Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Patricia Marx and Roz Chast who are the coauthors, illustrators, of the book You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples and also, Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? Roz Chast, the illustrator, is the author of the number-one New York Times best-selling memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, she has been drawing cartoons since she was a child in Brooklyn. She has contributed to The New Yorker regularly and also many other publications. Her book, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York, was a gift to her child when leaving home. She currently lives in New York City. Patty has been a New Yorker contributor since 1989. A former writer for Saturday Night Live and Rugrats, she is the author of several books including Let’s Be Less Stupid; Him, Her, Him Again, The End of Him; and Starting From Happy. She was the first woman elected to The Harvard Lampoon. Originally from Philadelphia and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she has taught at Princeton, NYU, and Stony Brook University. She currently lives in New York City. Welcome to Patty and Roz on the pub day for You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time.

Welcome to Roz and Patty. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books”.

Patricia Marx: Thank you for having us.

Zibby: Roz and Patty have brough their beautiful teal-colored ukuleles to this interview, which is a first. We’re going to have a little concert in the middle.

Roz Chast: The turquoise helps the sound.

Patty: We find that mahogany doesn’t have a good tone.

Zibby: Your book today is called You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples. It’s kind of self-explanatory, but what is this book about? What made you write this book right now?

Patty: We both live with people. Roz is married. I am not married, but this person I live with is awfully close. Problems come up, and we’ve solved them.

Roz: I think a lot of times with couples, the things that you fight about are not the things that are talked about in a lot of couples’ advice books. I’m not saying that if you don’t fully pull the thread of these problems the whole thing is not going to unravel. Some of the things that Patty wrote about and I illustrated, no matter what kind of couple you are, if you’re living with another person, these things are going to come up.

Patty: Most books about how to have a good marriage or a good relationship are so romantic. Living with someone isn’t all that romantic. When you’re loading the dishwasher, you’re not starry-eyed.

Roz: They’re romantic. Sometimes they’re very, very serious. It’s not like these fights aren’t serious. They are, but they’re just much more — the things that my husband and I will have fights about, they’re not really about — recently, my husband got quite angry at me because I put the raspberries on the lower shelf as opposed to the top shelf where, evidently, raspberries belong in some sort of ideal universe. I was just amazed that he took that so personally.

Patty: And also how a little fight, if you call raspberries little, can suddenly become about selfishness and order and danger.

Roz: Yeah, within a few seconds.

Patty: Narcissism.

Roz: The selfishness of my putting the raspberries, the thoughtlessness involved in that gesture, it’s pretty funny in a certain way.

Patty: The other thing that is amusing when you’re not in the middle of it is how repetitive the arguments are. Not only are you about the same thing, we have transportation or temperature arguments all the time, it’s the same script.

Roz: It’s the same script. It’s almost like that joke about when two guys are on the desert island and they’re telling each other jokes, but they’ve told all the jokes. The guy just goes, “Number forty-nine.” I feel sometimes when my husband and I have a certain fight about leaving the house, it’s like, oh, we’re on fight number 117. I know this one. Every week, we have this one.

Zibby: How long have you been married?

Roz: Let’s see. We met in 1980. We married in ’84.

Zibby: Thirty-six? Something like that?

Roz: Yeah, coming up on thirty-six years.

Zibby: Wow.

Roz: I know. It’s nuts.

Zibby: How does your husband and your partner, how do they feel about this book?

Roz: Well, we’re getting a divorce.

Patty: There’s nothing in it that’s surprising to him, my thoughtlessness with the strawberries, my thoughtlessness with the illustrations. “This is about me, isn’t it?” Yeah, well, kind of.

Zibby: I feel like you tapped into so many things that so many people fight about. The ones that I respond to might not be the ones that the next person does. Some of my favorites, by the way, “If you are the word-meister in the relationship, don’t correct the other person’s every little mistake. Save it for when you cannot stand it anymore.” In the illustration, you have irregardless as one of the examples.

Roz: That’s almost a dealbreaker, that word.

