I have celebrated a great many anniversaries here; and the birth of William Wordsworth, 7 April 1770, would sure be among the most deserving of my—or anyone else’s—taking note. Yet a far more intimate anniversary is on my mind tonight, hard-driven to distraction as I am in the fear that my old Mac is once again giving up the ghost after two reincarnations. This time around, the ghost-busted machine refuses to recharge, and, in a race against the time of its expiration, I am spiriting away whatever signs of my life might otherwise remain secreted within its juiceless shell. To paraphrase Dryden, I must pound the keyboard while it is still hot, but shall have to polish the issue at leisure, hardware permitting. So, what is the occasion for my ad hoc bowdlerization of one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems? On this day, 7 April, back in 1985, I first stepped into the noisy wilderness of Gotham, this “Tapestry” of sound that Norman Corwin and other radio experimenters captured or recreated for their virtual tours. Touring in the flesh, I, too, became engrossed in its soundscape, walking around town with a borrowed tape recorder and, having returned home, experience it anew in the quiet of the four walls that could no longer shut me up. Compared to the shiny, fenced in theme park it is today, Manhattan was still a fairly hostile jungle during those days, but all the more exciting for being dark and devious and full of unthought-of dangers.
Little did I know that within the course of three short weeks, my rather miserable adolescent existence would get such a kick in the well-ironed pants. How could I ever forget the delights and the dread that awaited the innocent abroad who was far too blasé for his own good? I had a lot to learn, and those twenty-one days were a crash course in survival, which I very nearly flunked: giving all the dough I had left for my trip to a team of confidence tricksters, being invited by a stranger on the street to see the Modigliani he claimed to have in his mid-town lair and not finding the promised masterpiece but myself violated instead, and, still capable of the love I had never experienced and the trust in humanity I nearly lost, falling under the spell of a charming young waiter at jazz bar on Spring Street who would turn my head and the mousy curls on it into something curiously yellow. The physical scar (previously scratched open here) was hidden from view; but those neon locks signalled to everyone back home that the boy who returned was not the one who had gone out into the world:
I wandered lonely in a crowd
That walked on by with dreads and frills,
When all at once I, too, stood out,
With locks like golden daffodils;
Beside the cabs, beneath the streets,
Alive and dancing (mercy, Keats!).
Indifferent as the stars that hide
Yet shimmer to discerning eyes,
They brushed in Harry’s new-found pride
Against the margin of their lies:
Ten thousand saw them at a glance,
When my head’s tossed, who’s got a chance?
The weaves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling pates in glee:
A fellow could not but be gay,
Show colors true for all to see.
I gleamed—they gawked—yet dreamed no more
What change those locks would have in store:
But now, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in somber mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the sight of solitude;
My older self to memory thrills,
And dances like those daffodils.