#1 New York Times bestselling author Laurie Notaro isn’t exactly a domestic goddess—unless that means she fully embraces her genetic hoarding predisposition, sneaks peeks at her husband’s daily journal, or has made a list of the people she wants on her Apocalypse Survival team (her husband’s not on it). Notaro chronicles her chronic misfortune in the domestic arts, including cooking, cleaning, and putting on Spanx while sweaty (which should technically qualify as an Olympic sport). Housebroken is a rollicking new collection of essays showcasing her irreverent wit and inability to feel shame. From defying nature in the quest to make her own Twinkies, to begging her new neighbors not to become urban livestock keepers, to teaching her eight-year-old nephew about hoboes, Notaro recounts her best efforts—and hilarious failures—in keeping a household inches away from being condemned. After all, home wasn’t built in a day.
Praise for Laurie Notaro
“Notaro is a scream, the freak-magnet of a girlfriend you can’t wait to meet for a drink to hear her latest story.”—The Plain Dealer
“Hilarious, fabulously improper, and completely relatable, Notaro is the queen of funny.”—Celia Rivenbark, author of Rude Bitches Make Me Tired
“Notaro is direct and self-deprecating, and her disastrous attempts to sew a dress and make jerky treats for her dog are relatable and funny.”—Library Journal
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Birth of a Hoarder
My sister Lisa spent most of her early childhood in a Dumpster. Lifting her in, my Pop Pop would point to where she should root around like a little beaver with her hands, searching for stuff that drugstores deemed too unworthy to stock on their shelves anymore. Once, she found a comb still in its packaging and held it up like a prize, much to my Pop Pop’s delight as he cheered and clapped for a job well done. On another hallowed day, she emerged from a mess of cardboard and trash with a clock radio in her hands and presented it to my grandfather, who reacted as if she had discovered a roll of gold Krugerrands.
“It’s in one piece!” he shrieked with delight.
Convinced by her eight-year-old logic that if she found a packaged comb in the trash she certainly might find a Barbie in the same condition, my Pop Pop continued to dip my sister into Dumpsters until she gained enough weight that he sprained his back lifting her out. Mostly, their haul consisted of old bakery items and dented boxes of generic cornflakes, but their more resplendent heists often became decorations in his backyard, like a clown head he balanced on a stick in his garden to scare birds away from his tomatoes, and Mr. Arizona, a life-sized stuffed man doll with a mustache and top hat so terrifyingly shuddersome that even a pedophile wouldn’t have touched it. Mr. Arizona sat on the back patio in his favorite chair, his long, ghoulish, stained legs stretched out like those of a plantation master, and as the neighborhood slipped into decline, he was, I am positive, the only reason my grandparents never got robbed. Tweakers like stealing, it is true, but even they are scared of dolls that could easily suck out your soul and an eyeball or two in the process. There is no doubt in my mind that there were the bones of at least three children still being marinated in Mr. Arizona’s digestive tract, and when my grandfather died, Mr. Arizona found himself in the hands of Nana and heading toward the alley the minute we got home from the funeral.
Pop Pop was an avid collector of anything cheap and free, and if that meant lowering his tiny granddaughter into a stinking bin of trash and risking cholera to find a clock radio that never worked, then so be it. He used all the tools at hand. Nana never let him bring any of his findings into the house, insisting, “All of that junk has bugs in it!” so he had no other choice than to display his ongoing, curated collection in the backyard or, for the finer items, in his shed.
To my grandfather, everything had value. Everything could be used again. He was a product of the Depression, and nothing should ever be thrown away. Tinfoil was cleaned and flattened. Sandwich baggies were washed out. He saved dishes and plastic containers from frozen dinners. My sister’s old dollhouse was perched in a tree where all the birds that got the crap scared out of them by the clown head went to shit. Then he retired and became a janitor for a middle school where he had an all-access pass to garbage, and his Lincoln came home stuffed every day with old books, chewed-on pencils, and tossed art projects. Do you know how bad a middle school art project has to be before an art teacher will throw it away? In seventh grade, my left-brained nephew made a clay bowl with two scoops of ice cream and a banana resting in between them, and glazed it all the same color. Vanilla. It was supposed to be a banana sundae, but it was not a banana sundae. It looked like something you would pay for in a back alley in Thailand. My sister still has it. It’s in a closet and she charges admission to see it, but she still has it.
