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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The Greatest Artist I've Ever Known

December 17, 2012

Grandma Chatterbox is finally home from the hospital and she’s progressing better than she wants to admit. Her surgery has left her weak and she needs assistance to maintain her apartment and independence. It’s fallen on me to find someone to help her. There are many good organizations to draw on and much of my time is currently being spent searching for a suitable individual who can put up with Mom’s idiosyncrasies. This hasn’t prevented my head from filling with fresh stories, but lately I haven’t had time to read many of your posts much less write new ones of my own. Hopefully my situation will soon return to normal. Until then, here’s another of my favorites….  

 

 The Greatest Artist I've Ever Known

 

I was recently asked to name the greatest artist I’ve ever known. It wasn’t a difficult question to answer; only one name came to mind—Raoul.

    

In the fall of 1970 I started at West Valley Community College, which was only a few miles from where I lived in what would later be termed California’s Silicon Valley. I immediately struck up a friendship with Raoul. I never got around to learning his last name, which I regret because Raoul was the greatest artist I’d ever encounter, not that I knew it at the time. Raoul was sensitive, with a childlike simplicity and vulnerability. He swiped tears from his eyes and choked up whenever anyone said anything nice to him.   

    

Raoul had a kind word for everyone’s work and would give up the foul-smelling shirt on his back if asked. His clothes were ragged and the bottoms of his shoes were usually caked with gum. Blackheads dotted his face, and I swear I once saw something moving in his oily and unruly hair. Yet when Raoul picked up a piece of charcoal and began to draw, his hygiene issues vanished beneath an aura of creativity bordering on the spiritual. 

    

I wasn’t the only one to notice this transformation, many did who toiled at easels beside him. When we watched him draw, we imagined Mozart writing music. Raoul wasn’t so much recording what he saw as revealing a perfect vision in his head. He had no concern for composition, placing his figures on the page in a haphazard manner. When he ran out of space, he would bum paper from someone and attach the additional sheet to his drawing, using masking tape or whatever else he could find. Sometimes he would remove a chunk of gum from the bottom of his shoe and use it to stick papers together. In the end, he would produce an astonishing mix of beauty and revulsion.

    

West Valley’s drawing classes provided the first nude models I ever saw, and my first attempts to capture the human form were peculiar to say the least. Had Eve resembled one of my early drawings the human race wouldn’t have come to anything because Adam would have remained celibate. In contrast, I remember looking at one of Raoul’s drawings and not being able to decide if I wanted to tear it to shreds or hang it in my bedroom where I could see it first thing every morning when I opened my eyes. There, mingling with the condensed essence of human emotion, mixed with smudges and snot, and rising through a scribbled anatomical shorthand—the human soul as I’d never before imagined it.

    

Once after class while sharing my cheese sandwich with Raoul, I told him, “I wish I could draw as well as you.”

    

His dark eyes widened with amazement. “But your work is wonderful.”

    

“Thanks.” He still looked hungry so I gave him the rest of my sandwich. “Have you always wanted to be an artist?”

    

He wolfed down the rest of the cheese and bread, and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “I don’t want to become an artist. Never did.”

    

“You’re joking, right?”

    

He shook his head.

    

“What do you want to be when you graduate?”

    

His answer made my jaw drop. “A soldier. I want to go to Vietnam.”

    

I couldn’t believe my ears, especially at a time when guys were cutting off fingers or running off to Canada to avoid the draft. Was it clean clothes and regular meals prompting his desire to risk his divine gifts? His life? I was about to question him when he blurted out, “But they won’t take me.”

    

“Why not,” I asked, immediately wishing I hadn’t. I could think of a few reasons the draft board might turn him down.

    

Tears spilled down his cheeks. “The Army recruiters I’ve talked to turned me down because of my…” he glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to hear, “…spells.”

    

“You have spells?”

    

“Yeah. When I was a kid they were so bad I spend days in bed recovering. No TV at our house, so I passed time drawing. When my parents could afford it they took me to doctors for tests. They gave me pills and my spells slowly went away.”

