It’s only appropriate that our last interaction was a fight. I don’t even feel bad about it, and I bet she didn’t either. The last time I heard from Cathy was February 14. She emailed me in response to this posting of mine:
For Gods Sake, that visiting the sick thing is kind of silly You don’t need to do anything special. Just don’t raid the fridge, bring food at least for yourself if you’re going to be hungry, clean up your dishes, and don’t expect to be entertained like a normal visitor. Help out, like lifting Amy’s chair etc. Otherwise, forget it. I’m not mad at you, but i do lose patience with excuses that such things don’t come naturally to young men, especially from one who is no longer that young.
I guess the …. will drive over… at some point later this month, and maybe you can stop by then too. If …. doesn’t like it then … can stay home, or you guys can all work out a convenitne time.
They need to realize to print out a map for directions and not depend on me to help them get here by picking up the phone, which isn’t going to happen.
The last thing I said to Cathy was this email I sent in reply to the above:
OK. I did not touch anything in your fridge and only ate the biscuits you said were fine to eat…nor did i use any dishes nor leave any in your sink…
I ate the pudding that Kate Coe gave me in its container. I am sure Amy is stronger than I am, given the tendonitis in my elbows, and is perfectly capable of lifting her own chair.
Not all my posts are about you. I am an active member of a visit the sick committee in my shul…
Despite my protests, my posting was in large part inspired by Cathy. My last two visits with her were disappointing. When I did not jump up with sufficient alacrity to help Amy Alkon move a chair, Cathy proceeded to ignore me, either burying herself in the newspaper or chatting with her other friends. It was as though I wasn’t there.
After those two bad experiences (which left Cathy complaining about my doltishness), I gave up visiting her and I gave up emailing and calling her. I don’t feel bad about this. I don’t think I had anything to contribute to her in her final days. I knew Cathy didn’t lack for friends willing and able to take care of her, and so I left her in their more sensitive hands. I’m not the world’s greatest nurse (though I sure appreciate those types when I’m sick).
Cathy Seipp was a bulldozer. She had forceful opinions on many topics, including the type of fruit juice one should drink (recalls her ex-husband Jerry) and other things she didn’t know much about. She rarely admitted mistakes and rarely apologized. She saw nothing wrong with some forms of cheating, such as claiming Maia as a child to get a discounted ticket.
While single and in her twenties, she had an affair with a married man that lasted for months. Afterwards, she didn’t feel guilt. I never recall Cathy exhibiting guilt over anything. She had an unshakable belief in her own righteousness. After her divorce, Cathy never had a boyfriend (or lover?). I suspect that she was so afraid of getting hurt again that she closed herself off.
Cathy explained to me that she didn’t date because she was too busy raising her daughter. When she put a profile on JDate circa 2003, Cathy lied about her age (by six to eight years). I believe Cathy had plastic surgery on the bags under her eyes but wouldn’t talk about it publicly. Until Cathy told me she had a severe form of lung cancer, I was afraid of her.
We became close because I devoted to her the attention of a biographer. Cathy often had excellent advice for me but frequently I did not want to take it. If I didn’t do what she said, she’d often get mad. About half the time that I knew her, Cathy was mad at me. I got the silent treatment regularly. It would usually last a week or two. I found myself not doing things so I wouldn’t have to endure her icy remove. A key to getting along with Cathy was to let her feel like she won.
The anger thing between Cathy and I went strictly one way — Cathy would get mad at me. I was never mad at Cathy because I never expected anything from her. I was grateful to be in her life but that was it. Cathy wanted me to be more than I was or wanted to be. Cathy and I quickly fell into a comfortable pattern of behavior. I’d constantly tease and provoke her. This would never make her mad. What would make her mad was when I wouldn’t live up to her expectations (to be a chivalrous gentleman, etc)."You guys should have your own reality show," our friends often said in response to our public bickering.
Whenever Cathy and I got together in public, we’d usually try to verbally one-up each other. We both enjoyed this form of fighting and we both played within the rules (we rarely brought up things that the other person was sensitive about, such as age for Cathy and source of income for me).
I was with Cathy so much that folks such as Jewish Journal Editor Rob Eshman asked if I lived with her. "Big compliment to you," Cathy said later. I never remembered Cathy’s birthday and this hurt her. "What’s a girl got to do to get flowers?" she said to me on her birthday in 2003. "I only send flowers and cards to women I sleep with," I replied. "Well, if that’s what I’ve got to do," joked Cathy.
