NON FICTION

Every word in the stories

on this page are true.

Because they were experienced

first hand by the author.

 

 

 


 

 

How I Met Baxter

I've had lots of pets during my current career as a human. A few dogs with my family, a chicken, Arnie, raised from a chick. The Swimming Cichlids, Bruiser and Slick, Larry (intended) my cockatiel. A couple of gerbils that turned into six.

I was without a pet one day and a friend of mine said it was peculiar that I didn't have one because I liked animals. I had moved around a lot in recent years where I couldn't have a dog. He recommended that I volunteer to walk dogs at the shelter. I knew that If I went there with that purpose I would end up having one anyway so I skipped a step and went right on in.

Just to back track a bit, about ten days before I started looking at the website of the shelter, I went to the wild life park in Camp Verde. I was waiting in line to feed the Bengal White Tiger and chatting with the owner who had just played with the said cat in a shallow swimming pool. The tiger was pacing on the other side of the ten foot tall chain link fence. At one point the tiger started to rub up on the fence as he slowly swaggered by. As he passed, the owner lovingly scratched his side through the fence while continuing to talk to me. That sight was awesome! This animal is one huge kitty!

Back to the canine selection process.

I started looking at the available pooches on the local shelter's website. The one I tended toward was not Baxter. After a few days of looking and comparing the offerings, I decided to take one last look at the website before I went to the pound (Yeah, I said it. What are you going to do about it?) I ended up scrolling down the page with the pictures further than before. The very last picture was Baxter. A Beagle Mix. Beagles happened to be my favorite breed. I suppose his Beagleness put him in the running with the other dog but, we'll see.

At the shelter I approached the desk and requested to see the other dog that I liked on the website. The lady said someone else adopted him.

I decided then to take a look at all the dogs live and see if one popped out. Baxter was there but I wanted to be sure. Since all dog faces are cute, especially with the panting tongue hanging out to one side, and they were all now live, I placed them all in the running. This was a decision I would not take lightly. I had all day.

There was a small yard between two rows of kennels where the dogs could run, they were all occupied. I sat out there on the bench for a while to see if one chose me. (Spare me the adage.) A few came up for a little attention and I was more than happy to give it.

One dog reminded me of one we had when I was a boy. One was nice and friendly and placed third but when I saw him later, when he was in his kennel, I said hi and he tried to bite me through the fence. Down to two.

I spent a few moments alone with Baxter, and the childhood reminder, individually in a room. Neither had any particular interest in interacting with me but I think they were just bored because they kept finding themselves being taken out of their prison cell and placed in “The Room” with another human - for God knows how long - and for whatever reason.

They went back to their cells and I walked around and pondered and looked again at the other dogs and went back and forth from Baxter to the other dog.

Then one time, with Baxter, he was on the other side of the kennel's dogging door and I called him. He poked through and slowly approached. He meandered around bringing his side parallel to the fence and slowly rubbed against it. I scritched his fur and that was it. He's been a deeply important part of the last tenth of my life.

 


 

The End Of My Eggs

I was about 9 or 10 walking home from cub scouts when this lady poked her head out of a second story apartment window - directly over the sidewalk. “Hey kid, do you want a little baby chick?" She said.

Of course I would, I thought. “Let me ask my parents if I can have one. I'll come by tomorrow after school.” My parents agreed.

My older brother built a small pen to contain it and protect it in the yard. It was made of two by fours, chicken wire, nails, two hinges and a latch for one wall to be a door. The floor was the dirt of the yard it sat on. It was a cubic yard inside dimensions and a cubic meter outside dimensions.

I named him Arnie...before I learned he was a girl. Every day I made sure she had food and water and I'd take her out and walk around the yard with her, and put her back in the cage.

When Arnie grew to full size she started laying eggs. One egg a day. Every morning I'd go out to the pen and pick up my fresh breakfast. It was the only thing I'd eat for breakfast. I didn't want to taint it's freshness or the source from which it came.

