132 Dayton, OH: Can I Help You?

With him behind the counter were two younger employees. One was a pale, pudgy woman, with a lazy eye and a sharp nose. She wore a lightweight pale pink pullover sweater. Beside her was a guy whose face, nose, eyes, and ears looked perfectly round like a cherub's. Even his dark hair curled into perfect circles. He wore a shark tooth choker above his white shirt. I told them I was writing a book about the painter Edward Hopper, and I was surprised when they didn't even recognize Nighthawks.

"Are you looking for a book on Hopper?" the boy asked.

"No, I'm writing one," I repeated, and asked if they thought people in Dayton were isolated.

There was a long silence, then suddenly the boy blurted out "Yeah" and chuckled. "Just a little bit," he added sarcastically. "Dayton is not sure if it wants to be a small town or a big town. They just finally opened a Starbucks. There seems to be a law that every town has to have one. I came from Western New York, near Buffalo, because my parents moved here about a year ago."

"I grew up here," the girl said. "I like downtown. I like working here, but I don't live here. Nobody lives downtown. Urban development is just starting. But it's very much, you know, people here come here only to work. All the people are off the streets right now because work started."

As I left there and left the town again, I saw the museum on its hilltop. It seemed a lonely isolated building, though it contained some pleasing artworks, including the Hopper. In that painting (as in many Hoppers), the moment was frozen. But that can only be true in art or the past. The present is fluid and always moving. And the future is open to possibilities. Including the possibility of healing and overcoming isolation.

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