Visiting northwest Pennsylvania always makes me think of oil. I suppose the fact that I attended high school in Oil City has something to do with the fact. Many people suppose that the oil industry began in Texas, but Pennzoil and Quaker State have earlier roots back to the days when people flooded to Oil City and Titusville to get rich from the petroleum underground. I grew up in a refinery town that is becoming a ghost town, like Pithole City and Petroleum Centre before it. And when I returned home to New Jersey I wanted to find my Oil City book. Yes, there is a book. I first saw it in junior high school and I coveted it. Hardbound and large format, it was a book about my town. I had no idea where to get one, however. There were no bookstores in Oil City, or nearby Franklin. Any further afield than that and nobody cared.
I used to work as a janitor in my junior high school. It was my summer job for several years. One day our task was to haul out the garbage bins. I saw my opportunity. The library was discarding several copies of the book. They were in the trash. I dumpster-dived for the first (but not last) time in my life. I had the prized book. It had been locally printed. There is no publisher listed. It bears no ISBN. Nothing like a book to validate where you’re from. You see, I’ve always wanted to write a history of the area where I grew up. No major publisher would touch it—it can’t possibly sell enough books to cover its costs. It would be a labor of love.
Not that I’m a fan of Big Oil. Quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t appreciate their proprietary arrogance toward ownership of the planet. Of their pollution of the world to gain more money for themselves. I support alternate energy. But still. This is where I’m from. Not that anybody’s making much money off of oil there these days. The shallow wells ran dry long ago. The local oil companies were bought out by larger corporations but they kept the local names. Once in a while I pull out my old, salvaged Oil City book and scan the pages with wonder. Many of these towns wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the prehistoric sludge that flowed under the rocks and stones. It’s easy to believe that the town would stay the same forever. Heading out of Oil City there is a church. A crude cross stands atop a truncated oil derrick. I stare at it and the irony is only half complete.