too soon.
With the Soviets West Berlin a blockading
And the musical South Pacific Broadwaying
TVs now number over a million sets
Velcro is invented, and 33 rpm records....but not yet cassettes.
Polio is affecting kids more and more
Famous people born thIs year : James Taylor, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Al Gore.
The game of Scrabble is invented by a guy named Brunot
And Porshe is founded...but not Pugeot.
The bikini is finding a body of support hardcore,
And there were earthquakes in Turkmenistan and Ecuador.
The UN is busy with post War insights
Including The World Health Organization and the Declaration of Human Rights.
Soldiers back from the War are making up for lost time
Harry Truman is President during the birth of Roberta Wine.

Thelma Gordon (grandmother-in-law)

Spanish Flu...

With warmest regards,

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Five Finger Discount

Dear Friends,

There are five words in the title of this month's Hard Taco song, "Blood Is Thicker Than Chlorine." The song is in 5/4 time, which means it has five beats per measure. This makes it easy to dance to, as long as you have two-and-a-half legs.

In honor of all of this five-ness, I also wrote this poem/numerological prophesy:


Five are the lines on a musical staff
The composer composes a score on
Five are the oceans, and five the Great Lakes
Five are the protons in boron

Five are the Jacksons, and five the Maroons
Five are the number of bandages
You'll need to attend to a starfish's wounds
After twisting off all its appendages

Five are the letters that make the word Harry
So five points for Gryffindor! (Potter's house)
Five are the Spice Girls from Sporty to Scary
And Vonnegut's favorite slaughterhouse

Five are the senses and stages of grief
And the biblical booklets of Moses
Five are the types of Chanel you can dab
On your five little fingers or toes-es

The five-second rule can apply to all five
Of the food groups, which I find incredible
Five seconds turns something dropped on the floor 
From delicious and pure to inedible

All zip codes consist of five numbers, my friends 
From the five New York boroughs to rural Maine
"Precarious" has all five vowels, and also
Describes the fifth class of a hurricane

Five are the cents in a Jefferson nickel
The five-dollar bill has Abe Lincoln
So come and take five
And slap me high five
And raise up a fifth and start drinkin'

With warmest regards,

Friday, February 1, 2019

Auto. Correct.

Dear Friends,

Autological is a word or phrase that describes itself, such as polysyllabic, English, staccato, buzzword, fifteen-letteredor mispelled

That Hard Taco song for February, “Impressive,” has an autological title. It is impressive! 

Several songs in the Hard Taco back catalog have autological titles, as well. I recommend listening to Worth the While, or at least Not Really a Bear. Those are certainly more pleasant than UglyEveryday Mess, and Not Illegal But Frowned Upon. Occasionally, I’m in the mood for Moderate Rock, but sometimes, I don’t want to hear Idiots Who Think They’re Happy, so I just play Something Else. They can’t all be winners, I guess, but I heard That’s the Way it Goes.

Autological is one of many English words with the Greek prefix auto-, meaning self. A plane on autopilot flies itself. This allows the human pilot to lock the cabin door and treat himself to autoerotic asphyxiation until it’s time to land.

biography (left) is written by a dispassionate historian and is thus more likely to acknowledge someone’s huge ugly head than a sugar-coated autobiography (right). 

Here are some other things to which you can apply the prefix auto-.











With warmest regards,

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Nine Movies in Ten Sentences

Dear Friends,
The Hard Taco song for January, “Pando,” is about my love for the largest and oldest living thing on the planet, Pando. Pando looks like a forest of aspens, but he Is actually a single organism with a network of underground roots throughout 106 acres in Utah.

Countdown Stories
Lauren and I have a homegrown road trip game we do with the kids. We try to tell the synopsis of a popular story in exactly 10 lines, with each line one word shorter than the last. The first line is 10 words, the second 9 words, etc., and we have to finish the story by time we get down to the final 1-word sentence.

