In Memoriam: Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967–2014)

It’s impossible to believe it’s been a full year since the world lost one of its finest, most authentic, and most versatile artists—and at the same time, it feels like a lifetime has passed since the release of that mournful news. There’s a deep empty space left by the departure of the larger-than-life personality which was Philip Seymour Hoffman; it’s felt by all kinds of people, in all sorts of places, for any number of reasons, and in myriad ways.

Today, I’d like to re-share this post from this past May, in remembrance of one of the most intense and inspiring people I’ve ever had the chance to… well, have a profoundly awkward and affecting interaction with in a coffee shop, I guess. 

Rest peacefully, PSH. You are deeply missed.
-M.

 


1.

“You’ll absolutely die when you hear what happened today at the café,” my then-girlfriend said, poking her head around the kitchen door to watch me struggle to cut the ribs off the entire bunch of dinosaur kale with a dull knife.

“Mmmhh?,” I responded.

“Well, we were listening to that Judy Garland album you put on the store iPod,” she said, stepping into view in the door frame. Her jeans were dusted dark brown where she wiped her hands after each shot of espresso, and she smelled like work in that way I loved: salt and coffee and warm milk. “Philip Seymour Hoffman came in, ordered a couple iced lattes for him and Mimi, and was standing by the bar waiting for me to finish making them.” She came up beside me and gently took the knife from my hands, easily dispensing with the ribs and cutting the kale leaves into delicate ribbons. I leaned back against the cabinet and crossed my arms, watching her work.

Continue reading

Five Firsts: Dinner

My first mistake was letting Martha Stewart convince me that cooking was easy, and I should give it a try. My second mistake was getting swept up in the magic of television, where everything is done ahead of time and life breaks for commercials. My third mistake wasn’t a mistake at all, but a complete 180-degree change of life and lifestyle: I learned to cook.

“This is a quick, simple, and healthful dish that I simply love to make,” Martha said, standing in front of a TV-set cookstove in a sea foam–green sweater, fondling a handful of fresh snow peas. I was sitting a scant five rows away from that picture-perfect kitchen stage, conspicuous in my black shirt amid a studio audience who had all apparently gotten the memo about the pastels. However, while the middle-aged women with the frosted tips and the sensible shoes sat in silent rapture around me, I was the one who gasped when Martha nonchalantly tossed a few thin strips of steak into a skillet, the sizzle filling the room.

It was alchemy, what she was doing up there, and I was watching it happen.

Asian Noodle Bowls with Steak and Snow Peas

Asian Noodle Bowls with Steak and Snow Peas

Continue reading

Five Celebrities: Liza Minnelli

Fact: I love Liza Minnelli with a cracklingly fierce passion that seemingly comes from nowhere. I mean, sure, I’m passionate enough about her mother to have a stained-glass portrait of her permanently etched into the skin on my left triceps (as previously discussed), but an incredible life-force of a parent does not necessarily a fan-worthy performer offspring make. (See also: Billy Joel, subhead Alexa Ray Joel)

Fact: I first saw Liza Minnelli live in 2005, at a free concert in a half-shell located mere steps from the Coney Island boardwalk. I stood just outside the fenced-in lawn area, watching her swish around stage in a sequined Bob Mackie babydoll dress. “I’m really known for singing jazz,” she said, “but what I really like to sing are folk ballads. Or, to use the correct pronunciation, folk ba-LAHDS.”

Fact: Though I now realize it’s probably been part of her act for 20 years, I openly started sobbing upon hearing her sing a changed lyric in “Cabaret” during that first Coney Island show: “When I go, I’m not going like Elsie!” Of course it was met with huge raucous applause from the several dozens of old Russian ladies and aging gay men who were in the audience around me. I got goosebumps. I realized then if I hadn’t realized it already that I was not a normal twentysomething soft butch.

Photo by Flickr user Capitu

Fact: The following year, Liza (with a Z) was headed back to Coney Island, and I dragged four very game male friends of mine to the show. One of those men ended up becoming first my boyfriend, then my husband, but we didn’t know it yet during Liza’s set; it wasn’t until just after the show—when the goosebumps from that same “Cabaret” gimmick finally faded—that our status changed, in a swinging car on the Wonder Wheel, where we had our first kiss.

