Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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July 18, 2014

First posted 1/9/12


Do you remember when it was considered a compliment to be called clever? I remember hearing comments like, “That Johnny is one clever boy.” I wanted to be like Johnny. I thought my parents wanted me to be clever, a term I equated with smart. But somewhere along the way clever became undesirable. My ears are still ringing from the last time my wife said, “You think you’re sooo clever!”


Clever was once used to describe someone who was brilliant, sharp and possessing quick intelligence, but lately it’s come to imply shallowness and superficiality. It is a mystery how “clever” managed to attain positive status in the first place, considering all Aesop did to disparage the idea. Aesop cleverly puts down cleverness with his fables, and cements into our collective consciousness the idea of the “clever fox.” No fewer than twenty-five of his fables deal with the exploits of foxes. Here’s one you might not know, even though you’ve been quoting the ending for as long as you can remember:


The Fox and the Goat


A fox had fallen into a well and had been casting about for a long time how he should get out again. At length a goat came to the place and, wanting to drink, asked the fox whether the water was good and if there was plenty of it. The fox, avoiding the real danger of his case, replied, "Come down, my friend; the water is so good that I cannot drink enough of it, and so abundant that it cannot be exhausted."


Upon this the goat without any more ado leaped in. The fox, taking advantage of his friend's horns, nimbly leaped out and coolly remarked to the poor deluded goat: "If you had half as much brains as you have beard, you would have looked before you leaped."


Clever yes, but admirable no. I didn’t read Aesop when I was a kid, but I was raised on another set of fables called Leave It To Beaver. On that TV icon from the ‘50s and ‘60’s, snarky Eddie Haskell serves in many episodes as a fox. There was no doubt in my mind that Eddie was clever, always talking Wally and the Beav into doing things that landed them in hot water. Eddie was morally corrupt, a fact well known by the adults on the program, and it always surprised me that Ward and June never forbade their kids from hanging out with such a corrupting influence. My folks would have booted Eddie out the door and told him to never return, and then they would have booted me in the ass for being gullible, not clever enough to see through his schemes.


Have you ever listened to someone trying to be funny, only to realize they were merely being clever? Do you laugh at clever puns, or do you groan? In fact, we seldom laugh at cleverness, which is why nobody laughs at Aesop’s fables. We despise the clever fox and want him punished for what he’s done, just as we wanted Eddie Haskell torn a new one at the end of those Leave it to Beaver episodes.


I’ve researched cleverness (five minutes on Google) and I’ve come away with the notion that cleverness is slick and temporary, designed to master the moment. Wisdom must be nurtured slowly, like grapes gradually transformed into fine wine. But unlike fine wine, the benefits of wisdom are lasting.


I decided when I began Chubby Chatterbox that this blog would not dispense advice (I’m not qualified to give any) but here I contradict myself. I advise you to disregard this post and endeavor to be like Johnny, mentioned at the beginning. It’s okay to be smart and fill your head with wisdom, but be clever about it; don’t broadcast the fact because most of us don’t really like smart people and consider them a pain in the ass. We have little difficulty erasing smart people from our thoughts as quickly as possible, but clever foxes are immortal, as are Eddie Haskells. Anyone have anything clever to add?







