It was a simple enough question that Bill asked, with a simple enough answer: “You guys want to see Edward Hopper’s house?’
I said, “Yes.”
Byron said, “Who’s Edward Hopper?”
“A famous painter,” Bill explained. “You know Night Hawks? That one with the people sitting in a city diner at night? He did that and a lot of pictures of sad-looking people gazing out of hotel room windows.”
“There’s a quality of loneliness in his work,” I said. “Isolation.”
“He had a house in Truro, up in the dunes, overlooking the water. We can go see it if you guys want.”
Byron and I were visiting Bill on Cape Cod. It was a gray, uncertain day, not a day for the beach and body surfing, as we had planned. So we set out in my car, riding down Route 6 in the somber mist of late July. As we neared the end of the Cape, Bill said, “Turn up here.”
We headed away from the highway, into hilly scrubland spiked with the small gnarly pines that thrive in the outer Cape’s sandy soil. Bill was eagerly describing what we’d be seeing soon.
Soon never came. Nor did the object of our journey. We had gone in a big, several-miles-long loop to nowhere. No house, no Hopper, no sea views. Bill was befuddled by his failure. “We must’ve gone right when we should’ve gone left.”
“Which time?” asked Byron.
We could’ve tried again, but no one suggested it. The day was past noon and the mist was looking like rain. Edward Hopper, American realist, 1882–1967, was a lure of diminishing power. The road’s natural turning was toward Provincetown, there at the end of the Cape’s arm, and the prospect of a drink.
“Norman Mailer had a house out here, didn’t he?” I said.
“Yeah. Mailer. Go down this street. I think I know where it is.”
But we couldn’t find the right house.
The journey in the mist had become a mystical journey. The sky had begun to drizzle. Bill and Byron had thought to bring rain jackets; I hadn’t.
“I know a place where you can get a poncho for a buck,” Bill said.
We parked along P-town’s narrow main street and got out to walk. The drizzle was turning to rain, heavy with the scent of the sea.
We walked and walked, past the shops and cafes, the art galleries and gay bars and tattoo parlors, past leather shops and lesbian bars and souvenir stores and brew pubs, all noisy with street life. We walked and walked.
“Is the store where he can get a poncho coming up anytime soon?” Byron asked.
“It’s up ahead. I think.”
We passed emporiums featuring blown glass and seashells and Cape Cod kitsch, past marine supply and salvage stores and surf shops and art movie houses. But we didn’t find the place Bill had in his mind for dollar ponchos. We were like surfers, paddling, paddling, but not quite catching the wave.
“You’re soaking wet,” said Bill. “You getting cold?”
“I am wet, but I’m warm from walking.”
“I can’t believe I missed it. We must’ve passed it.”
“I bet it’s dry in there.” I pointed at a bar.
“Maybe they know about Edward Hopper,” Byron said.
“And Norman Mailer,” I said.
“And a place that sells ponchos,” Byron said.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Bill said, “honest.”
“Buy the first round and prove it.”