A Differing Opinion

(Photo by Emmanuelle Richard)

The writer and blogger Cathy Seipp, who died last week at 49, once asked her friend Greg Critser if he thought her lung cancer was divine retribution for being mean. Critser, pointing out that Ann Coulter was still alive, told her this couldn’t possibly be true. Seipp had laughed, of course, and so did the 250-some friends and family gathered for her services at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Friday morning.

Laughter, which battled annoyance for Seipp’s full attention, was the tone of the day despite the sad occasion. Her aunt Jill told amusing stories of Seipp as a child fighting with (among others) her sister Michele, and as a young adult chasing a male intruder out of her house and down the street, trying to tackle him. And Sandra Tsing Loh noted that Seipp received last rites in not one but two religions because the first time Loh and Seipp’s father, Harvey, searched the hospital for a rabbi, they were unsuccessful.

“We could not find a Jew,” Loh intoned with arched eyebrow, “at Cedars-Sinai.” She brought the house down.

And that “traveling Christian” minister they did find? “Not so charismatic. He was Asian — I don’t think they have it.” More laughter.

Allan Mayer, former editor of Buzz magazine (in which Seipp regularly took the piss out of the L.A. Times under the name Margo Magee), noted that “there are some who will tell you that Seipp was an acquired taste. But I took to her right away. She was smart and funny, with a finely developed sense of the absurd. Her big eyes would sparkle or darken, depending on which direction she sensed your politics were heading. Mine were always going the wrong way as far as she was concerned. But she tolerated me as one would tolerate a well-meaning but slightly demented elderly uncle.”

During their occasional lunches, Mayer said, Cathy “sometimes drove me crazy, and on more than one occasion I would come home from lunch with her and tell [my wife] Renee, ‘I don’t know why I’m still friends with her.’ But a few days later I’d read something she’d written, and I’d laugh and send her an e-mail. And we’d go out for lunch again.”

And that pretty much says it all about Cathy Seipp: She was “opinionated,” as everyone says, meaning both acerbic and politically conservative, and she could be difficult, sometimes absurdly so. But she was also a good and loyal friend, a devoted mother to 17-year-old Maia, a caring daughter to Harvey (who lives in the bottom half of her house in Silver Lake), a protector of stray dogs and humans alike, and she was very, very amusing, whether you were laughing with her or shaking your head at her in amazement. (I, for instance, had to stop going to PTA meetings when our kids were in grade school together because she would sit with me and then greatly embarrass me by standing and complaining about some terrible political correctness being perpetrated on our unsuspecting children — you know, some horror like recycling.)

She did not suffer fools or the typical L.A. progressive gladly, but she also never let politics get in the way of friendship. And she was fearless; or, rather, she had quelled her fears, once telling an interviewer, “If you are going to care about people getting mad, you should be a social worker, not a journalist.”

Mayer also told the audience, made up largely of journalists, that he was currently involved in “a little dustup” over at the Times. His PR firm represents Brian Grazer, and it was Mayer who suggested the well-gelled producer to editorial pages editor Andrés Martinez for a guest-editor slot at the Current section. (See Deadline Hollywood on page 26 for more on the Times story.) Mayer said he was only sorry that Seipp wasn’t around to “enjoy the festivities.” That too is true and also makes a deeper point: For her friends and readers, Cathy Seipp is that person you think of when things like that happen — no matter which side you’re on. She’s the one you want to talk to about it, argue over it with, laugh with. She was consistently, truly vital, and there aren’t many people you can say that about.

Which may be why she and the story of her illness and death have touched so many, particularly in the blogosphere, where for three days last week she was No. 1 on the Technorati top-10 searches list — above American Idol or even Paris Hilton. (It’s safe to say that every one of her friends has imagined, if not actually heard, Seipp laughing about this.) And that’s why it was so incongruous to hear Critser speak so elegantly of grieving for her. And why it seemed so unreal, moments later under a blazing sun, as two workmen lowered her coffin into the ground, measuring the depth with a long piece of rebar. And downright surreal as Rabbi Karen Fox tried to deliver her final words over the engine noise of a waiting limo. (Now that would have annoyed Cathy. Couldn’t he park down the street?! Couldn’t someone manage this?!) Then, in the Jewish tradition, her dozens of friends, colleagues and admirers stood in a slow, somber line to shovel dirt into her grave — one last earthly touch. And the sun went on blazing.

 

 Sandra Tsing Loh's and Allan Mayer's full eulogies follow. SANDRA TSING LOH

It is true some of us here today will be allowed to age well past, as Cathy infamously said about columnist Bob Scheer, our “sell by” date. I’d stop to apologize. But then I’ll have to apologize to everyone I’m about to offend in remembering Cathy. And the rabbi says we only have four minutes.

Yea, some of us ink-stained wretches will ramble on well into our 80s, 90s, possibly our 1,000s...

And while, given the choice, Cathy would not have willingly picked her particular method of exit... on this very sad day, I comfort myself in thinking that Cathy would at least be cheered — because she was so very cheer-up-able — by the high media glamour of her departure. Rocketing to number one on the Technorati rankings? How great is it to be forever remembered at the peak of one’s leggy blonde powers, like Princess Di? Although, compared to Prince William, with a much better-behaved child. Extra points for you, as usual. Good job, Cathy.