The Greeks were really into cleverness. Besides Aesop, Homer was big on that, like with the Trojan Horse. Odysseus was especially known for his cleverness, kind of like a Bronze Age MacGuyver as he found ways to get past various obstacles on his way home. But I suppose these days a lot of people are scared of that kind of intelligence. Incidentally there are a lot of clever people on Wall Street and in Washington and so forth, all looking for ways to put one over on us goats.
By: PT Dilloway on July 18, 2014
It seems to me that we like our military commanders to be clever so they win the battles. But we want our political leaders to be intelligent.
By: Uncle Skip on July 18, 2014
i like funny clever. i don't like subversive clever. :)
By: TexWisGirl on July 18, 2014
"Gee Mrs. Cleaver I really like your dress", is a phrase that has become a part of our family's "words". I hadn't realized until last year that the grands used it but didn't know where it came from. When I had them watch one episode with Eddie Haskell, my grandson said, "what a suck up and a jerk". Hmmmmm, never used the clever word.
By: omalinda on July 18, 2014
I guess the problem I have with the fable is why didn't the fox ask for help from the goat? What some call clever I call exploitation. And yes, I want exploitation punished. But cleverness? Not so much.
By: Michael Offutt on July 18, 2014
I love being called clever.
By: Izdiher on July 18, 2014
A very interesting post and of course cleverness and wisdom are not necessarily the same thing. Great food for thought.
By: John on July 18, 2014
Eddie Haskell--my first laugh of the day. He was ruthless, calling Beaver "squirt" and getting free sandwiches. I think part of the humor was June and Ward tolerating this rascal! :)
By: Michael Manning on July 18, 2014
I'm a fan of puns and cleverness in general. I like it when someone is trying to be amusing and make others laugh. It's not the same as someone trying to prove they're smarter than everyone else or get others into trouble.
By: Lexa Cain on July 18, 2014
One must be smart to be clever but one does not have to be clever to be smart.
By: Akansas Patti on July 18, 2014
I remember this post. I think I commented before that I like the word clever, and I still feel the same way. I used to do a kind of '60s sitcom routine with one of Favorite Young Man's friends, named Rick. I would push my glasses down on my nose and say in a nasally sweet voice, Richaaaaaard, have you been a good boy today? Rick, being quite clever, would grunt like a Neanderthal, Yes, Mrs. Honigs. We amused ourselves with that for years. I'm not sure why. Now he calls me Janie. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 18, 2014
There are times and places where you need to be clever, and then there are times when it just means you are being a "smartypants."
By: mimi on July 18, 2014
House Guarded By Shotgun 3 Days A Week. Guess Which Days. :-)
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 18, 2014
"Clever" is when you know a tomato is a fruit. "Intelligent" is when you know not to put it in a fruit salad. (I can't take credit for it, it was one of those Facebook memes, but I thought it was a fitting comment for today's post)
By: Pixel Peeper on July 18, 2014
A clever re-use of previous wisdom(s).
By: Tom Cochrun on July 18, 2014
Clever Gretl used her cleverness to help herself out, some people think that's a good thing. It's better to do it right in the first place.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on July 18, 2014
I always thought that Eddie Haskell thought he was clever while everyone around him, except the Cleaver boys knew he was a cheat and a liar. Clever to me is someone like Putin who can bring the whole world down around his ears if we let him.
By: Tabor on July 18, 2014
Teaching mostly freshmen, I encounter my fair share of would-be Eddie Haskells. I don't even think they know the basis for their Haskellness. Kids these days would never watch a show in black-and-white.
By: Val on July 18, 2014
Oh but I do like clever puns. Very much. I laugh and groan. Such is the nature of puns. Especially those which are home-groan. ;)
By: Hilary on July 18, 2014
By: red on July 18, 2014
I loved Leave It To Beaver! Eddie was clever like a fox, that's true. Humor is cleverâ¦.so I wouldn't mind it if someone called me clever ;-)
By: marcia @ Menopausal Mother on July 18, 2014
Eddie did always make me laugh.
By: Cranky Old Man on July 18, 2014
Better to be called clever than a smart ass ... which, in turn, is better than being called a dumb ass!
By: Tom Sightings on July 19, 2014
I like TexWisGirl's comment. It sort of depends on the desired end result. As humor goes cleverness is a great tool, but to achieve subversive goals cleverness is evil. I hope that whatever cleverness I have is seen as being for good.
By: Scott Park on July 19, 2014
I suppose I am getting much older and crankier than I would like to. For I have heard the misuse of many words lately that has irritated me to no end. One of them involves the on-air personalities at CNBC insisting upon referring to those coming out with new products and services as being disrupters when the commonly-held definition of a disruption is a negative event. Another one is referring to digital hacking as being both good and bad. Isn't the English language bad enough with all of the words we have for the same thing without confusing definitions further?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 20, 2014
I couldn't think of something clever to say, so I'll just quote Oscar Wilde: "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 22, 2014

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