Patty: The problem, Roz and I have discussed this, is correcting the person aggravates the problem sometimes. My boyfriend has grammar quirks. He knows they’re wrong. He insists on using them. I don’t know if I’m not around, if he says it. It’s kind of being with a toddler, knowing what to do.

Roz: It’s true.

Zibby: You have another one, “Spike the orange juice with CBD oil,” as remedy for, perhaps, some of these issues.

Roz: CBD oil works for everything.

Patty: Or nothing.

Roz: It’s good for your hair. It’s good for your skin. It’s a good furniture polish. It works for everything.

Zibby: Patty, I just wanted to talk quickly about this essay you wrote about 23andMe which I thought was so funny, not to divert away from this book. You called it “23 and Him” for The New Yorker, which I thought was so funny. You call it the spoiler alert test. You make fun of the whole 23andMe obsession.

Patty: Which I’ve never done.

Zibby: You’ve never even done — that was my question, is had you taken it yourself.

Patty: No, I don’t want to. I don’t really care who my ancestors are. I know they’re not good. I don’t want to know. I certainly don’t want to know what the future beholds in the way of suffering physically. How I’m going to die, let them surprise me. My mother’s ninety-three. Seeing what I will become physically, it’s really when I wish I were adopted. I kind of wish it was going to be a surprise. Have you done 23andMe?

Zibby: I have.

Patty: And?

Zibby: I’m okay, generally. The best part about 23andMe that I found is you can track yourself against benchmarks of other people of your background.

Patty: So you can win?

Zibby: You can win. No, not like that. For instance they say, “The average weight of somebody else your height who has the same exact background is…” It ended up being my weight exactly. For the first time I was like, now I don’t have to watch my weight anymore. This is exactly the weight I’m meant to be. I’m average. No, I’m kidding.

Patty: You do, but you have to get all the other people to gain weight when you do.

Zibby: That’s true. I could just keep force-feeding them.

Patty: Have you done 23andMe?

Roz: No.

Patty: Do you want to?

Roz: No, not at all. I did a DNA thing.

Patty: You did?

Roz: It’s different, from Ancestry. My son’s wife is very into — what do they call that? Genealogy. I did that. They said that I was ten percent Greek and Italian, which really surprised me. Then I talked to somebody, who’s actually Andy, who said that the results are based on the number of people who take the test, not some sort of actual information, like general population. It’s just the number of people — I don’t know. He explained it in a way that I understood at the time and obviously can’t repeat. It’s probably too early in the morning. I know nothing about any Italian or Greek relatives. As far as I know, they’re all from Eastern Europe or Russia.

Patty: Here’s a good story that you’ll cut out because it’s really irrelevant to our book. A friend of mine just did 23andMe. She learned some interesting things. She was telling her doctor. She was there for a checkup about this. Her doctor was uncharacteristically silent for a while and finally said, “Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.” Then a little while later she said, “I guess I can tell you.” She did one of those tests and found out that — she’d always known that her mother had gotten a sperm donor because something was wrong. I don’t know. What she didn’t know — it was early enough in the days when they didn’t have the system. She went to her doctor. Her doctor says, “I can give you sperm.” Forty-three other people she’s related to. She goes to reunions. Here’s the interesting thing. Most of them became doctors.

Roz: Oh, my god. That’s wild. I was talking to somebody about those weird — the things that people who say, “No, it’s no nature. It’s all nurture,” My father and I have the same — well, he’s gone now. We both recognize people’s handwritings. We’re very attuned to that. I didn’t know that he had this until I was in my thirties. He was a teacher. It was this thing that he could do. He knew cartoonists’ handwritings. I can imitate the handwritings — what a thing I’m boasting about. I can imitate the handwritings of the kids that I grew up with in grade school. I remember when they changed their handwritings. I remember when so-and-so discovered a new sort of J that she changed. I can imitate them. I would’ve been a good forger, probably.