Fact: I told Liza Minnelli all of this on the phone in an interview for a magazine, and she said, “Well, gee whiz! Isn’t that just terrific!”

Fact: Liza Minnelli speaks in exclamation points.

Continue reading

Five Celebrities: Mario Cantone

“You know,” I said, passing Mario Cantone his large nonfat latte, “I was on your show when I was 8.”

The show was called Steampipe Alley, and it was the most manic, insane thing on TV in the New York tri-state area between the years of 1988 and 1993. Part sketch comedy, part game show, part “Looney Tunes” repository, it was hosted by a squeaky-voiced little gnome named Mario, whose mop of wiry hair, exaggeratedly put-on Italian-American accent, and almost impossibly big mouth made him seem like the perfect wacky young uncle—or maybe the coolest baby-sitter you ever had. (One your parents would fire for being a bad influence, after he encouraged you to exchange salt for the table sugar, or taught you the lyrics to an age-inappropriate novelty song.)

He ran around a set full of oversize plastic sewer pipes, cracking wise, doing voices, and teasing the living shit out of a whole slew of kids my age who gathered around him in loose groups, smiling and laughing and looking like they knew they were the chosen ones. Who were these kids who got to populate the stage of Steampipe Alley? How could a nobody like me claw her way into that world, that perfect television universe? If I could have, I’d have crawled in through the TV screen.

Continue reading

Five Celebrities: John Hockenberry

“Hello,” began the voicemail message. “This is John Hockenberry calling for Erin…”—a pause while he tried to decide how to pronounce my last name—“Meister?”

My heart stopped. Then my feet stopped. My mouth opened, and I literally screamed. I screamed like a teenaged girl at a Beatles concert, like a kid on a roller coaster for the first time—so full of joy it can not be contained, like light seeping out through the cracks in a door in a dark room.

John Fucking Hockenberry.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user National Constitution Center.

Continue reading

Five Celebrities: Amy Sedaris

What inspired the notion of adopting a rabbit, I have no idea—that is, besides the obvious fact that rabbits are impossibly cute. There’s nothing more delightful than watching one pick up a huge piece of lettuce in its mouth and slowly, methodically drag it disappearing into its crunching jaws. Just as the rabbit appears for the magician, the lettuce disappears for the rabbit. Everybody wins.

Part of what I think I wanted from having a house rabbit was the idea that somehow it would make my living space seem enchanted, part of some fairy universe where humans peacefully coexist with what would normally be considered wild animals. Cinderella having her dress sewn by mice; Belle stretching out her arms in song and dance only to have a dozen tiny sparrows perch on her perfect smooth skin; Lucy walking with her talking fawn. I could be like them. It could happen.

There was only one person I really knew to keep rabbits at the time, and though it seemed like a tremendous long shot, I thought she might be able to help me. So the next time that I was working when she came by the coffee shop, dropping off a platter of 21 homemade-from-a-box cupcakes in return for $21 cash, I found myself nervously hiccupping, “Can you tell me about your rabbits?”

“Sure!” said Amy Sedaris. “You want a rabbit? You should come meet my rabbit!”

Amy’s cupcakes. Photo by Flickr user Mirka23

Continue reading

Five Celebrities: Philip Seymour Hoffman

1.

“You’ll absolutely die when you hear what happened today at the café,” my then-girlfriend said, poking her head around the kitchen door to watch me struggle to cut the ribs off the entire bunch of dinosaur kale with a dull knife.

“Mmmhh?,” I responded.

“Well, we were listening to that Judy Garland album you put on the store iPod,” she said, stepping into view in the door frame. Her jeans were dusted dark brown where she wiped her hands after each shot of espresso, and she smelled like work in that way I loved: salt and coffee and warm milk. “Philip Seymour Hoffman came in, ordered a couple iced lattes for him and Mimi, and was standing by the bar waiting for me to finish making them.” She came up beside me and gently took the knife from my hands, easily dispensing with the ribs and cutting the kale leaves into delicate ribbons. I leaned back against the cabinet and crossed my arms, watching her work.

Continue reading