The Strangely Soothing Power of Fran Lebowitz’s New York
After seven days of wallowing in the contaminated sludge of the news cycle, I finally found refuge last night. I spent hours in the company of a 69-year-old woman walking around New York City—unmasked, in the days just before Covid-19—holding forth about everything that annoys her: people stopping in the middle of the street to look at their phones, anything having to do with Times Square, anything having to do with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, anything having to do with the pleasures of smoking. It was a tonic, the best time I’ve had in ages.
Not that anyone lives like Fran Lebowitz does. When it comes to the fantasy of intellectual life in New York City, she is both an exemplar and a unicorn. A famous writer who barely writes — she is famous for barely writing — Lebowitz has, quite literally, survived by her wits. In her nearly 50-year career she has published exactly three books: two collections of satirical essays and a children’s book about two seven-year-olds who befriend a pair of giant pandas, one of whom is named “Don’t Panda To Public Taste.” That’s a sum total of 384 pages over a 43-year period.
As one Twitter user put it:
Lebowitz, the daughter of a New Jersey furniture store owner, was expelled from high school and moved to New York at 18, where she drove a cab and cleaned apartments. This is not exactly the road most traveled to becoming a Manhattan socialite, but Lebowitz’s entire life story seems to represent the exception to every rule.
Despite having the same hairstyle all her life and dressing in men’s clothes — she always wears white Oxford shirts, custom-tailored suit jackets, Levi’s 501 jeans, and cowboy boots — she is irrefutably glamorous. Despite not appearing to have an income source beyond speaking fees for public lectures and playing judges in various acting roles, like The Wolf of Wall Street and several episodes of Law and Order, Lebowitz is a fixture of…