Patty: I can forge Lorde and Taylor, but it hasn’t come of use. To bring it back to our book, the problem with living with someone is that you have not raised them, nor have you been raised by the same people. They’re shaped in a different way than you want them to be and believe they should be raised. You have to change them, and that’s impossible. You have to have these rules we have.

Zibby: Have you ever had success with trying to change anybody?

Patty: No.

Roz: No, no, no.

Zibby: But it doesn’t stop you from trying, right? I find I always try to —

Patty: — I just want to get my way. I don’t care what they do.

Roz: Yes, I just don’t want them to say irregardless. If you just followed these simple rules, everything would be so great. They think they’re right also.

Patty: The thing is, there’s some things I have opinions about, lots and lots and lots. When I have an opinion, I know it’s correct.

Roz: It’s like the loading the dishwasher thing. Sandy Frasier wrote a humor piece about that. The loading the dishwasher issues with couple is, people have ideas of how to do it. This is an ongoing silent fight with me and my husband. I put the spoons a certain way. Then I look inside the dishwasher and they have been switched to a different way. Then I silently switch them back to the correct way. This will go on until if you’re the last person who is doing the dishes, then you get your way. He is so picky about how the laundry should be done. It is wild. I guess I should be glad because he’s doing the laundry. I do the folding. He has this whole system. He adds vinegar at a certain point. I don’t know, some crazy thing, probably CBD oil for all I know. He has a system. One of my kids said that when he left home, he could not believe how easy it was to do laundry. He had always thought it was this complicated, scientific process. It was just my husband is very fussy.

Patty: In a general way, people have different standards of order. I don’t want things on the floor that don’t belong the floor. If I clean up the puddle of Diet Coke on the floor or his sock, I get accused of being neurotic. “I’m not getting into your neuroses about order.” We live in a sty. I’m not neurotic.

Zibby: Let’s talk a little about how the book is illustrated and your experience with The New Yorker and illustrating for so many years. My husband and I were in the airport recently. I misread a sign over an escalator. I thought it said, “Exit for passengers without children,” when it was really, “Exit for passengers without baggage.” My husband was like, “How great would that be?” I was like, this is like a New Yorker cartoon. We could have all the happy people going down here and all the crazy people going out the different escalator. You actually do these New Yorker cartoons. Tell me about how you got into that and what it’s like being able to capture a moment and find the humor in it and succinctly put it in an illustration like that and then have it be all over the world.

Roz: I’ve been drawing cartoons for The New Yorker since 19-mm-mm-mm. I always drew from the time I was little. I drew before I read, like most little kids. I just did not stop at a certain point. I always liked to draw. I liked to draw people. I liked to make myself laugh. I think that was the main thing. I still have some drawings I did as a kid that were early versions of cartoons, things that I thought were funny. I would make up fake cookbooks. This was when I was ten, eleven years old. Then when I was around twelve or thirteen, I thought, maybe I’m going to be a cartoonist. I always knew I was going to draw. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make a living, necessarily. I thought this is really the only thing I can do. I wasn’t good at anything else. That’s what I wound up doing.

Zibby: You have been writing for The New Yorker forever as well. People are dying to contribute to write to The New Yorker. What is it like? You guys have the inside track on it. Is it different than writing for anywhere else?

Patty: It is different. They give you more space. They are not so interested in selling a product. The production is really, really good. It’s not as if I grew up thinking I was going to be a writer or anything. Unlike you, I loved being a kid. I thought, this is a good deal. I’m going to keep doing this. I guess I thought at some point I will wake up and I will be grown up. I will have children and a station wagon. I didn’t know how that was going to happen. That was what happened. I grew up in the suburbs. I had no role models for a writer. I thought you were in business. Maybe if you were really good, you were a doctor. Then there were lawyers. I didn’t know there were other choices. I got into writing by delaying adulthood as long as I could. I went to graduate school. I was on my college humor magazine.

Roz: First woman on The Harvard Lampoon.

Patty: Yes, that fit in with my — I remember as a kid being asked that question that every kid is asked. Is everything funny? I thought, well, yeah. Everything was there to be made fun of. I certainly wasn’t going to go the earnest route. That was embarrassing, being serious. My family, my father was pretty funny. My mother’s pretty funny. We were not serious. We weren’t a mushy family.

