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: Part II

July 15, 2015


I’d expected to phone a few friends and invite them over for food and fun, but Mrs. Chatterbox had different ideas. She sent out written invitations. Everyone she invited, accepted. Like I said, these were all my friends, yet most of them had never met Mrs. Chatterbox and were eager to meet the woman who’d stolen my heart. This was the ‘70s and the prevailing sentiment among my group of acquaintances was: a piece of paper (such as a marriage license) wasn’t necessary, and often served as an obstacle to true love.


This dinner party had been Mrs. C’s idea, but after setting the ball in motion she experienced a serious case of butterflies at the prospect of entertaining my pretentious friends. She worried that among artists and writers she’d be perceived as mundane, a flat note, a Tricia Nixon. I did my best to reassure her she was anyone’s equal. (I’d spend the next forty years realizing she was better than everyone I knew.)


It occurred to me while buying paint to transform our picnic table into a proper venue for our soirée, that it would be disastrous if the paint didn’t dry in time. I purchased fast drying paint and gave the table and benches several days to cure. No problem there. On the morning of the event, I rose before Mrs. C. and went to check on the table. It was good and dry. But there was another problem.


The benches were fine, but an issue may have resulted from the table being brought indoors after sitting outside in the garden section for so long, or maybe it was because the table was ridiculously cheap, but amber blobs of gooey sap were oozing through the paint. Later I learned that I should have sealed the table with a product designed for this purpose, or I should have bought a more expensive paint with a sealing additive. Who knew? Not me.


I grabbed a spatula from the kitchen and scraped away the sap before Mrs. C noticed it. When she came out of the bedroom the table looked fine. She paid it no attention for the next few hours as she unpacked wedding china and stemware, but when she went to set the table the amber ooze was back.


“What’s that?” she shrieked, pointing at a blob of gooey resin erupting from the table.


I tried to downplay the situation. “It’s just a little sap. No problem. Hardly noticeable. I’m sure the table will stop doing this before tonight.”


I wasn’t lying. I mean, how much sap could one picnic table have? As it turned out, a lot.


An hour before our guests were to arrive, the table was still erupting like Mt. Kilauea. “What are we going to do?” Mrs. C. asked. “Maybe we could use a sheet as a tablecloth?”


“I think this stuff would soak through a sheet,” I answered. Besides, we already had enough sheets on display—covering the windows.


“You go work on the menu; I’ll think of something,” I said.


She shook her head and wandered back to the kitchen, hiding behind her Julia Child cookbook. Not all of the cooking wine made it into the beef burgundy.


I stared at the table a long time, imagining what Aarone Moreau would think of it. Aarone was our cultural guru—Gertrude Stein and Auntie Mame rolled into one. She was so named because her father had been an admirer of Aaron Burr. Her age was a mystery, somewhere between forty and sixty. She was intimate with most of the gallery owners on La Cienega Boulevard and was in the process of opening doors for me. She lived in Venice, California at the intersection of two canals, in a cluster of pavilions surrounding an outdoor barbeque designed like a volcano. Every year on August 24th she hosted a gathering to celebrate the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD, and when she hosted parties she served on an authentic Chippendale dining room set.



Pompeii in 79 AD, not Mt. Doom



Aarone had been schooled in Paris, knew more about art than I ever would, and spoke a half dozen languages. She also owned a grand piano that, after a few glasses of sherry or a snort or two of hashish, she claimed had been owned by Chopin. Foolish, I know, but I really wanted to impress her.


No cheap picnic table was going to beat me. There had to be a solution. I had to think of something.



