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

Prologue

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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Eulogy for Pizza Oasis

July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July everyone. On this day I’m always reminded of King George III’s diary entry for July 4, 1776. He wrote, “Nothing unusual happened today.”

 

******************

 

A few days ago I drove through our old neighborhood and noticed Pizza Oasis had shut its doors and gone out of business. A lump rose in my throat as I thought about the neighborhood pizzeria where many times I’d taken refuge after buying the big old house up the hill. Purchasing that house had seemed like a good idea at the time but I’d quickly learned you don’t buy old houses, they buy you.

    

I remember moving to downtown Portland as if it were yesterday. We’d been looking for a low maintenance townhouse but the big old house spoke to us. Had we been listening properly and tuned out the shabby chic-ness and Victorian charm we might have heard the house telling us it needed a new roof, foundation realignment and a host of other expensive repairs. I’m not a handy fellow when it comes to home repairs and soon felt overwhelmed.

    

One rainy winter evening I went to fetch something from the garage carved from the basement by a previous owner. Several inches of water had seeped through the concrete retaining walls and our washer and dryer now stood in a deep puddle. I deeply regretted buying that house as I unplugged our appliances, not wanting Mrs. Chatterbox to be electrocuted when she went to wash clothes. There wasn’t anything else I could do at the moment so, even though it was miserable outside, I pulled on my coat, turned up the collar and went for a walk.

    

The neighborhood looked trashy. How had I overlooked the row of garbage cans hugging the graffiti-covered wall at the end of our street? I stepped around the corner, feeling the splash of water as a car zoomed by. Shaking the dampness from my pants, I looked up and for the first time laid my eyes on the green neon palm tree burning the name “Pizza Oasis” into the night. Through a window I saw a place devoid of charm; dead plants (I think they’re called mother-in-law tongues) lined the window ledge and a few light bulbs dangled from the ceiling on chains. Industrial cable spools served as tables and an assortment of chairs, probably salvaged from dumpsters, were scattered about. Visually, the place had no redeeming qualities. Under normal circumstances I’d never have considered entering, but I was shivering in the cold and decided to take shelter inside.

    

A young lady with purple hair studied me from behind the counter, her multiple piercings glinting in the glare of the light bulb dangling overhead, the spider tattoo on her neck appearing to move as she waited for me to order.

    

I wasn’t particularly hungry but I was in no hurry to return to the money pit I’d just purchased. “Do you sell pizza by the slice?” I asked.

    

She nodded, the spider tattoo seemingly assuming a different position on her neck. She didn’t bother asking what kind of pizza I wanted. I’d already eaten dinner, wasn’t hungry, and was only buying a few minutes of dryness and warmth.

    

She charged $2.50 for the slice. I paid and was told to find a seat; she’d bring me my order. I waited and studied Pizza Oasis’ other patrons. Without being overly descriptive, they could all have been characters from Central Casting—hooker types chewing gum, bikers in tattoos and leather, brainy types in tweeds, vampire Goths and stoned gray-haired hippies.

    

I was considering a dash to the door when my slice of pizza arrived. It nearly covered the paper plate it rested on, oil puddling around thin slices of mystery meat. I’ll admit that it smelled delicious and, even though I’d eaten dinner, my stomach growled in anticipation. I took a bite. It wasn’t long before I felt like Odysseus’ crew in the Land of

the Lotus Eaters—drugged, unable to process rational thought, lacking all willpower.

    

I gobbled down the slice and ordered a pizza to go. This was more than dough, meat, cheese and sauce, this was fricken manna from Heaven and had to be shared with Mrs. Chatterbox. Twenty minutes later I was walking home, steam rising from the boxed pizza as raindrops sizzled on the cardboard lid.

    

Mrs. Chatterbox eyed me curiously when I came in the door. “Pizza? After I went to the trouble of cooking dinner?”

    

“Just give this a taste and tell me what you think.” I reached in and pulling out a cheesy slice.

    

“I’m not hungry,” she said, an edge to her voice.

    

“C’mon.”

    

That night she wouldn’t taste it, but later she did.

    

It wasn’t long before I became a Pizza Oasis regular. Over the next five years, whenever I felt depressed I’d dash over, inhale the Kafkaesque atmosphere and grab a slice. I instantly felt better and able to deal with the demands of our old house. I might not have made it as a vintage homeowner without help from my favorite pizzeria.

    

I mentioned to Mrs. Chatterbox that Pizza Oasis had gone out of business.

    

“What went out of business?” she asked.

    

“The pizza place on the corner when we lived downtown.”

    

“Oh yeah, now I remember. Worst pizza I ever ate!”

