Fran vs. Fayetteville
Northwest Arkansas squanders its Fran Lebowitz moment
by Clio Rom
I will not and cannot lie. I was excited for this particular evening. The first iteration of A Conversation with Fran Lebowitz was scheduled for the second weekend of February, but got rain-checked (snow-checked?) due to the severe winter storm that graced the Ozarks that week. Marlee and I had tickets! She was to fly in from Boston, and it was going to be our Galentine’s date bookended by visits to Atlas and Roger’s Rec (our range!). Alas, both my east coast city broads canceled their flights. Snowed in at the orchard, I committed the consoling email’s provided new date, 11/29/22, into memory and started counting down the days until Fran’s promised return.
The day had finally come, and I brought a pal who did require some convincing on the account that he had a distaste for contemporary New York. With my insistence that Fran shared this sentiment, he agreed. It was a cold Tuesday night and Dickson was dead. Taste of Thai functioned as the ol’ reliable downtown dinner, and once filled with a bowl of tom kha (3.5 stars), I was ready to meet Fran. Walking west down Dickson, we passed by the Tin Roof Live Music Joint. I took note that it had none of those things.
My 2000s Dickson is Fran’s 70s New York, and I felt that walking into the Walton Arts Center that evening. The occupants of the renovated WAC lobby gave a sense of a Fayetteville past for which I yearned. Women with silver hair cropped above their shoulders and knitted tunics plummeting below their knees bustled in the lobby. Was this a community seance for the long-lost Schlegel’s Bagel’s?* No! A gathering of former FPS Gifted and Talented teachers? Close! The circle of the Venn diagram between the people I saw and the clientele of the now-defunct Nightbird Books was almost entirely too perfect. I knew these women. I didn’t know them, but I’ve known them since 1996. (*RIP Shlegel’s Bagels. Panera could and will never replace you.)
Retired members of the Washington County Federation of Democratic Women (and their husbands with names like Gary or Richard) shuffled into the auditorium. We joined them along with a few English teachers, UARK MFA students, and girls I deeply recognized as FHS lit mag staff members. The stage was simply populated: a podium on stage right, two kinda-large reading chairs, and a side table on stage left. I seem to remember that there was also a rug, so I will add that detail for embellishment. Imagine a rug, too. Perhaps a maroon one, no tassels. A WAC representative gave her sponsorship spiel and welcomed Kyle Kellams to the stage. KUAF’s longest-standing employee walked out in a wonderful, slim-fitting navy suit with a microphone. The moment seemed light-hearted and promising, the eight-month edging of Fran’s presence was palpable.
Whatever Kellams’s introduction was, I cannot remember.
As Fran walked out, I was gobsmacked. I knew exactly what she was going to wear (we love a woman in a uniform), but I did not know how it would feel. I could cut myself on the sharp, starched cuffs of her white shirt, and I’d like it. I dream of one day feeling an Ozark winter evening as crisp and deep as her midnight blue blazer.
The most interesting and surprising (!) intervention of the Classic Fran Silhouette was the height at which her mid-wash blue jeans were rolled and cuffed. Past Midtown. To Upper Manhattan! To the heavens! We are in the time of post-pandemic maximalism! Add eight to 10 inches to your usual inseam and ROLL baby!
CLIP’S NOTES: An Abridged Review
It took a few moments for the program to proceed, and the slow and awkward pace set at the beginning sustained throughout the entire conversation and into the famous audience Q&A segment. What followed disappointed me, and I will not disguise it. It was a poor showing on the part of the Fayetteville audience members who had a lifetime to prepare for this evening, and an extra seven months on top of that due to inclement weather.
I will break down my experience, perceptions, and disappointments below.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Despite my heavy preface that it was a rotten evening, it was not Fran’s fault. There were even glimmers of delight, many of which had to do with seeing The Woman, The Blazer, The Legend in the flesh.
My willpower not to dress up like Fran to see Fran
Fran’s smile when she remembered the first time she realized she could read
The first audience question asking Fran her thoughts on rollerskates
The Q&A portion of the evening comprised of several Sins Against Fran. Ill-conceived inquiries reflected poorly on the asker of the question but not necessarily the community as a whole. File under: Yikes!
Moderator question, posed to a queer Jewish woman: “What does your hate mail usually consist of?”
Audience question, posed to a woman who notoriously hasn’t published a book for adult consumption since 1981: “If you don’t have a computer, what is your writing practice like?”
I do fear Fran had a bad time because scattered questions sent a message that Fayetteville doesn’t understand Fran’s Whole Thing. We understand, Fran! We just didn’t get to the microphone fast enough. Should the Lady of Perpetual Writer’s Block every find herself in the Natural State again, we promise to make it up to you.
On to the moments that represent the ninth circle of my personal version of hell. These higher crimes committed were fundamentally hostile to her vibes, my fantasy, and Fayetteville’s reputation writ large. These offenses should be punishable by Gulag or worse, a mandatory trip to the Walmart on Joyce during the holiday season.
