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Black Lamb


Black Lamb was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Published monthly. (more)


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Low & sleek & silver & gorgeous

July 1st, 2014


I bought a hearse the same year I became self-appointed to the Green River Killer Task Force. She was low and sleek and silver and gorgeous.

hearse2I would peek between the blinds to admire her because she was so damn beautiful and all mine. I didn’t live on the safest street in Portland: two blocks down from the Clinton Street Theater, which played The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday and Saturday evening. All the dressed-up show creatures would creep past my window on the way to the movies. They would ogle and stroke my beautiful Lucrezia as she sat parked outside my window. If Facebook had been around then, I’m sure all of them would have posed with her for their death car selfie.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Fournier | Link to this Entry

March 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 3 — March 2014

March 1st, 2014

In our March issue, editor Terry Ross wonders in Vive la différence! whether it would more honest if society admitted that condescension is all right. In Soul on ice, Ben Feliciano, no sports fan, exposes himself to professional hockey. In Beating up the Bard Toby Tompkins pays tribute to the greatest writer of all after walking out of a play at intermission for the first time in his life. Elizabeth Fournier fondly remembers crashing Joe DiMaggio’s funeral in Joltin' Joe & Chinatown. In To tell the truth, John M. Daniel's recalls how he learned about lying from his mother and advertisers. Susan Bennett admits that she is Having an affair with a second horse. Lucia Cowles reviews Elisabeth de Wall's book about 1950s Vienna, and Nic Grosso reviews one about plants and their sex lives. We welcome Frederick Exley into our coterie of Honorary Black Lambs. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall defends the proud coyote against legions of urban cat lovers. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another tricky Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Vive la différence!

Why did "condescension" become a pejorative term?

March 1st, 2014


The poor word has had a hard time of it. Once a proud descriptor, whether as noun, adjective, or verb, it has dwindled to a mere gibe. What had previously signified a praiseworthy act now means a rude, even a detestable, one.

The Oxford English Dictionary locates the derivation of “concescend” in the Latin roots meaning to “go down with.” As a verb, it lists two principal meanings: “to stoop voluntarily and graciously,” and “to depart from the privileges of superiority by a voluntary submission; to sink willingly to equal terms with inferiours.” As a noun, we have the delightfully worded “voluntary abnegation for the nonce of the privileges of a superior; affability to one’s inferiors, with courteous disregard of rank or position.”

This is the denotation; the connotation is quite different. In Roget, “condescend” is listed under “878. Pride.” “Condescendence” and “condescension” are grouped with “self-esteem,” “self-respect,” “self-importance,” “vanity,” and “haughtiness.” Nothing very “gracious” or “affable” here. As a verb it is listed alongside “act proudly,” “deign,” “stoop,” “look down one’s nose,” “strut,” “swagger,” and “show off.” As an adjective, with “dignified,” “noble,” “imposing,” and “stilted.” Like its cousin “patronizing,” “condescending” has taken on an almost entirely negative flavor.

The terms that annoy some well-meaning people in the OED’s definitions are “superior,” “inferiour,” “rank,” and “position,” precisely the words that denote differences among us. Our post-Sixties posture of “political correctness” [sic] discourages us from thinking in hierarchies. The intellectually deficient individual is no longer “disabled,” merely “differently abled.” Whole ranges of people are labled “special,” requiring “special education,” rather than more specifically categorized. Merely to hint that some people may in fact be stupid, thick, or not playing with a full deck is to risk being ostracized or, at best, accused of being “mean.” The bell curve is out, out, out! Even simple categories of human characteristics, along with hierarchies, are impermissible. No more fatsos (they have weight-related diseases), loudmouths (they’re bipolar and forgot their meds), string beans (bulemia), or goofballs (ADHD).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

Joltin’ Joe & Chinatown

March 1st, 2014


My favorite memories of days spent in San Francisco are rich and ripe with pungency. Not in a stumbling-across-a-row-of-steamy-outhouses, death-spank way, but more of an aromatic bacon awakening after a long nap.

dimaggiotheswingOne perfectly sunny Thursday I crashed the funeral of Joe DiMaggio, the elegant Yankee Clipper. It was in invite-only service; the hubbub in the park across the street was that no Yankees had been invited. My original location was Washington Square Park, that huge green space across Filbert Street from the twin-spired Saints Peter and Paul Church. All of us fans, reporters, TV uplink trucks, city gawkers, and non-funeral invitees were sandwiched between cones on the exact chunk of grass where they had filmed scenes from Clint’s Dirty Harry, when his character was hot on the trail of the Scorpio Killer. I surveyed the park crowd a few times for George Steinbrenner.

