Harvey Neighbors

In the early eighties, I received a NHCA/NEA grant to travel across the country,  from NH to California, delivering a friend’s Karmen Ghia. The project was entitled “Route 40”. It’s primary intention was to take photographs of things and people I encountered along the way and secondarily describe those experiences. The below is an example and, seeing as how I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing, I thought it perhaps might be an interesting first entry into my Blog and my attempt to stumble into the 21st century.



Coma, delirium, noise, clarity and music.

I’d been driving all night when I slipped into Knoxville. The car, sensing my condition, drifted off the highway, made some turns and settled in front of this strangely checkered wall.

Exit 12 was not a quiet part of town. Sleep would come, but only in small, fractured bursts. Voices would boom and shriek, pierce and echo without regard or any respect for cadence. I ‘d shrink as they came and went and make senseless attempts to gauge distance and direction. Cars without mufflers would pass and rattle mine. Dogs would bark to warn shadows away.  That night was dark in every sense and forced my hemispheres into standing shifts. My left would heroically assume watch while my right would stir, peer over the muddy edge, then drop slowly back into the trench. Even the whispers were loud. There was really no need to cry out friend or foe. Who needed the attention when we all knew the answer.

When Mr. Neighbors shook the car I had not rested well.

One eye kind of opened and then nudged the other into helping out. What shapes I managed were not reassuring and them wrote off to some bloodshot, red and white, sleep deprived delusion. I reached for my glasses and found my nose. There was a sudden and violent collision of focus and daylight and what my senses had confused before were confirmed to be quite real. Someone was sitting on my front bumper, bouncing to the backbeat of some private song.

Harvey had a harmonica. He also had the gift. Now, music is a funny thing. It’s an invention utilizing sequential vibrations. It is the relationship between those sounds, the structure, which distinguishes music from noise. That’s the theory anyway. But, there’s this unteachable, indefinable something which tears you up; an essence which strikes hard at all those secret places where you tuck yourself away.  The recipe has been handed down. It really is no secret….but without a pinch of that certain elusive ingredient,  you can toss it into the oven but it just won’t bake.

Mr. Neighbors had that magic. Between his phrases, he would draw deep breaths. He would inflate his lungs to their fullest , exerting a firm pressure on his heart. And while in contact, all of the pain and sorrow, all of the joy and the celebration which shaped that muscle would, through osmosis, pass across the flesh. His spirit would take flight on a controlled rush of air. It would coil in his mouth, roll over the reeds, whip out those holes…and it would soar.

Now, most of us don’t understand the likes of him. We hold tight to the road and embrace that shiny vision that’s laid before us. To imagine that we could end up like this trembles our limbs like a palsy. But somewhere along the line, after miles and miles of tread eating highway, Harvey took a good look at things.  Like me, he too opened one eye and then the other. Unlike me, he saw things a bit more clearly.

Sometimes his memory would confuse the names. Often he might scramble the seasons. But Harvey was most eloquent. He could tell you about standing naked in the rain; about red-haired, Latin lovers; about strolling on the bottom of the ocean; about picking cattails on the moon. He would take you to his secret places, playing softly with a nuance then driving home the point. Yes, Harvey often stumbled over words but when he played, he played. And he left no doubt about the beauty of language in the key of E and the man who turned the words.

Mr. Neighbors stayed at the Mission. They changed his linen, they gave him meals, but he could not call it home. You see, Harvey Neighbors, no matter where he sat, lived happily somewhere else.

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