118 Cincinnati, OH: Stamp of Approval

Most people skipped the Hopper as they walked around the gallery. But, finally, a couple approached. The man wore khaki shorts with a khaki-green Ohio University T-shirt. Chunky brown plastic glasses-frames rested on his Roman nose above a whitening beard. Thick hair matted his head and had been combed to one side above his earnest face. Maybe this was standard for Cincinnati, as I could say that of the hairdo of every other man I interviewed. His wife's short hair curled under like a roll mop. She also wore khaki shorts, but with a white T-shirt. She had a plain, hard-skinned Appalachian face and hung behind him.

He said, "Before I saw the Gloucester thing there on the sign, I thought maybe this was a scene from Cincinnati." His voice croaked, like it hadn't been used yet that day, and he spoke in small bitten-off phrases. "It's the older houses. And maybe it's the church with the towers in the background that gives me that feeling. Small lawns. There's still a lot of old neighborhoods [here]. The place that's quiet and peaceful is northern Kentucky. Just seems like parts of that doesn't change at all. Man! It's like going back to the thirties. Not that I was around then. I grew up in '43, and the street I grew up on, the houses didn't look a lot like that, but we used to play in the street. In the 1940s, there weren't any cars. [Cincinnati, 1940s]

"I think people are more isolated than they used to be. Maybe as you get older, you get more isolated anyway. Kids are interacting. Well, kids, too, I guess, are more isolated than they used to be. They've got TV and computers and all. They're not all playing in the street."

"It's too bad there's not more Hoppers here. That's a pretty ordinary scene, but with an artist's eye, you can make something really intriguing out of that. I'm an attorney," he turned to me. "I used to work in the U.S. Attorney's office, and we had a case where I represented the postal service, and they had damaged a painting in shipment. And so I got involved in this case, and that's sort of how I discovered art. Funny. When I was working on the case, I would go over to the museum. Man, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. That's how I got interested."

"Are you familiar with Hopper's other paintings?" I asked.

"Yeah. A couple: 'The Diner' [Nighthawks] and a couple others. Who doesn't know the Diner?" he barked. "I'm trying to remember where I saw it. Maybe it was a bar or restaurant that looks awfully close to the diner in the painting. Today, coffee shops and book stores seem to replace what the bar was for our parents. You know, in movies like The Thin Man, bars were where life happened. When you think of it," he concluded, "from the bar to the bookstore's got to be a step forward."

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