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OPINION | TED TALLEY: Channeling one's inner Lebowitz, Northwest Arkansas style

It’s still Arkansas and, yes, you might catch a whiff of poultry by Ted Talley | February 10, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

It is a grand cliché to say Northwest Arkansas has changed over decades. I certainly enjoy the accouterments attached to our status as a world commerce capital and newer credentials as national visual arts center and bicycling mecca. Sometimes I do miss the once quaint and mundane cities along old U.S. 71 frequented only by locals and Walmart and Tyson vendors daring to fly into Drake Field on noisy turboprops navigated into that shallow saucer of land south of Fayetteville.

Even a "come-here" vendor like myself can occasionally feel like a native, especially when the latest disembarkers pose questions indicating they have not fully assessed the pluses and minuses of their new environment.

Clearly, the arts are in the plus column of Northwest Arkansas growth, beginning well before Alice Walton turned the first shovel of construction dirt for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. First generation Walton largesse began to change our market culturally years before Crystal Bridges when Ms. Walton's parents were key in what would become Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville opened in 1992. From that point forward we've enjoyed a first-class, if not atypically smallish, venue for performances of all kinds from symphonic to musical theater.

Because the 2021-22 WAC Broadway season includes "Hamilton," I signed up for the whole shebang last summer to be assured a ticket to that big hit arriving here next month.

Apart from the Broadway series, I also bought a ticket for a Night Out Series event: A Conversation with Fran Lebowitz. Lebowitz, author of two books of metropolitan social commentary from the viewpoint of a New Jersey-born and otherwise lifelong New Yorker, is a funny, sarcastic kick in the pants whenever she writes or speaks. Even in her occasional fictitious appearances as Judge Janice Goldberg in "Law and Order" TV crime episodes, she delivers acerbic lines she may have written herself. I paraphrase one vignette:

NYC assistant DA: Your honor, we request remand. The defendant poses a significant flight risk with access to considerable financial resources and a private jet to flee jurisdiction.

Judge Goldberg: Yes, but can he get a cab in the rain? Remand! [gavel bang]

This type of wit I was expecting to hear live. So, when our recent snowstorm postponed Lebowitz's last Friday appearance until November, I was disappointed. I had done my advance homework, binging on her Netflix serial collaboration with Martin Scorsese "Pretend It's a City."

Time magazine in January 2021 offered a succinct description of the series: "The title refers to her frustration with people so absorbed in their devices that they bump into you on the street. 'Pretend it's a city -- where there are other people,' she pleads."

I hope nothing untoward prevents her from arriving in November. In the meantime, I might exercise a bit of her modus modified for advice to newcomers wandering Northwest Arkansas apparently unaware of exactly where they are.

Such folks sometimes ask clueless questions on the Nextdoor app from which I received occasional notifications.

One woman queried if there was a Costco near here.

I answered a tad sarcastically "Have you Googled: Costco near me?"

We may have the only moving sidewalk in Arkansas at our airport, but Costcos we have none, at least close by. I should have answered Lebowitz-style, "Look around, this is Bentonville! Pretend you're in a Walmart."

In another post, a man complained of a strange, foul odor near the Bella Vista Lowe's. It was in fact "fowl" odor drifting from the west as chicken farmers cleaned out barn litter and spread it on pastureland as fertilizer, a rural routine for ages. I should have responded "Pretend you're in the Ozarks. All those Tyson chicken strips in the freezer case have to come from somewhere."

Once, while in line at the Walmart Museum's Spark Cafe, some dude circled the Bentonville Square with Confederate flags and Trump banners flapping from his pickup. A woman ahead in line gasped. I suppose it would have been little comfort if I'd blurted out "Pretend you're in the South" -- land of extreme weather and odd characters. We have Richard "Boots-on-Pelosi's-Desk" Barnett types to the west and Eureka Springs crystalized new agers to the east, a strange dichotomy to newcomers camping within the Interstate 49 bubble.

Answering with a sharp Yankee tongue in these situations might not have pleased my sainted mother, a soft-spoken Southern lady. Better to respond then, "Why bless your heart, in time you'll learn to understand things here."

The process isn't scientific. It's more like art.

Print Headline: Lebowitz influences

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