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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Five of My Favorite Posts

Single-Ply Miracle

April 23, 2012

Last Friday I got up at 6:00 AM to go swimming at our public pool. I usually celebrate this rare act of exercise by bringing home pastries from the Albertsons I pass along the way. Mrs. Chatterbox has Fridays off and sleeps in. She works for the local police department and is always telling me where crimes occur, such as the local swim center. She’s made me promise to leave my credit card at home before heading to the pool.


Two weeks ago as I prepared to go swimming, I noticed both of our bathrooms were out of toilet paper. Anticipating how grumpy she would be on waking up without any, I decided to pick up a package on my way home, along with the pastries. Usually we buy toilet paper in bulk from Costco, massive mattress-sized packages, but somehow we hadn’t gotten around to it.


I got to the store and opened my wallet to find that I only had enough cash to purchase two pastries, with one dollar left over. I don’t believe in ATMs and can’t remember my pin number anyway. Of course the shelves were filled with various packages of toilet paper, all of them costing more than a dollar. Single rolls were also available—for a buck.


Problem: Mrs. Chatterbox is very picky. A comet needs to be shrieking into Earth’s atmosphere for her to even consider using anything less than quilted or double ply.single ply. I took a chance, on the assumption that it was better than nothing, which was what awaited Mrs. C. when she climbed out of bed and trotted to the bathroom.


When I got home with my purchases she was already awake, and on the couch enjoying a cup of coffee.


“I brought you something,” I said.




“Yes, along with something more important.”


I reached into the grocery bag for the roll of toilet paper and tossed it to her. I expected her to compliment me for taking the initiative. In our forty years together I can’t count the number of times she’s said things like: If you were driving past the store why didn’t you stop and pick up some milk…or spaghetti…or cereal…or lunch meat…or bread…or, well you get the idea.


She eyed the roll of single ply like it was a land mine. “What the heck is this?” she asked, tossing it back at me.

“I noticed we were out. I bought some so you wouldn’t have to go without this morning.”


“This is single ply! We NEVER use single ply. And what about the jumbo package I picked up at Costco on Wednesday? The pantry is full of toilet paper. Did you even bother to check?”


The answer was obvious. I hadn’t. Stupid…yes, but she could have thrown me a bone, a little recognition just for thinking about it.


I usually frequent the downstairs bathroom near the family room while Mrs. C. confines herself to the upstairs bathroom attached to our bedroom. I marched off and placed my ridiculed and rejected single ply on the empty roller in my bathroom. So what if it was single ply and dissolved into a handful of lint the minute it got damp? I bought it, and as a matter of principle I intended to suffer through the entire roll. And so I did: I used it, and used it, and used it. That roll of toilet paper may have been cheap, but it was endless. Last week I had a cold and blew my nose constantly, and that roll just wouldn’t get any smaller.


Which made me think of catechism class when I was a kid. We were told about Jesus feeding the multitudes with just a few loaves and fishes, and it seemed a similar miracle was happening with my roll of single ply. Was I experiencing a religious phenomenon? Was it time to assemble the media in my cramped windowless bathroom to experience something astonishing?


Eventually, I discovered that something less than miraculous was happening. My puckish wife had gone to the store and bought more of the cheap single ply. Without my noticing, she was replacing the roll when it got low.


Sometimes she scares me. I think she’s an evil genius.


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