“That is the compensation for being sixty, it is that you know everything. I know all human things.”
Fran Lebowitz made the above observation on Oct. 14 at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis after appearing on stage at precisely eight o’clock. The remark, even if saucy, was pleasant relative to most made throughout the public speaking engagement, during which Lebowitz articulated her thoughts on such topics as the American presidency and J.D. Salinger to an audience that was, perhaps, a little too eager.
“I encourage average people to have an opinion,” Lebowitz remarked wily. “As long as they do not express it to me.”
Hollow laughter bellowed from an audience made of an array of people: the bespectacled, young thinkers, a man wearing an ill-fitting suit - Jews and Gentiles, women with crew cuts, the well-read; those who feel they identify with Lebowitz herself, even if merely because they are of the opinion that they are of an opinion - regardless of it’s worth to She who stands before them.
Both collections of Lebowitz’s essays convey her observation of the average: houseplants, discothèque etiquette, and those who wear garments adorned by words or pictures. She has written a children’s book and is currently celebrated for professional stagnancy - that is, the will to write nothing at all. The follow-up to Social Studies (1981) has been in - or, more accurately, out - of progression for more than 30 years. Said book, Exterior Signs of Wealth, was not a topic of discussion; Lebowitz herself acknowledged that her deadline regrettably passed some 27 years ago and alas, the book has become old news. She chose instead to discuss current affairs, mostly. The demise of Steve Jobs was one of them.
“Geniuses do not have retail outlets,” she insisted, deeming Jobs a businessman while rejecting the notion of the inventor as one of remarkable thought.
A discursive speaker, she veered from Jobs, offering a topic that appeared to genuinely amuse her: the cuff links set upon her wrists. Her cheeky smile faded quicker than it appeared and she moved on, noting that she voted for Obama, tourists should be banned from New York City, and she does not believe in forgiveness.
She poured water to fill one fourth of a glass and as she tilted her head to sip it, grey roots pronounced themselves as modest but present among her otherwise dark, thick hair. Her ring suggested a romantic affiliation of sorts - an interesting detail given that, throughout her career of forty some odd years, she has refused to speak of her sexual orientation and relationship status despite public interest.
Having survived such events as the Cold War, New York City’s AIDS epidemic, and 9/11, she revealed a desire to be the nation’s memory; she has seen much and seldom forgets. As the event drew to a close, Lebowitz described a love of reading.
“I read everything. If there is print on page, I read it. This is why I leave the flyers downstairs when I get the mail; if they come up with me I stay home all day.”
In a subsequent question and answer period with the audience, Lebowitz communicated that she did not understand, hear, or care to answer many curiosities; such was the case when a young woman asked her what revenge she was plotting, if any.
“You obviously do not know the definition of the word plot.”
A man in a jean jacket declared that he was going to speak out, despite not having been called upon. Lebowitz agreed to listen to the question and the man asked her to describe her mission statement.
“You are obviously under the impression that I work for you, which I do not,” Lebowitz asserted; her hurried, nasal tone descending to a growl. “I think I’ve had quite enough. Goodnight, everyone.”
She turned, her left leg weaker than her right under bootcut Levis, the arc of her neck exaggerated beneath a suit jacket off Savile Row: applause remained arrested by disbelief as Lebowitz staggered into a wing off stage left to meet, precisely, no one at all.
Outside the auditorium, aforementioned eager people - myself included, even if reluctantly so - lined up to meet Lebowitz; she was signing books. It was strange, really, to see a shadow cast over her nose - small, broken hairs standing separate from the others on her head. I closed my eyes when I heared her voice so close; the same one had conveyed thoughts that provoked my own, and suddenly, I was afraid.
She was reluctant to shake my hand and she did not stand up after permitting me to be in a photograph with her. My face cannot smile if what I feel is not sincere so it twitched as it pleased, her frizzy hair beside my jawline, while a man I did not know took our picture. I knelt down, so as to be at level with her, and described a wish- an undefeated ambition- to move to New York City and see the world creatively, just as she did many years ago. Looking into eyes wise with age, I asked - hell, pleaded - for advice.
“So you want my advice, huh? Give me that book.”
She created a scrawl before using her index finger to slide my copy of The Fran Lebowitz Reader back across the table.
At 10:14 pm I felt happy to be alone in downtown Minneapolis. I sat on the edge of a plant pot made of stone, and under a streetlight, I opened the book.
Buy a winning lottery ticket.
And there you have it: another battle won in what I still consider to be the beautiful mind of Frannie L.; genius, even if merely self-perceived, defeats average person. So maybe she does not know all human things, then; but by believing she did, as she did, the woman herself acquainted me with the New York state of mind.