Saw an article in the paper, or a paper, or an online version of a paper, or -

Let me start again. Saw an article that had a familiar font at the top, indicating that I should apply to the story whatever goodwill and credibility I associated with the graphic element. Truth and wit and rigor and a hundred years of truth-telling, and so on. The article was about tacos.

From what I gleaned from a quick scan, tacos as we know them in America are not like actual Mexican tacos, except maybe they are. My failure to get the pith of the gist has to do with a short attention span, a lack of interest in modern food writing - in feature-section terms, it’s the perfect synthesis of the travel and spirituality sections - and also a suspicion that most Americanized versions of foreign foods are not authentic reproductions. This goes both ways: in Mexico I was served a cheeseburger that had a non-Yanqui-beef flavor and that strange white Mexican cheese whose exact characteristic I’ve never been able to isolate, except that it seems like congealed mildew.

Tacos have been a staple here for supper simply because my daughter will eat them, and for years getting her stocked with proteins for supper has been the primary objective. Plus, I like tacos. A crisp shell, some chopped greens, cilantro, onions, cheese so sharp you have to put the leftovers in those plastic boxes with the biohazard signs, a sprinkling of mild chilis. Sauce? Not necessary, but if you must, I’ve some sauce. It’s cold. This ruins everything. REFRIGERATE AFTER OPENING is the thing you don’t want to read, because no one wants cold condiments. The taco sauce container in the fridge always wears a crust of dry sauce, too. You have to heat it up in the microwave on half-power, and the only word to describe reheated chilled taco sauce is “Sullen.”

So tonight I tried something new: Trader Joe’s taco powder. You could tell it was Special
because you were supposed to add a can of tomato sauce. I’ve tried all the other packets of taco powder - Old Mexico, Chi-chi’s (not bad) Ortega, Taco Bell. None of them even thought to ask for a tomato component. Bought fresh ground beef, browned it, tossed in the powder and sauce, simmered, chopped up the supporting actors, and served everyone a plate of delicious, hot, American tacos.

Everyone took a bite. The first bite doesn’t count because you’re getting shell, mostly. Then the second bite.

Strained looks around the table. Including me. Now, I like hot stuff. Not the stupidly hot YOLO sauce that makes you bleed internally and shoot napalm the following day, but I like good heat. This was . . . unusual. In fact it was so unusual that I wondered what Trader Joe’s was thinking: unless they’d profiled the average customer and discovered that their mouths were lined with asbestos and Fiberglas, this was really, really hot.

Daughter pushed the plate away. Wife, pained, said “it’s too spicy.” Me, I’m starting to sweat after one taco. This was a painful taco.

“Was it extra hot?” my wife asked. I fished the package out of the trash. No. No warnings about inordinate hotness on the front. I checked the back. My eyes alit on the nutritional ingredients:

Serving size: 1 tsp

Servings per package: 12

Oh. No. You can’t be serious. I looked closer, and saw the recipe on the bottom of the package, in small letters: it called for one half of the package, which would yield 6 tacos. So the entire package would season 12. I hadn’t dumped in 12 times as much spice as required, just twice as much.

It all went down the garbage disposal.

Honestly, Trader Joe’s. Honestly. Every single taco-powder option out there has a simple rule: one packet = one pound of meat. I’d guess that 70% of the people who buy this dump it all in the skillet, and even after they’ve realized their mistake they never buy it again, because really, how do you measure 1/2 of the packet, exactly?


And that was the highlight of my day. Well, that and hearing the doorbell ring, going to the front door, sweating, and seeing my cousin-in-law standing there with a briefcase, because he had remembered it was time for our annual financial review, and we hadn’t. I sat at the kitchen table looking over our investments, still daubing my forehead and neck. I had to explain that I wasn’t sweating over the rate of return, just an inadvertent doubling of the spice quotient. A simple error.

He nodded and went on to explain how the green line indicated a position we had in the Euro. But only for a few months.

“We’re not in the Euro now, though.”

He said we weren’t. But I still sweated for a few more minutes. If it’s not the spice, it’s the Euro.




Still watching Battlestar Galactica. Wondering how it will end. They will find Earth, and it will either A) be a cinder, B) have its own Cylon problem, or C) be a wormhole that takes them back to Caprica. Then Adama reveals he’s a Cylon all along. It can’t end happy, I know that, because it’s not Star Trek.

I bring this up to note one of the things I like: giving the show a late 70s / early 80s feel with fonts. Not clothes; not language; not hairstyles. Fonts. Okay, and corded phones, but there’s a reason for that, right? So the Cylons can’t intercept signals. Here:


That is, appropriately, Orbit-B. If I understand that type of font, it's meant to look like 70s OCR fonts. When you see them on computer screens, it means someone didn't quite get the point of opitical character recognition. The protrusions and odd thicknesses are meant to give the reader a boost, a hint. A little help.

Then there's this:



I don't know the name. But tell me that doesn't look like a screen shot from a 1983 movie. Except for the part about Zarek being from Sagittaron.

It’s reminds me how difficult it is to express the 80s and 90s in fonts. I just don’t have a handle on it. The obvious display types have an 80s feel, because they appeared on TV shows or album covers or games.

Some fonts with 80s pedigrees - not because they came from the decade, but because they got wide exposure:



Mistral would be great if no one used it, or had used it. Alas. It's really popular in Montreal.

Wouldn’t really care, except I’m trying to design an 80s-style site for the book’s imminent release. Do you know how hard it is to make something that says “80s,” and is accurate? Inaccurate is easy. Early 80s is insanely hard. The hair is evolved from the late 70s, but not much. The ads are getting some tweaks that reflect “New Wave” ideas - i.e., jagged bolts, grids, geometric objects, and so on. You can usually look at an ad and nail the decade, but the 80s are hard. Here: 70s or 80s?



The more you look, the more you know it’s early 80s. The hair, yes. The styles. But there’s something else: there’s a look I can’t quite put my finger on. The focus. The composition of the entire ad. Then they added something else to make it difficult. They copied the ads of prevous eras, too.



Straight-up 1920s style.

Today: nothing! A second week without a Wednesday update. There are reasons. Big motel update tomorrow. See you around - at the Strib blog, Twitter, and Lint.










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