Fran Lebowitz’s Life in NYC Real Estate | Architectural Digest
Fran Lebowitz is, without a doubt, a quintessential New Yorker. The famed writer, cultural pundit, and friend of filmmaker Martin Scorsese (they recall first meeting at filmmaker John Waters’s birthday party), explores that in the pair’s new Netflix show, Pretend It’s a City, which premiered earlier this month and covers everything Lebowitz loathes and loves about Manhattan, from the subway system to tourists in Times Square and art auctions.
The Gramercy Park members club, the Players Club, and the Queens Museum provide the backdrops for the docuseries. It’s combined with footage from their public lectures, documented over the years. Watching Lebowitz’s witticisms is funny, but so is Scorsese’s laugh that follows. Lebowitz argues: Public art in the subway system? Not if the station has to close. Why are there plants in Times Square? They surely don’t belong there. And her friendship with jazz musician Charles Mingus? Legendary.
Fran Lebowitz: Oh, yes! Very well. It was a tiny one. I slept on a sofa bed. It was one room, and that’s generous to say even that. When that bed was open, I could touch all the walls of my apartment. It was on West 4th Street in the West Village; the building is still there. It’s a small building that was built as a sailors’ rooming house; it was not far from the river. Tiny rooms, no kitchen. I had a bar fridge and a hot plate. No sink, it was in the bathroom. I lived there from 1970 to 1978. It was horrible! It was a horrible apartment, but it was in the West Village, which was so much safer than the East Village.
I have never thrown out a book; to me, a book is very close to a human being. You have no idea how much time I’ve spent thinking about having books I do not want. Many books come to me unbidden by publishers. I’m at a point in my life, where I ask myself: “Do I like this book so much that I want to keep this book?” With some books, I recommend them to my friends and give them the book. Some, when they add up and I don’t want them in my house, and there isn’t a pandemic, and there’s a few hundred of them, I sell them to the Strand, who comes and picks them up. Every time I see books in a trash can, it breaks my heart.
Did you see Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, where he said he wants empty hotels and office buildings to be turned into affordable housing? Do you think it’s possible?
I never know what “affordable housing” means anyway. No housing in New York is affordable. During the Bloomberg administration, they built far too many hotels. I was loudly objecting to it. I said every time you build a hotel, there is not an apartment building. It’s one of the reasons there is less affordable housing. I hope a lot of these tourists never come back and they can turn these hotels into affordable apartments, I think it’s a very good idea. If he’s talking about Midtown hotels, they will come back, he’s wrong. Andrew Cuomo is wrong a lot, by the way; if he thinks the East 40s are going to become a residential neighborhood, I think he’s incorrect. I think we should build public housing. The city hasn’t built public housing since the 1960s.
Martin Scorsese (left) and Lebowitz in the final episode of the show.
What do you think about Andrew Yang running for mayor of New York?
It’s absurd that he would be the mayor of New York. He ran for president—a job he was equally unqualified for. I don’t know what Andrew Yang’s actual profession is, but he should stick to that. All the speeches I’ve seen him give, and during the primary debate during the presidential election, I’d say this guy doesn’t know much at all to do with governance. He’s just a rich guy who is bored. I would suggest he do something else, like buy a sailboat. Leave us alone.
Who should be mayor of New York?
Among all the people who are running for mayor, being mayor of New York is the second hardest job in the country after being president. Let me assure you that we really need someone who knows how to be the mayor of New York. It’s going to be an incredibly hard job now. But it has always been hard. We have an incredibly incompetent mayor.
You wouldn’t run for mayor?
I couldn’t win [a vote in] this room—I’m alone. Let’s put it that way.
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