Every morning for about three or four weeks I'd go outside to get my egg. Every day I'd play with Arnie in the yard after school.

One day I went out to get my breakfast and found the pen chewed open and feathers sprinkled throughout the land. A raccoon from the forest behind us came down and got Arnie. That was the end of my eggs.


 


 

 Kiss of the Baby Dragonfly

 

My grandmother was born on 14 February 1900. She passed two weeks after her 95th birthday. I couldn’t attend the service so the next day I went out to the back patio with a bottle of merlot to reminisce.

 

After a short while a little dragonfly landed on the table where my dinner plate would be. It’s body was no more than a half inch long and it was a month before they should even be appearing.

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I said, “Hello there little bug.”

 

With that it leaped up, touched my nose and flew away. Immediately I knew it was her.

I went to my “Animal Speak’ book and it stated that some native american

cultures believe dragonflies can carry the spirits of the dead.

 

 




My First Culinary Competition

 

 

It’s not unusual to have a hot day in early spring in the Southwest. In fact, this enemy of chocolate was not even a factor. There wasn’t enough time for it to be.

 

I was working the broiler station in a mid-scale restaurant. One day the chef came to me with a flyer that was announcing the annual “Taste of Chocolate” competition. He knew I liked to bake. He thought I should enter, “you know, just for the fun of it.” He said the company would cover the entry fee, and after thinking about it, I agreed. I had two weeks.

 

I made two ten inch rounds stacking four layers each of rich moist chocolate cake alternating with three layers of chip laden fudge. The frosting was a light cocoa chantilly (sweetened whipped cream.) The sides were piped into a basket weave and the top was covered with chocolate leaves. I picked leaves off a neighborhood tree, washed them, dried them, and painted them with melted chocolate. When they cooled, I peeled off the leaf and the shape of the leaf was maintained by the chocolate. I made two cakes for the judges for two reasons. To have enough for more, and to show that I could reproduce consistently. I also had no idea how to enter a competition.

 

The day came and these cakes were the best I had done up until then. Still only a home baker. There was no one at the busy restaurant who could drive the cross town trip so the event coordinator offered to take them. The restaurant was on her way to the event from her home so it was a no brainer.

 

We placed the cakes, now secured on a sheet pan, in the back seat of her slick new four door, behind the passenger side. If she had this car a day, it wouldn’t have been more than a month. Away she went with my babies.

 

Ten minutes go by and I’m slicing meats and cheeses at the far end of the prep area. The chef walked out of the office and into the kitchen. I see him out of the corner of my eye.As he approached he looked straight at me. I stopped cutting. I looked up at him. I knew something bad had happened. It was way too soon for anything good.

 

“I got bad news buddy.” He said like a consoling priest. "It's not good." He continued. “She had to make a sudden stop. She had to avoid an accident.”

 

“I’m glad she’s okay” I said. I didn’t want to ask anything else.

 

Probably knowing this, the chef, not liking what he must do, broke the details. “The cakes got wedged between the back seat and the front seat.”

 

“Did she say how bad they were?” I asked hoping for the best.

 

“No, she didn’t. She’s coming back here to see if you can fix them.”

 

Five minutes later, the lady walked in the back door. She turned the corner to see me. “I am so sorry!”

 

I was calm. I had already come to grips that it was a lost venture. It cannot be worse than total elimination from the contest. We walked out to her car and she opened the door. There I stood glaring at my babies smashed between the front and back seats. I stood there silently with the restaurant manager and others just feet away. I stood there wondering why this had happened...imagining the action that injured my babies. As I assessed the damage. No one else said a word.

 

I reached down to ease them back upright holding them on the sheet pan. A third of the leaves were totaled. Another third were found smashed into the frosting. I picked the cakes up and carried them back to the operating room.

 

I pulled off and tried to save as many leaves as possible. Then I scraped off all the icing to start over. I made more icing and redecorated them. There wasn’t time to do the basket weave so the side ended up straight.I piped on some rosettes and laid the leaves as decoratively as I could.

