119 Cincinnati, OH: Don't Go Changin'

A middle-aged couple approached next. He peered out from glasses above a trim mustache, and his blue-and-white striped shirt bore a metal pen protector in the breast pocket. She had bright eyes, mousy tousled hair, and a long rubbery nose above a recessed chin. She wore stonewashed jeans and a simple white shirt. Like most people I interviewed here, they were a bit suspicious of me and their answers were curt and forced.

"In Cincinnati, you would find this sort of isolated, empty streets," she said. "We consider people keep to themselves in this town. The bell towers look like churches you would find, and there's old housing stock like you would find in this. Though we don't live in an area that's got housing stock this old."

They confessed they don't know Hopper's other paintings, but the man said he studied painting.

"I was told to paint what I saw. I started to paint meticulous bricks. I'd get out my small number four brush. The painting teacher came over with a big number twelve brush and painted a big square of color and said, 'There! There's the side of the building.' I told him. 'I thought you said to paint what I saw,' I quit that school and went to study with a famous portrait person. I stayed close to art. I painted mostly in Alaska. I like the snow, how it goes from white to blue, 'the lone Eskimo out on the sled,' that sort of thing." With that, the Hopper of the Arctic wandered off.

The next guy who approached rose six-foot-three, with a lean athletic frame, balding and clean-shaven. He wore a dark red T-shirt, and hip eyeglasses peered above his longish nose and pursed lips. (Nevertheless … thick hair matted his head and was combed to one side.) He was soft-spoken, and his shorter stockier friend came over to answer the question instead, talking quietly but almost psychotically fast.

"I've lived here eleven years," he said. "I moved from northern Ohio. The houses [in the painting] do not invite you in. And you don't know what's going on inside. No one's out walking on the street so you don't have any clues. No indication of where you might go. Cincinnati's kind of a city like that: you have to make your own circle," he said, "'Cause you won't be invited in. But once you make that, then you have a circle, and it doesn't matter that the rest of it is excluded because it's not a place you want to go anyway. People in general, they're not... very friendly. 'I don't know him, I don't like him.' That's what it seems like is many peoples' attitudes. You're not known and therefore dangerous.

"I've always thought that tradition must be too much to want to change. Because a lot of people I've met came back to Cincinnati from being away and couldn't wait to come back. And that's one thing I didn't understand. It's like grasping onto something that's no longer here. But you think it might come back or something. As long as you hold it in your head, the possibility is available. I don't see it has that much draw, but I've met people who've moved back who are like, 'Ah, Nirvana.'"

"There's a thing that's quite contrary to Cincinnati manners," the first man finally mumbled, "to change. That's a thing you don't do."

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