Laurie Notaro, EXCUSE ME WHILE I DISAPPEAR: Tales of Midlife Mayhem

Laurie Notaro, EXCUSE ME WHILE I DISAPPEAR: Tales of Midlife Mayhem

New York Times bestselling author Laurie Notaro joins Zibby to talk about Excuse Me While I Disappear: Tales of Midlife Mayhem, a hilarious new memoir about life after fifty. The two tackle sleep deprivation, pot gummies, disintegrating tendons, AARP memberships, and the perks of being invisible! Laurie also reveals the origins of her comedic genius, gives an update on her husband’s health, and shares her dismay at the lack of midlife representation in everything but medication ads!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laurie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your book, Excuse Me While I Disappear: Tales of Midlife Mayhem.

Laurie Notaro: Thank you for having me. I’m really happy to be here. I’m really happy to meet you. Thank you for being so nice about my book.

Zibby: I love your book. I laughed out loud so many times and learned a lot and want to give this to every single person I know without offending them. I think there’s something, still, about, oh, I know I’m in midlife, so therefore, everyone who’s my age is also in midlife. Somehow, telling them that is not the nicest. Do you know what I mean?

Laurie: I totally get it. That’s kind of why I wrote this book, was not as only a, hey, I’m going through this, you’re going through this too, but also as a primer as what to expect. No one told me, my mother, what could I expect? When she told me about the facts of life, I was in the bathtub. She sat on the toilet with a cigarette and said, “Girls have eggs.” Then that was it. It was just like, okay. I had no experience. I had no knowledge of what was going to happen to me in adolescence. It was always a really scary thing, just crazy. Am I becoming a monkey? What is going on here? Why is there pimples? All the stuff I didn’t know was just happening, and only to the dirty girls. I was part of the dirty girls. The popular girls, the ones who were all blond and tan, didn’t have these problems. It was the hairy little Italian girls who had to go through all this stuff and thinking, am I changing species? With this book, I thought, I want to be that person that shows people, this is what’s going to happen to you, but it’s not all bad. There’s so much good in it. Don’t fear the reaper. The reaper has AARP. He gets really good discounts on stuff. It’s not all bad. There’s a really positive side to it too. That’s what it was meant for. I think it’s okay for people who are not quite there yet. It’s just like, this is coming, but don’t Botox yourself in preparation for that. It’s just going to happen. It’s going to be awesome.

Zibby: I love it. I have been looking for a manual. I read all these midlife indignities or whatever. I’ve read Jen Mann’s book, Midlife Bites, and Kristin van Ogtrop, Midlife Indignities, blah, blah, blah. I read as many of the midlife primers as possible. Not to disparage those. Those are also amazing. This is like, okay, here’s what I am going to go through. So many of these things I am already going through. Nobody has been talking about them. I feel this massive sense of relief, even as I lean back to get it and my shoulder pops out. I’m like, oh, no, it’s normal now. I don’t even have to go to the doctor. This is so perfect. Thank you.

Laurie: It’s part of the disintegrating process. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Zibby: You had some line where you said something about how so many of your tendons at this point pop or disintegrate that you could melt and go under the doorframe. You could start slithering out of your front door at this point because you’re held up together by just one lone tendon.

Laurie: Exactly. It might pop during this podcast. I don’t know. You might just all of a sudden lose me. Everything is just held together by one thin, little string. It’s crazy.

Zibby: I also have to say that in your book, you talk about this one coffee that you had for a job that you took that was at eight o’clock. You were like, do they really mean coffee at eight? Was that a typo and they really meant noon? Now here we are. I realized as we were talking before that it’s six AM where you are. Are you still in Eugene, Oregon?

Laurie: I am, but I’m still employable. I’m still employed, which is the real miracle there. I still have a job, not with the University of Oregon, but with a different university. The beautiful thing is that — I know a lot of people didn’t have a good COVID year. I got to tell you it was the best time in my life. I’m a germaphobe by nature. I’m finally like, dude, I can wear a mask all the time. This is fantastic. This is so great because I’ve been wanting to do this for ten years. I’m thinking about moving to China just so I can blend in.

Zibby: You’ll blend right in, Laurie.

Laurie: I’ll be the tallest, gray-haired person ever. In any case, so I’ve gotten used to now waking up at eight o’clock. I’m still working at home, which is great. That was a result of the pandemic, which, like I said, was really good for me. It was a really beautiful time in my life.