Here are some Countdown Story retellings of some of my favorite classic movies.

Historically speaking, merpeople and humans don’t hang out very much.
“History my ass,” Ariel says, rescuing hunky unconscious guy.
She swaps her voice for... what’s that? Legs.
Calypso music, we discover, is quite romantic.
The prince learns a valuable lesson:
Never trust hotties named Vanessa.
The ship shanks Ursula
Making witch kebab.
Teenage wedding?

Luke grudgingly befriends a hermit. They overpay a glorified cabbie.
The hermit disintegrates, but the princess with Cinnabon earmuffs
Fits Luke with a size small orange uniform.
Some X-shaped spaceships attack a moon-shaped base.
A disembodied voice tells Luke,  “Relax.
Turn off that targeting computer.
Envision murdering womp rats.”
Thanks, dead hermit.
Thanks, cabbie.

A mopey beauty, whose soulmate allegedly perished, goes horseback riding.
Three guys with different accents and BMIs kidnap her.
She shoves her masked rescuer into a chasm.
A fanged capybara gnaws on his shoulder.
Suction cups leave him mostly dead.
Who will stop this wedding?
The unintelligible rhyming giant?
Either mustachioed protagonist?
Fred Savage?

Bilbo goes sightseeing with Gandalf’s little buddies whose names rhyme.
Though small, Bilbo outsmarts trolls, goblins, spiders, and elves
Plus, a shriveled riddler with dissociative identity disorder.
The dwarves covet jewelry above meaningful relationships.
So, as it happens, do dragons
And pretty much everyone else.
Hobbits have hairy feet,
But they’re sweethearts.
Where to?

Professor Jones is on sabbatical, doing fieldwork in South America.
Is getting tenure really worth tarantulas, boulders, and blowguns?
And when will he finish his big grant?
Never, with the Nazis constantly scooping him.
The academic world is ridiculously cutthroat
It’s literally publish or perish
And during the Depression
Funding is tight.
Aw, crap.

Forrest has short hair, loves God, and joins the army.
He does not embrace the excesses of the 1960s.
Jenny, however, represents everything wrong about liberal counterculture
She’s promiscuous. She’s anti-war. She uses drugs.
The lesson is hippies get AIDS.
Obviously, it’s all conservative propaganda.
Gump even wears a
Red trucker hat.
Forrest Trump.

Doc’s time machine requires stolen plutonium to generate 1.21 gigawatts
Libyans in a Volkswagen Microbus want their plutonium back.
Marty escapes to 1955 and coaches his parents,
Preventing them from becoming alcoholic loser dorks.
He teaches Chuck Berry rock music,
Then harnesses lightning to return,
Producing flaming tire tracks.
Now where’s Doc?
Uh oh...

A paleontologist, paleobotanist, and chaos theorist ride a customized Jeep
It’s storming when Messy Fat Guy unleashes some dinosaurs
Who devour Samuel Jackson, except for one arm.
Aren’t they hungry enough for both arms?
Dinosaurs spit on Messy Fat Guy
Before ravaging him off camera
That’s what he deserves
Because he’s evil.
Pure evil.

Balding psychiatrist and his wife have been growing apart recently
Because (spoiler alert) he kicked the bucket last year.
Everyone who ever died in Philadelphia harasses Cole.
He’s lucky he doesn’t live in Beijing.
Fortunately, he (spoiler alert) learns something.
I saw Haley Joel Osment
On Buzzfeed last week.
He’s no longer
(Spoiler alert)

Mikey’s searching for One-Eyed Willy, which is not a euphemism.
Mouth speaks Spanish, Chunk Hebrew, and Data broken English.
They disarm booby traps thanks to piano lessons.
Once, Chunk feigned puking off a balcony.
Mikey uses his inhaler too often.
Mama Fratelli makes Corey Feldman
Spit out the pearls.
Sloth love Chunk
Chunk reciprocates.
With warmest regards,