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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Eighth Anniversary Issue

We are the Franklin Party of 1847.

January 1st, 2011

BY GREG ROBERTS

These past eight years have seen an enormous effort from the human work force. Billions of people toiled like termites in a million strange tasks from tapping rubber to launching satellites and designing dildoes.

franklinships.jpgBut when you really think about it, hardly any progress was made over those years. Oh sure, the latest laptop computers are as thin as fruit leather and baseball caps now contain little lightbulbs in their bills, but there have been no big breakthroughs, industrial or philosophical. As for myself, I saw an Agami heron and added it to my life list of birds, and I learned to smoke fish properly with just the right brine. And just this year I learned that you can use paint thinner more than once, by letting the paint pigment settle to the bottom of a jar and pouring off the clear spirits. Other than that, the eight years have gone by with little to show, like a goofy dream.


There is no doubt that our species is devolving. In vast cities from St. Louis to Singapore, masses of people tootle through the streets fantasizing about plastic shoes, Reuben sandwiches, and picture phones as they pour 128-ounce Slurpees into their poison-sick bodies, setting the alarm clock for that 2015 emergency room visit that will cost the rest of us a hundred thousand dollars.

Even on the college campus in the town where I live, the best and brightest mosey down the street staring at cell phone messages about PETA protests, pepperoni pizzas, and compact florescent light bulbs that will save this planet. As these clueless clowns walk with their heads down, staring at screens smaller than the postage stamps of Bhutan, it is extraordinary that a hundred a day aren’t run over by cars and buses.

Their mentors, the professors, scientists, engineers, and politicians, have recently bestowed the compact florescent bulb on our culture, but it took more than eight years to perfect it. Starting in 1970, on Earth Day, a world-wide team of wizards engaged millions of researchers and spent billions of dollars — all of this grunting and grinding to produce a bulb filled with poison gas. Instead of being disillusioned that the forty-year effort has yielded next to nothing, the ecomaniacs are giddier than ever. They are now bowing down to bird-killing windmills. You can’t reason with them, anymore than you can reason with trackers of extraterrestrials or chasers of chupacabras.

The Greens in Spain were so eager to create utopia, they raised the price of gasoline to nine dollars a gallon to pay for it all. Then they went bankrupt. The Greens in Spain now hike across the plain; when fuel’s nine dollars, the Greens in Spain can’t ever take the plane.

And yet many of my closest associates are clamoring to bring nine-dollar gasoline to this country. Just ask the texters on campus. They’re down with it, even if it adds another three-hundred bucks to that trip to Burning Man. Bummer, man. When will we get that solar-powered minibus into production? At this rate it will come out in 2110.

True, I shouldn’t be so critical of others when I myself have accomplished nothing of real importance these past eight years. I’ve floated through life dabbling in silly hobbies and engaging in the same conversations over and over, as if we were all in some crazy, never-ending Agatha Christie play.

“You get any tomatoes in your garden yet?”

“A few Early Girl cherries, but the Brandywines aren’t even close.”

“Been fishing?”

“Was gonna go, but I had to meet with the accountant.”

My choices in life, the way I spend my time, are bordering on the ridiculous. A recent storm pushed piles of kelp the size of cars up on the sand. The wind was so fierce it carried rocks the size of snapping turtles onto the beach, the kelp rhizomes attached to them. I cut the kelp stem and carried one of these rocks home with me. After hours of painting the kelp and reinforcing it with silicone to keep it from breaking, I now have a unique doorstop. Sound stupid? Yes, but no worse than standing on a street corner staring at a text message.

Yes, it is all so very unremarkable, but there is one phenomenon worth noting in these past eight years. Western societies have created such astounding wealth and such a vast universe of leisure time, the result is a staggering number of artists. Millions of painters, clarinetists, cellists, bonsai shapers, and artistic mycologists suddenly sprang up like a hoard of flies pupating from a recent corpse. And they are clamoring for an audience, even if it’s just a handful of people and a couple of dogs — à la Kill Devil Hill.

I know fifty string musicians so adept that had they been living in the 1950s, they would now be in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Instead they play in coffeehouses, sometimes for just a cup of coffee. Ten thousand photographers who are as good as the Westons are hawking their art from card tables at pumpkin festivals, hoping to sell enough to cover gasoline and the ten-dollar table fee. So many books are now being published, this whole continent could end up looking as treeless as Easter Island. Electronic readers will only delay the process.

While people eat fried mud in Haiti, a $75 coffee table book just plopped off the presses: Ten-Cent 1869 Covers — A Postal Historical Survey, by Michael Laurence. This lavish work shows hundreds of envelopes bearing the yellow ten-cent eagle stamps on original envelopes. A beautiful thing, and I was among the first to buy a copy.

As extremely accomplished people pour out their souls for no pay, we can come to a conclusion: education is not the answer. The politicians are just saying that to sidetrack you and to keep you from rising up and killing them. You still need a real job.

But don’t despair. The whole game can change overnight. Just as Ben Franklin pulled everyone together to form a library, a post office, and a fire department, we could see such a figure step forth in our own time and slap us out of our stupor. Maybe that person is heading this way right now, from Mars, and he talks like Michael Rennie*. Let’s hope.

Meanwhile, we are the Franklin Party of 1847**. We have left the wrecked ship and are camping on Ellesmere Island. Our small successes — the building of the shelter and the collecting of firewood — aren’t enough to save us. We need an inspired genius, an Einstein or a Beethoven, to discover that the food is poisoned, and to organize a fishing trip for fresh cod and seal meat.

Rennie had better put the pedal to the floor. The Franklin Party just sat by the fire and played cards until the last man died. These lollygagging texters who are running this currrent expedition are no better. •

* as Klaatu in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still

** English Rear-Admiral Sir John Franklin died in 1847 near King William Island in Canada while attempting to navigate a section of the Northwest Passage.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 8th Anniversary Issue, Roberts | Link to this Entry

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