I didn’t show up until after it started so I missed the seven limousines pulling in front of the church around ten that morning, shuttling about fifty family members and friends to the service. The word on the grass was that the presiding priest had known DiMaggio since the two grew up together, and that Joe’s only surviving sibling, his brother Dominic, would be giving the eulogy.

Even though the blocks of mourners were behind a police barricade, the crowds weren’t just lookie loos. A lot of ballplayers and former ballplayers’s kids were standing among us. Facing the church, this grassy park is North Beach’s center. Washington Square was the heart of San Francisco’s Italian enclave of North Beach, where DiMaggio spent his childhood, so many people here were neighbors with some connection or another.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Fournier | Link to this Entry

February 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 2 — February 2014

February 1st, 2014

The All-Moon Issue

In our first-ever All Moon Issue, editor Terry Ross muses on the lunar calendar. In Phases of the Moon, Toby Tompkins starts with the astronauts’s moon landing and goes on from there. Elizabeth Fournier tells of wanting to be a Musical Maiden of the Moon in My companion, the moon. John M. Daniel tells of his brief career as an entertainer in Shine on, harvest moon. Our Honorary Black Lambs column honors two more figures from the world of literature, Americans both: poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and novelist Wallace Stegner. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis delivers another lesson in proper play. Our monthly lamb recipe is for Kreatopita Argostoli, a delicious Greek casserole. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall holds forth yet again. And Professor Avram Kahn proffers another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Moon Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Shine on, harvest moon

February 1st, 2014


My short stint as a part-time, semi-professional musician began in the early 1980s, when I worked as the manager of Wilbur Hot Springs, a country inn and hot springs resort in Colusa County, Calif. Wilbur Springs was (and still is) twenty-five miles from the nearest town. Wilbur was a wonderful place to live and work, so long as I remembered that it was more a romantic interlude than a lifetime commitment. I worked hard managing the hotel, the hot baths, the grounds, and the cook-it-yourself kitchen. There I learned how to rely on lists and schedules, how to remember the names of thirty or more guests each weekend, how to manage a staff of twelve, and how to cope with weather. The weather in the Wilbur winters consisted of rain and mud. Woodstoves and hot baths. But in the summers Wilbur Hot Springs was a place of hot days and hot nights.

At Wilbur I reconnected with the moon. I learned her phases and welcomed them all. The place used no electricity, so nights were dark on the ground and brilliant in the sky. On moonless night the stars dazzled and danced over our heads. Then as the month marched on, the moon took over, first as a waxing blob already high when the sky turned dark, then growing fuller and fuller, rising later and later, until it was plump and enormous as it rose over the hills in the east as the day wound down. This phenomenon of the rising of the full moon got better each summer month until we approached the autumnal equinox, when the ambient sunlight had dimmed and the moon appeared brighter, bigger, more warm and golden. I still can’t think of this sight without hearing, as a pleasant earworm, the chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon.…”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Daniel | Link to this Entry

January 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 1 — January 2014

January 1st, 2014

Eleventh Anniversary Issue

In this our 11th Anniversary Issue, Terry Ross examines the notion of anniversaries. In an article from our Best of Black Lamb archives, Cervine Kauffman tells a story of semi-requited love in Throwing in the towel. In Penmanship, our Pen Man, Dean Suess, admits that his handwriting is atrocious. Lane Browning says that she has practically given up — of all things — sitting in Embracing the vertical.

In Anticlimax, Elizabeth Fournier only partially regrets forswearing big city thrills for her quiet country life. Toby Tompkins proposes a cure for food shortages in Long pig. Into the mountains is the fourteenth installment of Lorentz Lossius’s 2007 Turkey diary. John M. Daniels reveals why one particular birthday is memorable in Twenty-two. A second article from our Best of Black Lamb archives is First and last Xmas, Lorentz Lossius’s lovely evocation of Christmas in Norway. Susan Bennett continues her tales of animal life in Fish story.

