DIEGO RIVERA -- MY ART, MY LIFE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (WITH GLADYS MARCH)
THE ENORMOUS NECKTIE
SAN FRANCISCO was a city which I knew and liked. As it happened, I had recently been invited by my old friend Timothy Pflueger to participate in an "Art in Action" exhibit at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in the spring of 1940. Pflueger, the chief architect of the exposition, had arranged that the mural I painted there should afterwards be placed in the new City College of San Francisco, which he had also designed.
Shortly before the Trotsky attack, Pflueger had made a quick trip to Mexico to discuss the mural with me, and we had decided upon the theme of Pan-American unity, in which I have always believed with all my heart.
I arrived in San Francisco by plane and was met at the airport by Pflueger and Albert Bender. They drove me to a hotel located high up on Russian Hill.
Along the way Pflueger told me about the marvelous location of this hotel, another of his creations. From its roof garden, one had a view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and much of the changing landscape of Marin County. I could not help but find inspiration, he said, in that marvelous vista.
On reaching the hotel, we were greeted by the manager, who personally accompanied us to my rooms, a gesture signifying his participation in my welcome. If he had stayed with us, we might have been spared what followed. But he left, and Pflueger, Bender, and I made ready to see the roof garden. As soon as we entered the elevator, however, we found ourselves in an impasse. The elevator boy refused to take us up because, as he politely explained, I wasn't wearing a necktie. After an absence of ten years, I had forgotten about the American urban mentality. Pflueger protested violently: he was the architect of the building and therefore due special consideration. But nothing availed. To every argument and appeal, the dutiful elevator boy answered that he had been given strict orders that no one, regardless of who he was, was to be allowed to enter the roof garden without a necktie.
Bender now took over the argument. After trying diplomacy and failing, he summoned up all his authority. The elevator boy conceded Bender's right to classify himself as one of the most influential men of the city. But instructions were instructions. Nothing could break through the battlements of the operator's little mind. I hope, when war was declared, he was given the rank of at least brigadier general.
Finally admitting defeat, we returned to my room. I rummaged through all my belongings without finding a single tie. My hurried departure from Mexico had not permitted thought of sartorial niceties. The more we talked about it, the more tired I felt of the whole silly business. Seeking to put an end to it, I asked Pflueger whether we couldn't leave this scenic palace of his and go to some other place where my open-necked shirt wouldn't offend. Bender, however, refused to give up. He summoned the manager, who in turn notified the director and two other hotel executives. All four solemnly filed into my room, anxious to have me forget the unpleasantness. They explained that they had issued the directive against tielessness primarily to keep the roof garden from being invaded by an undesirable younger set of open-collared youths and their half-clad dates whose behavior, as well as dress, did not accord with the amenities traditional to San Francisco.
The executive suggested that they all personally escort us to the roof garden, and to propitiate me, they offered to fire the elevator boy. I, however, knowing that he had merely been following the instructions of his superiors in order to keep his job, defended him. The upshot of the matter was that we dispensed with the wonderful view from the roof garden. Shortly afterward, I left the hotel.
A few days later, comfortably settled in a place more congenial to me, a small apartment on Telegraph Hill, I received a gift-wrapped package from Bender. Inside was a large assortment of neckties -- appreciated, but arrived too late to undo what had happened. I kept the ties, however, and used them for "formal" occasions, which I have never been able entirely to avoid.