“Uh, Jean?”


“Are you awake?”


“What the hell is that?”


“That funny glare outside.”


“The moon, Fran.”

We are in a tent. Fran Lebowitz is lying on my right; George Butler on my left. Fran lights up a Carlton.

“You don’t sleepwalk, do you, Fran?” George asks.

Fran exhales a fog of smoke.

“I don’t even walk when I’m awake,” she says.

Yes, and the night has just begun. Yes, and Fran is going to live through it. Lord, yes, Fran the author of Metropolitan Life and Social Studies; Fran, who said the outdoors is “a place you must pass through in order to get from your apartment to a taxicab”; Fran, who called the sun “the sort of harsh overhead lighting that is so unflattering to the heavy smoker”; Fran, whose agent laughed like a maniac at the mention of the idea—

Fran is camping out.

First there is the business of putting up the tent. Three-thirty in the afternoon. We are in a meadow in the Shawangunk Mountains in Upstate New York. The tent is big and expensive and I have lost the instructions. It looks complicated.

“Why don’t you just have a tent you can blow up?” says Fran.

She has on her camel’s hair coat and is sitting on George’s pack. She is dark and not very tall. Handsome. Better-looking than her photographs.

“Listen,” says George, taking Fran’s arm. “The easiest thing is for you to get inside the tent and hold it up.” He unzips the fly. “So, Fran, if you’ll just sort of, ah, crawl in—Jean and I will get the poles ready.”

George rolls the door over Fran’s head. She staggers in and we snap the poles in place. The tent goes up.

“Fran!” I say. “Come and see this!”

Fran steps out and smiles so suddenly that I think I am being accosted by Jane Austen.

“Doesn’t the tent look great?” I say.

She lowers her eyes. Notices the two exits.

“Very nice,” she says, softly. “The back door is in case of a raid?”

Nothing much doing after we get the tent up, so we are sitting around and Fran is looking at the pine trees across the meadow and I say how nice it is to sit around and do nothing, and Fran says you can do nothing in New York too, only there you get to do it on a sofa.

After a while George puts a snuffbox and prophylactic to his mouth and starts practicing his turkey calls.

Fran leans toward me.

“Why has George got that in his mouth?” she says in a low voice.

“He wants to call in a turkey,” I say.

She leans forward again.

“Why does he want to?”

George made the movie Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pumping Iron II with Bev Francis and now is making Peacock’s War, about a man who walks right up to grizzly bears. I say I don’t know why he wants to call in a turkey.

“Maybe he wants to shoot I,” says Fran.

I say I don’t know.

“Maybe he wants to cook it,” says Fran.

I say I don’t have any idea.

“Maybe he wants to make a film,” says Fran, “about a guy who walks right up to a turkey.”

The sun is starting to set and George goes on calling awhile, making a noise like a jet exhaust, so Fran asks me about the bathroom. “I brought toilet paper,” I say. “Good,” says Fran, shaking back her hair. “So how do I …” “you bring back the paper you use and throw it in the fire,” I say. “You’re kidding,” says Fran. “I am not kidding,” I say. “Well, I’m not doing that,” says Fran.

Her brow drops.

“There is a lot a woman has to do alone in the woods,” I say.

“And a lot she might not want to, too,” says Fran.

It gets dark early and George has a nice fire going, and after we get Fran to come out of the tent we have dinner.

She sits on the cooler. Her plate is on her knees.

“This was excellent,” she says.

She finishes off her steak.

“I’m glad you didn’t bring that dried shit.”

“What dried shit?” says George.

“I like S’mores in the pure form,” says Fran. “Some people like Hershey bars with nuts in them. I like them with the regular flat Hershey’s. S’mores are really an excellent food, I think.”

“That food that looks like tobacco,” says Fran. “It comes in a small package. Says on it, ‘BEEF STROGANOFF. SERVES TWELVE.’ You know, you put water in it and it explodes.”

“I wish we had S’mores,” I say.

“You mean graham crackers, Hershey bar slabs, and marshmallows melted over a fire?” says Fran.

You were a Girl Scout?” I say.

“Yes. I like S’mores in the pure form,” says Fran. “Some people like Hershey bars with nuts in them. I like them with the regular flat Hershey’s. S’mores are really an excellent food, I think.”

“I think so too,” I say.

“Yes,” says Fran. “They are the food of the gods.”

