9 A New York Theater and Cafe in Muskegon, Michigan

I left her to her kiln and continued back downtown, where the recently renovated Frauenthal Theater was open. This 1,800-hundred-seat theater is the prize jewel of Muskegon's downtown. A crew was loading in a touring Broadway production of Grease to be performed that night, so I found a side door open and entered.

Gilt pillars lined the walls, and a huge crystal chandelier hung from a recessed cupola in front of the sweeping balcony (Hopper's usual seat). The Frauenthal looked like the theatre in Hopper'sTwo on the Aisle, and I was seeing it from the same oblique vantage point he painted that painting from.

I walked from the Frauenthal to the storefront coffee shop on the next block that Bill had recommended that morning. "Ask for Kim," he had added with a wink. "She's a friend of mine."

[Frauenthal Theater Interior]

The place had the musty smell of an old general store, which it once was. Thickly painted white shelves now held books, knickknacks, coffee, and antiques. At one of the big wooden tables scattered about, a college-aged girl bent close to her homework, and at another a longhaired man read a self-help paperback plucked from his backpack. On the stage, rigged up in the front window that once displayed store items, a baby-faced kid with a buzz cut and earring played guitar and crooned with his eyes closed. He had plenty of feeling and a guileless rapport with the audience, like he was just thinking out loud. His lyrics spoke of Midwestern landscapes and artistic dreams.

I worked my way to the back, where at the serving counter I found Kim. She looked solid beneath her billowy salmon shirt under loose overall cut-offs. Her pale cheeks flushed with sunburn or intensity, and her brown curly hair quivered as she fixed me with her stare and answered my question.

"I started this place to overcome isolation," she declared, "to get involved more in the community. I am trying to bring people together who are disconnected. With the Web, I've had some people meet in here after meeting online. People twenty-five to thirty-five are using the Web to be social rather than antisocial; they're starting to go out more and get involved in the arts. You might see a group of high school kids in here and a family and some senior citizens--all at the same time. One of my best customers is ninety-two and lives in the retirement home, but she still paints watercolors and they're good. But I'm really into mentoring young people. Anyone who asks to play, I give 'em a chance."

Kim had to serve some new customers, so I sidled off and listened to the music. When the musician sat his guitar aside between sets, the girl doing homework picked it up and sang a song she had written herself. Her voice was as sweet and clear as any I have heard, and she sang from a depth alarming in someone so young, holding the whole café in thrall and inspiring our spontaneous applause afterwards. She shrugged off the appreciation and went back to work.

Kim beckoned me over and introduced me to a thin, sunken-eyed woman and a grade-school girl. "This is Mary and her daughter Diane." Diane was reading a book off the shelf because (she said yawningly), "I've already gone through all the ones in the library." Kim had been telling Mary about my interest in isolation and prodded her, "Tell him about your sister."

Mary rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, her. She moved out to the country a couple years back, and now she won't visit me in the city. She says there are gangs downtown. She knows there's no gangs here; she grew up here. I think she's just gone country, too much time alone. She's getting real conservative." After that, new customers broke up our group, and I headed to the restaurant in my hotel for a late dinner.

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