Because we are gathered here... not for a birth or baptism or marriage... I think it’s appropriate to note that even in ICU, lung cancer, stage Z, 17F, level e-pi-to-the-epsilon — even here, Cathy Seipp ... was a flagrant overachiever. Out-of-town visitors should be comforted to know, even at the end, Miss Seipp threw the entire Cedars-Sinai medical staff into a state of utter bewilderment, even chaos. On Monday, the doctors solemnly pronounced that Cathy would be gone in five minutes, at most an hour. At this announcement, Cathy’s intimate support team of, it seemed, about 20 people — there were so many of us, other, lonelier patients were becoming upset. The staff asked half of us to leave simply to clear the aisles... We were literally knocking over all their little IV thingies with our grief, with our emotional memories tearfully recited, the sudden pumping of fists in the air — “You will not be forgotten, Cathy! You will not be forgotten!” Oops, nurse. Sorry. Anyway, as I said, that was Monday. By Tuesday, last rites have now been said in not one but two religions — because the first time around, we could not find a Jew... at Cedars-Sinai. Harvey thought, “Let’s try that traveling Christian,” and I think we found, Harvey... ? Not so charismatic. He was Asian — I don’t think they have it. Anyway — by Tuesday, rather than waiting for a Hindu or Buddhist monk to make his rounds, the doctors proffer the embarrassing confession that they kind of need the room in the ICU? So they throw up their hands and move Cathy, who, if truth be told, looks pretty good, to another tower. By Wednesday, day three, all the Terms of Endearment bedside monologues, all the A material has been exhausted. By now, Ray Richmond has been openly weeping for five years. I don’t think the man has a testicle left — he’s growing breasts. With no official religions left, Cathy’s ex, Jerry, is down literally, I kid you not, to singing sea chanteys and Australian novelty songs.

Which was perhaps the moment when Cathy decided, “I’ve proved my point. All those bloggers who got the scoop on my demise, 48 hours ago? Totally wrong. Even from here, I’ve demonstrated I can make anyone on the planet look like a complete idiot. I could keep going, but ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down’ has 100 verses... Hmm.”

Which is a roundabout way of saying how impressed I’ve been, in this traumatic time, with the quality of Cathy’s loved ones. Lord knows Cathy wasn’t always easy on Harvey and Jerry, but in the end, they showed themselves to be standup men. Dammit. Maia has shown a poise and maturity far beyond her 17 years — so much so I hope we can all remember to let her be a girl too. There is the inner ring of Cathy’s family, and then the friends... colleagues... readers... fans.

Indeed, I knew Cathy had a lot of fans. But I have to say I’m shocked at how many feel they knew her intimately, bursting to share their personal stories about her. And here I thought Cathy was my friend. Mine alone! Why do so many people feel such an intense emotional connection with Cathy? My theory is that Cathy is the Patron Saint of the Miserable, which is to say, the Patron Saint of Writers. There was no wretched, lonely, check-bouncing day she could not make funny, which is why we all craved her company. For writers who feel they will, from here on, be missing their very best friend, I suggest we affix blinking St. Cathy statuettes atop our filthy, wine-stained, crumb-covered laptops. When you’re feeling shy, or blocked, or afraid to alienate some... major metropolitan newspaper or other, have a chat with St. Cathy. Magazine claims a 5 percent kill fee is “standard,” simply think WWCD — What Would Cathy Do? She’d fuck with ’em!

 

This Internet outpouring of affection for Cathy is fitting... I see the spontaneous blaze of loving blog entries as like a million rock & roll lighters held aloft. In short, while Cathy’s body may be out of pain, in our hearts, minds and words, Cathy Seipp will live on. As God or Yahweh or Buddha or an Australian kangaroo is my witness, oh, will she.

ALLAN MAYER

As some of you may know, I’ve been involved in a little dustup with Cathy’s favorite newspaper this week. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve gotten a gratifying amount of encouragement and support, which I’ve certainly appreciated. But I must say, the only really difficult moments I had were when I contemplated the fact that Cathy wasn’t around to enjoy the festivities.

And believe me, she would have enjoyed them.

I first met Cathy in the fall of 1990 over lunch at a new restaurant on Third Street called Orso. She was interviewing me for an article she was writing for a now-defunct women’s magazine about a now-defunct city magazine.

Sort of the story of her life.

Of course, the magazine she was writing about was Buzz, which my partners and I were in the process of launching at the time, and which Cathy later helped put on the map.

There are some who will tell you that Cathy was an acquired taste. But I took to her right away. She was smart and funny, with a finely developed sense of the absurd. Her big eyes would sparkle or darken, depending on which direction she sensed your politics were heading. Mine were always going the wrong way as far as she was concerned. But she tolerated me as one would tolerate a well-meaning but slightly demented elderly uncle.

What she wouldn’t tolerate were cant, sanctimony and bullies. Political correctness enraged her. She was, of course, a conservative, which is to say she believed in the virtue of personal responsibility. I sometimes thought her lacking in sympathy for the less fortunate, but the fact is she spent far more time than me — far more time than most of us — looking out for and taking care of strays, both the two-legged and the four-legged kind.

As a writer, she was a dream to work with. Her copy was clean, her arguments clear, her technique impeccable. She was a master of the running gag, the throwaway and the dying fall.

Above all, she had a voice — a slightly querulous, sometimes severe, but always amused and knowing, tone that was absolutely distinctive. She made me laugh and told me things I didn’t know. You can’t ask more of a writer than that.

And now she is gone. Or at least as gone as one can be who has touched as many lives and brought together as many people as she obviously has.

As you get older, you learn to focus less on what’s gone out of your life and more on what you’ve been lucky enough to have had in it.

Cathy sometimes drove me crazy, and on more than one occasion I would come home from lunch with her and tell Renee, “I don’t know why I’m still friends with her.” But a few days later, I’d read something she’d written, and I’d laugh and send her an e-mail. And we’d go out for lunch again.


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