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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Cue the Cello Music

July 14, 2014

I was terrified long before the theater lights dimmed. It was July of 1975 and Mrs. Chatterbox and I, living in West Los Angeles, had come to see the movie Jaws. The theater was packed with enthusiastic movie-goers, here for 124 minutes of terror and gore.


I’d long had a fear of sharks, a phobia inherited from my grandfather, a Portuguese fisherman who’d described in detail encounters with great whites. And it didn’t help that several weeks before the premiere of Jaws a twenty foot great white had been caught off the Channel Islands and brought to the Santa Monica Pier where people flocked to see it. When cut open, two fully grown seals, each weighing close to two hundred pounds, were found in its stomach. They weren’t bitten and had been swallowed whole.


My pulse was pounding in tune with the strains of cello music as the movie began. The naked woman taking a night swim was so beautiful I’d consider eating her myself. By the time she’d been reduced to chum my feet were off the sticky floor and safely tucked beneath me.


Actually, I don’t mind being terrified by sharks. Everyone is afraid of something: Spiders, snakes, bees. I once worked in a mall with a coworker who wouldn’t walk past a pet store because of parrots on perches near the door. It’s unlikely a great white is going to drop from the ceiling or chase anyone around a mall, so if you’re going to be afraid of something great whites are a good choice. The popularity of TV’s Shark Week and silly movies like Sharknado suggest my phobia is shared by many.


Back in ‘75 I managed to maintain my composure during the first half of the movie, but I lost it during the scene when an underwater Richard Dreyfuss is startled when a human head with a floating eyeball pops into view. My feet were perched on the edge of my seat and safely off the floor, where I was certain sharks were circling, hunting for chubby ankles. Dreyfuss wasn’t the only one who nearly peed himself when shocked by that head; I kicked the seat in front of me so hard that popcorn flew from the hands of the kid seated in front of me.


He spun around and shouted, “Golly, mister, it’s only a movie!”


It was only a movie, but one I’ll never forget. To this day when I’m in a swimming pool I can’t stop thinking there’s a hole in the bottom big enough for a shark to find me. I’ve seen portions of Jaws on TV, my feet safely tucked under me on the couch. I tell my heart to stop jack hammering in my chest. Look how fake the shark looks, I tell myself, but I’m not listening.


Actually, sharks deserve our respect. Nature hasn’t changed their design in 500 million years. That’s impressive, especially if you consider what humans looked like a mere four million years ago. Sharks are necessary for maintaining healthy oceans. Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws, regretted the feverish hatred and massive killings his book inspired. He dedicated the remainder of his life to educating people about these important creatures, pointing out over and over that sharks, killed for sport or their fins, have much more to fear from us than we do from them.


Still, my biggest fear is that I’ll fall off a boat and glimpse a fin slicing through the water coming towards me, at which point I s#*t in the water and die of a massive heart attack before discovering it’s a curious dolphin heading towards me. Sharks have their place and I have mine. Listen up, sharks; I’ll stay out of your ocean and you stay out of my swimming pool.


