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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I Didn't Relish This One

July 30, 2014



I was excited when my agent informed me she’d landed us a plum assignment with Steinfeld’s Products. Steinfeld’s had been manufacturing pickles, sauerkrauts and relishes for over a century, and I was eager to work with them.


I arrived at Steinfeld’s advertising agency in downtown Portland and was seated in a conference room, which quickly filled with men in suits. We were joined by a casually dressed fellow who was introduced as the art director. The butterflies in my stomach abated when he said, “We’ve been looking at samples of your work and we believe you’re just the artist for a project we have in mind.”


I grinned and waited impatiently to learn what they wanted me to do.


“Are you familiar with Steinfeld’s products?” a suit asked.


“Of course. In my refrigerator there are several jars of Steinfeld’s products.”


“Good. Then you’re familiar with our label?”


Actually, I wasn’t. At that moment I couldn’t remember what Steinfeld’s label looked like. It must have been a rhetorical question because a jar of relish materialized on the conference table and one of the suits slid it over to me. I’d never noticed the tiny picture of a red barn surrounded by rows of what I assumed were cucumbers or cabbages. My heart started pumping as I realized they were about to commission a new label. The thought of my artwork pasted on millions of bottles of relish and pickles and sauerkraut made me feel lightheaded.


“This was created in the 1930’s,” the art director informed me.


My mind was already working on concepts for a new label.


“The original artwork was lost decades ago, and that’s why we need you.”


“You want me to design something new?”


The art director smiled. “No, we want you to recreate this label as closely as possible. We want to put this label on our trucks and we can’t because we don’t have the original artwork. Couldn’t blow it up big enough anyway. What do you think? Can you do it?”


I picked up the jar of relish and squinted at the picture of the tiny red barn. “Does anyone have a magnifying glass? “ I asked.


Like the relish, a magnifying glass materialized and I closely examined the picture. The original had probably been a watercolor, but I couldn’t be sure. The big problem was the barn; under a magnifying glass I could see that the perspective wasn’t correct, hardly an issue for a picture not much larger than a postage stamp, but on the side of a truck the faulty perspective would look ridiculous.


All eyes were on me. “Well, can you do it?” someone asked.


I didn’t want to lose the assignment. We hadn’t talked money but I assumed it was a lot. “Yes, but I’m sure you’ll want me to correct the perspective on the barn.”


“Absolutely not!” We want it to look exactly the same.”


Based on the notion that the customer was always right, I accepted the assignment and agreed to leave the faulty perspective intact. I spent two weeks staring through a magnifying glass and copying that label as closely as I could. When finished, I hated the result. It looked like a picture painted by an amateur who didn’t know how to draw. To my amazement, the client was pleased with my work. They presented me with an impressive check and I was all smiles as I left their office.


Although I hated what I’d done, morbid curiosity kept me on the alert for Steinfeld’s trucks on the freeway. Months passed and eventually I gave up looking. It’s a fact that a third of all commissioned illustrations are never used, so I was hardly surprised. Frankly, I was ashamed of my illustration and was glad no one would ever see it.


Then one day while driving to the coast a truck passed me. On its side was a clumsily drawn barn. I’d never seen my work reproduced on so large a scale. It took a moment for me to realize that I was responsible for the monstrosity splashed across the side of that truck.


I nearly drove into a ditch.   





That reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Marge gets an ex-con a job painting a mural for Bart's school and the principal gives him a crappy drawing on a napkin and then demands he draw it exactly that way. Which he does to no one's satisfaction. So I guess life imitated art and Matt Groening is from Oregon so maybe he heard about this.
By: PT Dilloway on July 30, 2014
I hate to admit that I don't see the faulty perspective, but I am smart enough to have let the artist do what an artist does if I was a suit. Great story.
By: Cranky Old Man on July 30, 2014
Suits always seem to be shooting themselves in the foot - I hope they have steel toes in those wingtips!
By: The Bug on July 30, 2014
By: TexWisGirl on July 30, 2014
well there ya go, the client is always right.....er some other nonsense.
By: omalinda on July 30, 2014
Well, I am obviously not well-trained in the fine art of fine art appreciation. For I think your rendition looks great! Oh, and I could go and on about just how great it looks for a small fee.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 30, 2014
oh hahah The customer is always right! At least they didn't come back and complain!!!
By: Kathe W. on July 30, 2014
I find it quite touching that they want to keep the 1930s artwork, actually. Here in Britain they insist on modernising everything,usually not for the better. Although I am sure your new label would have been better than that one - as you say, it is very amateurish and average looking. Well, at least you got paid well! :)
By: Jenny Woolf on July 30, 2014
Though not on the scale of your talent by any stretch of the imagination, I used to do graphical layouts. Part of that task was often taking logos from old business cards or letterheads and reproducing them so that they looked clean again. Often it was an image that had been photocopied several times and you can imagine what that looked like. So, I have complete admiration for your reproductive work.. despite how not correcting the perspective probably made you squirm. ;)
By: Hilary on July 30, 2014
I think you should be proud of your work, you did what they asked to their satisfaction and that's good in my book, besides, those trucks are signed, right?
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on July 30, 2014
You delivered and they paid.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 30, 2014
I can see that the project left a sour taste in your mouth; but I bet you relished the check!
By: Tom Sightings on July 30, 2014
Have to agree with most. You gave them exactly what they wanted ( a reproduction of their trademark) and paid the price. The good thing is that you didn't have to sign it so only you knew. Well now we know.
By: Akansas Patti on July 30, 2014
This is such a Mad Men episode. If you have every watched the show, you will know what I mean.
By: Tabor on July 30, 2014
Hey what do you mean? I like that one. It looks happy and perky.
By: red on July 30, 2014
Well, maybe the perspective on the barn was faulty...as long as the check for you wasn't!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 30, 2014
The original was probably drawn by an member of the family who was an amateur or artist wanna-be. So it wasn't your work, it was that person's work. All you did was show them how to make it bigger.
By: mimi on July 30, 2014
You could have done worse things to earn a paycheck.
By: Val on July 30, 2014
I think it's cute. Very folk arty. I know it's not up to your usual standards, but it can be a kindness to give people what they want. You made them happy. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 30, 2014
Our strive for the best in what we do doesn´t always equate to what the paying customer wishes, however the paying part does help...............
By: John on July 31, 2014
A "plum" assignment...for relish/pickles? I saw what you did there.
By: Al Penwasser on July 31, 2014
Oh, man, this SO hits home right now. I'm working on a re-write and following my editor's suggestions (as a good writer/employee is supposed to do) but I know I'm ripping the heart out of my piece.
By: Suldog on July 31, 2014
Yep, the bit where it is what is wanted, not what you KNOW looks good can drive you nuts. I have had a couple art friends describe situations sort of similar to this. At least your John Hancock isn't prominent on it.... : / Cat
By: Cat on July 31, 2014
Totally not your fault. Everyone has a boss, and sometimes they're art directors who want certain things or clients who do. I applaud you for taking the money even if the work annoyed you. Food on the family table is more important.
By: Lexa Cain on July 31, 2014
I loved your work, and agree with the previous reader that you should be proud. My foray into this area has involved three airline paint schemes for two carriers. However, I had to hire an artist to professionally reproduce my own drawings. A great story!
By: Michael Manning on August 2, 2014
Well, I'm sure none of us will ever tell. It will remain our little secret. At least it was a bit check!
By: Mitchell is Moving on August 4, 2014

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