Charity, April 18, 2012 at8:04 PM

The Fug Girls: Before They Had Home Computers

Starting out in this world of ours can be TOUGH. That’s a big part of what my novel, Ten Girls to Watch, is about. But another big part of what it’s about is finding comfort and inspiration (and laughs) in the stories of folks who’ve gone before you.

In real life, same thing is true — there’s nothing quite like stories from other people’s early 20s to make you feel better about your own youthful travails. Especially if those other people grew up to be awesome.

Today’s awesome grown-ups: The Fug Girls. Heather Cocks (left) and Jessica Morgan (right). They’re the women behind the highly entertaining website (I literally click over to their site, like, eight times a day, everyday. If I haven’t replied to your email, it’s because I’m reading their site. I really hope you’ll forgive me). They’re also the authors of two novels, Spoiled and Messy (which hits stores in June. Exciting!) 

A big thanks to them for bravely revisiting the old days!

What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?

JESSICA: I thought I was going to be an English professor! But then I didn’t get into the graduate schools I’d applied to, and…never got around to reapplying to them.

HEATHER: I was all set to be a reporter — Notre Dame has a great independent, student-run daily paper, so I worked my way up and then ran it my senior year. Interestingly, I only felt fully qualified to run it after my tenure was over.

What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school? 

JESSICA: My first job out of college was working for a very fancy fabric and furniture store and I was not particularly happy there, not the least because there was no internet access and I wasn’t allowed to wear pants.

HEATHER: I got hired at the daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, covering high-tech companies. Well, technically I was hired as the personal finance reporter, which is hilarious when you consider I was 21 and had no personal finances, but I think that was just the only opening they technically had. I did more general-assignment stuff until they could scoot me over to the tech side. I loved that city, most of my co-workers were so awesome, and Austin was a hotbed of tech companies who were all living the excesses that the late ’90s were famous for, like five-figure lunches on Fridays flown in from other states. So that part of it was really interesting, and I also met people who opened freelancing doors for me that essentially led me to where I am today.

But in my second year there, my immediate bosses left and one of their replacements was a complete condescending jerk to me, even going so far as to call my sources, re-interview them, and replace my quotes with virtually identical ones he’d gotten from the same person. So he undermined me for no reason, and then used his quote just to stoke his own ego. He sealed my desire to leave, but I also realized that the reporting part was not my cup of tea.

We all had to spend a week or so at a time doing “plunger duty,” which was basically taking on whatever crappy daily stories cropped up in between our regular beat reporting. I got the holiday retail story, and it is NO FUN accosting people at the mall, identifying your purpose, chatting to them about the economy, and then having them say, “You don’t want to USE any of this in the PAPER, though, do you? I don’t want that.” To be a reporter you have to report, and that ended up being the part of my job I didn’t like.

What was your first real apartment like? 

JESSICA: Mine was cute, actually! It was in Westwood, while I was attending UCLA. Now, 3 girls in a large one-bedroom apartment sounds like insanity, but we had fun. That apartment, to this date, had the most storage of any apartment I’ve ever lived in.

HEATHER: Mine was a tiny one-bedroom just off South Congress, between Oltorf and Live Oak, if you know the area. It got a ton of natural light, and I adored it, and it had a teeny washer-dryer in a closet and a dishwasher that I would swear was a repurposed trash compactor, and my landlord paid for cable. Love.

But the very best thing in the WORLD about it was the sticker on the underside of the toilet seat. It was there when I moved in, and I discovered it the first night. Basically, it was a two-panel cartoon. You know the little stick-man shape they use on the doors of men’s rooms and such? Well, in the first panel, he was standing up at a toilet, peeing with little cartoon junk, and it was splashing back everywhere, and there was a red Universal No symbol printed over him. In the second frame, he was sitting down, junk tucked into the bowl, peeing cleanly, and I think there was a green checkmark at the bottom right to indicate that this was the desired behavior. Someone had clearly tried to scrape it off before and failed. It was so heinously hilarious that I couldn’t do it, so I left it and loved it. And when my parents came to visit, I bought a furry toilet-seat cover and turned it around and claimed I thought it was more comfortable with the fuzz against your back. Oh, and for a period of time I had to rig the toilet so that you flushed it by pulling on a coathanger, but then I rebuilt the inside of the tank with some bits from Home Depot and felt like a complete champion.

Are there any particular experiences that capture the essence of your early twenties? 