 

The lady once again took the cakes into her car and started back to the event. Yes, it was a discouraging feeling at the time. And others might have reacted differently. But for some reason, I didn’t get very upset. I had fun making the cakes and that was what mattered most. I couldn’t help thinking that the chocolate stain in her still-smells-like-new car was way worse than a couple of smashed cakes.

 

  


 

 

"GO AWAY!"

 

One southwest summer night I suddenly awoke without cause around two a.m. I was lying on my back which was unusual because I usually sleep on my side or stomach. Just as I realized how odd my body position was I quickly sat up. I was bent at the waist but my physical body remained lying on the sheets. I was halfway out of my body! I had never had this experience before though the topic of leaving one's body had come around every so often in conversations at parties and bar gatherings and such.

Just as I realized what was happening, three spirits came swooping in and hovered in front of my face like pac-man ghosts. The heads and shoulders were there but the rest  of their dark gray, barely visible bodies tapered away. I knew instinctively that they were evil and were there to enter and take over my body should I choose to complete the exit.

"YOU"LL  NEVER GET IN HERE!!" I screamed leaving no doubt they heard me. I do have a loud voice. With that conviction the spirits faded away and left my shaking body to fall back into my torso. With my heart beating double time it took a good hour to get calm enough to get back to sleep.

The next morning my memory of the event was stronger than I'd remembered any dream. I knew it wasn't just a dream. It was as real as what I had for lunch the day before. I now saw there was something to the spiritual side of humanity. I began to pay more attention to what was beyond the five senses. I saw people and animals and even plants with a new dimension. Interactions with others had more meaning. There was more to life than meets the eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue. Nothing was ever the same after that.

 


 

Light Trio

 

During a weekly Wednesday meditation gathering, about eight of us were sitting on the floor of a nondescript church between the pews and the stage, in a circle. I was sitting against the front right hand pew next to the aisle facing toward the stage. Betty, our guide for the evening, was sitting against the middle of the stage facing down the aisle. The room’s lights had been turned off. The only light to us was a dim yellowed street light at least double the length of the church back out to the street barely visible through the aging glass front door.

 

Betty interrupted the guidance and while looking down the aisle she said, "Come on in and join us!" I turned to look down the aisle to see who it was and ONLY three points of light were floating toward us. The first one was about the level of the top of the pews and on the other side of the aisle from me, a couple inches away from the pews.

 

The second one was two thirds the height of the pews, on my side, and about a foot behind the first light. The third was an inch or so above the center of the floor and about 4 feet behind the second light.

 

They held that formation and continued floating toward us until the first light reached three pews back. My heart was pounding. It was the first time in my life I had seen such a thing. All I could do was to turn back to the meditation and just accept that I had seen it - it didn’t need any explanation - and that was the end of that. It was sooo cool!

 

 


 

 

Beyond the Front Door

 

 

I reached the top of the Eiffel Tower, received communion at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and viewed the Mona Lisa displayed in arguably the greatest art museum in the world. Those emotion soaked excursions paled in comparison to an impromptu day spent in a sleepy drizzly Paris cemetery, The Pere La Chaise, where The Front Door had been laid to rest.

 

On the eve of this wonderful day I returned to my four bed hostel room to find a new roommate. He was from the same area as myself and we exchanged known landmarks and such. He asked if I had seen Jim Morrison’s grave yet. I told him I hadn’t so we decided to go to see him the next day. 

 

We arrived at the entrance to the cemetary to find a woman about our age looking at the large map showing where famous names are located. After a few moments of silence I noticed Chopin. The woman realizing we were American, turned around and introduced herself to be Kathy from Boston. She was on her way home after two years of teaching english in Japan. She just came off a train ride through Russia.

 

We meandered around for about an hour looking for Jim Morrison’s grave. Occasionally we’d see a chalk mark on a tomb with “Jim” and an arrow. We thought we were going pretty good until we saw an arrow pointing in the opposite direction. We decided to go read the manual at the information booth.

