by RIP RENSE
Note: This column won first-place in "On-Line Commentary" in the Los
Angeles Press Club's 50th Annual Journalism Excellence Awards
(March 21, 2007)
Seipp was a friend of mine. She used to love to write that about
people, that so-and-so is “a friend of mine,” and I’m glad to be able to say
that about her here.
She was a friend of a
hell of a lot of people, of course, and that’s not just a “fine legacy,”
it’s an important achievement in these times of snarling and backbiting as
extreme sport. She was prickly, cantankerous, reactionary, unforgiving,
incisive, caring, compassionate, all rolled into one potent complex human. I didn’t
understand some of her arch positions and reactions, and how they squared
with a person of such heart---but then, I hope someone might make such an
observation about me some day, so that’s no slight.
Cathy had the smarts and
the decency to know that human beings are not the sum total of their
attitudes or political opinions. She did not, as far as I know, dismiss
people on the basis of political litmus tests, which as I said, is The
American Way, nowadays. She took them either as genuine, as good souls, or
not. Churlishness, puniness, pettiness, egotism, arrogance---I think these
were some of her measures of disapproval. And so did she have friends of
many views and attitudes---and so did she bring them together, at least in
the L.A. journalism scene, no small feat. I mean, anyone who has elicited
the admiration of Susan Estrich and the vile Coulter Beast has some unique
mojo going on.
This was “Cathy’s World,”
as her blog was called, a place where mensches were mensches and women were,
too, no matter their points of view.
She was, as everyone
who knew her will attest, immensely affable, once you got past (if you
got past) the shoot-from-the-hip opinion of something you said/did/wrote.
“Stop whining” was as apt to come from her as an observation born of
affection. Me, I don’t understand how relating a factual story of being
treated like dog leavings by an editor merits a “stop whining,” as I
generally relate such tales out of sheer astonishment. But that was her,
take her or leave her.
We had lunch a few times
through the years, always at Philippe’s downtown. I insisted on the place
because she once wrote something nice about how I would, given my choice,
hang out there pretty much till Doomsday. I didn’t want to disappoint. And
we had a hell of a lot of laughs at those lunches, but then, she had a hell
of a lot of laughs with everyone. We had much in common: a love of old L.A.,
of old L.A. newspapering (she attended and wrote about the Old Farts Society
of retired L.A. newspapermen on occasion), a mutual disgust with the L.A.
Times, and a deep disdain for pompous jackasses, martinets, frauds, poseurs.
Actually, I think my disdain for these types ran deeper and is more
pedantic, but that’s no claim to fame.
I mean, she wouldn’t have
believed it of me, but I’ve always eschewed precious and wealthy west side
liberals as much as she did. It’s just that, in a pinch, I’d err on the side
of liberalism, and Cathy sure didn’t. It’s not that I’m a bleeding heart, or
especially compassionate, so much as I think compassion is the most
pragmatic approach to dealing with most of the major juggernauts defeating
humanity. But as for taking stands against, and going head-to-head with
jerks, we were on the same page, bold-faced, 72-point. I used to thrill at
reading how she battled nincompoop school administrators on behalf of her
daughter. . .
Cathy sort of followed
me---hardly an enviable position---at the Daily News and the Herald
Examiner. It seems that as soon as I left these places, she was hired (and
kept hearing tales about me, she said, which I assured her were all true.)
I’m sorry we didn’t work together, as that would have been a kick. My memory
is as reliable as Bush’s syntax these days, but I think Cathy phoned me from
out of the blue back around 1991 or so, just to chat, and to tell me that I
should be writing for Buzz Magazine, just as she was. Flattered?
Appreciative? Does Condi love Ferragamos? I’d have loved to have written for
Buzz, as it seemed to actually grasp---and maybe even approve of---sarcasm
and irony in writing. No wonder it went under.