That’s how bad middle school art projects are that get tossed. Pop Pop had a collection of sculptures and masks that was nothing short of children’s nightmares. Some of the masks had teeth, which is stark terror in and of itself, and several of the bust sculptures resembled burn victims, glazed in a delicate pink. Nevertheless, my grandfather placed these about his yard, hanging the masks on the cut fronds of a fat date palm that he paid to have decapitated because it produced too much messy fruit that Nana insisted was attracting bugs. It became a squat, thick altar of horror that he thought was “cute,” and he continued to add elements to it until it contained pinwheels, ribbons, and totem poles that he found on clearance at Walgreens.
I’m sure his neighbors believed that the nutjob next door was practicing voodoo instead of being a little old Italian man who had nothing to do in baseball’s off-season; all that was missing from his creation were chicken bones and a black candle. While I won’t turn Elizabeth Gilbert on you and claim that he saw beauty in everything, he saw use in everything, even a green-glazed mask that I think was supposed to be the Hulk but more closely resembled the symptoms of the plague.
And this, along with toenails so thick I could roof a house with the clippings, is what I inherited from Pop Pop. Who was the girl who spent her lunch hours roaming thrift stores to furnish her first apartment? Me. Who was the girl who continued to shop at thrift stores on her lunch hour even when the apartment had everything? Me. Who is the girl who still buys a vintage dresser for ten dollars even if she has four others in the basement and a husband who has started to make her haul this stuff home by herself? The same girl who already has in her basement two complete bedroom sets, a couch that she will someday reupholster, a desk that will someday squeeze into the house, three antique doors that will fit into a house eventually, a lead glass window six feet tall and four feet wide that was salvaged from a neighboring house, and a stove.
But I am not a hoarder. I can give things away. I once traded a Victorian couch and a cast-iron sink to my farmer friends for a year’s worth of polenta and beans. Which I also still have, but that is beside the point. I can throw things away, like credit card bills I have not paid. I even had a garage sale this past summer, which proves beyond a doubt that I am not a hoarder.
Before my beloved next-door neighbor Freddie moved, we decided to have a block sale to increase traffic and hopefully get rid of all of our unwanted stuff. The week before, I went through cupboards, closets, and the basement to collect enough items for a fairly good showing, if not only to prove to my husband that I could part with things even if I felt they still retained a good use.
But I surprised even myself.
Seriously, if a museum had a garage sale, mine would have rivaled it, and if I could have named it, it would have been called “The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER.” I had antiques, hardcover books, clothes from Anthropologie from when I was still an Anthropologie size, incredible framed art, stoneware bowls, a telescope, and even a “FREE” box with old vases and jars.
“Why don’t you save yourself a day and take all of this straight to Goodwill?” my husband said, and I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Are you kidding me?” I stormed. “Do you know how much this stuff is worth? I could make a thousand dollars tomorrow! This is gold, and I am basically giving it away. No way. I’m going to make a fortune tomorrow. Freddie put her sale on Craigslist. I’m just going to sit there and take money all day long.”
“Do I have to help?” he asked.
“If I get an unmanageable crowd fighting over things, yes,” I told him. “But you can wait until you hear me screaming for you.”
I washed and lint-rolled all of the clothes. I folded them carefully and put them in bins. I lined up all the books, organized by the color of their spines. I set up a little table with a very pretty tablecloth to signify that this was The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER and a chair, and I waited for the crowds to descend. My yard was full of treasures that my husband had been terrorizing me to donate to a thrift store, but all this stuff was worth something. The Arts and Crafts chalk sketches of fruit were still in their original tiger-oak frames. The antique steamer trunk retained Victorian lining paper inside. The telescope had been used once before my husband decided that astronomy was confusing and he needed a simpler hobby that didn’t require calculations. The stoneware bowls were brand-new and priced at seventy dollars apiece on the potter’s website. The Kenneth Cole suitcases would never be used again unless we went on a norovirus cruise and required vast amounts of Imodium A-D and Gatorade.
And then, the crowds did descend.
On Freddie’s house.
Table of Contents
Birth of a Hoarder 3
Thank You for Being Unfriend 15
Kissssssss Me 35
I Do Not Want Shit in my Shoes 47
The Incredible Travels of SS Laurie, The Destroyer 61
I Will Survive. Hey Hey. 71
The Ham-Off 81
The Day I Grew a Second Head 89
Scattered, Covered, and Smothered: The Infinite Wisdom of Waffle House 101
Goy Toy 113
Laurie is a Big B 121
God save the Twinkie 129
Nana's Recipes 141
Make Me a Dress!! 165
Behold the Power of Cheese 175
Smokin' Hot 187
Fatty Fatty Two by Four 197
Modern Housecraft 209
The Year My Mother Canceled Christmas 215
The Spaghetti Level of Relationship 219
The Pile 223
Where Is Home? 251
Dear Laurie, Age Twenty-Five 259