The most sensitive topic with Cathy was her age. I once referred to her as middle-aged and she let me know in no uncertain terms that I was never to do that again. Cathy hated that most men preferred younger women. The only time I saw a sexy side to Cathy was when she dressed in some slinky outfit for a Halloween (?) party at her home in 2003. It was my first time in her home. For years afterwards, I fantasized that Cathy, Maia and I would take a vacation together. That we’d drive up the California and Oregon coast. The only thing was that I wanted to do it without spending money.
I mentioned this once to Cathy (in 2006) and she gave a non-committal response. I told Cathy that I discovered her in Buzz magazine in 1994, shortly after I moved to Los Angeles. "If only you’d written to me then," she said. I never spent money on Cathy (aside from holding up my end on the lunch buys, which is more than I usually do). The biggest thing I ever gave her was my extended blogging about her. Cathy loved to give and I loved to take. It bothers most men when the woman takes charges and gives and gives but it never bothered me. I think I’m God’s gift to the world and there’s nothing wrong with people spoiling me. I once asked Cathy if she’d be willing to talk to a journalist friend of mine (who Cathy knew) with breast cancer. Seipp went right down my throat, vehemently explaining that most people with breast cancer get over it and lead full lives while people with her cancer die. Even in her cancer, Cathy was fiercely competitive.
She was inordinately proud of the number of comments she received on blog posts and was dismissive of blogs that received few comments. Cathy complained a lot (or shared her feelings, depending on your perspective), but rarely about her illness. Of that, the most she said to me was, "It’s so stupid."
Cathy’s complaints in the descending order of frequency (and intensity) that I heard:
* Her ex-husband
* Her sister
* Freelance writing
* Her daughter
* Her dad
Cathy was not happy with how well her ex-husband Jerry Lazar came across in his interview with me in early 2003. It grated on Cathy that she was not more successful in her career. She would’ve loved to have had a job at The Los Angeles Times, particularly as TV critic.
It grated on Cathy that there was not more financial demand for her services. When I mentioned job offers I received for $1,000 a week to write on the porn industry, she’d say, "I wish somebody would offer me $1,000 a week to write."
Neither Cathy nor I would put up with much guff from our employers and if they gave us too much aggravation, we’d quit. Cathy believed she only wanted the best for other people but there were significant exceptions to her magnanimity. She rarely seemed pleased when I, her sister or her ex-husband got into a relationship.
Cathy was my best friend. She connected me to a better crowd of people (professional writers such as David Rensin, Amy Alkon, etc). I always knew that Cathy was smarter than me. I’ve never scored above 135 on an IQ test while Cathy’s score was about 170. I didn’t mind this. I’ve always liked to surround myself with people who are not only smarter and more accomplished than me, but who are also finer and kinder.
A friend emails: "Dear Luke: So sorry for your lose. Looks like a good friendship between you. I found your stories about your squabbles extremely moving. In a way you were her family too: She tried to guide to do "the right things" and got mad when you did not mind her… Luke, you said that she was very smart. I guess that’s why she picked you to be her friend and invested in you. She saw your talent and gift. Now, you need to keep your end, by taking care… and she will keep mentoring from above."
A friend emails: "Your grief comes through even though I think you tried to put it in as understated a style as possible. (And I’ve always admired your fearlessness in telling the world you like groups like Air Supply and the Carpenters. If people could see what I’ve got on my iPod, I’d be laughed at by all the "pure rock" snobs out there. I’d rather listen to one-hit wonder Mungo Jerry happily crooning "In the Summertime" than to a raspy old Dylan "classic" any day. Dylan never makes me happy (well, maybe "Lay, Lady Lay" from Nashville Skyline," but that’s Dylan in his most un-Dylan period); Mungo Jerry does. Case closed." Cathy hated chewing gum. Since she died, I’ve been chewing it like crazy.
Robert J. Avrech blogs: "Cathy was endlessly curious about Orthodox Judaism. It wasn’t for her, she freely admitted, but she was always respectfully machine-gunning questions at me. Cathy kept me on my toes. Around Cathy, I could never be intellectually lazy about my Judaism, and that was refreshing."
Cathy peppered me too with endless questions about the reasons behind various laws and rituals in Orthodox Judaism. I’d start to explain and then she’d cut me off with, "That’s stupid." I gave up trying to explain things to her by explaining, "There are some mysteries that are only available to those in the dance."
I introduced Robert to Cathy and Maia. Before we all met in Starbucks that afternoon in 2004, I kept telling Cathy, "Don’t extend your hand. Truly Orthodox men don’t shake hands with women (not related to them or married to them) and Robert is truly Orthodox." As soon as I said, "Cathy, this is Robert," she stuck out her hand. Robert shook it. As I berated her, and Cathy apologized, Robert said, "That’s OK. It didn’t kill me."