Housebroken, p.1
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       Housebroken, p.1

           Laurie Notaro
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  Copyright © 2016 by Laurie Notaro

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.


  NAMES: Notaro, Laurie, author.

  TITLE: Housebroken : admissions of an untidy life / Laurie Notaro.

  DESCRIPTION: New York : Ballantine Books, 2016.

  IDENTIFIERS: LCCN 2016008624 (print) | LCCN 2016016990 (ebook) | ISBN 9781101886083 (paperback) | ISBN 9781101886090 (ebook) | SUBJECTS: LCSH: Notaro, Laurie. | Humorists, American—20th century—Biography. | Women—Humor. | BISAC: HUMOR / Form / Essays. | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs.

  CLASSIFICATION: LCC PS3614.O785 Z466 2016 (print) | LCC PS3614.O785(ebook) | DDC 814'.6—dc23 LC record available at​2016008624

  ebook ISBN 9781101886090

  Book design by Barbara M. Bachman, adapted for ebook

  Cover design: Joe Montgomery

  Cover photograph: Getty Images





  Title Page


  Birth of a Hoarder

  Thank You for Being Unfriend


  Kissssssss Me

  I Do Not Want Shit in My Shoes

  The Incredible Travels of SS Laurie, the Destroyer

  I Will Survive. Hey Hey.

  The Ham-Off

  The Day I Grew a Second Head

  Scattered, Covered, and Smothered: The Infinite Wisdom of Waffle House

  Goy Toy

  Laurie Is a Big B

  God Save the Twinkie

  Nana’s Recipes

  Make Me a Dress!!

  Behold the Power of Cheese

  Smokin’ Hot

  Fatty Fatty Two by Four

  Modern Housecraft

  The Year My Mother Canceled Christmas

  The Spaghetti Level of Relationship

  The Pile


  Where Is Home?

  Dear Laurie, Age Twenty-five



  By Laurie Notaro

  About the Author

  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 him. 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 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.

  As I waited for the overflow, my first customer wandered into my yard and went absolutely nuts in the clothing bin (as I told my husband people would), and draped skirts, pants, and shirts over her arm.

  “I want all of this!” she said excitedly and then cooed over the fabric I had put out in another bin. “I’ll take this one. And this one. And this one. You have such good taste!”

  I smiled bashfully.

  “What’s this?” she said, picking up a VHS copy of Out of Africa. “I love this movie! Sold!”

  “Wonderful!” I said, making a tally. “That’s…forty-two dollars. How ’bout I throw in the movie for free? So that would be forty-one.”

  “It’s a deal!” the lady said. “I’m Alyssa’s mom, she lives across the street. She’s over at Freddie’s right now and has my purse, so I’ll come back and pay you in a minute. Can I just leave the stuff here?”

  “Absolutely,” I agreed.

  She flitted back over to Freddie’s as another customer wandered over to the Arts and Crafts chalk sketches and picked one up by the top of the frame, which stayed in his hand as the rest of the frame and sketch remained on the grass.

  My mouth fell open as he walked toward me and was about to hand over the thirteen dollars he owed me for destroying an original piece of antique art.

  “Um, here,” he said as he handed me the piece of tiger oak instead, and then found the “FREE” box.

  “Is this really free?” he asked, this time holding up the entire vase that had come with some flowers I had gotten years ago.

  “Sure is!” I said cheerfully, ready to accept his payment as he hugged the vase and then walked away, but not before he looked at the Kenneth Cole luggage, wiped some spiderwebs off of it, and then moved on.

  Then Spiderweb Guy rolled in on his black bicycle, a man I had seen around town several times since we moved to Eugene. Always dressing in layers of black, he wears black combat boots, a black bandanna around his head, and a black crocheted spiderweb over half his face. Judging by the scent cloud that trails behind him, I believe he smokes a considerable amount and is not concerned with secondhand stench. I held my breath as he came closer to my table and change center, bracing myself for the unexpected, because it takes one kind of nut to look at a crocheted black spiderweb and think it is cool, so add a couple extra layers of nut butter on top of that for the one who uses it as a tablecloth across his face for a “signature look.”