Kyle and Fran’s chairs furnished by WAC (you can steal the look here, but I would advise you not to)
The base, easy, and irrelevant-to-Fran anti-Trump/Arkansas GOP humor encouraged by the audience and indulged by Fran
Fran constantly readjusted to find a solid purchase in the oversized chair. She’s tiny, and WAC should’ve anticipated and accommodated! Kyle had to sit at the very edge, crossing his legs one over the other, and settling into a position that looked like an AI-made image combining yoga’s eagle pose and an Egon Schiele self-portrait. Kyle and Fran’s physical discomfort throughout the evening matched my own.
Slam dunks are easy, not chic. Fayetteville showed up with the restraint, subtlety, and taste of a bull in a Chico’s jewelry kiosk. The audience was unable to move past surface-level topics. What does our state legislature’s assault on parental rights and book banning mean to a woman who just got into town last night? By the end of the evening, Fran’s soundbites were of the ilk of neo-lib local city council candidates (“I think librarians matter. Period!”) to erupting applause and hollering.
Fran’s tailor—they deserve a raise and a Presidential Medal of Freedom
The various cadre of men who were dragged to this event
Clio’s dreams & expectations
Marlee’s bank account
Universal: Fran refuses to have FOMO, especially when it comes to Martin Scorsese’s birthday party
The most touching moment came in response to the moderator’s best question, “Fran, do you get FOMO?” The easy answer was no, of course not. She’s Fran, and she does what she wants to do and does not regret what she may miss in doing so.
This seemed like a typical Fran answer until she expanded on the topic of Martin Scorsese’s Birthday. She presented a situation that has now happened twice: being out of town the days preceding Marty’s birthday parties.
Have you ever considered what Bert would do to be in attendance at a celebration for Ernie? In both cases, Fran, a notorious enemy of mornings, woke up before 8am to travel back to New York to arrive in time for the filmmaker’s festivities. Most recently, she had to fly back from Vancouver in late November to make her BFF’s 80th at Cipriani.
Fran does not get FOMO because she actively and intentionally works to avoid being put in this situation. Ultimately, Fran has not and will not miss out on celebrating her bestie, Marty.
Local: The event’s audience represented the Old Guard of Fayetteville’s yesteryear, and their middling Q&A performance made clear why Fayetteville is no longer funky.
A good conversation with Fran is characterized by the mutual understanding that the parameters of contemporary society are bad and only getting worse. But there is levity both in the beauty of human production and stupidity in human behavior, should you choose to look.
This is something I love about Fran. She is lazy (my hero) but entirely capable.
She beautifully illustrated the difference between being funny (easy, slapstick, stupid) and having a sense of humor (finding the potential for humor in unfunny situations). A sense of humor allows one to traverse conversational terrain. A laugh in the midst of hell is a small delight.
This particular evening was a bad conversation with Fran because it lacked humor. Save for one question from KIN’s Dylan Turk, all Q&A participants were women who apparently felt compelled to preface their questions with qualifications they clearly felt would validate them in the eyes of Fran (I’m on the school board! I’ve taught English for thirty years!) This was NWA’s Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, and the audience failed.
The questions were ones I recognized from my own interaction with this set—generally rhetorical with a correct answer and punchline. They threw loopy, slow arching passes above the rim on the topics of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump, and the current conservative agenda, and Fran (here to do her job) dunked. In the air hung a desperate impulse to collectively prove that Arkansas sucked, but in this here auditorium, we were the exceptions. As if Fran cared.
There is catharsis in laughing at the misfortune of Arkansas’s politics and its effects on our lives. Yet there was no progress or learning in the crowd Tuesday night. Those who were present, and especially who asked questions, represented Old Fayetteville, a Dickson Street where Common Grounds and Jose’s still existed.
The crowd’s inquiries presented evidence for a crisis that I have watched brew for decades: Fayetteville is no longer funky.
A microcosm of Fayetteville, the audience was more interested in bragging about past work and lounging in current misery in an attempt to prompt Fran to be funny about Arkansas specifically. This group was overly indulgent in stilted commiseration, having lost sight of their own role in a town perpetually at the cusp of cultural compromise.
Questions I Would Have Asked Fran Lebowitz
by Marlee Stark
Arkansas doesn’t deserve a do-over after Tuesday’s piss-poor Q&A showing, but the Diet Austin team humbly submits the following list of questions for Fran.
Do you have a lighter?
Would you like a cig?
Can I bum a cig?
Can I have the number for your tailor?
Where do you buy your cufflinks?
Has Martin Scorsese gotten Lasik or is he choosing to see less of the world around him? Asimportantly asks, why has he stopped wearing his glasses? Seriously, I’m very worried and about to ask his daughter Francesca on TikTok.
Would you like to go to Roger’s Rec after this?
Under what circumstances would you enter your first Walmart?
Can I tell you about why I think the demise of the Jose’s smoking section when Fayetteville passed an anti-smoking citywide ordinance marked a cultural reset in Northwest Arkansas????????
What can you tell about a guy who spells his name S-t-u-a-e-r-t ?
The Fran-Marty Matrix
We deeply cherish the friendship between Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese, and Clio is the Fran to Marlee’s Marty. Place yourself on the matrix here. If you don’t know which person you are in the friendship, you’re a Marty.