69 New Haven: Atticus

Just then, the man I was there to meet arrived. On my very first stop on this journey, a woman in Muskegon, Michigan, said her brother Joe in New Haven was a Yale professor and a big Hopper fan and would love to talk to me when I came to visit. He was about sixty, a tall man with big ears and watery blue, loyal-dog eyes. A lifelong bachelor, he spoke with an earnestness that made me suspect he was eager for company.

Over his hot cocoa, Joe confided that New Haven was dying. "It looked like this place [Atticus] would go bankrupt when it first opened. That's when they got the idea of selling some food. Now they sell more books too. There was a lot of opposition to putting this and the British Museum right here. The city threw a fit and tried to put up obstacles because already Yale takes such prime property tax-free. Actually, Yale is protected from taxation by the constitution."

"Connecticut's?" I asked.

"No, the U.S. Yale was founded long before we had a country. And the constitution says very explicitly that all contracts and agreements entered into in the colonies would be honored in perpetuity. And Yale never paid taxes."

I was anxious to hear Joe's answer to my question about isolation in Hopper's paintings, but he thought it unfair to conjecture about the psychology behind a work of art. "I just think that Hopper does everything so well. My sister came out from Michigan; the day after Thanksgiving, we saw the Hopper show in New York City together. I liked the painting of the lighthouse so much that Esther bought it for me. Also there was Rooms by the Sea. And she just really fell in love with that. And I said, 'Well the painting is in my backyard.' At that time I lived… I'll show you where I lived. Literally back-to-back with the art museum. So I thought, 'Well, gee, that'd make a good present: get her a reproduction of that.' And they had a nice reproduction of it in the gift shop right out on the main floor. The American paintings are on the third floor, and I kept going back and forth between the print and the original trying to make up my mind, ya know. The guy who was tending shop there finally said, 'Can I make a suggestion? Your sister's not going to be able to go upstairs and look at the original.' So I said, 'That's right.'" A broad smile split his face, and his eyebrows raised in glee at this stratagem.

We went to pay at the cash register/bread counter where traffic bottlenecked as friends stopped to visit by the front door. Joe greeted a portly older gentleman with a garland of gray hair surrounding his round bald head, and they set to commiserating. When they separated, Joe lamented that the co-op building in which they both live was going bankrupt. "Nothing downtown can hold its value."

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