George finishes eating and stretches out by the fire and becomes quiet. He puts his arm behind his neck. He looks at the stars. He says he hopes he can have “a few contemplative moments.”

Fran puts her head down into her shoulders.

“After all,” says George. “It’s only seven-thirty.”

Seven-thirty!” says Fran. “Let’s go into town and see a movie.” She wipes her mouth with her paper towel. “Campers are allowed to see a movie.” She balls it up. “I wouldn’t mind going to a movie.” She throws it in the fire and raises a finger—“Check please!”

Yes, the dinner was exciting, but now we are getting to the good stuff. Yes, two women and a man are in a tent in a meadow in the Shawangunk Mountains with the moon coming up and the rainfly trembling in the wind, a tasty sight, believe me, and in this regard, Fran has a question:

“What do I take off?”

George is in his sleeping bag.

“I beg your pardon?” says George.

“What do you take off?” says Fran.

George is silent for a moment.

“I took off my … shoes,” says George.

Fran takes off her shoes, rolls down her shirt cuffs, and looks at her sleeping bag.

“This, ah, seems pretty narrow,” she says. “That bag is good down to a hundred and fifty below,” says George. “It is goes down to a hundred and sixty,” says Fran, “will we still be alive to go to a motel?”

Well, as it happens it is a fine night outside and Fran is wide awake so we get out a copy of Screw magazine and look at the pictures, and then we get bored with that, so Fran slips to the back page and begins reading aloud from the personals.

“‘Female slave sought.’”

George and I start laughing like hyenas.

“‘Training be refined professional man. Primary requisite is a desire to be obedient in a safe atmosphere—’” She pauses. “What is this? An ad for WACs?”

Do the next one, says George.

“‘Lucious female hedonistic bodybuilder’—You know,” she says, “from the back, you can’t tell a girl bodybuilder from a boy.”

“Some of the women take steroids,” says George. “they assume secondary male characteristics.”

Fran’s eyes lift from the page.

“Like what?” she says. “They don’t wash dishes?”

George takes the magazine to see if there is a picture of the female bodybuilder, and Fran rubs her eyes and says all this fresh air is giving her a headache. She gets out a bottle of aspirin. It has a childproof cap.

“‘Line up arrows,’” she reads. “Oh. It’s just like putting up the tent.”

George hands the magazine back.

“I’m getting tired,” he says.

No response.

“I think we should turn in,” he says.

Fran shrugs.

“Turn in what?” she says.

There may be plenty of places Fran would like to wake up in, but this tent is not one of them. This tent, as a matter of fact, reminds Fran of her old apartment. Same size. Same height ceiling. Same number of facilities. She opens her eyes.

“I feel horrible,” she says.

“You look good,” I say.

“I feel horrible. What time is it?”

“Around seven.”

“No wonder I feel horrible.”

George has been out. He pokes his head in the door.

“I think all foods should be cooked in bacon fat.”

“You seen the ax?” he says.

The ax?” says Fran.

He finds it and departs.

“Nice question to hear at seven in the morning,” says Fran. “You seen the ax?

After five or ten minutes we get her bag unzipped and then we go out to the fire, where George is fixing breakfast. Fran sits down on the cooler. Her eyes are overcast.

“Now then,” says George, pointing with the spatula. “Should we cook the eggs in butter or in this bacon fat?”

“I’m not eating any,” says Fran. “Don’t ask my opinion. I think all foods should be cooked in bacon fat.”

Cooking hits from Fran. The big test of food for Fran is if she can read and eat it.

George fries the eggs and puts them on a platter with the bacon and hands it across.


Yes, Jean will have two eggs and a rasher.


No, Fran’s nostrils are contracting.

“Would you just like some coffee then, Fran?” says George.

Fran rocks forward on the cooler.

“My body,” she says, lighting a cigarette, “can’t take anything so nourishing as coffee in the morning.”

Fran has to get back to New York and catch a plane to a reading and George has to get back to his movie and a date with a model, and I don’t have much of anything to do except look out the bar car window at the scene of our Our Rustic Camp Site.

A moving sight.

Yes, at twilight we had been sitting in a tent and George had called to us from the meadow:

“You guys?”

“Yes, George?”

“It’s lovely out here.”

“Is it nice? You want to come outside, George?”

“I didn’t hear what he said,” said Fran.

“George says it’s really nice outside.”

“Good,” said Fran, “he can tell me about it when he comes back in”

[Photo Credit: Christopher Macsurak via Wikimedia Commons]

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