Zibby: You were convincing me that going into an office could actually be super fun. I work from home. Now my team all works from here too. I’m like, I’m not leaving, and so you’re coming. You had this whole chapter on discovering like-minded people where you felt like you were in the boring section with all the other gray-haired people, and you realized they were such badass, cool women.

Laurie: It was like being on death row. They sat me in that thing. I was in that row. I thought, no, I should be in that row. I should be with the young girls because I’m young. Then it dawned on me. Sister, come on, own it. I got to know them. Melody was a barrel racer. Marlitt designed Iron Maiden covers. It was amazing. Actually, one of my friends just put a picture of all of us in the Death Row on Amazon attached to her review. It’s hilarious. We’re all eating ice cream.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I have to go look at that. You even organized a renovation of the very slippery slate that everybody tripped on. You really hurt your knee. That was amazing that you stuck with that for so long and finally effected change.

Laurie: I’m tenacious. I was far gone from that job. I was still at the university, but I was way out of that position when they finally realized, yeah, this is a lawsuit. People have almost died on this stupid slate in Oregon where it rains every single day. That was one. They still didn’t pay for my medical bills.

Zibby: I’m sorry about that. I know.

Laurie: It was a matter of pride. I’m not paying this bill. It wasn’t my fault. It was the last time I will ever do the splits, so that kind of gives me some street cred, right? It was unintentional splits, but I still did it. I still knew that I had the capacity to do it, even though I would really, really injure myself.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you’re so funny.

Laurie: That finally got taken care of. Then the building lost as their tenant, which was awesome.

Zibby: I just have to read a couple things. First of all, you have this whole list of what to expect and questions to ask. For example, “Why is my ass where my belly used to be? Can bending over kill me? Why can’t I lose weight after fifty? My boobs are stretching like saltwater taffy. Why?” and so many more. Then you had this whole funny thing about memory. You said, “My point is, the problem is not that we are losing our memory. It’s like that we are at capacity, and if new stuff wants to come in, we have to start throwing old stuff overboard. I deleted seventh and eighth grade just to remember the names of my coworkers once I started my new job. Frankly, I can’t handle any new stuff. I really don’t even want new stuff. I held out on getting a smart TV –” This is the funniest, but this is a very long section about the smart TV and how you had to post that you wanted a teenager to help you in your house and turn on your TV.

Laurie: I’ll pay for your plane ticket up. Please just come up and show me how to use Roku and casting. I still don’t get casting. I still don’t get it.

Zibby: You’re so right too. You’re like, was it Hulu? Was it Discovery? Was it this? I can never remember. You’re like, forget it. That’s how I feel sometimes too. I’m like, I want to watch a show, but where on earth could it be?

Laurie: It’s just out there. I usually have to google something on my phone. Then it takes me ten steps to remember how to google something on my phone. Okay, I have to press this button and that button. Then what do I use to get that? Then we google it. Then usually, that app is out. I totally get it. Even if I shove more stuff in there, it just pops right back out. It doesn’t want to stay in there. There’s no home. The old memories don’t like the new memories.

Zibby: Your whole section on trouble sleeping at night was absolutely hilarious. You have a play-by-play of all the times. What you really say, the conclusion is — wait, maybe I can find that. Oh, here. You said, “You can tell if a young mother or father has been up all night with their kids. Actually, you don’t even have to be a detective because they’ll tell you the first time you see them that day. ‘Two kids sick, and another kicked me all night,’ they mumble. ‘Need more coffee.’ Yet the entire population of middle-aged women are showing up to work on three hours of sleep, some with their night meds still coursing through their bloodstream, running meetings, making deadlines, and putting curses on their bosses. It was just a little packet of dirt from a graveyard sprinkled in their office. And the rest of the world has no idea. Why? Because we are superwomen. Because it’s how we are. We’re high. We’re sleep-deprived. We’re still doing all the shit. If my husband doesn’t get his full eight hours, he’ll mention it the whole next day as if he spent the dark time keeping flesh-eating zombies from gaining entry to our house. Not middle-aged women. They get up from a bed they’ve never slept in, put on an underwire and some mascara, and do it all over again. And no one knows.”

Laurie: That’s true. That’s really true. I’m on so many sleep meds that I’m amazed that I wake up every morning, to be perfectly honest. I’m up at all times of the night. Then you’re just on Facebook, and all your friends are there. They’re awake too. That’s another part of middle age that is just inglory. It’s just inglorious. There’s other people out there who feel your pain, so it’s a built-in support group.

