Harm and the Harmonica Man: Part One - By Howard Schneider

When Harmon Zorn was little the few friends he'd had called him “Harmie.” But by the time he’d made it to high school, the darkness in him had surfaced, and even fewer friends he had called him “Harm,” as if acknowledging his true character. As if they'd discovered his inner core, who he really was, burdened by deep-seated psychological trauma, increasingly manifested by angry rebellion against the harsh world into which he'd been unkindly cast and which he'd had no help navigating. By the age of seventeen he was a textbook case of resentment, hopelessness, and rejection—a lost soul with no future. 

In Harm’s case a major problem was that there'd been a complete lack of support or mental health intervention that could have prevented the destructive effects of emotional deprivation. He’d been on his own from the start, unloved and ignored—an unknown transient father, a homeless, drug-addicted teen mother who died during childbirth, and an abusive and neglectful childhood spent in a cascade of dysfunctional foster homes, an environment that could yield nothing other than a disastrous outcome. 

As social and clinical science has convincingly shown, we all are the sum of our genetic inheritance and our upbringing. For Harm, both of these factors had conspired against him. But a critical question is, how permanent is this seemingly dead-end situation at the age of seventeen? Is there a possibility of psychological salvage? Or is Harm destined for a life of dysfunction and misery, a continuation of the only thing he's known for the entirity of his short existence. And if there were to be any hope, what would it take to change his life for the good? To improve his well-being. 

*    *    * 

A decade later, shuffling along 82nd Avenue, homeless, hungry, on the lookout for a chance to score a few bucks, Harm noticed a small, black satchel on the bench at a bus stop. The apparent owner, a guy who looked to be in his fifties, kinda on the heavy side, was focused on the book he was reading and appeared not all that attentive to the bag next to him. When Harm was close enough, he grabbed the satchel and took off running, cut through the parking lot of a corner strip mall, kept going full-speed down the side street for a couple of blocks, then, when he saw that the guy was nowhere behind him, darted into a dense laurel hedge. He'd been in this spot before, had even slept there a few times. Safe from pursuit and unseen from the street, and after he caught his breath, he opened the bag to see what he'd got. 

The first thing he saw was an oblong, black fabric case, about 12 by 6 inches, 2 inches thick. It was zippered shut. He set the case aside and took out the other things—a couple of paperbacks, a map of Corvallis, a bottle of water. No wallet, no money, nothing of value. He drank the water, then unzipped the case. He was surprised to see seven harmonicas, each held in its place by an elastic band. He'd seen and heard guys playing harmonicas and knew what they sounded like. But he had no idea what they might be worth, what he could get for them from Jake, one of the pawnbrokers on 82nd who'd buy stuff without asking where it came from. Curious, he took one of them out and held it to his mouth and blew into it a couple of times. Then he moved over enough to see along the street. There was nobody in sight, so he blew a few more time, moving his mouth across all he holes. There was something about the sounds he liked. He started to play it some more, but feeling his hunger pains, abruptly put it back and zippered the case shut. He put the case and the paperbacks in his backpack, tossed the satchel and map further into the hedge, and went back to the street. 

  

Jake the pawnbroker was a scruffy old guy in need of dental work and a bath. His apparent lack of concern for personal hygiene carried over to his lack of concern about how a prospective seller came to possess the objects they offered him. All he cared about was their resale potential and the profit he could realize. He barely glanced at the case of shiny harps Harm showed him and said, "I don't buy harmonicas. People don't want to put used stuff in their mouth. And new ones are so cheap there's no reason to buy used ones. What else you got?" Disappointed but not showing it, Harm reached into his backpack and took out the two paperbacks. Without bothering to check the titles, Jake said, "A buck each." Harm gladly took the two dollars, put the harmonica case back in his backpack and left. When Harm was out the door, Jake tossed the books into a trash can and returned to his TV set.

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