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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Land

June 30, 2017

“The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts.”

—Frank O’Hara to daughter Scarlett in Gone with the Wind—

 

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

 

I haven’t written about it, but I own land in another state. I haven’t mentioned it before because I didn’t want anyone to think I was some sort of patroon, a Ben Cartwright with the deed to The Ponderosa in my pocket. Nor is this land worthy of Frank O’Hara’s comment that land is the only thing worth working, fighting or dying for. The land I own certainly isn’t. I need to back up for a bit of an explanation.

 

In the seventies, my mother inherited a sum of money and my older brother, beginning his career as a financial advisor, encouraged Mom to buy land he’d heard about near Palmdale, California. My brother was excited because a new airport was rumored to be slated to relieve traffic at overcrowded LA International and Burbank Airport. A lake, golf courses and other amenities were planned.

 

I tried to convince my mother not to buy the land. I pitched a small, unimpressive Picasso I’d seen at a gallery in San Francisco that could be purchased for the same amount of money as the land. I argued that Picasso was the most famous artist who’d ever lived and he was pushing ninety. One of his paintings, even a tiny crappy one, would surely be a better investment than gambling on this land. Mom was not a fan of modern art, and disliked Picasso in particular. Without ever laying eyes on it, my mother bought the land. Ten years after Picasso died in 1973, that painting auctioned for 4.7 million dollars.

           

No airport was built anywhere near our land, probably because it lies on the San Andreas Fault. My mother went on to make other highly successful financial investments, but she never gave up on the land, paying property taxes on it for nearly fifty years. The time came when she wanted me to take over her finances, but she was squirrely about the land, always hesitating to talk about it.

           

When my father passed away, I decided to contact the land management office in Los Angeles to retitle the land in my mother’s name. I learned the taxes were artificially low because the land was purchased before Proposition #13­ passed in 1978, capping the taxes at one percent. Retitling the land would boost the taxes to the current rate of assessment, which is much higher than the land is worth.

           

This land has very little value. The only offer Mom received over the years was for $700, a fraction of what she’d paid in taxes. I can close my eyes and hear Mom say, “This land won’t benefit me, and maybe it won’t benefit CJ, but someone in our family will benefit from it.”

           

So now I have to decide what to do with a nearly worthless piece of property. In October CJ is getting married at a resort outside of Las Vegas; afterwards we’re heading to Palm Springs for a few days. I’ve decided to rent a car and drive to Palmdale to see this land my family has been paying taxes on for so long, land no one in the family has ever seen.

 

If Google Earth is any indication, this barren half acre remains far from any development. I imagine it strewn with empty beer cans and fast food wrappers. I suppose it’s possible, but unlikely, there might be oil or something precious underground, although I doubt I own the mineral rights.

 

 

          

Google Earth Picture

 

 

Any ideas what I should do with this land?

 

(Cue theme to Gone with the Wind)

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Comments

26 Comments
Wow. Is it near a National Park? Worth donating it to them?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 30, 2017
It's kind of like what I call "Fairy Money". When a well to do relative might leave you some money in the will...it really is not yours until you really inherit it and it never cost you a penny. Too bad your Mom did not take your advice. I think the suggestion about donating it to a National Park or to Nature Conservancy is a good one. But before you do that I think we all want to hear about what you find there! Cheers and have a great road trip!
By: Kathe W. on June 30, 2017
If it's on the fault line then when The Big One hits and tears California in half maybe you'll have beachfront property. Or like Lex Luthor in the first Superman movie you could plant some bombs to help that along.
By: PT Dilloway on June 30, 2017
I would open up a gun range there...invite people to come and shoot all their guns, machine guns included, for a fee of course. I mean, if they miss their target, it doesn't look like there is anything else they could harm out there. You'd be surprised how much money there is in that!
By: scott park on June 30, 2017
Nice view of the mountains though! ð
By: Linda on June 30, 2017
Too bad about the Picasso!!
By: fishducky on June 30, 2017
I am still mourning the fact that she didn't want the Picasso. I do not like contemporary art, but I do love Picasso. His work really resonates with me. The land on the other hand does not. We also owned some land in Colorado which we let go, but it happened to be in a lovely area just outside of Buena Vista and has a lovely home on it. We didn't make much money on it ourselves.
By: Tabor on June 30, 2017
I think after you look at it and see what is close then a better decision can be made, 1/2 acre isn't really a lot of land but it is amazing what the Californians can do with that amount.
By: Jimmy on June 30, 2017
Wouldn't hurt to check the mineral rights. No telling what is under that sand. Maybe D B Coop[er buried his cash there or perhaps it is the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa. Ya never know. Take a shovel with you when you visit.
By: Arkansas Patti on June 30, 2017
I think it's time you started that nudist colony, Stephen. =)
By: Mr. Shife on June 30, 2017
Oh my. Windmills?
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 30, 2017
I'm not a Picasso fan, but I would have purchased the Picasso anyway. Can you donate the land to some organization and get a tax deduction? It looks pretty desolate, but maybe someone would like to use it for a cult. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 30, 2017
I don't know...I always heard that you should invest in land, because they're not making any more. I guess they're not making any more Picassos now, either.
By: Val on June 30, 2017
Give it to your brother.
By: cranky on June 30, 2017
You're a very patient family to hang on to this piece of property. Who knows what should be done!
By: red Kline on June 30, 2017
Heeheehee! Agreeing with Cranky, except that it would probably destroy any possibility that your brother would ever speak to you again.
By: messymimi on June 30, 2017
The Picasso aspect is heartbreaking! Ouch, ouch, ouch!!! If you don't give it to your brother-there might be a land conservancy play-of some sort.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 30, 2017
I can't get past the $4.7M for the Picasso!!! Ow...ow...ow... You've gotten some good suggestions, though, and some funny comments. I hope you'll let us know how it goes when you visit there.
By: jenny_o on June 30, 2017
No ideas about the land. But you've taught us a good finance lesson: only invest in what you know!
By: Tom Sightings on July 1, 2017
Hmmm. Sounds like the land itself will never be anything more than a liability. Unless you plan to build something on it that will bring a return on the investment you are better off rid of it. I like the idea of giving it to your brother, but am stuck for other ideas.
By: Botanist on July 1, 2017
How about creating an arts colony? :-) Any investment will be easily recouped. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on July 1, 2017
That's an amusing headache. I have no ideas of my own, but I vote for the nudist colony.
By: Robyn Engel on July 1, 2017
Well, the mountain view is nice, but it looks like desert sand. I'd let it go back for taxes, but I do like some of the ideas of others.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on July 2, 2017
Oh what a shame about that Picasso! I'm glad your mother did well with other investments, but it's a bummer she didn't take your advise. I know I kick myself over my own investment fails a lot more than I should. As for that plot of land, I've no idea what kid of use you can get out of it. Looks like a nice place to drive ATVs though. My aunt owned a small plot of land in Florida that she purchased about 40+ years ago. She was able to go down there and see it before she died, but I don't know who owns it now or what can be done with it.
By: Chris on July 2, 2017
Ugh about that Picasso. Did you tell your mother about it? No advice about the land from me, but I'm curious to find out what you'll end up doing.
By: Pixel Peeper on July 4, 2017
Speculation... dammed if you do and dammed if you don't. Good luck with the land.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 12, 2017

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