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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The Dinner Party

July 13, 2015


The other day Mrs. Chatterbox decided to clean and reorganize our kitchen, something we men seldom think to do. In our forty plus years of marriage, we’d accumulated countless pieces of china, stemware, crockery and serving utensils, most of which we hadn’t used in recent memory.


Mrs. C. commented, “It’s been ages since we threw a dinner party and used any of our nice things.”


This got me thinking about the first dinner party we ever hosted, and the near tragedy that ensued—because of the dreadful mistake I made.


In 1975 we’d been married less than a year and had moved to West Los Angeles where I intended to launch my art career. My bride was anxious to show off our wedding presents, something else we guys never think to do.


“Let’s have a dinner party and invite all of our friends,” she said. We were renting a 1930’s one bedroom duplex I’d inherited from my best old ex-friend Ray (like in the Jim Croce song). It was hard to imagine a swank dinner party taking place here. I was the one who’d gone to college in Los Angeles and Mrs. C. didn’t yet know anyone; the friends would have to be my college chums and artsy/fartsy acquaintances.


While we were rich in wedding presents that included china, crystal stemware and gold-colored utensils, we didn’t have a dining room set, or money to purchase one.


“We can’t afford to throw a dinner party,” I said.


My art degree had made me about as hirable as a shepherd, but Mrs. C. had capitalized on her English degree by landing a job as an administrative assistant—the first day of her job search. “We have money coming in, and this is important. We can afford to splurge.”


I didn’t see how it was important, but didn’t say anything. Money might be trickling in, but I wasn’t the one bringing it in and felt emasculated. Still, I could see this was important to her so I revved my enthusiasm for her sake. “You decide what you want to serve and I’ll solve the dinner table dilemma.”


“Great,” she said. “But first I need to make drapes for the front windows. I read an article in a magazine about making drapes from printed sheets. I can use the sewing machine my parents gave me for my sixteenth birthday.”


I’d helped her move that heavy machine on several occasions, from various dorm rooms at the University of Santa Clara all the way to Los Angeles, and had never seen her use it. Finally I’d benefit from lugging it up and down all those stairs.


The next day, we had bright yellow curtains dangling in our windows, made from Vera sheets. Our six hundred square foot duplex was starting to look classy.


We’d spent most of the cash we’d received for our wedding on a new mattress set, so funds were limited for the purchase of dining room furniture, not that we had an actual dining room. It was more of a dining nook.


I mulled over the situation; I had a Levitz account from the hide-a-bed I’d purchased when I lived with Ray after college, but it still had a high balance and we couldn’t afford a higher payment. That was when I came up with a brilliant solution, or so I thought.


I borrowed a friend’s pickup and headed for a discount store where I purchased a picnic table and two benches. The set was unfinished and cheap. I figured I could class it up by painting it white, to blend in with all the modernistic black and white artwork I was producing at the time. I loaded the table and benches into the pickup and headed to a hardware store for a can of white paint. Aside from applying paint to canvas, I’d never painted anything before and figured it wouldn’t be difficult, but I should have thought about it a bit more, asked advice from those more knowledgeable than me. I should have done a lot of things before taking that table and benches, which we could hardly afford, and slapping on white paint. But I didn’t.


The enormity of my mistake would present itself on the morning of our dinner party. By then it was too late to avert disaster. Or was it?




 This is what I hoped to achieve; the result would be much different.




More on Wednesday….



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Crap, I hope I can check in to find out what happened. Do people really use that fancy China stuff? Would entertaining on paper plates be easier?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on July 13, 2015
oh nooooo! I have to wait. Dang.
By: Kathe W. on July 13, 2015
I'm looking forward to this. I love reading how other guys f*ck up.
By: cranky on July 13, 2015
Oh, no. You've given us a cliff hanger again.
By: Catalyst on July 13, 2015
OK, I'll wait--but I'm not happy about it!!
By: fishducky on July 13, 2015
Wrong kind of paint? Still gummy at the time of the party? Or stinky (I've used that kind of paint). I'm coming back for the next post...
By: Cherdo on July 13, 2015
I've learnt from bitter experience that painting furniture and walls is very, very different from painting furniture. :D
By: LL Cool Joe on July 13, 2015
I meant from painting pictures, sorry!
By: LL Cool Joe on July 13, 2015
Aw, phooey. Ok, since you are going to be that way, I'll be back.
By: Akansas Patti on July 13, 2015
Oh a cliffhanger! Out of curiosity, is your wife planning to read Go Set a Watchman? I think I'm going to begin reading it this week. Who among us can refuse Harper Lee's long lost novel?
By: Michael Offutt on July 13, 2015
Well, your objective and intent were nobel. Good cliff hanger. Nice to think about those first apartments and homes too.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 13, 2015
I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for my family last year. Does that count? There was drinking involved.
By: Al Penwasser on July 13, 2015
Having painted furniture and walls, and being unable to paint canvas, i know there's trouble a-brewing!
By: mimi on July 13, 2015
My predictor is working overtime on this one. I think I've live through an event like this!
By: red on July 13, 2015
I've learned from OTHER people's experiences to never attempt to paint any kind of wall, furniture, or canvas. Can't wait for the rest of the story!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 13, 2015
If Veal Prince Orloff was on the menu, I hope you didn't invite Lou Grant!
By: Val on July 13, 2015
I am waiting with great anticipation for the conclusion of this story!
By: John on July 14, 2015
I'll be counting the hours.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 14, 2015
Oh no, not another Chatterbox-ism! I guess I'll have to suffer like the rest of your readers and wait for the next post.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 14, 2015
Because I see nothing wrong with your plan, I imagine horrid disaster is pending...
By: Robyn Engel on July 14, 2015
YOu and your cliff hangers!! Your story reminded me of when we were young and poor and I used sheets for a table cloth!
By: Tabor on July 14, 2015
I popped over from Al's blog, and he's right! You ARE a great story-teller. But NOW I have to come back. (Very clever tactic!) Can't sign on as a groupie, so I guess I'll have to sign up to get your blog posts via email.
By: Susan Swiderski on July 14, 2015
This picture smells of disaster. I may have to wait for the rerun :)
By: Rick Watson on July 14, 2015
That's beautiful. I'm sorry it didn't turn out the way you wanted. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 14, 2015
I would be too bloody scared to use good china to entertain especially if it was outdoors
By: Jo-Anne on July 15, 2015
This reminds me of a time that I used sawhorse and plywood for a tableâand that was indoors. I think that the advantage of a situation like you hadâor I had with the sawhorsesâis that it puts people at ease. I know I often feel a little uncomfortable socially, and itâs nice to have my attention diverted. Since Iâm reading your account in reverse order, Iâm only now inspired to ask how much trouble it was getting the sap off of things? I know that gasoline would do it, but that's a heck of a way to treat ones dinner utensils and such.
By: Snowbrush on July 18, 2015

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