 

The office at the entrance had just enough room for one tourist, and a guide sitting behind a desk. Maybe two small children, maybe. The walls were coated with flyers attracting tourists to plays, exhibits, and other local happenings. We looked in and saw that it was occupied.

 

“I’ll go in and see if I can just look at a map instead of having to buy one” Kathy said as she stepped up to the door to wait for someone to exit.

 

A gray haired lady in wire rim glasses, draped in a thick gray and tan cape, came out holding an open map, simultaneously searching for her visits and finding the three steps down to the ground in front of her.

 

“Excuse me ma’am, could we look at your map for a second?” Kathy also gestured in case the lady didn’t speak English.

 

“Of course you can” the lady answered with a moderate German accent.

 

Kathy thanked her, and we began looking for the location of Jim’s grave. As we were plotting our course, the lady asked who we were looking for.

 

“Jim Morrison” Duane answered.

 

The lady softly shook her head in curiosity, “I don’t believe I know who that is.”

 

“He was a rock star in the sixties” I explained.

 

“That’s why, I’m a little too old for that. I prefer the classics” she replied with slight embarrassment.

 

“Who are you going to see?” asked Duane.

 

“Well, there’s three I’m bringing flowers to” she said. “Frederic Chopin, Gertrude Stein, and Edith Piaf. Would you like to walk with me?”

 

Of course the three of us all said yes, we all knew something special was about to unfold.

 

“I’m Ursula, what are your names?”

 

We introduced ourselves and shook hands.

 

“Could you wait here a minute, I need to get some flowers.” Ursula said. She walked down to the flower stand set up just outside the front gate to the cemetery. She bought three roses, and walked back to us waiting at the crosswalks. “These will be nice” she said primping the foliage for her presentations. “Shall we?” With that we began our journey into the past.

 

We started up the old cobblestone walkways that were laid down before our grandparents were born. A sea of ivy and moss crawled over the tombstones. Testaments to those who shaped the long history of this two thousand year old city. The concrete blocks reeked of a musty earthy odor.

 

The trees stretched up beyond sight, collectively covering half the sky. It was completely overcast with a seemingly endless blanket of light gray. A smooth tickling drizzle filtered through the leaves.

 

Ursula guided us from one historical figure to the next, stopping to pay respects to some of the greats that lay buried beneath massive monuments.

 

Balzac the writer, whose bust set on a pedestal, made him seem larger than life. Chopin, with his silhouette struck like a giant coin on the front of an armoire sized stone, was smothered with flowers from what must have been every pianist in the world. Moliere and La Fontaine with their tombs surrounded by a black iron fence, keeping them together for eternity.

 

The deaths and sometimes tragic lives of these artists were overshadowed by the wonderful contributions they made. Creation had transcended demise. They had made their mark on the human community, and we were all the richer for it. We were happy for the opportunity to pay them a visit, and to learn more about them from this wise lady who strolled with us that day.

 

“Where are you from?” Kathy asked Ursula.

 

“I’m from Germany.” Qualifying herself she added, “I’ve lived in Los Angeles with my daughter now for twenty years. I became an American citizen ten years ago.” She was proud to finally be an American. “Where are you from?”

 

“I’m a teacher from Boston” Kathy said enthusiastically. “I spent the last two years teaching English in Japan. I arrived here yesterday on a train I rode through Russia.”

 

She turned to me. “I’m originally from Seattle, but I live in Arizona now. I just finished a pastry class at the Ritz Hotel.”

 

“I’m from Renton, a suburb of Seattle” Duane added, “I just got out of the Army and they gave me a two month tour of Europe.” He was relieved to be out of the Army. 

 

The four of us knew not of each others existence only two days ago. Duane and I met yesterday. We met Kathy at the entrance to the graveyard two hours ago, and the three of us just met Ursula at the information office. The four of us came together on this day like it had been planned. Like we were friends in a previous life, and we all agreed to meet on this day, in this lifetime, to bask in the joy others had brought us. Our group felt complete. No one was missing. We shared a connection that can only be described as being somehow deeper than our own conscious awareness, and it surfaced as we related to our beloved teachers.

