by Lou Mancinelli
There were two young teenagers sitting just beyond the banks of the Wissahickon Creek where the creek should be before it went under the bridge and the road, but the water was too shallow to cover the rocks. It was Monday afternoon, around two o’clock. It was July, and it was muggy and hot like a coat of hair. The scoundrels, I thought. It’s like they know something we don’t.
I always wonder whether I am the man who wants a steady income or the man in my head who tells me it’s more valuable to sit by the creek in the afternoon some days. I was on the way home from covering an event for a local news website. The story was about a group of grandmothers bottling homemade pickles at the Roxborough Salvation Army. Not likely to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Is this what my career as a writer has come to? Four books of unpublished poetry and now a second novel. I’m always darting back between New York and Philadelphia for a $100 assignment, borrowing cars and returning them with empty tanks.
Yes, Louis, you need to sit by the creek today. Your electric bill is over $300. Haven’t paid it since May. And so yes, go to the creek. There is something there you need to find like a book or a song you forgot about.
I parked in the lot off Bells Mill Road, half inspired by the teenagers, to cut out on the day, if only for 30 minutes. The lot was half full. I started up the hill and stopped to look at a map of the Wissahickon. Soon a college-aged-looking boy and girl approached.
“Looking for anything in particular?” she said.
“You’re pretty dressed up for the park,” she said.
Maybe it was my boots. I like fine leather. Maybe it was because my shirt was tucked in to my suit-looking pants. The material is light, and it was hot, a perfect pair for the summer.
“Work,” I said.
She asked me if it was corporate, or something like that.
This is what my writing career has come to. I look like a corporate man. A salesman. I am trying to sell articles, and I take whatever I can get. The two young kids were on their way to Devil’s Pool. I was jealous. Someone died there a few weeks ago, she told me.
They kept going, and a few minutes later I walked over to the bench by the creek. I looked at the creek and the water that was passing by slow and fast at the same time like an hour, and watched the trees swing as if applauding the slow breeze.
All of Philadelphia, the steel, and all of New York I’d been living with for nearly a year, shooting by like a train as soon as you saw it, but still there the next day and somehow still shooting by, all of it disappeared. There I was, simply a man by the creek in the woods and the wind.
I felt my whole head clear, there in Valley Green. I saw old Indians. I saw the truth of what the old Hindus say, that a man makes his own paradise by working. I knew I belonged here and that I was far from my paradise, yet I was already in it. The road before me was still to come.
I thought about it. Maybe this is why I’m always scrambling when I need a hundred bucks and often sitting quietly by a creek in Valley Green while the offices and buildings are filled with whoever fills them.
Lou Mancinelli is a budding poet and novelist who tries to pay the rent by writing human interest profiles for the Local and other local publications.