Zibby: You and the gummies. You’re like, every middle-aged woman is taking pot gummies every night.

Laurie: We’re all high. In fact, one of my friends just sent me a text with a bottle. I don’t know where you get a bottle of sleep gummies. She’s like, “Laurie, these are too strong for me. I think they’re more for you.” I was like, “I’ll swing by tomorrow and pick up your pot.”

Zibby: You start the night with a Klonopin. I took one once because I was like, I can’t fall asleep. It’s three thirty. I’m just going to take this Klonopin. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to take for anxiety, but it’s in my medicine cabinet. I’m like, all right, I’ll just give it a shot. I woke up at two the next day, which, fortunately, was Yom Kippur. I’m Jewish. You’re supposed to go to temple and fast. Instead, I had my kids sit on top of me. I was putting the service on the TV, casting from my phone. I’m like, “Just watch this. I can’t get out of bed.” Then finally, I woke up at two. I was like, this is the easiest fast I’ve ever had.

Laurie: See, you know how to cast. You know how to cast. I need to fly you out here to show me how to cast.

Zibby: That time, I somehow figured it out. Maybe my husband did for me. I can’t even remember. See, my memory is gone. Somehow, it got up there on the TV.

Laurie: The children of the nineties — it was the nineties. It was really kind of the last good time. We all have increasingly really great tolerances for Klonopin. One is kind of a glass of cider, just taking a little bit of the edge off. If I really want to have a good time, I’ll do two.

Zibby: You’re literally the person at the party who’s like, oh, she has such a high tolerance. Forget this six pack. Let’s move onto the — where’s the —

Laurie: — Where’s the Jack Daniels? I’m not messing around. If I’m going to go in, I’m going in all the way.

Zibby: You also had a really funny chapter — every chapter was hilarious — about you and your husband joining the AARP and how you really didn’t want to do it. Then you found out that he got a twofer and could sign you up.

Laurie: He did. He was a collaborator. He totally turned me in just so he could get this little free gift. It’s terrible. It is the cheapest little thing, a pill box, of course, a weekly pill box.

Zibby: I thought it was one of the things to pick up your socks.

Laurie: Okay, I think I got the pill box set. He got a gripper.

Zibby: Yeah, a gripper.

Laurie: The gripper is actually good for stuff that falls behind the washing machine. It’s really good. Or things that are up high.

Zibby: I have one.

Laurie: That’s awesome. I got the really terrible gift, the really, really bad one. The top doesn’t even stay closed. The pills are going to go everywhere. Don’t even use that from AARP. It’s very, very cheap. It wasn’t worth turning my life over to them, but my husband felt that it was.

Zibby: You mentioned at one point that you went back to work, in part, to get health insurance because of your husband’s MS. What is the update on that?

Laurie: He’s doing okay. We’ve had a couple relapses. They’re making some really great strides. I feel like I have to leave this on a good note. They’re making some really good strides at Harvard. They finally found out what causes MS. It’s not hepatitis. It’s mononucleosis. If you’ve had mono when you were a teenager, your chances of getting MS go through the roof. It’s crazy.

Zibby: Oh, no. I had a mono as a teenager.

Laurie: Here’s the funny side. He’s become a vegan in this immuno kind of diet. It’s further propelled me into old age. He makes his own little thing, like a stir fry or something like that. I’m just like, I’m an old Italian lady. Why am I going to cook for one person? There I am literally on a TV tray, which was the best purchase I ever made, eating my Lean Cuisine by myself for dinner. Swedish meatballs, they’re awful. What am I going to do? I’m going to make chicken parm for myself? I’m not going to do that. I’ve become the lady who shoves in seven frozen TV dinners. If it’s a good week, I go to Trader Joe’s. If it’s a rush week, I’m eating Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s. It’s not a part of my life I’m enjoying. I’ll say that. It’s all his fault.

Zibby: There are so many people, I bet, who would want your chicken parm. There should be a swap situation. You can pick up their healthy vegan meals. You could do a trade. Have you always been this funny? Probably, yes. You write it just as funny as you think it. Tell me about that.