    

This sounded familiar. Dad had a sister living in a state hospital near Sacramento. She was an epileptic and suffered seizures.

    

Raoul added, “The Army says I can’t join up because they can’t be sure I won’t get the shakes or pass out, especially in stressful situations.”

    

“There probably aren’t many places more stressful than Vietnam,” I said. “Why is serving so important to you?”

    

“My parents brought me to this country from Guatemala when I was five. We’re illegal aliens. They work hard, but we struggle to get by. If I joined the Army I would have a paycheck to send them, and I could prove to everyone that I’m a good American, and I belong here.”

    

“Will the Army take illegal aliens?” I asked.

    

“Yeah. I checked it out. You don’t have to be a citizen to enlist.”

    

He had nothing to prove as far as I was concerned, but the sight of his tearstained cheeks made me ask, “Do you think you could face the horrors of combat? Could you shoot somebody?”

    

“I’d do what I had to do.”

    

“Well, I’m kinda glad they said no, or else I might not have met you.”

    

His smile revealed a lack of familiarity with toothpaste. “I won’t give up. This one recruiter told me to come back with a letter signed by my doctor when I’d gone five years without a spell. He promised to see what he could do. That’s less than three months from now.”

    

It felt odd, but I wished him good luck.

    

Three months later, near the end of our afternoon figure drawing session, Raoul’s charcoal slipped from his hand and he slumped to the floor. He lost awareness and began thrashing around. The instructor reached for his wallet, turned Raoul on his side and pressed the wallet between Raoul’s teeth to keep him from biting off his tongue. An ambulance was summoned and paramedics strapped a convulsing Raoul to the gurney.

    

I learned later that he’d suffered a grand mal seizure. Word spread that earlier in the day he’d gone to the recruiting office with the letter from his doctor.

    

Once again he’d been rejected.

    

I’d grabbed the drawing he was working on the day of his collapse—a female figure more angelic than human. I wanted to keep it safe, planned on handing it back to him when he returned. But he never did. I managed to wrangle an address from the Registrar’s Office but the address had been faked; no one knew of Raoul or his Guatemalan parents.

    

I never saw him again, but for years his spirit lingered near my easel.     

 

 

Have you encountered remarkable talent in your life? Tell me about it. 

 



Comments

23 Comments
I've not experienced anything like this, but your encounter was amazing. Very well written too. I'm glad your mother is doing better. Hopefully she'll be independent again very soon. Hubby and I are always doing something to help his 92 year old mother stay home where she wants to be. It's expensive, but it's what she wants. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 17, 2012
Fred Kline- he taught painting at Portland State and I was lucky enough to know him through a mutual friend who became his wife. He was an extraordinary man-keen sense of life; humor mixed with compassion, a passion for painting and a kind and wonderful teacher. He loved all of us-no strings attached. http://www.meaus.com/0127-frederick-kline.htm
By: Kathe W. on December 17, 2012
An amazing story- filled with the angst of unfilled promise and goodness of heart. Do you still have his picture? I have encountered too many instances of incredible talent going unpursued. I"m glad you are sharing your talents with us in your art and writing.
By: Shelly on December 17, 2012
So now I am curious...will you ever post the drawing?
By: Tabor on December 17, 2012
Several comments today: 1-I'm glad your grandmother is doing well! 2-I have never been so fortunate as to have a Raoul in my life. 3-"Had Eve resembled one of my early drawings the human race wouldnât have come to anything because Adam would have remained celibate."--a GREAT line! 4-I want to see the drawing!!
By: fishducky on December 17, 2012
SHow the drawing! Glad your mom is doing better.
By: cranky on December 17, 2012
I've read this before and it touched me then as it does now. I'm pretty sure I asked you about the drawing then but can't remember your response. I'm glad to hear that your mother is on the mend. Sending good thoughts her way.
By: Hilary on December 17, 2012
oh wow, what an amazing story. Mama MB had seizures like that a couple of times that I witnessed, quite terrifying. I hope things worked out well for him in his future :/ How sad that he was rejected again though!
By: Hey Monkey Butt on December 17, 2012
You have led a very exciting life in comparison to my Hum Drum existence. What a wonderful story that is. I wish I could take a real life happening and make it as exciting as you do.... but, I can't. http://arewethereyettravelblog.blogspot.com/
By: Are We There Yet!! on December 17, 2012
Well, i've met a few characters in my day, but no one quite like that.
By: messymimi on December 17, 2012
Glad your mom is out of the hospital! Raoul sounds completely fascinating. I love people that exude raw talent, and are eccentric, not because they are trying to be, but because they are just well and truly different. I would have loved to see his paintings.
By: Kianwi on December 17, 2012
He sounds like an amazing person. I wonder what ever happened to him?
By: Patricia on December 17, 2012
My favorite college professor and all-time favorite teacher -- Dr. C. He had such a talent for bringing clarity to a work of literature and he gave me the ability to write an essay on anything. What a gift this man was, and still is. He continues to teach. I passed on what I learned from him to The Hurricane. Now she copy edits technical papers part time while she works on her Ph.D. She knows how to copy edit because Dr. C. taught me. And The Hurricane will some day teach her children what I learned from this outstanding teacher. How I wish you knew what happened to Raoul. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 17, 2012
It's good to hear good news on the Grandma Chatterbox front. Hope you both get things lined out soon.
By: Val on December 17, 2012
I have never met someone such as Raoul and that is a shame. We should all have that pleasure. I loved this piece, wonderfully written as always. Very glad to hear about Grandma Chatterbox!
By: The Insomniac's Dream on December 17, 2012

