Notes for a Story: Dead Man’s Mac and Cheese

A few days before Christmas, an old man dies in his old RV in a disheveled RV park in a remote part of Oregon. A dissipated and disgraced doctor is holed up in the park for the winter, in a gleaming Airstream, trying to become the next Chekhov.

On Christmas morning, the doctor wanders into the park’s laundry room and beholds the dead man’s wardrobe. They are giving it away. He discovers an incredible selection of Western wear shirts and a Pendleton wool coat, plaid, hand warmer pockets, cuffs, brand new except for that it’s probably a half century old. Made by union women in Portland. He hauls away a dozen shirts and the coat. The clothes begin changing his life.

A day later, the doctor decides to return to the laundry room. He’s wearing the dead man’s Pendleton coat and one of the choice Wrangler Western wear shirts—blue and purple, Eddie Rabbit the bone. The doctor loves wearing the coat and the shirt. It makes him feel way more alive wearing a dead man’s clothes.

The doctor opens the door to the laundry room and can’t believe the overnight transformation from thrift store to food pantry! All the dead man’s non-perishable items are stacked on tables, five or six deep on the shelves, resting on the floor, here, there, everywhere. There must be five hundred items! Canned soups, chilies, relishes, pickles, vegetables, 19 salad dressings, five jars of Miracle Whip, four different mustards, an assortment of soy and hot sauces, seven different brands of jalapenos, including one the size of a goldfish bowl, a container of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup the size of a lawn gnome. (Note to self: write a science fiction story where Mrs. Butterworth ravishes a lawn gnome and the offspring is a cousin to Satan.)

But the spices. My God the spices! Three different kinds of turmeric, chili powders, mustard, cumin.
But the strangest spice of all is a paprika, an imported Mexican paprika in a tin the size of a bowling ball! The typography on the label dates from the 1970s. Oh the baked beans it must have spruced up in the RV!

The doctor finds an empty card box box and goes nuts sweeping the items into it. He’s practically skipping.

Tonight he will cook with the dead man’s food and spices. He will make a dead man’s mac and cheese and he will smother it with 40-year old Mexican paprika and throw in some smoked salmon and fresh onions.

Naturally, the doctor will cook wearing the dead man’s Western shirt.