(A NOTE FROM TONY: So last week I had a fairly spontaneous, sweet, and bizarre encounter of sorts with NYC beauty biz enfant terrible Cat Marnell. At the time it wasn’t clear what was going on with her extended absence from xoJane.com. I think now most people who are interested know that she is in a fairly intensive outpatient treatment program, but her status at xoJane is, to me at least, unknown. I wrote up this account of the events and pitched it to xoJane – and for reasons editorial and HR-related, they turned it down. I have other fish to fry, I wasn’t going to go around pitching it. I figured I’d park it here on my dusty Tumblr. I may edit it as I see fit… if you want to publish it elsewhere – use your detective skills to get in touch first)
It was a common refrain for weeks on the cyber-roads that I travel. Many in the online beauty community – whether on Twitter, Facebook, or the comments section of recent articles – have been asking about the current whereabouts and well-being of at-large Health and Beauty Editor Cat Marnell - xo’s gifted, infamous, and polarizing writer. I myself have wondered the same. Whenever a couple weeks go by without a story from Cat anyone with even passing background understanding of her shteez can’t help but wonder: Is she dead? Did she get fired? Quit? Rehab? Did she really join the hippy tripping sex/drug cult and have they spirited her away to South America or at least The Bronx?
None of this speculation has been eased by the cryptically vague twitter trail on this topic. Exchanges like “Cat, will you ever write another story?”/ “Nope!”, and “I Love You Jane Pratt”/ “And I You” can’t help but drive enquiring minds into a mild froth.
I fall into that category. I am a huge fan of Cat Marnell. I’ve been a ‘beauty industry professional’ for 15 years and I have followed her career since her LUCKY days. At its best, her writing transcends the typical beauty story. Her voice is an amalgam of Hunter S. Thompson and Edie Sedgwick, with a dash of Jean Godfrey-June thrown in. And like when Thompson would write about a motorcycle race or police convention, her stories are often about more than the latest self tanner or gloss. Cat peppered her writing with references to art and literature, her obsession with Keith Richards, her wild graffiti artist posse, and her addictions - resulting in stories that showed bursts of brilliance (see her Whitney Houston piece) and giving her the status of an eerily prescient political outlier (check her wiggged-out screed about access to the morning after pill and tell me she didn’t define the battle lines of the GOP “War on Women” at least as well as Sandra Fluke. I’m serious.) - and it all resonated deeply with me. Add to this my own history of, if not outright addiction / anarchic debauchery (Cat’s “It’s 5 am and just found what I think is angel dust on the street and I’m smoking it” tweets come to mind) - at least a predilection towards a certain louche lifestyle, and it’s easy to see why I found her so appealing. And as infuriated and frustrated as I have occasionally been by her lazier xoJane contributions (The drug stuff can go from gripping to gratuitous in a heartbeat, and seriously ANOTHER suntan lotion smell story?) - I really couldn’t imagine what the site would be like without her. Cat’s vulnerability and honesty are what make me and so many other people care about what happens to her. I wanted to know what was up.
Early last week I learned from a friend that the MIA Ms. Marnell was scheduled to do a reading at a Kurt Vonnegut remembrance in Manhattan. I love Vonnegut and it’s only an hour or so into the city. Hmm. Maybe I’ll drive in, grab said friend and go? Should I retweet this info? Nah. If Cat was going to be there I didn’t want to dime her out since she herself had seemingly not publicized this gig. I also didn’t want to pay for parking and tolls if she wasn’t going to be there. So I had a mind toward being covert when I tweeted her way:
“Will you be at the KV reading ce soir?”
No reply. Not that I expected one. Despite the fact that my company’s products and my family have been featured several times on xoJane (not to mention my well-documented, almost entirely imagined affair with xoJane editor Emily) – I am under no delusion that Cat Marnell knows who I am. She didn’t follow our twitter feed (the dare-I-say hilarious @abl_brands), she wasn’t in the office when I visited (neither was Jane, but I sat at her desk and pretended to be on the phone with Courtney Cox), she has never answered any of the professional-capacity emails I have sent her, nor have we ever met or spoken. She never even thanked me for the hat I sent (ok the hat may have crossed the line).