  I already knew there was nothing in The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER for Spiderweb Guy, but I wasn’t about to tell him that lest he decide to take it out on my merchandise and kick a whole bin of cassette tapes to death. Seriously. I had a still-in-cellophane Crowded House tape along with the first Big Country album that I bought twice, as a precautionary measure in case the first tape ever wore out. But he continued to sniff through all of my stuff, past the box set of Sex and the City DVDs, past a rather thick and wavy coffee-table book about beauty pageants that I spilled a Snapple on, and simply refused to consider my art collection as he dragged his black bike all over my yard.

  Then he held up a vase and mumbled “Free?” to which I nodded, so he put it under his arm and rode away with it. I have never felt so guilty letting a vase go to such an uncertain fate in all of my life. I suppose I should just be glad it didn’t have legs so it couldn’t be trafficked and forced to dance for a dollar behind glass for fat old men somewhere in Florida.

  One old lady pulled up and offered me a quarter for a microwave cookbook I got for my wedding and had marked fifty cents, and I recalled my friend Amy’s story about how she lost her shit at her last garage sale. After a day trying to unload her stuff onto strangers in the blazing Phoenix sun, one man told her she was asking too much for a fifty-cent dish and offered her a quarter for it. She looked him in the eye and said, “No. It’s fifty cents,” then snatched it out of his hand and sat on it, declaring, “Now I’m giving it to Goodwill. Find it there and pay two dollars for it.”

  But instead, I said, “Just take it,” because I was too tired to do the math and give her change.

  When my other neighbor came over and looked at the telescope, I told her the same thing, and she hauled the box home but came back in ten minutes to ask if I knew where the telescope stand was.

  I shrugged. “In Phoenix?” I guessed, and suggested that maybe she could balance the three-foot-long item on the back of a chair or on one of her kids’ shoulders as they took turns looking through it.

  And that was it. Except for a cute group of college-aged kids that parked in front of my house and browsed through the books and DVDs.

  “Is this Sex and the City?” one very cute girl asked me. “I can’t read it through the dust.”

  “Take it,” I said.

  “I love this book on beauty pageants,” one guy said. “But do all of the pages stick together?”

  “It’s been Snappled,” I said. “But you can take it. Free.”

  They smiled nicely and said, “We like your books.”

  “Take all of them,” I offered, but they looked at me oddly.

  “We mean the ones you write,” one of the cute girls said.

  Oh shit.

  “We saw your Facebook post,” the other one offered.

  “Oh,” I said, remembering my post about The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER because I am an assho
le and didn’t think anyone could find my house. “You should have been here an hour ago. That’s when the good stuff was still here.”

  “Yeah,” they nodded. “Looks like you’ve been cleaned out of the good stuff.”

  “Yup,” I nodded. “Just odds and ends left.”

  “Would you sign these?” one of the girls said, producing Idiot Girls from her purse, and the other pulling Spooky Little Girl from hers.

  And just like that, it really did become The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER, and I made a note of emphasizing in the inscriptions that not all of my stuff was as dirty as what they saw on the lawn.

  I was packing up after they left when my husband came out and asked me what I was doing.

  “I’m throwing in the towel,” I said, then showed him my wad of cash. “But I made thirty dollars.”

  “Twenty-five of that is my change,” he informed me.

  “Once the lady across the street pays me, I’ll have made forty-five dollars,” I corrected.

  “Wait a minute,” my husband said. “You offered a lay-away plan? She’s never going to pay you.”

  “Her daughter lives right across the street; of course she’s going to pay me,” I said. “Have some faith!”

  Then I picked up the box she had put all of her stuff in and walked it across to Alyssa’s house.

  There was no one home, but I left it by the front door.

  When I returned, my husband stood in the front yard and asked me what my plan was. Essentially, it was to vacate the premises before any of my neighbors started bringing things back.

  “Put it all in the car,” I sighed, then saw he already had half of The Most Super Awesome Yard Sale EVER in there.

  He made me drive to Goodwill because he said he wanted no responsible part in the surrender that I could blame him for later.

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