By: Don't Fee on December 18, 2012
i guess there was one art teacher at school that was the reason behind why i got back into art - because he was willing to encourage people to try even if they were not naturally talented. Most of my teachers just assumed i was stupid and made no effort - he was the exception. I don't know that i've ever met anyone who was out of this world talented to that degree - although my good friend Argent is certainly talented and funny and massively intelligent. TV artists like Rolf Harris inspired me by making it all look so much fun - which sometimes it is :)
By: Don't Feed The Pixies on December 18, 2012
Raoul sounds like a most interesting person. How sad it is that he couldn't do what he really wants to do but he has such an amazing talent, I hope he finds happiness there. Good to know your mother is better. Good luck in your search for a suitable person to care for her.
By: Anne on December 18, 2012
I may have mentioned this fellow when I previously read this, but just in case I didn't... John D'Andrea was the best drummer I ever heard. Many bands shared a rehearsal space in Hyde Park when I was there with a band named Live Wire. Everybody was pretending to be a rock star, myself included. And we were all at various levels of hackery. I mean, I consider myself a decent bass player, very good for the sorts of bands there at that time, but I'm just decent, at best, if I compare myself to truly great players. But John was something beyond that. He wasn't just the best drummer in the building, or in the heavy metal or hard rock players in Boston; he was the best, period. Everybody who heard him, including other drummers, thought he was better than any pro - Peart, Paice, Rich, whomever. And he just sort of vanished. Last I knew of him working, he was in a cover band that played small clubs. That was years and years ago. Every so often I do a search in Google, because I'm always sure he'll turn up somewhere playing the great original music he was born to play, but no luck (there is another John d"Andrea, a composer and arranger, but that's not him.).
By: Suldog on December 18, 2012
Very interesting story...on so many levels. First off..good luck finding the right person to help with your mother's recovery. Hope she recovers quickly. I think the fact that you developed a friendship (maybe that's too strong of word but I can't think of an alternate at the moment) with someone that was so unkept. I think it takes a generous heart to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Back in the day of managing the unemployment office, I can tell you that the type of person you describe usually received more disdain than respect. Did you keep the drawing? I hope things went well for Raoul.
By: Cheryl P. on December 18, 2012
Great story. Beautifully told.
By: Diane Laney Fitzpatrick on December 18, 2012
I remember the story from when you originally posted it. It still moved me! And you are so very kind...your mother's idiosyncrasies...we know what you really meant! ;-)
By: Pixel Peeper on December 18, 2012
Once again you tell a compelling tale. Thanks for sharing this with us.
By: Eva Gallant on December 18, 2012

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