So after a few days later I was scrolling through my twitter feed and I saw:
Cat has frequently documented her closeness to her grandmom. I could totally relate to that. I was extremely close to mine, and in the ensuing years since their passing, I have sought out the company of seniors as surrogates. My best friend is a 77 year-old Frenchman. And I used to volunteer as a caretaker for our town’s oldest drag queen (Mother Joe Cavalucci), once even choosing to spend time with her instead of grabbing an opportunity to meet Joe Strummer (because Mother wasn’t feeling well and how did I know Strummer would be dead within a year)! And so while I understood what Cat was saying (call YOUR grandma), I snarkily replied:
Then a minute later I saw in my inbox: Cat Marnell Is Now Following You On Twitter.
Oh well that’s good. Unexpected. Better than the outcome I imagined when I hit SEND, of Cat seeing my reply, demanding the hippy sex cult caravan pull over in some backwater long enough to get Hannah on the phone in Canada to tell her to NEVER WRITE ABOUT THOSE CREEPS FROM NEW JERSEY AGAIN!
Then it got really weird.
@Cat_Marnell has sent you a direct message
Ummm. WHAT? Did I just get a message from Cat Marnell suggesting that I call her Grandma? With Granny’s phone number attached? Was I dreaming? Was this a dare, was I playing into something creepshow? I’m well aware of the debate raging out there in Jezebel-viile and Jane-town, about whether Jane is exploiting Cat, whether Cat is exploiting her addictions - and I don’t want to blithely play along in someone’s meltdown.
Ok. Don’t overthink this. Don’t look for an angle. In a gesture that was both reckless and tender, someone you really admire has opened a door to you. Whatever her intentions were – honor it with your response.
So I dialed.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Like 15 times. She’s not there, I thought. Or it’s the phone number to the deli down the street (Hay Kevin). But then:
“Hello?” said a soft southern voice.
“Hi, is this Cat’s grandmom?”
“Why yes it is”
“Hi, my name is Tony, and I’m, um, a business associate of Cat’s, well we’ve never actually met, or spoken, but… er, she mentioned on her twitter, that is to say, online…”
Ok this wasn’t going too well. Start again.
“You see, Cat mentioned that she had called her grandmom today and I thought that was so sweet because I was very close to my grandparents but I lost them a few years back so she suggested that I call you”
“Well isn’t that lovely? You know it’s always a surprise with Cat. She’s always up to something and I don’t really follow her twitter” That made me laugh.
We chatted for a few minutes. I asked her name (Carol), and she told me about her family’s long lineage in Virginia, a bit about Cat growing up, how there was a family tradition of grandparents playing an important part in their grandkids lives. I told her how Cat has frequently given her Grandmother online ‘shoutouts’ and Carol laughed. I told her about my little company, where I lived, my family. She was warm, genteel, and totally great.
At some point Carol sounded a note of concern about what was going in Cat’s life right now. I was in no position to address or mollify such feelings, but I said.
“You know, your granddaughter is so lucky to have you in her life. So many people love her. She has so many fans. And Jane. She loves Cat too.” I’m pretty sure this last part is true.
“That is so nice of you to say. I’m so glad to hear that. You truly made my afternoon”
We said goodbye and hung up. I could feel myself tearing up and my lip was doing that little quiver thing. Suck it up, bro! Carol! Cat! What have you done to me?
I still can’t say that I know Cat Marnell. Or that I know one thing more about what’s going on in her life, with her job, her health – anything like that. What I do know is that she seems a brave person with a good heart, with enormous talents that have yet to be fully utilized. Whether she does use those talents, or lets them fade away is an open question. The road of sobriety and mental/emotional stability - aw fuck it, SANITY - can be twisted and circuitous, often doubling back on it’s self. It is not an easy path she has ahead of her. But I do know one thing: Cat Marnell has at least one very loving, very special lady in her corner. And I think she’s going to be just fine. Won’t you, Cat?