“Siri, open Spotify.” She commanded while securing ear buds and plugging connector into iPhone. Over her shoulder she hefted a small book bag containing three bottles of water, $7 and two tokens. Tapping the RunKeeper App she opened it and chose her walking soundtrack as she hit the streets of West Philly.
It hadn’t been a hard day; but after several days of wishy washy weather, she wanted to feel sun on her skin and light breezes through her hair.
Walking was her repreive.
It was her time to release the stress of the day, let worries roll off her spirit and welcome her back into a world in which she was daily secluded. This woman did not have a 9 to 5. She had a 4:45am until 3:30pm. Well 3:30pm is when her staff left; most days she would work until well after 5. 6. Okay sometimes 7.
On the days she can slip out at 4; she walked a leg stretching, mind massaging walk with music providing her soundtrack to salvation.
Cedar Park was packed. Young hippsters and black elder chess players crowded around boards engraved in cement tables; outside yoga neophytes downward doggie style learning from experts, young children speeding on training wheeled bicycles, same sex couples holding hands, tinder first dates nervously walking; yuppies pushing strollers while the water ice flowed and unleashed dogs gathered together like old friends. She scanned the benches to find a quiet place to sit and reflect but they were each packed.
Ahead of her she saw an open bench. One woman was sitting on it; but two guys standing close; one bouncing a basketball, the other on the tail end of rolling a joint. By the time she approached the bench the strong smell of weed was tapping her on the shoulder.
She kept it moving.
Walking between a frisbee tossing father and son, she spied another bench. This one had a man sitting on it staring out at the dog park. There was enough room to seat two people between them. She sat down as close to the arm of the bench as possible.
Her feet were telling her that the walk was approximately one mile. Okay it was actually her Runkeeper app; but her feet were co-signing. She leaned back on the bench and let the music sneak deeper into her mind. From this perspective she could easily observe everything about this beautiful park. There was peace here.
After about forty minutes she took out her ear buds.
“Have you ever heard of Jack Kerouac?” His voice was like a smooth Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Like Shaggy without the squeak. It took a moment for her to realize he was speaking to her.
It just so happened she did know who Jack Kerouac was. She answered without thinking about the fact that he was a complete stranger asking a weird question. “Yeah, ‘On the Road’ one of my favorite books, love his work.”
“Right” his wide smile revealed two bottom teeth missing to the far left of his mouth. ” On the Road man Like Jack said ‘Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.’ and I really feel like that says it all man…”
She thought it strange that he would begin his conversation with her by asking about the very man most of her contemporaries have compared her to when she started reciting her poetry. They would tell her “you are a crossbreed of Jack Keroac and Gil Scott Heron with Angela Davis sprinkled in.”
There was something familar about him. It wasn’t his look as much as it was his mannerism.
His face was lean; beard gruff, tan Stetson pulled over dirty blond wavy hair. He wore a wrinkled tan cotton twill blazer over white tee shirt and blue jeans. His feet were adorned in slightly battered choclate Mocs. Weather worn hands gracefully held a cigarette which he pulled from a foreign pack and lit with a wooden match. His blue eyes were kind.
“I was waiting for you to take your head phones off.” He said it casually. “I was going to say hi when you sat down; but you were in your own space and I didn’t want to intrude; I just thought ‘I’ll wait for her to take them out, you know.”
Jay. That’s who he reminded her of. Jay. Her older brother. Jay, whose battling cancer and is living all alone in a one bedroom apartment. Jay. Who she doesn’t speak with as often as she should.
“Who else do you enjoy reading?” He inquired.
“I like poetry so, I’m into anyone who can construct passionate prose.” she answered.
“Oh, I just discovered someone really cool; I mean I know she’s from Philly; but I just never really checked her out but then I saw this documentary on her and she’s just fierce, her name is Sonia Sanchez have you heard of her?”
This, to her, was like saying “God. Have you heard of him?” They talked of her work while watching the people in the park, they shared stories of how she inspired them.
“I love this weather” he told her. “I mean I love winter too…like the pure snowfall, when it’s on the ground and untouched you know? Like I was recently institutionalized with some heavy duty guys you know…and remember the big snowstorm back in, I think it was January last year? Yeah man, these guys were like, heavy duty, like real bad asses you know; but when the snow fell you should have seen their faces man, it was like, pure little boys man,like so pure. You know? Only nature could do that man. That’s what it’s about man.”
She wasn’t shocked at his revelation. It uncoiled as softly as the rest of his conversation. She wasn’t alarmed and didn’t feel threatened.
He told her of his struggles with self control, “Man I use to want to fight everything,now I tell myself ‘Is it worth it for me or him man, to lash out, man we’re both just lashing and nothing will come of it.’ So I don’t now. Oh don’t get me wrong; sometimes it is a struggle; but that’s the life of it you know?” He spoke of traveling to Europe to find himself. There he discovered the poetry and prose of Charles Bukowski – who the Times crowned Laureate of American Lowlife. When he was down South he fell in love with the work of Arthur Rimbaud – French Poet. Father of Surrealism. Arthur Rimbaud was highly regarded as pioneering the power of releasing the creative potential of the unconscious mind. He stopped writing by 21 saying that he had said all he had to say. Arthur Rimbaud’s quote “Life is the Farce which everyone has to perform” stayed with this man who had all of her attention on this bench in Cedar Park.
He spoke again of his being institutionalized. “Sometimes my mind gets a little jumbled and I forget things; but I’m getting better you know?” He spoke sincerely when he said “I love that you’re a poet. Who would have put you here but God,you know? I am an artist too. I use to paint. I mean I still can; but I just don’t. You know why. We create to communicate. Artists, Song writers, Poets,it’s all to communicate right? So I don’t draw anymore I just create art through conversation.”
Hours had passed and the sun was setting. She said “Well it’s getting late. I should make my way back home now.” he replied “It was great talking with you; this was an amazing conversation. My name is Paul by the way.”
She told him her name and stood to leave. She said “Yes Paul, thanks so much for sharing this space with me. You’re right this was an amazing conversation.”
He reached up to grab her hand. He held it in his squeezing gently but firmly. Then he said “It really was great; I hope it was real.”
They stood beneath the setting sun for just a tick of time to tock by before he let her hand go and she understood completely.
As she pivoted to leave Paul turned back his attention to the beauty of the farce watching people perform.
Earbuds in her ear she said a silent prayer for the man sitting on the bench and thanked the Creator for giving her the direction to make a choice to engage in an easy conversation with a complete stranger.
“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion..” – Jack Kerouac