RV Xmas

In which our intrepid reporter goes searching for the heart of America on a trailer pad. And finds disappointment, isolation, kindness and a great way to cook himself a turkey.

A trailer, no matter how nice, compared to a home, is cheap. A trailer shows all of the wear of age, but it retains none of the personality. It just gets worn out and used up.

That's also the invigorating thing about trailers: You could invent yourself as whatever disposable persona you wanted to be in one of these things. Despite the rain, I'm feeling a Depression-era dust bowl mood coming on and pop Woody Guthrie into the tape deck.

Friends Brandon and Missy are scheduled to visit tonight, along with a photographer, and since I'm not expecting company on Christmas Day, we'll have to do the fried turkey feast tonight. This will require a staging area, and so I wedge my truck into the soggy patch of grass adjacent to the trailer and string two blue cargo tarps across the span, anchored with bungees and twine. This makes for a shabby flapping roof beneath which to set up my newly acquired and incredibly dangerous-seeming propane deep-frying apparatus, and simultaneously transforms 402 into the spitting image of a makeshift Okie camp.

The resemblance does not appear to be lost on my new neighbors, the mammoth motor home that has pulled into Harley's vacated spot overnight. A salt-and-pepper bearded man has deployed his tidy blue-and-white-striped awning and promptly disappeared inside, leaving his preteen son to zap around the slick pavement on a shiny new Razor scooter. A female figure, presumably the boy's mother, makes fleeting appearances behind the rig's tinted windows, but otherwise they are self-containment personified, nary a howdy or a returned wave.

There is something sinister about people who decline to return a greeting, a cavalier dismissiveness that communicates fuck you more loudly than the words themselves could accomplish. I find myself silently willing their roof to leak, their toilet to back up, their propane to run dry, their tires to deflate in the night. I briefly consider walking across the drive and pissing on their awning, to see if it will break.

In time, however, photographer Laura arrives, and then Brandon and Missy, bearing food and gifts, and we set about frying a bird. The first step seems to be gauging just how much peanut oil will be necessary to cover the fowl without being so much that it boils over on the flame. The instructions say that the way to do this is to drop the bird in the pot, add enough water to submerge it, remove the bird, and measure the water.

The brushed aluminum pot is a good three feet high, and there's no way to maneuver it under the kitchen faucet, so we lug the pot into the bathroom and turn on the shower nozzle. About three and a half gallons does the trick, and the peanut oil is dutifully glugged into the pot and lugged outside and set upon the burner, which is connected to a fresh 17-pound propane tank wedged in the open door of the truck, and lit. Nothing explodes. It takes almost an hour to heat the oil to the recommended 350 degrees, during which time Laura and I stab the pale bird with veterinary-grade hypodermic needles filled with Chef Williams' Creole Garlic Recipe injectable marinade. At each plunge, the bird darkens and its skin bubbles like Sigourney Weaver's chest in Alien.

Once the temperature stabilizes, we impale the turkey on its dipping rack, hook it to the inverted coat hanger-type thingie that serves as a detachable handle, and dunk the miserable-looking beast into the boiling oil while rain sheets off the tarps in waves and Woodie Guthrie sings "I Ain't Got No Home."

I have seen neither sun nor moon through the gloom for three days running, but 45 minutes later we're snug inside the trailer, the four of us and two dogs, eating mashed potatoes and StoveTop stuffing and bottled mushroom gravy and canned cranberry sauce and crusty bread and prebagged salad and honestly some of the best turkey I've ever stripped from a carcass. It feels, more than just a little, like Christmas.

Come morning the rain has stopped, and I, having scientifically determined that it takes exactly three days to trash a 21-foot trailer, commence cleaning -- an activity that brings into sharp focus a train of thought that's been nagging at the back of my mind since I arrived.

What if I died here?

What if "they" found me here days or weeks later, decomposed, surrounded by half-empty bottles of cough syrup and bourbon and hungry dogs and right-wing literature and the banjo tablature to "This Land Is Your Land"? Do I have on hand, however unwittingly, the materials with which to make a bomb? What would an investigator make of the scene? What would he tell my mother?

This is the dark cloud that gathers during the mercifully brief 30 minutes that it takes to swab a 21-foot trailer stem to stern, and it dispels around noon, when photographer Laura arrives.

Laura -- partly because a lone woman makes for a less threatening yuletide stranger than a lone man, partly by virtue of her own easy charm, and partly by currying the favor of children -- had yesterday managed to wrangle two appointments to photograph fellow travelers in their native habitats. Before making our calls, I offer to make coffee. That's when I scientifically determine that it takes exactly three and a half cold days to exhaust 34 pounds of propane. The stove is gone. The heat is gone. The refrigerator is gone.

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