Afterwards, I went to the Shop of Art across the street from ASU's campus. The man behind the counter was in his late forties. His short black hair was mussed up above glasses resting on a bulbous nose of oily reddish skin, and black hair covered his knuckles. He wore a red Hawaiian shirt with a flower print. He said he knew Hopper's paintings, so I asked if he thought people were as isolated in Tempe as in Hopper's paintings. After pursing his lips and considering it for a second, he stated, "I would say yes. It didn't used to be that way. I would know. Forty-three years [ago], we used to come down on our bikes downtown here, do a bunch of stuff together. Groups of kids would do that. You can't do that now. It's no longer a small town," he concluded before the phone rang, and I had to let the interview drop.
At a print and poster shop at Fourth and Mill, Nighthawks on the front door. Inside, Chop Suey was framed on the wall. "I would say yes," the owner, Matt, answered whether Tempe residents were isolated like people in Hopper's paintings. His stringy hair was parted in the middle and flopped on either side of his tanned, freckled face with delicately lashed watery blue eyes. He was clad in jean shorts, a green T-shirt, and short black socks in beat-up tennis shoes. "That's not unique to Tempe." As he spoke, he put together a cart on which to display more posters. "I think everybody in the United States is isolated. I think it has to do with how we plan our cities. This city, Phoenix, is a perfect example. Look at how sprawling it is. To think: in the '50s, it was a small, manageable city. Greed is part of the problem. It has to do with the industrial revolution. Now people work ten hours a day, so they don't have the energy to go down to their public square and meet each other. The quality of life has been on the decline for quite a long time.
"I was born and raised in Nyack, so I know Hopper's work well. We normally have about five or six Hoppers in our collection to choose from. [But] Last week was the art fair, and a lot were sold. The only one that is still available is Nighthawks, which does sell a lot to students. Well, a certain type of person will buy it. Most kids here at ASU are just imitating what they see on TV. They are not given any positive models or choices. They are the most insecure group of kids I have ever met."
I had noticed this, too. People's hands hung heavily alongside their bodies, like actors on stage not knowing what to do while someone else delivered their lines. Maybe they are just used to conserving energy in this desert climate. When I asked them to talk to me about the book, most were too suspicious to offer anything longer than a curt answer. Or maybe they couldn't articulate more than yes or no.
I mentioned to Matt that I had seen three sets of girls who were dressed identical to each other.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "My girlfriend and I noticed that when we moved out here. We've seen guys like that, too.
I've been here less than a year, but when my lease is up, me and my girlfriend are moving on to a different town. The north and east of the U.S., with their weather, are for those who find solace in thought. The South and West have such good weather that you don't need to think to find solace. So you don't think."