JESSICA: I am 36, so I barely remember my early 20s at this point. I do, however, remember that I drove a series of total beater cars. The one I had from 16-24 or so was a great little car but eventually it sprung a leak in the driver’s side window, which meant that whenever it rained, I had to rig up a makeshift tarp so the seat didn’t get soaked. I was sad to say goodbye to that car, but I am happy that I now am in a place in my life where I can wake assured that my car seat will be dry.

HEATHER: I went to the gym at like 10 p.m. I would come home from work, watch TV (primetime in Austin is 7-10), and then drive to the 24-hour World Gym and work out for an hour or so and then go home and sleep. I had a yellow sports walkman that also got radio, so I could switch back and forth between that and my bangin’ workout mix tapes, and I remember all those times I’d be mid-stride on the treadmill and suddenly the songs would start going slower… and slower… and slower…. and then the batteries would finally keel over and die.

When I got my car my junior year in college, I insisted — INSISTED — on getting one with a tape deck and a CD player, because I would NEVER want to listen to a WHOLE ALBUM and you couldn’t make a CD mix. The day I burned my first CD, I felt like I had seen the future of the world and that it could not get any better.

I also went home for lunch a lot to save cash — I lived about two minutes from work — and ate an absurd amount of iceberg-lettuce pita sandwiches, because I was too idiotic to know that iceberg has zero nutritional value. I just liked it for how crunchy and refreshing it always was. It wasn’t a weight-loss thing. It just seemed like a cheap and tasty idea. Further, I didn’t own a cell phone, and I didn’t buy a home computer until I’d worked at the paper for like eight months. Didn’t think I needed it. HA. Sitting in an apartment with books and TV and no internet or phone is classic early 20s for me.

Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?

JESSICA: I think for GFY, our big break was the day Defamer linked to us. That got us a ton of traffic, and it made me feel like people were actually enjoying what we were doing. For me on a personal professional level, it was when the only person for whom I had to answer the phone was my own self. That still feels like the greatest achievement of my life in many ways.

HEATHER: When I was recapping “Making the Band” for Mighty Big TV — which would go on to become Television Without Pity — the producer of the show read my recaps, and ended up offering me a job in L.A. on his next reality show. That was a total departure from my previously imagined career path and so I felt for the first time like I was Going Places, in that way where you feel like the universe is giving you a little shove. Ken Mok gave me my break into TV, and that led to a lot of amazing things that ultimately resulted in GFY. Although if you want to go further, you could argue that the MTBV/TWoP folks hiring me to recap in the first place was a big break because who the heck was I? Until then I was just a reporter; their leap of faith helped make me a writer.

How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”? 

JESSICA: The day that Heather and I sold our first book — The Fug Awards — was a huge life milestone and very memorable indeed, in terms of my personal goals. Although I don’t know that I ever said specifically to myself, “self, you are going to write a book,” it was definitely a dream for me.

HEATHER: The first month after we quit our reality TV jobs and were still able to pay our rents and our bills, I was like, “And WE DID IT.” It felt so amazing to know that maybe I really could work out of my home office, doing the site that I loved, as a legit life plan.

Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you? 

JESSICA: I have worked for a ton of smart, awesome women — including Heather at one point, actually! But the first one who really influenced me was my boss, Nancy Levens, with whom I worked briefly at UCLA Extension, a job I held shortly after I graduated from UCLA (non-extension). Although that job didn’t allow me to do much writing, she was a really wonderful boss to me. I used to just sit in her office and we would shoot the breeze for ages. We really connected in a way that I had never experienced with a boss, prior to that, and she had kids and an interesting boyfriend and this cool office, and I always thought she really had it all together, and she acted as a mentor to me and took a real interest in me in a way that was very appreciated and wonderful. But I have been very fortunate that, throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by smart, supportive women — as teachers, as friends, as bosses, and of course my own family.

HEATHER: Ken Mok really put his faith in me and made sure I learned my stuff, in reality TV, and I think the stuff he taught about story structure and storytelling — don’t let the material dominate you; you dominate it — have been incredibly important touchstones. Books need act-outs, too. You don’t actually go to commercial, but you do need points where the story takes a left turn, or revs up, or the stakes increase as you build toward your climax. Ken and Steve Sicherman — who went on to work at a studio shepherding shows like Arrested Development — and my first story supervisor Richard Glatzer all combined to drill a lot of those lessons home. I also continually marvel at the brilliant wit of Mark Lisanti, who ran Defamer and now offers up his genius on Grantland. His constant stream of clever perspective pushes me to try and be better at that myself.


Thank you, Heather and Jessica! Here’s to leaving the iceberg pita years behind!


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