Laurie: I like to say that I grew up in Italy, but I didn’t. I grew up in Brooklyn. My parents were not from Italy. They were from Brooklyn, but it was still very, very Italian in our house and very people shouting over one another. You got three conversations going on at one time during a family meal. Everyone’s insulting each other. You have to grow up with that tough skin. Otherwise, you just can’t be Italian. You’re not going to make it. Failure to thrive. It’s just not going to happen. My father is extraordinarily funny. My mother is the funniest person in the world but has no idea that she’s funny. I grew up with that banter and with that really fast — you really had to come back with a comeback really, really fast. My sisters are both very funny. My nephews are funny. We’ve raised them to be funny young men. I was a reporter for a long time, and so I learned how to write really fast. There’s no time for me to go in and make it nice and pretty. It’s stream of thought, just pure thought vomit on my keyboard. That’s the way that it happens. I edit as I go along. Then my poor editors, I just always give them a first draft. They’re just like, okay. That’s the way it happens. I don’t have time to mess around and make things pretty. Things are not pretty in life.

I’m one of those people who need people to be accountable to show life how it is. I hate Instagram. Instagram is so funny. I just laugh at it. My friend Angela, who I love, she’s been to the Caribbean eight times this year. She just posted a picture of “Off to the cabana.” I’m like, “You know what? I think that’s a stock photo. I think you’re just putting that. You just put the same cabana on Instagram eight times this year and expect that we’re not going to notice. I remember that cabana, Angela. I think that that’s true. I think you’re not on vacation. I think you’re working and you’re just saying you’re on vacation.” I think most lives are not pretty. They’re not Instagram-worthy. I think that being honest about things makes you feel better about your own deplorable situation and makes people feel like, okay, I’m not the only one. I’m brutally honest. I don’t have a good poker face. Zoom is the worst thing in the world for me. I really like telephone interviews better.

Zibby: I’m sorry. We could turn off our —

Laurie: — No, no, no. This is great. I really love looking at your library. It’s amazing.

Zibby: I’ll just get out of the way. I’ll just go down here.

Laurie: It’s a fantasy library. I don’t know if people have seen it. I’m sure you’ve got this on your website. It’s a fantasy library. If I don’t die with a library like that, then I have not achieved my full humanity.

Zibby: You can borrow it. You can just come in and pretend to be me.

Laurie: It’s something that I want. I must possess all of those colors.

Zibby: These are just my books. You could do it with your own books.

Laurie: I’ve got some of that upstairs with my old antique books, but this is just a magnificence that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Zibby: For people who are in midlife, you have so many sections that are just — I feel like a broken record when I keep telling you that it’s just so hilarious. If there’s something that you want people to know to not feel bad about the most, what would that be? What are the things that you’re like, okay, no, this is totally normal, but…?

Laurie: When you get to be a certain age, you do become invisible. That, to some people initially, is really shocking and very demoralizing. Then I realized, oh, my god, it’s not that at all. It’s a superpower. No one is paying attention to me. I really don’t even exist in most places, which means that I can do whatever I want. I don’t really want to advocate shoplifting, but what I will say is that when Safeway sells you ten pounds of rotten peaches, it’s okay if you forget to pay for something. Don’t go back and pay for it. If you’re out of the store and you have something in your cart and you normally would go back and pay for that — that happened to me. It was a five-pound bag of russet potatoes. I got all the way out to my car and thought, oh, my god, I got these potatoes. Then I realized, oh, no, you ripped me off on a pound of ten dollars of rotten peaches. You still owe me. We’re still not equal. That’s what I would say. People are not paying attention. If you kind of roll out with something a little bit, keep it. That’s God’s gift to you for living all these years. I wrote this in the book. I fully believe it to be true. I am dying to test it out, but my husband says, “I will not bail you out of jail. You will lose your job.” I do believe that I could walk out with a deep freeze at Costco just waving a battered, old Safeway receipt. I swear I could. One day if I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness, I will try it.

Zibby: Wow. Who knew that stealing a frozen turkey would be on your bucket list?

Laurie: It’s delightful. I finally feel like I can act the way that I really am because people don’t expect it. When they don’t expect it, you have all this freedom. Young guys in traffic revving their 4x4s, whatever, behind me because I’m going too slow in my filthy-dirty Prius — then they pull next to me. They start yelling at me. Then I just scream an obscenity at them. They have nothing to say. Their grandma is yelling at them, and in a bad way, in a filthy, disgusting, degenerate way. That is so glorious. I’ve been wanting to do that my entire life. No one’s going to beat me up because I’m old. It would be a lawsuit because they’d probably kill me. No one’s going to touch me. It’s awesome. It’s totally awesome. The discounts are great. If I want to order a child’s meal, I just order it. Even though I’m not really the age of getting, not free movies, but senior discounts — I didn’t realize this. They’re fifteen-year-old kids behind the ticket machine. Now if you go up to a kiosk, just get the senior discount. Everyone deserves a senior discount. I’m just going to stop right there. I might be going into the weeds.

