I BROKE A TOILET SEAT WITH MY FACE: An Interview with Constance Ann Fitzgerald
I BROKE A TOILET SEAT WITH MY FACE: An Interview with Constance Ann Fitzgerald
Brian Alan Ellis
I consider Portland, Oregon’s Constance Ann Fitzgerald, along with myself, a co-captain on Team Dumpster Fire. We trade humiliating stories of trauma and drunken buffoonery like they’re baseball cards. Glue, her gripping autobiographical account of a woman raised by mom and dad bikers, is one of the strongest works of literature I’ve read all year. And if that wasn’t enough, homegirl also curates/edits the great Ladybox imprint, which publishes zines and books by female writers like Rios De La Luz, Tiffany Scandal, and Meliza Bañales. She’s punk as fuck, has cool hair, makes zines, and would probably beat the crap out of you. Basically I’d have crushed hard on CAF in high school. In fact, I crush on her now. It’s not every day you befriend someone who’s broken a toilet seat with their own face.
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS: I was on J. David Osborne’s podcast (The JDO Show) recently and we were talking about your latest book, Glue, how killer it is, and he mentioned that you guys used to be roommates. How far do you guys go back?
CONSTANCE ANN FITZGERALD: I think JDO and I met when I was in my mid-twenties. We got aquatinted through Facebook and the Bizarros. I thought he was funny and I think he liked that, so we became friends and have been since.
BAE: How was he as a roommate? Like, did he do his dishes? Did you ever walk in on him doing yoga or listening to Insane Clown Posse?
CAF: No one ever does their dishes enough for my liking. Leaving dishes in the sink drives me nuts because I am super neurotic. My bedroom is a disaster, but no one can leave a dirty plate in the sink. Because that makes sense.
BAE: It does, actually. I have conflicting neurotic habits as well.
CAF: David listened to his music with headphones most of the time, because he was a generally respectful roommate. But that also means he could have been listening to any number of godawful bands. Pretty sure I came home from work at least once while he was jamming to KoRn or something. And I want to hate on it, but when someone is genuinely enjoying something I try not to take a giant shit on it, no matter how terrible it is.
BAE: Wow, who knew that JDO was such a KoRnball? What are some artists/bands you listen to or have listened to that you think others might take a giant shit on?
CAF: Probably most of what I listen to, people would rag on. The Blood Brothers seem to make people cringe, but I think they’re a lot of fun. I love female vocalists, though. The bulk of what I listen to tends to be female fronted and mildly to totally depressing. When it isn’t depressing it’s someone screaming and that can be too much, but then WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?!
BAE: People are garbage.
CAF: Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Julie Ruin, Shannon and the Clams, Le Tigre, Hunx and His Punx, Julien Baker, Angel Olsen, St Vincent, Pretty Girls Make Graves, and Colleen Green.
BAE: I wouldn’t shit on any of that.
CAF: Most of my favorite songs are sad bastard songs. I love Bright Eyes and people seem to HATE Conor Oberst’s voice. But he’s a great lyricist.
BAE: Okay, I MIGHT shit on Bright Eyes. JK I honestly haven’t heard enough of homeboy’s songs to form any kind of opinion. And also I like a lot of ’90s emo, like the Promise Ring, so…
CAF: Bright Eyes have some pretty solid albums. I wasn’t really feeling his solo stuff so I didn’t really bother to dig into it.
BAE: What’s your favorite “sad bastard” album?
CAF: Sad bastard albums vary depending on what my particular sad bastard mood is. General sad bastardness usually goes to the Sad Bastard Messiah, Elliot Smith. Sad. Angsty bastards are often Circa Survive and Brand New. Sometimes I like to collect all my favorite songs into playlists and listen to them until I can’t stand them anymore.
BAE: I really like 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields. You’ll know I’m feeling particularly shitty whenever that’s on heavy rotation.
CAF: Julien Baker’s album, Sprained Ankle, has been my sad bastard soundtrack for probably the last year or so. It’s so simple and heartfelt. I got to see her live last year and it was so intense. It was a really small venue. I went alone and had to make a genuine effort to not just stand there and cry during a couple of her songs.
BAE: Not that crying in public is shameful, but what do you feel is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in front of a crowd of people?
CAF: I’ve probably done a lot of really embarrassing things because my internal filter isn’t always functioning, I’m extremely clumsy, and I used to drink a lot.
BAE: Oh, drinking stories are the best. I once drank too many screwdrivers in the parking lot before a Cramps show and ended up vomiting into a potted plant that was right beside their merchandise table. Great night.
CAF: The first thing that comes to mind was being incredibly drunk at this dive bar I used to hang out in and going outside to throw up and thinking I was hiding, but in reality I was in plain view of the entire population of Petaluma. I threw up and then sat down in the dirt next to my vomit and cried about some shit bag dude. My friend went and got him and made him walk me home.
