I graduated from the masters' program in painting at CCNY in June of 1966. I had been in school since kindergarten. It was the time many of my friends were sent off to Vietnam. It was the time I was being interrogated by the New York Police Department for a possible involvement in the suspicious suicide of my friend, Porter Tuck, aka El Rubio de Boston — the most renowned American bullfighter.
My American dream was nowhere in sight so I bought a one-way ticket to Paris and withdrew all the funds from my savings account — $300. I stayed away for 12 remarkable and colorful years.
Two backstories covering the time before my departure:
1. Before Porter Tuck committed suicide (with a small, stylish, silver Derringer pistol), he had asked me to take his ashes to the bullring in Mexico City. It is the largest bullring in the world and the one in which he had his greatest success.
I flew to Mexico City, arrived at the bullring with a canister, prepared to accomplish the task quietly and quickly.
It turned out that it was not bullfighting season so the bullring was closed. A security guard crossed himself several times after I explained why I was there. Mexico is mostly a Catholic country, and cremation is not considered holy. The guard called the bullfighters' syndicate and a meeting with me was scheduled.
Days went by with no word. And then — finally! — it was agreed that I could enter the bullring and scatter El Rubio's ashes.
What was intended to be a quiet, informal, anonymous act turned into one covered by radio and television stations as well as a host of national newspapers. I returned to New York City sad and confused.
An ironic post script: My masters' thesis was focused on the evolution of a classical to a baroque style in Mayan sculpture and architecture. I had spent several months traveling in the Mexican Yucatan, Guatemala and Belize (then British Honduras). I had of course no idea that I would return to Mexico so soon or with such an unusual responsibility.
2. My friend Margo was Porter's wife. We were both studying for our graduate degree when the incident occurred. In the 1960s, the NYPD had no psychology training. When the police arrived at CCNY to convey the grim news, Margo and I were driven to the morgue to identify the body. I will not even begin to describe the horrific image of this man, carelessly unzipped from a black body bag who had taken his life by shooting himself in the head.
I'm not sure Margo ever entirely recovered from the loss of her husband. Although the late 1960s had a flowering of flower children, it also accounted for uncountable deaths.
Some say I was brave to leave it all behind me and start a new life in a new place.
Some might also say I was cowardly and fled when the going got rough.
Some say many things without knowing the whole story.