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

It had taken Harm a couple of weeks to make enough money for bus fare to Corvallis, where Barney Sieglitz lived, another haircut, and buy a new shirt and jeans—he didn’t want to look like a bum when he met Sieglitz again. He’d made an appointment through Tercel Washington to see Sieglitz at noon on a Wednesday. He'd been apprehensive how a visit might go, but as it turned out, it was the day when it finally came together for him—when he finally experienced a glimmer of hope that he wouldn't have to be trapped in futureless homelessness for the rest of his life. Here’s what happened. 

For the first few minutes after Sieglitz admitted Harm into the single car garage that served as a jerry-rigged recording studio, Sieglitz was demonstrably distanced, apparently torn between anger about his stolen harps and a side of him that wanted to help a guy get off the streets. He couldn't help but be skeptical that this street bum and thief might be everything his good friend Tercel had said he was, remorseful that he’d stolen the harmonicas and, that he had a sincere commitment to learn harmonica—even showed potential talent. But he trusted Tercel’s judgement and felt obliged to give Harm a chance. 

”Do you have my harps?” Sieglitz asked brusquely before saying anything else. 

Harm opened the red backpack and took out the case and handed it to Sieglitz. “I took good care of them, only played the A and C ones. I practiced with them just about every night." Then, looking Sieglitz in the eye, he said, "I’m sorry I stole them from you.” 

Giving Harm a curt nod, Sieglitz unzipped the case, ran his eyes over the row of harps, smiled almost imperceptibly, then took out the C. He cleaned the plates and hole openings with an alcohol wipe, tapped it a few times on his pant leg, then raised it to his lips. The sounds he made sent shivers down Harm’s spine. Notes, chords, twists and turns he’d never even come close to creating, that had no idea were even possible. He was moved by the powerful feelings elicited by Sieglitz’s spontaneous riffing, emotions that rose deep from within him. 

Sieglitz stopped playing after a moment, put the harp back in the case, then stared at Harm for a long moment. Finally, as if having make a decision, he said, “Practiced? What do you mean by that? What’d you do?” The previous sharp edge of anger in his voice had softened, replaced by a what might be a hint of compassion, or was it just curiosity? 

“At first, I just blew in and out, randomly playing holes up and down, back and forth, low up to high, back to low. After a while, I figured out how by puckering my lips I could play one hole at a time. The sounds were cleaner, like single notes. I gradually picked out tunes I remembered from old TV programs, like cartoons and stuff. But I don’t know where to go from here, how to play like you just did. But I want to.” 

“Why? Why do you want to play harmonica?” 

Harm hesitated, unsure himself why he was so determined to play this instrument other than as a way to a better future. But as he thought about Sieglitz's question, he realized there was more than just that. “I like it," he finally replied. "More than anything I’ve ever done before. I know I want to make music—it makes me feel good, like an escape. It’s like a language I can use to express who I am—how I feel. That I can be more than a just another throw-a-way, dead end no-account with nothing to give the world. I want to be somebody, somebody that contributes, not just wander aimlessly from one day to the next, then die without anyone ever noticing or caring that I even existed. The harmonica will let me do that.” 

Sieglitz was quiet for a while, moisture clouding his eyes. Then he stood and went to the other side of the room and opened a drawer in an old cabinet and took out two harmonicas. “Here. Take these. An A and a C. They're important keys for blues harp. You’ll need them when you start working with Tercel. 

The End

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