 

 



Comments

32 Comments
âOh yeah, now I remember. Worst pizza I ever ate!â I love it! it's the perfect ending.
By: Uncle Skip on July 4, 2014
I LOVE Mrs. C!!
By: fishducky on July 4, 2014
I remember a certain pizza joint from my childhood- long tables, red and white checkered table cloths, the smells, the player piano, the take a number and wait for it anxiety...but for the life of me I cannot remember how the pizza tasted. It was all about the place. I'm thinking she just had to be there to get the full effect maybe? Have a happy and safe holiday weekend!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on July 4, 2014
I love your sweetie-pie! She's a keeper that's for sure! My sweetie-pie LOVES pizza...me...not so much. But I do remember the pizza we had at the a new brewery on NW Marshall and NW 14th: Bridgeport . That's where history was made with him proposing to me over several slices. So- I may not like pizza, but I'll make it for him anytime! Great story Stephen! Happy 4th!
By: Kathe W. on July 4, 2014
awww. i liked your manna version better. :)
By: TexWisGirl on July 4, 2014
My childhood pizza memory is a dinky local place where my dad and i would go to pick up pizza because there wasn't any delivery yet. We would drive home with the A/C off and windows down so we wouldn't let it get cold before we got home.
By: mimi on July 4, 2014
Ha! What an end! Mrs. C certainly knows her way around the words! But I wonder why she said so? Didn't she really like the pizza? I mean you liked it so much, that I am confused! Happy Fourth of July! Or Happy Independence Day, as they say in India! :)
By: Manju Modiyani on July 4, 2014
No two people are ever alike in their likes.
By: Catalyst on July 4, 2014
I guess it all goes to prove, taste is in the buds of the beholder.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 4, 2014
That makes me want some pizza.
By: Val on July 4, 2014
That just goes to show you...it's not the pizza, it's the entire scenario! I wonder how you would like this same pizza if you ate it now, not knowing where it had come from, while sitting in your current townhouse.
By: Pixel Peeper on July 4, 2014
Isn't it funny how people can have such different tastes? My husband and I rarely like the same things, and I have a friend I meet at a restaurant a lot - she drinks unsweetened green tea while I order pizza. You can guess which of us is fat and which is slim! I say live for today - you never know what tomorrow will bring. I hope you find a new pizza place you love. :)
By: Lexa Cain on July 4, 2014
Ha ha, you really know how to reel us in then cut us loose. Love it.
By: Akansas Patti on July 4, 2014
Now that was an ending I didn't see coming.
By: red on July 4, 2014
Are we to believe you, or Mrs. C? I'm goin' with Mrs. C!
By: Tom Sightings on July 4, 2014
What a great story. I'm sure it was great pizza. For you at least! lol. Thanks for always reading and commenting on my blog. It means the world to me.
By: Bouncin Barb on July 4, 2014
There was a pizza place in my native Montreal whose pizza was the best I've ever had. Nothing has ever come close to that. I have fellow ex-Montrealers who agree.. and a few who think it was crap. I hope someone comes up with a pizza place you like as much.
By: Hilary on July 4, 2014
Some people just do not appreciate good proper pizza, that is why Pizza Hut survives even in the NYC area where the best mom and pop pizza parlors in the world exist.
By: Cranky on July 5, 2014
Ha ha, I know all about buying old houses. I just wish I had a good restaurant that I could run and hide in, when things get too much here!
By: LL Cool Joe on July 5, 2014
This is like "beauty is in the eye of the beholder!"
By: Eva Gallant on July 5, 2014
It just so happens we had pizza this evening for dinner. Had it delivered though....
By: Bob on July 5, 2014
I love this mouth watering tale................ I love PIZZA!
By: John on July 6, 2014
That neighbourhood and pizzeria sound frightening. I wonder who the cook was, Herman Munster?
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on July 6, 2014
You made me cold, miserable and hopeless and then you made me piddle my drawers. You are a God among men at the moment......thanks for the pizza view slice of funny
By: omalinda on July 6, 2014
I'm drawn by the pizza element of this post. There is only one Pizza worthy of being called the best in Montreal. Da Giovanni ! If ever you and the Mrs. visit, you must eat a meal there. http://www.dagiovanni.ca/
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 6, 2014
How often is it that the greasiest, artery-clogging foods taste wonderful. If there is a God, he definitely has a sense of humor!
By: Bryan Jones on July 7, 2014
Pizza is not real food...you do know that. Even covered in veggies it has little redeeming value. I do like to eat a good pizza, but my downfall is a great crust...thick or thin it has to be fresh.
By: Tabor on July 7, 2014
Mmm - I love pizza. I'm not very discriminating either - I'll eat just about any variety.
By: The Bug on July 8, 2014
I can totally relate to your loss. For two of my fondest memories are of pizza places that would probably be constantly wrapped in crime scene tape these days because of how greasy good their pizzas always were.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 8, 2014
I shudder when I think about the many historical places that held meaning for me in my hometown that are long gone. Yes, I've heard this about the joy of home ownership. The house "owns" you at times--always in need of maintenance.
By: Michael Manning on July 13, 2014
Very touching...and hilarious. "Ah, yes, I remember it well..."
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 15, 2014
Not asking what kind you wanted was hardly a harbinger of longevity.
By: Snowbrush on July 20, 2014

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