Roz: My parents, I think they were just too anxious to be earnest in a certain way. There wasn’t a lot of, “We must take time to appreciate the sunset because look at this natural beauty.” They didn’t really want to go out of the apartment very much. Why ask for trouble? an attitude that unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I agree with.

Patty: We’re indoor people.

Roz: Definitely indoor people. This is one of our big differences. I could not wait to be an adult. I did not like being a kid. I just did not see the point of it. Being an adult, if I am an adult, if I qualify as one, it’s much better than being a kid.

Patty: I still don’t like a lot of parts of it. I hate the paperwork. I can’t do the paperwork.

Roz: You have to farm that out.

Patty: I don’t farm it out. I do a really, really bad job. I hate the paperwork. I don’t really like the logistics.

Roz: The paperwork is terrible.

Patty: When you’re a kid, you don’t have to worry if there are two birthday parties on the same day. It will be taken care of for you.

Roz: See, you went to birthday parties.

Patty: I know. I felt so bad that I was normal.

Roz: I was trying to get out of that Skinner box, but they had so many locks.

Zibby: Not only have the two of you collaborated on this book and your other book, Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? which was also hilarious, and children’s books for years, but you have Ukulear Meltdown, a ukulele duo band. How did that come about? Let me hear a little sample. This is very exciting.

Patty: We’ll talk to you a little about it.

Zibby: Tell me, yes.

Patty: It came about because a few years ago, I was invited to a wedding.

Roz: Like two and a half years ago.

Patty: It seems like either last week or ten years ago. It was coincident in time and place with the eclipse. The guests were asked to bring a musical instrument. We were going to have a band. After the eclipse was ended, we would play “Here Comes The Sun” and serenade the wedding party where they were getting married. I really don’t play an instrument. I’m really not musical, as you’re going to hear in one second. I can barely clap when you’re supposed to clap, but I thought, that’ll be fun. Really, how hard can the ukulele be? I ordered one on Amazon. As you said, it’s turquoise. I showed it to Roz. She got one immediately. We fell in love with playing the ukulele, and then just going back and forth with emails, joked around about our illustrious past.

Roz: That took place, you might say, in a parallel universe where we were a band in the sixties that was very popular. It was called Ukulear Meltdown. We played at Woodstock.

Patty: We played at Woodstock, but we were facing the wrong direction. We went unrecognized.

Roz: My mother telephoned me. I had to get off the stage in the middle because I don’t want to keep my mother waiting. There was some problems. We were on the road, but we kept getting lost because neither of us has a good sense of direction.

Patty: We liked the food on the road.

Roz: Yes, we did. Being on the road is hard. There was so many drugs. There was Sweet’n Low. Patty had a Sweet’n Low problem.

Patty: We went to rehab. I have a Splenda habit. Roz couldn’t stop eating Havarti cheese.

Roz: Yes, and Advil. Those were my two. It was really bad. We liked rehab. We made ashtrays.

Patty: Potholders. Art jewelry.

Roz: Oh god, the potholders, that was fun. That loom, that was great.

Patty: We hung out with Bob Dylan. We were the ones who told him to go nasal.

Roz: You told Joni to grow her hair long. We were on Ed Sullivan.

Patty: That’s our delusion.

Roz: We were writing these insane letters. You start to be able to very easily fill in the gaps once you have this fictious structure. We realized that we had been friends as children when we grew up in the Ukraine. Did you know that is how the Ukraine got its name? The ukulele is the national instrument of the Ukraine. That’s why.

Patty: Hawaii tries to make you think otherwise.

Roz: So does Portugal. Portugal is actually, I think, where the ukulele originated, not Hawaii. Before that, it was the Ukraine.

Patty: We invented it.

Zibby: You guys could just do this all day.

