My waitress was a petite young woman with a pixie nose, sun-freckled cheeks, and bushy copper-colored hair. I grabbed two crayons from their holder between the salt and pepper shakers and started to sketch her on the butcher paper tablecloth. I can't draw; words are my medium. But I had captured the color of her hair. I looked at the two crayons I had picked: "rose" and "brown." Back in the museum, I had spied a particularly lovely Whistler painting titled A Study in Rose and Brown. The title was a pun by Whistler on the name of the model, Rosie Rendell, and the painting's predominant color. The project was creating startling coincidences.
I went upstairs to my room, which had a Formica dresser and boxy bed, both bolted through industrial carpet onto the floor. Above the bed was a poster reproduction of a painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, giving the room a frisson of high art. I opened the curtains onto the endless asphalt parking lot of the 24-hour supermarket across the way. The lot's mercury lamps flooded through my hotel room window to radiate me, a lone traveler staring out the window of a nondescript hotel room. I wasn't just studying Hopper paintings. I was living in them.