Zibby: No, I love that. What is the superpower of all of us all together? I feel like people don’t market enough to older people, especially with books. Not to give away all my secrets. I started this publishing company. I’m like, why is nobody — these are the people who read. What the heck? Why are we trying to capture the attention only of really young, busy people who don’t have time to read? Hence my podcast title.

Laurie: Right. We don’t have time to read. In fact, when I was — I have been out of the business for about five years. I’d been having these experiences. I went back to work as a middle-aged person. I had been out of the workforce for twenty years. I had gathered up enough material in those five years to say, this is what the transition is like. I pitched it to several agents that I knew. You know what they told me? No one wants to read about middle-aged women, nobody. I thought, really? Guess what? We’re the only ones reading. Of course, if you want me to do something, tell me no. Just tell me no, that it’s not going to fly. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to write this book. I was just testing it out. Once those three agents told me no, I was like, god, now I got to do it. Now I have to do it. I went and, without an agent, I pitched the book. We got a deal. They were totally into it. I’ve been hearing from so many women who say, finally, I feel seen. Finally, after all this time, I know that I’m not the only one. I’m not going bonkers. This is the way society looks at us. Now that we’ve realized that we’re all in this together, I think we have such power to — I have written letters to J.Crew saying, I want to see old people; to DÔEN, a really hip, new clothing company. I buy their clothes. I want to see old people in Anthropologie. I want to see middle-aged women in DÔEN ads.

That is what I want to see. Not only that. You’re finally getting to the chubs, which is great because I’ve been a chub for a really long time. You’re finally getting into the 16-pluses on all these clothing companies. Now do your due diligence. We’ve been buying your crap all along. Represent us. We’re still buying J.Crew. People my age are still buying J.Crew, so represent me. Let people know that it’s okay, that they don’t have to go to Dress Barn or shop at Target for something with elastic. We can still fit into your clothes. We still want to wear your clothes. That goes for everything, anything from — the thing is, I’m tired of being — the only kind of commercial that’s geared toward me is medication. I deserve something better. Put a Pepsi commercial. I’ll drink that still if you show an old lady drinking it. I’ll still drink that. It’ll probably be diet. I’ll drink half as much because my blood sugar’s going to shoot up, but I will still do that. Just show me that I’m still a human being. I’m still alive. I still purchase your products. I think together, we have that power. It is a great and awesome power.

Zibby: I’m going to send you our books when we actually have copies printed. I want to use you like a model. You’ll be a model. We’ll put it on our website. You’ll go on Instagram. We’ll be like, target audience. What do you think?

Laurie: I think that’s awesome. I think that’s fantastic. They just get such a bad rap. I just printed out some swag merchandise for touring and stuff like that. I had to get a little rubber bracelet. They were cheap. I thought, oh, that’s funny. I’m like, what should I say on that? What should I say? I thought of a couple different things. I know more than you do. We do. I’ve been around for so much longer. Of course. Every day, I learn something new. Of course, I know more than my nephew, who accuses me of — I’m not going to go there. In any case, he’s twenty. He doesn’t know. You know nothing when you’re twenty. You know nothing. Now at fifty-seven, I realized that. What I decided on the bracelet was, “Excuse while I disappear and then kick your baby ass.” I think that sums it up right there. You see me being old, but I have more knowledge than you. I am way smarter than you. I’ve been around for way longer. I can figure stuff out way faster, even though I can’t remember your name and I don’t know how to turn on my TV. I know a lot more stuff that’s way more worthwhile than a twenty-year-old. When I was twenty, I was so stupid. I was so stupid.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I just love you. I love this book. I love everything about you. I am so excited that I met you. I’m just over-the-moon happy about it. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for Excuse Me While I Disappear. I’m super excited.

Laurie: You’re awesome, Zibby. I think I might change my middle name to Zibby now.

Zibby: Go ahead. You take it. You or the dog. Either way.

Laurie: Thank you so much for having me on, Zibby. You’re a delight.

Zibby: Bye, Laurie. Me too. Buh-bye.

Laurie: Bye.

Laurie Notaro, EXCUSE ME WHILE I DISAPPEAR: Tales of Midlife Mayhem

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