CAF: I was recently thinking about all the times I walked home completely fucking hammered and crying. 3 AM, alone, walking down the street and sobbing. Frequently. That’s pretty embarrassing. And the fact that it took me so long to realize how embarrassing that was is also really embarrassing.
BAE: What else, what else?
CAF: One time I was meeting this dude I was seeing at a venue where his band was supposed to play. I was nervous and I drank three Stoli Around the Worlds and two Long Islands in half an hour. By the time I got to the strip mall where the venue was I was so shitfaced that I couldn’t read the signs on the building and had to call him and have him come find me, which was real fuckin’ cute, I’m sure.
BAE: Strip mall horror stories dot com.
CAF: I broke a toilet seat with my face.
BAE: Oh shit!
CAF: I threw up on a giant stone playground turtle and then watched children frolic in my orange vomit the next morning. I fucked my friend’s ex-boyfriend, I fucked my friend’s wife… I’m not even into women. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
BAE: Drinker’s guilt is the worst.
CAF: It isn’t even just drunk guilt. I’m wired to just feel guilty about everything all the time, so it’s really just a party. I have so many of these drunk-ass stories, we could just make the entire interview about ours and it would never end.
BAE: We need to just collab on a book. Working title: I Broke a Toilet Seat with My Face and Other Fucked Stories.
CAF: I’d be into that. I keep thinking I’ll put them all into a zine or something and I just haven’t gotten to a place that isn’t just listing all the incidents with it so I haven’t. Not that it wouldn’t be cool to just do it that way too. I recently @’d Vice about breaking a toilet seat with my face and it was the most popular I’ve ever been on Twitter.
BAE: Finally validated! You quit drinking though, right?
CAF: For a while I still smoked weed and that seemed okay. Especially at first, when it was just at night when everything was done and I just wanted to unwind. But then that stopped being fun and it just started amplifying my anxiety, which was really counterproductive.
BAE: What do you fill that void with now?
CAF: Mostly I’ve been filling the void with carbs and sugar and now none of my pants fit right, so I guess I’m going to have to try something else.
BAE: Yoga. Maybe Insane Clown Posse?
CAF: Oh! Other void filler is watching 30 Rock on an endless loop. That shit never stops being funny, but I’m taking a break now and for some reason decided to re-watch the entire [Beverly Hills] 90210 series and I can’t tell if I’m enjoying it or hate-watching it at this point.
BAE: A few years ago my ex and I decided to tackle the entire Miami Vice series. After season three it became a bona fide hate-watch. We broke up during season five.
CAF: Miami Vice is a relationship killer. Should have gone with Nash Bridges.
BAE: Jesus Christ, you’re so right!
CAF: I think if I had a boyfriend they probably would have broken up with me over my obsessively watching 30 Rock. Being alone may be one of the only reasons I’ve made it through like 7 or 8 seasons of 90210. If I had to listen to me talk to the TV I’d break up with me:
“Get your shit together, Kelly Taylor!”
“Why is Dylan McKay the only feminist on this show?!”
“Donna Martin, you are a fucking saint.”
Also, maybe it’s the sexual appeal of Don Johnson that tore you apart? Don Johnson ruins intimacy because he sets a very high standard. Car chases and no socks. That’s hard to live up to.
BAE: Right? The only thing I ever chase is online validation from friends and strangers. Not very sexy.
CAF: Online validation is good, but I feel way better about myself when a dog likes me. That’s how you know you’re a good person. Like, if a dog could like my selfie I’d be high as fuck.
BAE: I don’t want to ruin whatever friendship we have by admitting that I’m not crazy into dogs, but… I prefer cats. Interview over?
CAF: I’m allergic to cats and they are kind of dicks.
BAE: They really are dicks. I will not dispute that one bit. I just feel dogs are too abrasive for my kind of chill. They tend to be too needy. I like being left alone. Also, my roommate has three cats, two dogs and a snake.
CAF: That’s so many pets in one house! Four of which are cats, so I’d never breathe again. And I’m strangely afraid of snakes, so I probably won’t be coming over to hang out anytime soon.
BAE: My cat and I just hide out in our room, which is very healthy. Always the resident goth. I’m like a ghost of a roommate.
CAF: I have a bunch of roommates and we don’t ever hang out together or anything, so I mostly just hide in my bedroom too.
BAE: High-five! So anyway I thought your book, Glue, was the bomb. My memory may be a bit muddled but from what I remember it’s about a woman whose parents are both in a motorcycle gang and there seems to be a series of accidents which the woman is forced to deal with. I assume the book was autobiographical because I told you that I pictured the biker parents as the characters played by Cher and Sam Elliott in the movie Mask, and then you showed me a picture of your actual biker parents and I wasn’t far off from that assumption.
