Among the motley of memorabilia that clutters my London town house there are many things: a silver-bordered elephant's foot (a left front one, too), a camel saddle from Sidi Slimane, Morocco, and the thousand-year-old skull of a pre-Incan girl from Pachacamac in Peru. There is one other item that stands out even among all these incongruities. It is a bullfighter's cape, the yellow-and-pink working cloth of such stiff material that it stands by itself, forming a cone like a pygmy Indian wigwam.
There is nothing markedly exotic about owning a bullfighter's cape; dozens of touring Anglo-Saxon aficionados have come back from enthusiastic visits to Spain and Mexico with all sorts of tauromachic dust-catchers, including capes. What makes my cape different is the name stenciled in black against the yellow of the inside collar (capes are always thus labeled with their owners' names, presumably for the same reason children's gym pants and shirts are—to keep a fellow performer from making off with the article). My cape bears no name great and famous in bullfighting history, such as Belmonte (although I once held his cape in my hands and marveled at the magic of the name lettered there), or Manolete or S�nchez Mej�as. The name so starkly and defiantly stenciled is short and simple, and so un-Iberian as to make all of these great Spanish artists restless in their well-earned graves. It is B-U-R-K-E.
I first met Randy Burke when we lived in Madrid in 1954. He was short, fiftyish and gone a little to seedy plumpness. Randy was a minor executive of a U.S. engineering company with a branch office in Madrid. Exactly what his functions were I never found out, but they apparently were not so onerous as to deny him plenty of time for following the bulls. Randy was a very loyal member of a small group of Anglo-Saxon aficionados who went to every bullfight in sight, good or bad; other members of the group included a sprinkling of diplomats and journalists and the local Anglican vicar, who also wrote and played progressive jazz.
Except for a tendency, which all his compassionate fellow drinkers could easily excuse, to burble in an overly friendly way when he drank too much, Randy seemed a very respectable fellow. He had a quietly suffering wife of about the same age, who often accompanied him to the bullfight but seemed to have no interest whatever in that splendid spectacle. Over drinks back in some fellow aficionado's apartment after the fight, Mrs. Burke would listen with a vaguely sad expression, saying little until Randy had drunk too much, at which time she firmly and patiently led him to the car and drove him home.
That was in Madrid. At the ferias—Sevilla, Pamplona, M�laga, Valencia—where I would inevitably run into Randy, he was always alone, and wherever we met over drinks he would drink more than his fill and wander quietly off into the streets, presumably reaching his hotel room unassisted.
I temporarily lost track of Randy after we moved to Paris in 1956 but, returning four years later for the great Feria of San Isidro in Madrid, I was told news of him by a mutual friend: Mrs. Burke had died, apparently with the same quiet patience with which she had lived. After that he had quit his job with the engineering company and dedicated himself completely to the bulls; nobody was quite sure, but it was rumored that his wife had left him a small inheritance.
What puzzled me was the mutual friend's report that Randy was drinking more than ever. Despite his affluence and his freedom to follow his chosen way of life, it seemed that his wife's death had affected him profoundly, which was strange, as in life they had appeared to have so little in common. The friend also warned me against Randy's company, on grounds that Randy was so consistently drunk that he had become a bore.
I was able to prove this a week later when, after a poor fight at El Escorial, I ran into Randy in the bar of the Green Frog Restaurant. At first he seemed the same old Burke, a bit too burbling, perhaps, and almost slobbering over us in the alcoholic joy of reunion, but withal not much changed from the half-endearing, half-pitiable fellow I had known before. Over the course of three more brandies at our table, however, I discovered that the mutual friend was indeed correct. Randy had become not only a barside bore, but he had also degenerated into a querulous, vaguely desperate—and therefore quite depressing—drunk. He quarreled about the bulls of the afternoon, which had not been any worse than usual, complained about the drinks and later railed against the excellent Spanish food at the Green Frog. He insisted we ride back to Madrid with him to try out his new MG, but I felt that a ride with Randy driving in the condition he had reached would have been thrice as dangerous as facing a fighting bull. I politely explained that we had driven out with other friends and it would be rude to abandon them. When I held to this course despite his insistence, he was angrily indignant and accused me of not trusting him to drive properly. I was almightily glad to get away from Randy.
We saw him a couple of times more during that fortnight, at the little bar behind the Number Nine section of the giant Plaza de Toros of Madrid. He seemed subdued, hurt and desperately depressed. My conscience bothered me, and both times I invited him to join us in a drink. Each time he repeated his performance at El Escorial; he would start out in fairly good shape, but after two or three drinks some devil seemed to possess him, and he would become so unpleasant and, indeed, abusive that I fled his presence, grateful for other commitments.
The whole thing puzzled and saddened me. Randy obviously loved Spain, the Spaniards and the Spanish national fiesta, and he had obviously achieved financial independence and with it the freedom to indulge himself in the full enjoyment of that wonderful country and its delightful customs. As I tried to think it out, it occurred to me that the basic problem was loneliness. Randy was indeed desperately lonely, and his comportment, alas, was making him even lonelier. What was worse, there was very little any of us could do about it.