Conclusion on Friday



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Very funny... NOW. I'm thinking your bride wasn't laughing very hard about it back THEN. Looking forward to part three.
By: Susan Swiderski on July 15, 2015
enjoying the story, waiting for the conclusion.
By: Ellen Abbott on July 15, 2015
A couple of boxes of tin foil? LOL I can't even imagine the angst Mrs C was feeling. A lovely meal set amongst the goop? Can't wait to hear how you solved this pickle.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on July 15, 2015
You actually solved this problem? Can't wait to find out how!!
By: fishducky on July 15, 2015
Did you have a yard? I'm thinking of a picnic with people sitting on the ground. Pillows, maybe. I'm as curious as the rest of your readers.
By: Catalyst on July 15, 2015
Oh man, now I have to wait until Friday. I don't like waiting! :)
By: The Bug on July 15, 2015
You were in a pickle. I wonder how will you escape from this sticky situation Captain Chatterbox (imagine a cape blowing in the wind?
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 15, 2015
Enjoying this adventure. This must have been a great "bonding" experience for the new Mr and Mrs Chatterbox. Great memory and cliff hanger, again!
By: Tom Cochrun on July 15, 2015
I don't know HOW you're going to get yourself out of this one! Call the police to break up your own party, before it even gets started?
By: Val on July 15, 2015
Did you go out and buy yards of oil cloth to quell the oozing sap? What a predicament! Waiting for Friday~!
By: Kathe W. on July 15, 2015
Man, I'm envisioning La Cienega Blvd in the 70s. I think Henshey's was there, but they didn't sell furniture. And Walmart wasn't around yet to save the day. What will you do? I'm nervous for all concerned and I'm glad Mrs. C has quick access to the sherry.
By: Robyn Engel on July 15, 2015
And because you are a creative type, i bet your solution was impressive!
By: mimi on July 15, 2015
we have those sap globs on our built-in deck benches. :)
By: TexWisGirl on July 15, 2015
I have no clue how you solved this dilemma, but I'm curious to find out!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 15, 2015
Well I will have to come back for the conclusion won't I now
By: Jo-Anne on July 15, 2015
Hey, if you're going to commemorate natural disasters, you can't go far wrong than that Pompeii thing. Krakatoa would probably mean too many broken dishes.
By: Al Penwasser on July 15, 2015
And I was ready with my prediction today. Now I'll have to rethink things . I never predicted that there would be a third part. Now maybe a fourth. I hope the food's good after all this.
By: red on July 15, 2015
Throw the table out and find a new one in someone's trash? I was wondering what that was a picture of. Kind of gross.
By: PT Dilloway on July 15, 2015
I like the way you broke this one up. I'll be back:)
By: Rick Watson on July 15, 2015
Oh, I can't wait to hear the end of this one.
By: Cherdo on July 15, 2015
Well, at least you know that the intentions of many impressionist painters are greatly misunderstood--especially by friends and family.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 15, 2015
I am waiting to be very impressed with your solution!
By: John on July 16, 2015
Sheesh, you did it again. Ok I have to come back now. By the way "she was better than everyone I knew" will keep you in good stead with Mrs. C past the rocking chair stage.
By: Akansas Patti on July 16, 2015
Poor Mrs. C. I'd be upset, too. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 16, 2015
Stephen: You had me laughing out loud by the time I read about the spatula! Great post!!
By: Michael Manning on July 16, 2015
I can just imagine how your wife felt---and I know I would have been freaking out, too!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on July 16, 2015
nothing is as special as amber ooze. At least it was not as big as The Blob. Will now read Friday's
By: Birgit on July 17, 2015
Later I learned that I should have sealed the table with a product designed for this purpose I havenât found a product what will deter excessive and determined sap, but Iâvie hardly tried them all. I think of sap as being like abdominal gas in that it needs to go somewhere, and it will too. I didnât realize that Aaron Burr did anything to admire. In fact, I envision him as a truly bad person in that he cared about the rights and well-being of no one but himself. Now, I find myself wanting to get a biography of himâthanks a lot, Stephen for giving me yet another book to add to my ever-growing backlog! Being from Mississippi, I remember seeing a place there where he stood trial under some live oaks. What a beautiful tree to stand trial under.
By: Snowbrush on July 18, 2015
You have made so many people curious. Waiting for part III
By: Haddock on July 21, 2015

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