It was that very same scene that caused me to bounce my own head off of the inside of the roof of my beloved '61 Chevy Apache 10 pick-up when Sam (my first wife) and I saw Jaws at a drive-in movie theater way back when. Now, I've seen the original Exorcist several times, but I refuse to watch Jaws again.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 14, 2014
Hopefully no Sharknadoes hit the Portland area. I see articles on some of the stuff in the oceans like sharks, giant squid, whales, beasties no one's seen in like 50,000 years, and then I think I do not ever want to swim in the ocean with all that stuff.
By: PT Dilloway on July 14, 2014
Yep- when we swim in the ocean we definitely are then part of the food chain. Sharks really do a lot of good and all living creatures have their place to keep Mother Nature balanced!
By: Kathe W. on July 14, 2014
glad you don't encounter them in every day life. :)
By: TexWisGirl on July 14, 2014
I've been afraid to go into the ocean too thanks to this movie.
By: Michael Offutt on July 14, 2014
That scene is definitely the one that makes you jump the most. I see this movie once a year.
By: Cranky Old Man on July 14, 2014
I'm totally with you on this one. My grands wanted to watch Jaws the other day and I said not with me in the room and the boy called me a chicken and I made the appropriate noise and left. It wasn't long before he squealed from the TV room and they turned it off........so there. tee hee
By: omalinda on July 14, 2014
At that scene my arms flew up & I accidentally hit my husband in the head!!
By: fishducky on July 14, 2014
The oceans and reef systems are under attack on several fronts. Make some noise and contact your politicians. Boycott restaurants that serve shark fin soup. Many other fish species are threatened too. Visit Seafood Watch http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 14, 2014
I enjoyed the movie too. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 14, 2014
But you didn't fall out of your seat. Or did you? Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 14, 2014
Agreed! Sharks are pretty much terrifying. I love that movie, Deep Blue Sea though. Sharks and Jelly Fish are the two reasons this MB won't get in past my ankles :) Hang in there my friend!!
By: Hey Monkey Butt on July 14, 2014
Never have seen all of Jaws, and i don't need to. While i don't have a phobia, i do have a healthy respect for the critters and don't like that they are slaughtered as they are.
By: mimi on July 14, 2014
There was a naked woman on screen and you pulled your feet off a sticky floor?
By: Al Penwasser on July 14, 2014
Jacques Cousteau had me fired up to be a marine biologist when Jaws got me. Not the movie thought that didn't help, but the book. The first chapter when she is in the water and feels something bump her leg. She instinctively reaches down but there is no leg. I remained a cautious scuba diver for years after but quickly changed my major to journalism. I understand.
By: Akansas Patti on July 14, 2014
Living here in land-locked Missouri, I do not share your fear. I've never seen Jaws, but not because I'm afraid. Just not interested. My husband has a fear of scary movies when things jump out. Like the end of the original Carrie, when the hand shoots out of the ground, and the end of Friday the 13th, when Jason pops out of the water. I swear he was laying on the floor in front of the TV, and shot three feet into the air, still all stretched out.
By: Val on July 14, 2014
I remember the Mrs and I saw Jaws, then the next week went on a previously planned vacation to Padre Island on the Gulf Coast to stay in a friends beach house for a week. The wife wouldn't get in water more than ankle deep all week. LOL!
By: Scott Park on July 14, 2014
I love that movie...always watch at least part of it whenever it's on TV!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 14, 2014
the last comment about sharks in your swimming pool shows your phobia of sharks.
By: red on July 14, 2014
same same same. my husband took me to the drive in many years ago to watch the first one. he got cross coz i wouldn't look at the screen and cowered in the seat. ever since then i've been afraid of swimming in the ocean which is a great shame. i always worry when i see surfers out there and here in australia we have about one shark attack (usually on surfers) a week. or at least it seems like that often. i share your fear Stephen.
By: Fran on July 14, 2014
That's funny, I watched the movie and I didn't really find it scary! I think the photography and graphics seemed so fake to me!
By: LL Cool Joe on July 15, 2014
I know a lot of people who haven't felt comfortable in the sea since that film was made! I had acquaintances in the late '70s who used to house-sit for Peter Benchley when he lived in Princeton. They said he had the Jaws shark painted across the bottom of his pool. Very unsettling!
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 15, 2014
I remember the movie all to well and the music, so simple but so heart popping.
By: John on July 15, 2014
Yes the film definitely cranked up the tension, and kept us all out of the sea for a month or two. Superb soundtrack as well.
By: Bryan Jones on July 15, 2014
If you want another scare, read "Twelve Days of Terror" by Richard Fernicola, about the 1916 shark attack on the Jersey Shore ... apparently Jaws was loosely based on the incident. Have fun in the surf!
By: Tom Sightings on July 15, 2014
That is some fear you have. BTW the then Discovery Channel executive who came up with Shark Week is professional friend and a former associate. He's as surprised as anyone that a promotional concept way back, has become part of American pop culture.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 15, 2014
Back in July of '75, I was in Barbados for a holiday with my sister and some friends. We were in the beautiful ocean, being nudged by waves, just standing around chatting. One of the topics was the newly released movie Jaws.. which none of us had seen. We expressed our agreement of how creepy it would be to see a shark and we all naturaly glanced out to the horizon to make sure none were sizing us up. We immediately let out a group scream as something grabbed us from beneath the surface. It was only a kid having a good laugh at our expense, having heard our conversation but I'll bet he was swimming through gallons of pee.
By: Hilary on July 15, 2014
Jaws the movie doesn't represent reality. Yes, sharks are at the top of the food chain but they don't seek out humans for a meal. I have dived with a number of different sharks and not in a cage. Each type of shark has its place in the pecking order. Some are more dangerous than others (1) Great White Shark, (2) Bull Shark, (3) Tiger Shark. Like all apex predators, the seek the easy meal. They seek out the old and week meals. This is one reason why their presence is important.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 18, 2014

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