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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Sultan for a Day

July 21, 2014

I wrote this post several years ago, shortly after Mrs. Chatterbox and I returned from Turkey. I’ve spent the last four weeks working on a painting based on this post. I’ll reveal my finished canvas on Wednesday.




I saw him when Mrs. Chatterbox and I were sitting on a bench between sixteen hundred year old Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque in the old section of Istanbul. This spot has been a hub of human activity for nearly two thousand years and this day was no exception. Countless people strolled past our bench, including a little sultan dressed in a princely costume: a beaded and sequined white satin suit, sash and plumed pillbox hat. He had a scepter in his hand and looked like he was leading a parade. I assumed those were his parents behind him, along with sisters and family friends.


We’d seen a similarly dressed fellow in Ankara the week before. Mrs. Chatterbox and I thought this might be some sort of Islamic holiday, even though only males were dressed up. We’d asked our forty year old guide Selchuk what was happening. He explained, “The boy is being paraded about before being taken home to be circumcised."


It seemed rather cruel; dress the kid like a sultan, take him out to dinner and give him an armful of toys, and at the moment of his highest pleasure, whack off the tip of his pee pee.


“Wouldn’t it be better to do this in the hospital a day or two after the baby boy is born, so he doesn’t remember?” I asked. “It must be painful.”


“The child is supposed to remember,” Selchuk said. “This signifies his covenant with Allah. But it is also important that the boy understands his penis is not being cut off, which is why this is done between the ages of five and ten. In the old days, a chewy mouthful of Turkish delight was stuffed in the boy’s mouth, but today a local injection is used to numb the groin.”


“Do you remember having this done?” I asked Selchuk.


“He scratched his graying goatee and said, “Yes, I remember. It was dreadful!”


We watched the little sultan approach our bench. This was an ancient custom and I was a guest in his country and in no position to criticize, but I felt sorry for the little guy and crossed my legs as I pulled out my camera. An adult spun him in our direction and grinned at us; evidently, pictures were encouraged. The boy smiled softly. After they’d passed I studied the picture I’d clicked. Did the little boy know what was about to happen? Had a brother or older friend leaked the news to him?


Take a look at the expression on his face, and you be the judge.




Stay tuned. On Wednesday I’ll reveal the painting this experience inspired.



I'll bet it was "Dreadful!" Looking forward to the unveiling.
By: Cranky Old Man on July 21, 2014
Much better that a baby has this done (although I do understand those who think circumcision is an unnecessary act-how in the world is this supposed to be a covenant-even though-warning: TMI ahead-I am "cut"; nobody asked for my opinion). On the other hand, even though the little fella can feel the pain, it is MUCH MUCH better that this is done before puberty. Can you IMAGINE looking a nudie mags while the wound is healing (if you get my drift)? Good grief.
By: Al Penwasser on July 21, 2014
oh, dear, oh, dear!!!
By: TexWisGirl on July 21, 2014
I agree with TexWisGirl--oh, dear, oh, dear!!!
By: fishducky on July 21, 2014
I had the horrible duty of taking my grandson to the doctor to have him circumsized when he was just a week old. My daughter and her husband could not make up their minds at his birth and so I went with my daughter a week later. I must say I would rather have all my fingernails taken off than have to ever experience "the dreadful" again. It was hellacious. Oma Linda
By: omalinda on July 21, 2014
"and crossed my legs as I pulled out my camera." That speaks volumes. And I crossed my legs while reading this.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on July 21, 2014
This story again makes me sad for the children involved -- i wish we could simply end this practice. Yes, i know, a covenant, but it still hurts the mother heart.
By: mimi on July 21, 2014
I see mixed emotions in this simple little face. What may seem strange to us has deep meaning for them.
By: Tabor on July 21, 2014
So wrong, for so many reasons. Female "circumcision" (genital mutilation) is still practiced in many countries, but no parent would consider showing off their girl as a princess/sultana for a day. Only boys are allowed to be princes in these horrible patriarchal cultures.
By: Lexa Cain on July 21, 2014
I, too, see mixed emotions in his face. Oh, and I see I just crossed my legs...
By: Pixel Peeper on July 21, 2014
I was just reading along enjoying your little Sultan when you dropped the circumcision bomb. Poor little guy. Can't wait to see the painting.
By: Akansas Patti on July 21, 2014
What an unkind cut! I was old enough so I remember my procedure, most notably the somewhat horrified look on my dad's face as he looked through the port hole window of the operating room. Looking forward to your painting.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 21, 2014
I was smiling when I saw the picture...until I learned why he wore such elegant attire. Poor kid.
By: Robyn Engel on July 21, 2014
Whatever. It certainly couldn't have been pleasant at that age. I lost mine very soon after birth. It was dreadful.
By: Catalyst on July 21, 2014
His expression reminds me of that old Far Side cartoon where the dog is hanging out the car window, all smiling, and saying to his dog buddies as the drive by: "First we're going to the dog park, then for some ice cream, then I'm gonna get tutored." :)
By: Scott Park on July 21, 2014
ouch- barbaric.
By: Kathe W. on July 21, 2014
When my middle son was around 5 he had to be circumcised. He was admitted into hospital for the procedure and we waited for him in the fully booked children's ward, which was full of parents as well as children. My son's reaction was one of total FURY and INDIGNATION! We could hear him bellowing throughout the hospital corridor: "I'm going to call the police on you! You can't do that to my willy! You are going to jail!" On and on he wailed. Until at last he was given an injection and went blissfully to sleep.
By: The Broad on July 22, 2014
OK. I will stop imagining the paintings this topic could have inspired! Can't wait to see what it really DID inspire. Now... did the boys think that little bit of Turkish delight was "you know what"?????
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 22, 2014
This post certainly had my eyes watering........ :)
By: John on July 22, 2014
Having your willy trimmed is painful as are so many procedures. Is it medically necessary? The consensus is 'no'. However, having it done from a religious or cultural perspective is a whole separate discussion. Having it done for medical reasons... leaves them wishing it were done when they were just a baby. I know one chap who had it done for medical reasons and he was well into his 40's at the time. What percentage of men have had a vasectomy with just a local shot to their 'family jewels'. Just say'n.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 22, 2014
By his expression, I'm sure he knew that the snippers were at the ready.
By: Bryan Jones on July 22, 2014
Not having the equipment, I don't feel qualified to comment. But I would think that in the middle of the procedure, one would be wishing fervently that it had been done during infancy.
By: Val on July 22, 2014
Ahh a topic I struggled with for my sons. I'm Jewish (though not religious) and tradition/Jewish law demands that we circumcise our sons. I just couldn't rationalize having had an alcohol/caffeine/pain killer-free pregnancy and a drug-free birth and then turning around and doing this to my kids. So they are both intact. Looking forward to seeing the painting which I realize by now, you have already posted and is just a click away. By the way, do you know what they call a Jewish baby who is not circumcised? - A girl. ;)
By: Hilary on July 23, 2014
I do not remember it being done to me, and I am most grateful for that. Of course, I could get into the obvious details to the fact that they must of whacked mine in half, but since you are trying real hard to keep this site family-friendly, I won't.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 24, 2014
I wouldn't know what it's like to be circumsised but I once met a man who said to me he felt like he'd been raped as a baby. "How would women like it if we cut off their nipples?" was his angry blast. I guess he has lots of company here.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on July 25, 2014
Poor guy- I understand it is a tradition or custom, but I can't help but feel sympathy for the pain he was about to be put through.
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on July 25, 2014
I believe he didn't know, and God I hope he's okay!
By: Michael Manning on July 25, 2014

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