“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”
"...This will give you something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself — a wise move at any age, but most especially at seventeen, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions."
About 5 minutes into the first episode of the new Netflix series, Pretend It's A City -- featuring author and actor, Fran Lebowitz, directed by her longtime friend, Martin Scorsese -- I was absolutely smitten. In the opening scenes, Lebowitz, a longtime New Yorker known for her sardonic social commentary and biting sarcastic wit, is seen walking around a bustling West Village, a lone wolf New Yorker in one sense, as she may be the only person on 7th Avenue not furiously scrolling on her phone. Instead, in her endearingly aloof yet determined gait, she's looking around. She's looking at other people (mainly in annoyance at slow-walking tourists), she's looking in at windows of shops and she's looking at the ground. In fact, she looks at the ground a lot, in hopes of finding another sidewalk plaque -- the Easter Eggs of New York City, if you will. Except, unlike a cryptic coded message in a Taylor Swift song, these are plain as day, if not a bit forgotten and overlooked by 99% of the people who pass them. Sometimes they're about nearby buildings. Sometimes they're about buildings that are no longer there. Sometimes they're about a significant person who did a significant thing nearby. Sometimes they're meant to honor an unsavory past.
I always thought I had to be the only person reading those plaques on the ground, a concern that has been somewhat lifted by the thought that now two people at least read those plaques. Me and Fran. That's when I realized, Fran and I have to be kindred spirits. And I have a good feeling, you might feel the same.
Don't worry -- I'm not here to spoil the rest of the series for you. Just think of it as the beautiful trip to NYC that you can't take right now, with Lebowitz as your sometimes cranky, always opinionated and comically delightful tour guide (who might try to ditch you at every intersection because she doesn't like tourists, but you'll learn to keep up!). So in case you're in need of a mini pep-talk today, I've rounded up a few of my favorite Lebowitz quotes, each one sure to pack more cynical punch than the last. Hope you enjoy!
- “A book is not supposed to be a mirror. It's supposed to be a door.”
- “Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.”
- “The best fame is a writer's fame. It's enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat.”
- “I love sleep because it is both pleasant and safe to use. Pleasant because one is in the best possible company and safe because sleep is the consummate protection against the unseemliness that is the invariable consequence of being awake. What you don't know won't hurt you. Sleep is death without the responsibility.”
- “Romantic love is mental illness. But it's a pleasurable one. It's a drug. It distorts reality, and that's the point of it. It would be impossible to fall in love with someone that you really saw. ”
- "Your bad habits can kill you but your good habits won't save you."
- “When you leave New York, you are astonished at how clean the rest of the world is. Clean is not enough.”
- “The opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”
- “Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.”
- “Polite conversation is rarely either.”
- “Now, nature, as I am only too aware, has her enthusiasts, but on the whole, I am not to be counted among them. To put it bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel.”
- “Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not possibly have met.”
- “I do not believe in God. I believe in cashmere.”
- “It's much easier to write a solemn book than a funny book. It's harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. People are always on the verge of tears.”
- “Reading is better than life. Without reading, you're stuck with life.”
- “This is not my favorite way to wake up. My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature I had better ring for breakfast. This occurs rather less often than one might wish.”
- “You're only as good as your last haircut.”
- “..[l]et me assure you: the world is full of mediocre men who are stunning successes.”
- “That I am totally devoid of sympathy for, or interest in, the world of groups is directly attributable to the fact that my two greatest needs and desires — smoking cigarettes and plotting revenge — are basically solitary pursuits.”
- “Sarcasm: what they have in New York instead of jacuzzis.”
- “I place a high moral value on the way people behave. I find it repellent to have a lot, and to behave with anything other than courtesy in the old sense of the word - politeness of the heart, a gentleness of the spirit.”
Oh, and in case that wasn't enough, be sure to read this interview from last April for The New Yorker, at the height of lockdown.