Patty: We could do it all day. We broke up in 1991. I should say that our specialty is rewriting public domain songs and making them worse. As you know, we didn’t really write the song “Hang on Sloopy,” but we were sued in 1991 because we sang it. Truly, you must believe us that it was a typo. We meant it was “Hang On Sloppy.” We could go on and on and on. We sell merchandise. We have Ukulear Meltdown halibut, Ukulear Meltdown cat earplugs.

Roz: Single-serving cottage cheese.

Patty: You probably should shut us up because we really could go on for a long time.

Zibby: I’m videoing this at the same time. Can I do that?

Patty: Should we play “Park?”

Roz: Yes, let’s play “Park.”

Patty: We’ll do this for a few hours. Don’t worry.

Roz: It’s really a cigar box with four rubber bands, basically. It’s a toy.

Patty: You can keep your keys in it.

Roz: Or tissues. It’s like a little purse. It’s an instrument. It’s a purse.

Patty: On your mark, get set, go.

Park, park, park your car kind of near the curb.

Aye yai yai yai yai, you just bumped into Herb.

Patty: Want to do the “Drink?”

Roz: Yeah, let’s do “Drink.”

Patty: On your mark, get set, go.

Oh give us a drink, not a drink from the sink, but a drink from a Western saloon

Or maybe some wine of any old kind to delude us

We’re crooning on doom.

Zibby: That’s perfect. I love it. Are you taking this on the road? Concerts and everywhere?

Roz: We are, yes.

Patty: We can’t wait. This is our pub date. We’re going on the road starting tomorrow.

Zibby: Very exciting. Congratulations.

Roz: It is very exciting. It’s very fun.

Patty: We hope we don’t get lost.

Roz: When I have my sacred itinerary, that is when — I’ve talked to you about it. Our publicist is here from the publisher. I have to have it written down. Once I have everything written down, I just go into itinerary mode.

Patty: I go into child mode because Annabelle’s taken care of every single detail. I just follow directions.

Zibby: Aside from your book tour to promote this amazing book, what is coming next for you? Are you going to write another one? Have you already written another one?

Patty: We’ll write another one.

Roz: Yes.

Zibby: Any idea on the topic?

Patty: No, do you?

Zibby: Nothing about kids? Anything about kids?

Roz: My kids are old now.

Zibby: Empty nest?

Roz: They’re like in their seventies. It’s weird, they’re older than me.

Patty: My kids aren’t born yet. I’m waiting until my eighties or nineties.

Roz: Until you’re mature. I’ve written about kids before when they didn’t know.

Zibby: I think there are a lot of people out there, though, with adult kids who find the humor in that, or maybe in-laws.

Roz: My favorite cartoon about having adult children — actually, there’s two. There’s one by William Hamilton, Bill Hamilton, New Yorker cartoonist. It’s two adult children and their parents. They’re at some restaurant. They’re having cocktails together. The mother says, “Finally, we’re all the same age.” The other one I love is by Jack Ziegler. It’s one of those baby books. You see the hands of the person. The title on the page at the top, it’s “Baby’s first gray hair.”

Patty: When I first got a gray hair, I think my mother was more upset than I was. She said, “You have a gray hair.” I genuinely believed and told her, “It’s not gray. It’s blond.” I’m pitch-black hair. I thought I was turning blond. She says, “You’re not.” I thought I was the first person in history that was going to turn blond.

Roz: Wow. If you did, that would probably be a symptom.

Patty: That’s true. Symptoms aren’t good.

Zibby: I was actually admiring your hair color earlier.

Patty: Well, it’s not exactly real. As a friend of mine once said, I love your hair color. Could I get a swatch for my colorist?

Roz: That’s great.

Zibby: Any advice to aspiring authors or illustrators?

Patty: Do something else.

Roz: Unless this is something that you’re driven to do, you probably shouldn’t do it.

Zibby: Great, that was inspiring. Thank you.

Roz: We aim to inspire.

Patty: We hope we’ve depressed enough people.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for the live performance. Congratulations on the publication. It’s really exciting.

Roz: Thank you so much.

Patty: Thank you. This was fun.