146 Columbus, OH: Another Idea for My Book

In walked a man and a woman who looked in their fifties. "Probably not," the woman ("Maude," I thought) answered my question. She was draped in a multicolored shirt and wore big glasses. Her purse dangled flat against her bulging stomach between folded hands. She wore white gym shoes. "Though she kind of reminds me of my mom. She's had lots of boyfriends. She's not married, been through bad relationships. She still has an apartment in Columbus. I think she'd rather live in a small town. Columbus is not like a Hopper city. [Her partner laughed.] If you drive through the bad parts, you notice a lot of people look pretty isolated and stuff, strung out. Uneducated and trapped permanently in a really poor part of town. Their world is filled with loneliness. Otherwise, I think Columbus is a pretty happy happening place, but it's growing so much. I can't go out anymore without feeling lost. Getting in the car is like taking a chance everyday. You try to hang on, thinking, 'well, this is the experience today.'"

A bottle cap on a chain dangled above the dashing middle-aged man's ("Tony," to me) faded salmon-orange muscle T-shirt under a black button-down shirt. Oval glasses with silver rims sat on his ruddy, bony face. His gray hair swept off to the side. He said, "I almost feel like she's not isolated a bit. She's waking up from a deep relaxful sleep and looking out the window. We'll never know what she's looking at. It might be the sun or it might be a helicopter going by. Or a hot air balloon. Or it might be the local traffic on the road. This is just chock full of different possibilities, you know? It depends on how a person feels. It could seem like a loneliness or a good thing. The older we get, the more I feel like that some mornings, lookin' out, wondering, 'I thought I'd be famous and wealthy by this point in my life.'"

"Probably depends on their own personality," Maude interjected, "as far as what people see. She seems very withdrawn and isolated to me. It looks like a significant other just left. Or she's separated from someone. But you hear enough about a certain painter or painting, you start agreeing with it all. I think a lot of Hopper's paintings are stuffed with a kind of isolation, a lonely feeling. This one, there's an unusual blank look to the eyes. They're just black. It's like a clown's mask. Or she's getting older and she just getting that natural darkening around the eyes.

"Despite the factory and her being alone," she added, "I really like the way the color is. Like the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the sheets and her skin. Maybe she's waiting for the sunlight, couldn't sleep. Here's an idea: she's been there all night. Women in the morning have much more they need to do to get ready for the day."

She turned to me, "What are some of the other comments that you're getting?"

"Everything from 'she looks lonely' to 'she looks happy.'"

"They say that?" she recoiled. "They have to be eternal optimists. Like they're associating their feelings with the painting's. She looks like she might shoot herself. I wonder if it would be different if you took the same Hopper to different cities and ask people what they feel. People's vision and how they read this painting depends on what they see at daybreak. Everybody wants to peer out the window to try to look into her future, at least for that short future of one day. She's peering pensively into the morning trying to figure out her day, and her place in the world. She'll make it through today; but maybe not tomorrow. She's thinking, 'What am I gonna do? I'm all alone. I don't have a job. Everybody else is working; here I am. Then what the doctor tells me...'"

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