Our Honorary Black Lambs column honors two more figures from the world of literature: Swiss dictionarist Peter Mark Roget and English novelist W. Somerset Maugham. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis gives the ingenious solution to some new hands. Our monthly lamb recipe is for Ragout of Lamb Chops with Chestnuts. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall again offers her impeccable advice. And Professor Avram Kahn proffers another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Eleventh Anniversary Issue, Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Throwing in the towel

January 1st, 2014


When my friends met Jerry, they were appalled. Some of them even used the word “slumming.” But I liked to call it “towelling off.” I was climbing forth from the muck of yuppified eunuchs and video game slackers and rolling myself up in a real man. And it felt good.

womanhanginglaundryI met him while I was having a shake at my favorite diner and watching a guy unloading stacks of towels from his trunk. When the guy came in, I told him that he must want the Inn a Minute just across the parking lot, but he said no, he had just left there. Then he took a stool a few places down and started sorting his towels. I say “his” towels but they really belonged to the motel. He saw my brow furrow so he explained how the hospitality business works. He said that motels have to jack up their prices to make up for the towels that end up in people’s trunks, so guests, in turn, have to steal more towels to make the price of a motel worthwhile. It didn’t make much sense to me, but something about the conviction in his voice made me keep nodding. A couple of shakes later, I felt that I’d known Jerry for a week. When he suggested a road trip, I rolled up a few toiletries in a towel and got in the car.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Eleventh Anniversary Issue, Kauffman | Link to this Entry

Embracing the vertical

January 1st, 2014


I've given up sitting.

I spend my days upright now, like a solid old piano, a sturdy fir, a non-leaning tower of no pizza. I read standing up, I write standing up, I eat standing up. Other than when I’m in bed, or when I’m in the bathtub, I stand for all but an hour or so every day. I do sit down when I talk to clients at my desk, because standing would seem too preacher-posturey. For all other things, though, standing seems appropriate, even “natural,” and I don’t know why I sat all those years. Now I have space around me, because chairs and couches don’t clutter the area. I can change positions while standing. I can balance on one leg; I can tap dance, I can lean or stretch. I can slouch. I can shift my weight.

I can see farther than I did when sitting down.

Most of my work is done at a computer, so both my so-called “work stations” are set up for standing. I didn’t buy or build anything; I stacked boxes. Function over aesthetics. I have to say, I like it a lot. It’s been many months now, and I really like it. Going back (or down) would seem really odd. I think, having taken a stand, I am committed.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Browning, Eleventh Anniversary Issue | Link to this Entry

December 2013 in Black Lamb

Volume 11, Number 12 — December 2013

December 1st, 2013

In this December’s issue, Terry Ross reviews Frans de Waal’s latest book on primate behavior. Elizabeth finds that middle-age ain’t for sissies in Nel mezzo del cammin. In Trash talk, Toby Tompkins discusses what human beings do with their garbage. Lorentz Lossius continues his Turkish travelogue with Hagia Sophia. In Bad weather makes good neighbors, John M. Daniel reflects on the paucity of subjects of conversation in his small town. Evelyn Bartlett describes her efforts to find work in A woman of a certain age. In The Cherokees and I, Dan Peterson lays out his Indian lineage. Brad Bigelow reviews a biography of Charles Ives in The sound of America. M.A. Orthofer reviews Donna Tartt’s latest book, and Terry Ross continues with a second edition of The Black Lamb Manual of Style.

Two more prominent figures from the world of literature — English poet Thomas Gray and German novelist Peter Handke — are welcomed into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. We offer a tempting Literary Sampler of extracts from writers mentioned in this issue. Bridge writer Trixis Barkis makes two game contracts in Major triumphs. Our latest yummy recipe is for a simple meal of Lamb with Asparagus. In Xmas again, advice columnist Millicent Marshall reiterates some of her classic holiday wisdom. And Prof. Avram Khan gives us another challenging word puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

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