Afterwards, Joe offered, "I hope you'll have dinner with me and a group of my friends tonight. I told them about your project. After five or so, it's not going to be possible to do anything around here anyways: too dangerous."
"How do you know all these people?"
"They're just friends. I've lived in New Haven a long time; most of my life. I arrived in 1966. It's a good place. I had dinner last week with a friend who loves Hopper. Turns out someone else I know owns a couple Hoppers. Drawings, I think. My other friend is an artist in a big way. He's a medical illustrator and was commissioned to paint a dinosaur mural on the front of the natural museum. He says he doesn't know a lot about Hopper. But he knows a lot about art."
We rendezvoused with the dinner guests at Joe's apartment, which felt like it had been preserved from the 1950s, stuffy and dim. Joe whisked me into his study to show me the Hopper poster he had on the wall: Lighthouse at Two Lights. Joe's guests entered and took what seemed like their usual places. A tall man with five o'clock shadow sat in a chair, while a baby-faced East Indian sank into one end of the sofa. On the other end of the couch, a short, wiry, rough-trade character missing a few teeth and all his hair leaned his chin on the shoulder of a ruddy guy with short-cropped hair and one earring.
We all headed over to the basement Thai restaurant where Joe had made reservations. I asked if they all lived in New Haven, and the lanky artist with five-o'clock shadow said, "No, but we all come to New Haven to socialize." Joe introduced him to me as Michael, who Joe mentioned earlier was painting the mural at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. "Joe is the glue," Michael nodded. "Joe is the reason we're all in New Haven tonight."
One of the pirate-looking couple quipped, "Oh, yeah; otherwise, we just go outhouse tipping." His partner tried to offset his sarcasm by assuring me, "Each of our small towns has socializing places and meeting places, even if only a pizza parlor. And we're very close to New York: only an hour forty-five minutes by train."
"Yeah, but that makes the area attractive to commuters," the East Indian launched into a story about recent changes in his small town. "I was walking my dog down the road where I live. Well, now there is a new subdivision at the end of the road. This huge four-by-four went by, and the driver beeped and waved his arms. He was upset that I was walking my dog along the road, which I have done for years--before his subdivision was there. And I was taking a lot less space than the four-by-four."
No one had much else to add about isolation or Hopper, except Michael, the artist. "There's something that seems 'unearned' by Hopper. I don't see him struggle. I think Hopper found a formula for something that worked and then stuck with it. A friend of mine owns a couple of Hopper watercolors. In those, I see Hopper doing more interesting stuff than in his oils."
I had told the group earlier about Joe's sister giving me his address and how I had developed a large network of friends in my many studies, travels, and jobs. Seeing me talk to George, who they all knew well, the East Indian said, "Wow, he really does know everyone."
As I drove to the hotel, I was warmed by memories of the dinner conversations and laughter. Joe displayed the same generosity that his sister had when she gave me his number. In my motel room, I experienced again the feeling of being in a Hopper painting. Joe and I had started the day at a tiny café table in Atticus, mimicking the two characters in Hopper's painting Sunlight in a City Café. Now, I was ending my day by being reminded all at once of the other three New Haven Hoppers. I was in Rooms for Tourists, in a motel like a Western Motel, and (New Haven being a port town), I was in Rooms by the Sea.
[Yale Theater]As we were talking, someone on the edge of our group began talking to another patron, a friend of theirs. I recognized him as George, a graduate student in theater during my days at Northwestern. He had moved here for Yale's theater program, which is well-known for its famous alumni (Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, etc.) and because New Haven has become a cliché for where Broadway shows have their trial runs. One Hollywood mantra is, "Satire is what closes in New Haven."