On the Good Ship, Poppycock

I first wrote about it on May 8, 2019; Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, a documentary film. A year later, just last month, I stumbled across information that it would finally be available on Independent Lens on PBS this month (June). I recorded it and, last night, watched it.  It is a fascinating documentary. Marion Stokes recorded more than 70,000 VHS tapes during the course of thirty years. She recorded television twenty-four hours a day, beginning with the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and ending when she died during television coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre. She recorded television that, except for her bizarre fascination with capturing facts so they could not be conveniently forgotten or altered, might be lost. The Internet Archive will (or, perhaps, already has) digitize her tapes so they can be searched at no cost. Stokes was a rich reclusive Communist (a strange package, that) whose madness was both devastating and ingenious. I think I’ll have to watch the documentary again to fully absorb the scope and value of her work.


Arkansas once was known as the “Bear State.” Before the territory was settled, it was home to an estimated 50,000 black bears. Destruction of suitable habitat and over-hunting, though, decimated the black bear population, reducing it to roughly fifty in the 1930s. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) imported 250 black bears in an effort to replenish the state’s population of bears. That effort, coupled with a ban on hunting black bears (which was in effect between 1927 and 1980), resulted in a black bear population estimated at between four thousand and five thousand today. Female black bears rarely weigh more than 300 pounds, but males can reach 600 to 700 pounds.

I did research for this little lesson in Arkansas black bear ecology because there have been several bear sightings in Hot Springs Village of late, including some on our street. Yesterday, my wife spotted a bear cub or yearling (not a full grown bear, at least) walking up our driveway and crossing the street, disappearing into the forest on the other side. Unfortunately, I was not home to see the event and my wife was unable to get a photo. Such is life. Other people in the area have been able to get still images and a few videos. I think it’s cool that such creatures are wandering among us. I hope they flourish.


Thus far this summer (which has not yet officially begun), the temperatures have not been intolerable. Highs in the mid to upper eighties are extremely uncomfortable, but not intolerable. Today, the high is forecast to reach only 81; by Tuesday, meteorologists and their amateur wanna-be brethren say the high will reach only 79. Tonight’s low should be 68; I am comfortable and happy at 68.  I wonder whether this summer will be a sweltering Arkansauna or, like our first summer here, a soothing extended spring? I think the soothing spring possibility has already left the station, but a less-than-molten summer remains a possibility. I will offer the Universe my heartfelt advance thanks for a less-than-molten summer, anticipating that the Universe would not want to be placed in a not-so-positive light by seeming to dismiss a heartfelt expression of appreciation. I am devious that way. Of course, the Universe may be even more so. We shall see.


An odd bit of inexplicable curiosity led me on a search for the largest cauldron available for purchase online. Thus far, it seems an eighty-five gallon cast iron cauldron, weighing 505 pounds, is the limit. At $1,195, it seems like a bargain. After examining details of the cauldron, I began looking around the page on which I found it: www.magicwicca.com. About the company that operates that page, the header says, “We Provide the Tools you need for your Beliefs and Rituals.” [Capitalization as shown on the page, by the way.] Hmm, I thought to myself, given the company’s emphasis, I wonder whether the intent of such a large cauldron is to deal with such stuff as:

Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

But then something else on the page caught my eye. Under a small header on the right side of the page, labeled “Best Sellers,” was a link to this item: “Body Oil Sex Only With Me.” Out of growing curiosity, I explored the link, where I read a description: “Pheromone Oil Use on wrists and neck to keep your lover faithful to you.” Alas, the $7.25 product is “currently out of stock.” And I can see why, of course!

Oh, well. There are other interesting products available for sale on the site. For example, incense, herbs, athane, magic dust and eye pillows, among others. Athane? What the hell is an athane, I wondered? I checked it out; an athane is a witch’s ceremonial knife, used in rituals as opposed to a cutting tool. Well, of course. And who can live without lavender and jasmine-scented flannel eye pillows? This website is a gold-mine!