So Cathy and I eventually
went to a Buzz party together, at editor Allan Mayer’s Altadena joint. I
figured it was a done deal: Cathy introduces, Mayer knows my work, Rip gets an
assignment. Well, Cathy introduced, Mayer said, “Rip! Great to meet you.
I’ve enjoyed your work for years,” and then he promptly moved on to a hot
Asian chickie who had just written a stunningly insubstantial Buzz cover
story---her first piece of journalism! Some short, graphics-heavy
stuff full of very unfunny but ahead-of-the-curve “cool” observations about
“L.A. in the year 2050.” I mean, this was the kind of fluff demographers
secrete precious fluids over. “Jessica!” said Mayer. “I loved your
story! You’re perfect for us! Just perfect for us! When are
you doing your next piece?” I stood there, wishing I had long
Chinese-American legs and gorgeous Almondine features, and that was that.
Never mind all my years of L.A. journalism. . .
Well, Jessica turned out
to be a very bright and pleasant person named Jessica Yu, who won an Academy
Award a few months later for a documentary about a guy in an iron lung.
“Rense luck!” I said to
“Stop whining,” Cathy
I recall at the end of
that evening, she took me into her cozy Echo Park cottage and almost
breathlessly showed me her little daughter, Maia, fast asleep in a sweet
kiddie bedroom. It was a scene that has stuck with me all these years for
its sheer beauty, and the intensity of Cathy’s adoration of
A couple years later,
my friend Cathy Seipp was still trying to wedge me in at Buzz,
suggesting that I contact some woman whose name escapes. A senior editor of
glibness, or something, and I did. Senior Editor took me to an expensive
lunch and very nicely told me all the many reasons that I couldn’t write for
Buzz. Something about having too many writers being near the top of the
list. Yes, too many writers. . .with long Chinese-American legs and. .
.Okay, I hear Cathy’s voice again. . .
After that, Miss Seipp---as
went her e-mail address---invited me often to various L.A. gatherings of
journalists that she put together with Amy Alkon and other good folks. I
went to one or two, but I’m more of a snoozer than schmoozer, so I stopped
going after a while and stayed home. Oh, but there was one remarkable
lunch with yet another hotshot editor of something-or-other, at a
too-precious place called Le Cachette (which I addressed by a similar
sounding title involving cats, which did not amuse.) Anyhow, the runaway
verbal train that is Sandra Tsing Loh was also joining the uh, fun,
and it was one memorable time. . .
Chiefly because I managed
to say no less than at least 20 words during the entire lunch! Now, it’s
true that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the time, and the act of leaving
my house and driving across town was a feat akin to Columbus’s first voyage
to the New World. So conversational responses formed in my head an average
of 30 seconds after the subject had changed two or three times. And the
subjects changed on the rate of hummingbird heartbeats.
I mean, if you haven’t
sat and listened to Cathy-and-Sandra repartee, you just can’t imagine.
Think: brilliant cockatoos on speed. I don’t mean that to be degrading,
either---to my CFS-distorted senses, they might as well have been. The
witticisms, the insights, the pithy rejoinders, the pissy rejoinders, the
bitchy asides---if it could be a ride at Disneyland, they could shut down
half the park. I was dazzled, dizzied, in-the-dust-dumbfounded.
(Didn’t get a gig out of
that one, either.)
But I'm indebted to her.
She tried, did Cathy, tried to “sivilize” this incorrigible Huck, just as
she tried to help---and did help---so many L.A. journalists on the outside,
looking in. She helped galvanize L.A. bloggers into something other than a
narcissistic novelty. And she never held it against me, the fact that I sat
during that luncheon-to-impress-some-editorial-majesty, drooling. (Well, I
would have drooled, but the CFS made my mouth too dry.) In fact, Cathy never
held anything against me at all, not even the time I wrote a very pointed
letter to then L.A. Times editor Michael Parks.