 

“Here’s another ‘Jim” exclaimed Duane. “There’s a bunch of ‘em now. We must be getting closer.”

 

“What is that?” Ursula wondered.

 

“Arrows to Jim Morrison’s grave” I said. “We found others on other tombs too. That’s why we went to the office. They kept pointing in different directions.”

 

“He must have been very popular!” Ursula said with awe. She was realizing that this person had an impact on our generation as her mentors had on hers’.

 

We arrived in the area of the site indicated by our map.

 

“It’s around here somewhere” I said looking at the map and reading the names on the surrounding tombs.

 

“There are some more tombs behind these” said Duane. He walked behind the tombs that lined the path. “It’s over here!”

 

We followed Duane into a cluster of a dozen tombs as big as refrigerators. All encrusted with twenty-two years of graphiti messages to Jim. Written by followers from all over the world. Quotes from his songs, personal notes. Names, dates, hometowns. A dozen bouquets of flowers in various stages of wilt bordered the grave. Jim’s headstone was a basic, two foot high flat monument shielded from the path by his neighbors.

 

A young man sat on a ledge next to the grave strumming his guitar and singing The Doors songs. Another half dozen people solemnly sung along, mostly to themselves, melancholy for their fallen hero.

 

A tall thin, heavily haired and leathered man, chains hanging from his pockets, holding his girlfriend’s hand, came to join the group. He stopped at the headstone, kissed his hand, and touched the tomb, “Love ya Jim” he murmured in French. He looked up and nodded to each one of us in attendance, turned around and faded back away.

 

Ursula stood by watching the mourners, empathizing, understanding.

 

When Kathy, Duane, and I were ready to leave, the four of us walked out to the pathway.

 

“I still have a flower for Edith Piaf,” Ursula said, “would you like to continue walking with me?”'

 

The three of us glanced at each other wondering what may lie next, and agreed to stick around.

 

Ursula checked her map, looked up, and pointed across the field. “She’s over there. That way. She’s not far from here.”

 

We arrived in the area indicated by the map, and dispersed to search for her grave.

 

“Here she is!” Ursula said. Her tears began welling up as she knelt down before the songstress. “She had such a beautiful voice.”

 

Kathy, Duane and I looked on in reverence.

 

Ursula finished her prayer, rose and turned back to the path. “Thank you so much for sharing this day with me.”'

 

“Thank you for joining us” reiterated Kathy.

 

Duane included himself in the sentiment.

 

“Thank you” I added with awe. How could I ever express how this day was reaching me? I came to the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise merely to see the grave of one who inspired my own creativity, and ended up spending the whole day with another dozen artists, of centuries past, who have inspired billions of others. A simple day of memorial transformed into a phenomenal flush of spirit.

 

“Would you like to walk around some more?” Ursula asked us.

 

The three of us knew that we had two thousand years of history beneath our feet, and knowledgeable guide to some of it.

 

We continued on a walkway near the edge of the graveyard. As it curved around, we came up on several of the biggest monuments in the cemetery. Most as big as full sized trucks. Others as big as sedans. they were monuments in tribute to entire communities wiped out in the holocaust. The ones who had no chance. All by gas chamber. Forty thousand from one town, ten thousand from another. Twenty-five thousand marked for another town. A dozen monuments in a single row, lined the side of the path. No names. Not enough room. these giant stones brought history as close to reality as one could get without having been there.

 

Ursula was there. As she read one after another, sadness bubbled up from the depths of her heart. “This is what makes me ashamed to be German.”

 

Those words touched all three of us more than any visit to any rock icon ever could. There was no glory in the lives of those people then. No public admiration. No performances. No lights. No screaming fans. Just senseless slaughtering at the whim of a madman. No one knew who they were except for their families, friends and neighbors Yet their place in history now impacts everyone around the world. They will never be forgotten.

 


 

 

 

 

All content Copyright 2013-2017 Mark S. Van Hise All rights reserved.

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