The subject of sex, once raised, cannot be dismissed so easily (you do remember the “Body Oil Sex Only With Me” that’s out of stock, right?). So, my mind went back to a conversation yesterday afternoon with my sister-in-law, when she mentioned Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest shock products, including two candles labeled, respectively, “This Smells Like My Vagina” and “This Smells Like My Orgasm.” Seriously. Gwyneth Paltrow sells all manner of dangerous products she claims are good for people (not that these are dangerous, you understand). I wonder how she has managed to stay out of jail? Ah, yes, she’s filthy-rich and a Hollywood actress. Those attributes help keep the jail-house doors from slamming behind her, I’m sure.  I suspect a claim of false advertising against her two shock-value-for-the-pocketbook products would have essentially no chance of succeeding.

Plaintiff’s Attorney: “Your Honor, the plaintiff contends that Ms. Paltrow’s products falsely claim to exude the odor of her vagina and orgasm, respectively, and we ask the court to require her to immediately cease advertising those products. We ask for punitive damages in the amount of $650 million and attorney’s fees.”

Judge: Let’s see, or sniff, your proof. [Pause] Oh, I see. Case dismissed.

Back to the cauldron. I got side-tracked somehow. Eighty-five gallons. Depending on where you look, you will find that the average human body contains between 11 and 16 gallons of water and that water constitutes roughly sixty percent of the body’s mass. Erring on the upside, that means that approximately 28 gallons of “content” comprise the human body. Properly configured, my big cauldron could conceivably hold three people, then. Fear not; I’m not planning on verifying my arithmetic. I’m just trying to get a comparative sense of the volume of an 85-gallon cauldron. My next problem, of course, is to find a suitable stove-top to accommodate my culinary interests.


We’re taught we should not hate. The concept that we should never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, wish death on another person is pumped into us like water from a fire hose. But does any of it stick? Do we occasionally (or somewhat more frequently) daydream about plunging a dirty, rusted sword (to which large filthy fish hooks have been welded to prevent the sword’s removal without also removing significant portions of the viscera in the process) into the mid-chest of a vile, narcissistic, utterly immoral human-look-alike animal? Of course not. Who would even think it? I bet Stephen King would. Speaking of Stephen King, I wonder if I alone have noticed the extraordinary long distance between the base of his nose and the beginning of his upper lip? It is remarkable to me. I am conscious of large empty spaces, such as the diastema between my two front teeth.  And, with regard to wide spaces between the two front teeth, I have noticed (and it’s purely annecdotal and observational on my part and may be entirely untrue, so take it with a grain or two of salt) that very visible diastemas are much more common among people of African, versus European, descent. Which may mean that I am African-American.  And speaking of noses, too, were you unaware, as I was, that the indentation that appears on many people beneath the nose and above the lip is called the philtrum? It is also called the medial cleft. Stephen King’s philtrum is, in most photographs I have seen, essentially invisible.

By the way, I have mispronounced diastema for my entire life. The proper pronunciation is dahy-uhstee-muh. I have mispronounced is as dahy-ass-teemuh. What an absolutely horrendous, embarrassing misuse and abuse of the English language! I suspect people have been pointing at me and laughing at me for more than sixty years because of the way I have butchered that word. How in the name of all that’s holy could I have gotten it so horribly wrong all these years? I wonder whether I will continue to mispronounce it going forward? Unlike most people, who rarely use the word, I use it frequently because, as it evident, I am quite conscious of my very own dahy-uh-stee-muh. Will I continue my bad habit? Time, alone, will tell. Others may tell, as well, but they will do it behind my back as they point at me, mocking me for my broken and deformed elocution.


For many years, I have from time to time broken into song, sometimes singing the words:

On the good ship, Poppycock,
A big bad boy defaced a clock
Causing sailors to scream and say
We’re going to catch you, boy, and then we’ll slay
You will truly, truly rue the day
That you murdered time with a rock.

It’s just nonsense and doesn’t even roll off the tongue properly. That’s evidence of something, but I don’t know what.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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