CAF: Most motorcycle clubs don’t tend to be co-ed. I think that would be really cool, but the old school tends to keep it a male dominated scene. It’s kinda weird coming from that background as a feminist because women are very much treated as property. Down to the “Property of [dude’s name]” patches they wear. Or sometimes they get the names tattooed on their bodies.
BAE: Gross. That’s a bummer.
CAF: I knew a woman who got really mad at her husband and to “show him” she took her jacket outside and stomped her patch into the dirt, spit on it, and then pissed on it. But joke’s on her because she’s the one who had to wear it later.
BAE: Should’ve put that in the book! By the way, has any of your actual family read the book, and if so, what were their reactions to it?
CAF: My dad and my brother both read Glue. I was really nervous about how they would respond to it. I told them I was putting out a book about it, that I hadn’t set out to write it, but it happened, and I wanted to give them a fair warning so they weren’t blindsided by it. My dad was just generally happy that I’m making books. He started it and called me 30 minutes later to point out a typo, which is actually kind of great because he still has the cognitive ability to see it. He asked for a few more copies to show the younger guys in the club, to show them that “no one is invincible.” He said I did a good job and that’s the most I could have asked for.
BAE: Hell yeah. Some mutual respect there, it seems.
CAF: My brother said he read it a couple of times, which I was very moved by. He keeps it on his mantle and said that it was interesting to him to see things from outside of himself/from my perspective because we both went through it together but experienced things somewhat differently.
BAE: Okay, so in the past we’ve talked about our experiences working in the service industry, both as servers, and how stupid/funny/horrible it can be, so what are some of the shitty highlights you’ve had while waiting tables?
CAF: I’d really like to know what it is about me and my service that makes people feel like they call yell in my face and call me a fucking bitch. I feel like that’s happened an inordinate amount of times. One time the sushi chef saw a dude get in my face, got pissed and followed him outside with his sushi knife. Really good stories don’t stand out as much as the innumerable awful ones. Being told I would have gotten a better tip if I opened my shirt to show the dude my tattoos was bullshit. Running a packed house by myself was bullshit. People with faux gluten intolerance are bullshit. Kids throwing shit across the dining room and running in circles while their parents look on like “aren’t they the most precious safety hazard you ever did see?” is bullshit. I may be making a little less money now, but I’m definitely glad to no longer be waiting tables.
BAE: What do you do now?
CAF: I took a full time front end position at Whole Foods. It’s so much less stressful and it comes with some pretty solid benefits.
BAE: No shit. I worked in the seafood department at Whole Foods in Orlando, Florida, when I was twenty. Burt from Burt’s Bees did an in-store appearance and it looked like his wife was running the show. He was just sitting at a table looking like he wanted to die. It was pretty great. I related hard.
CAF: That’s amazing. Whole Foods is a strange gig. Everyone wants to know “what is it like working for Amazon now?” And it’s super annoying.
BAE: Ugh. One of the most disturbing things I saw happen while working at Whole Foods was watching this old lady holding a tissue up to her bloody nose while she rummaged through the candy bins.
CAF: STOP IT. I would vomit myself to death. A woman tossed her reusable bags to me the other day and I was drowning in a cloud of cat hair. Another woman keeps giving me bags that smell like cat pee. It’s totally vile, but yeah, okay, put the food you’re going to eat in there. The moral of the story is: people are disgusting and the absolute worst.
BAE: Okay back to cool shit. Another rad thing you’re involved in is Ladybox books. Can you briefly explain what Ladybox is to readers who may not be familiar with it?
CAF: Ladybox started as a box set of zines created by women who I invited to be part of the project. I’m putting out a zine trio anthology this fall that I’m really excited about. Each zine has a theme and will have stories from about a dozen different writers. It’s shaping up to be pretty fucking cool. The only real criteria is to not be a dude.
BAE: Man, I haven’t made a zine in like ten years. I should do one again.
CAF: YES, MAKE A ZINE! Make all the zines always.
BAE: Yeah, fuck this fancy book shit.
CAF: I’d branched out and published three books under Ladybox Books, which are all fucking awesome and were really well received, but I’m currently leaning more towards zines, chapbooks, box sets and bundles because piecing those types of things together brings me joy.
BAE: How cool would it be if you actually got Cher to do a poetry zine for one of the Ladybox releases?
CAF: Oh that would be a fucking dream. All the drag queens would buy it and we’d probably all become best friends and that’s pretty much all I could ever ask for out of life.
CONSTANCE ANN FITZGERALD is the editor/curator of Ladybox Books, a zine maker, and author of Trashland A Go-Go and Glue. She grew up in central Arizona and has spent the last decade crawling northwest. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon, where her happiness is wholly contingent upon whether or not there is a dog in the room. Visit ladyboxbooks.com /atrainwreckwithwords.com
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS is the author of several books, most recently a story collection, Failure Pie in a Sadness Face, and a novel, Something to Do with Self-Hate. He lives in Florida.