At the time, Miss Seipp
was angling for a slot at the Times (the fact that she never got one yet
another testament to that paper's idiocy), and we both had dropped one another’s
names with Parks in prior contacts. So we were, preposterously enough,
linked in his mind. Suffice to say that while freelancing for Life and Style
(better remembered as Strife and Bile), I became a victim of Times political
correctness. When I wrote to Parks about this, demanding satisfaction in no
uncertain terms (which was granted, by the way), Cathy was appalled. I mean,
there was principle, and there were potential jobs. Me, I’ve never let a job
get in the way of principle.
But she didn’t hold
that against me, either---and believe me, most would have. Just a
few years ago, in fact, Cathy brought Amy Alkon to my book-signing at
Dutton’s, from out of the blue. True, Jim Bellows and Al Martinez were part
of the same signing, but I really think she showed up to a great extent to
give me a shot in the arm. Never mind that she must have found my general
politics to be abhorrent, not to mention my tennis shoes. Never mind that we
communicated only sporadically. She came, she cheered, she wished well.
I last saw her a couple
months ago---at Philippe’s, of course. I was working on a book (still am)
that I thought might have some blog value for her, and thought I’d run some
of it by her. I figured she wanted to keep busy, keep right on working, so I
felt no guilt about taking the poor woman downtown. She was obviously
physically in a place I hope to never visit, somewhere beyond
“opiate-tolerant.” I can’t say the lunch was happy-go-lucky like our old
meetings had been, and it pained me to see her pick at her food (though I
forced her to have some apple pie and cheesecake), but it was good to
have seen her, anyhow. The book info turned out to be of no use to her, but
again, she didn’t mind, and I was glad to have gotten her to Philippe’s for
what must have been the last time.
Last time. She has had
her last time, now, poor 49-year-old thing. Given all the people she
touched, and all the thousands of inches filling up blogs right now, I
figure Seipp might wind up with a state funeral. Mayors and governors could
attend. I don’t think I will, though. I didn't make too many of her soirees
while she was alive, and it would be hypocritical to start, now. Besides, I believe in what W.C. Fields said
when he tried to beg off of John Barrymore’s sendoff: “The time to carry a
pal is when he’s alive.” There will be memorials, and scholarships, and
who-knows-what, and her memory will not die in this town, that’s for sure.
Every decent person’s life should be so commemorated, really.
Right now, I’m
thinking of a note she wrote a few years ago. I hadn’t heard from her in
some time, and, worried that she had finally given up on me, I dropped an
e-mail to see how the hell she was. In a brief and businesslike response, I
found out that it was six months since she had been given five years to
live over non-smoking-related lung cancer. Before typing her name at the bottom of the e-mail, she had closed
with one word:
And that’s what this
comes down to today, for Cathy, and really, for everyone. For all our
aspirations, for all our do-gooding, for all our foibles and faults and flim-flam,
for all our effervescent work and joie d’vivre, it all ends. . .
And if that’s whining, I
offer no apology, Cathy.
Cathy Seipp asked that donations be made in her memory to the Humane
Society, www.hsus.org, and to the Lung
More about Cathy at LAObserved.com
Post Wins L.A. Press Club Award
The Rip Post has won first place in the on-line commentary
category in the Los Angeles Press Club's 50th Annual Southern
California Journalism Awards for Rip Rense's column, "Miss
Seipp," a tribute to the late journalist Catherine Seipp.
Miss Seipp, a self-made
journalistic success whose incisive columns were respected across
the country, did a great deal to befriend and unite L.A. writers.
She passed away March 21, 2007, and her presence remains strong in
those who knew her.
Miss Seipp, Rip Rense, Amy "Advice
at Rense's book signing at Dutton's, 2003.
From L.A. Press Club
1st Place: Rip Rense, The Rip Post, "Miss Seipp"
Judges' comments: This piece was engaging, witty, insightful and beautifully
written. A true work of love.
2nd Place: Sandra Kobrin, Womensenews.org, "Beat a Woman? Play On; Beat a
Dog? Your're Gone
Honorable Mention: Ronald Bailey, Reason Online, "The Secrets of Intangible
Thank you, Cathy.
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