What do you do about the hobos sleeping in the alley behind your house? It's a very Portland problem, and one Eugene-based essayist Laurie Notaro tackles along with other uncomfortable moments of everyday life in her new collection, The Potty Mouth at the Table (Gallery Books, 300 pages, $16).
Readers may remember Notaro from a WW story about a writer's group led by an author of erotic Harry Potter fanfiction ("Words to the Wolves," Sept. 12, 2012), reprised for a chapter here, or for her memoirs The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club and Autobiography of a Fat Bride. The Potty Mouth at the Table, however, focuses exclusively on rudeness.
Connected by that thread, The Potty Mouth at the Table features a wide range of topics, from elitist foodies to hobos to a taxi driver's bad breath and an overreaching body search at the airport. These short snapshots—most don't exceed 15 pages—are filled with attention-grabbing leads ("The first thing I need to say in my defense is that I never asked to see Anne Frank's panties," begins one essay) and descriptive imagery, like of the time Notaro threw up on herself on a train or when a friend put a giant flaming cupcake on Notaro's back.
The essays begin to blend together after long periods of reading, as the drama of everyday experiences is at times overly heightened and exaggerated—as when Notaro describes the abundance of meth addicts she could probably find in the Seattle train station, or how often Eugene residents walk around naked. This works well in essays like "Legends of the Fall," formatted like a screenplay as her mom and sister recount her sister's collapse after drinking a hot can of soda too fast ("I can't believe there's no tests for Diet Pepsi attacks," Notaro writes). Other times, the theater can be a little too much, as when Notaro is simply getting a package in the mail or trying to find out who has been using her loofa.
In small doses, however, the essays are funny, relatable snippets of everyday life, featuring a wry, often self-deprecating voice and a handful of situations we should all be thankful to avoid experiencing ourselves—like that apparently "dead" hobo in your back alley, having food poisoning on a train and watching a Nazi-riddled Anne Frank ballet.
GO: Laurie Notaro will speak at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Friday, May 24. 7:30 pm. Free.