Cheesetown  

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There is nothing that can be considered an impossibility when the particular issue revolves around two people. Validated from a combination of random energy and infinite opportunity, the eventual destination of the relationship is only known when the second individual takes his or her last breath. The saying which optimistically exclaims that “people are people” is the literary equivalent of multiplying infinity by infinity. Common sense barriers of time and space are no match for the sheer sledgehammer relentlessness of the never-ending variables of the human condition.

A town in southern Missouri allowed for this theory to be validated with living examples and even more legitimate evidence. The town, by all accounts, was considered small as compared to its looming neighbors. Barely four thousand people, it stood politely apart from the urban sprawl, content in its desire to only deal with things which were known and seen. The town was self-sufficient with its citizenry content with its offerings and not compelled to seek happiness or purchased goods somewhere down the road. Largely unaffected by cable television and ruthless marketing strategies which thrived on falsely enlightening people of their dormant unhappiness, the town continued on unabated devoid of trend analysis and unfulfilled desires without quantification. However, never wishing to either remain stable or provide small thinking urban developers a reason to free it from it’s apparently constricting but strangely invisible manacles, the town of Cheesetown stayed true to the proposition that eventually it would have to deal with by someone or something somewhere down the road.

The mayor of Cheesetown was William Elliott. He had been called ‘Bill Elliott’ until the same-named NASCAR driver came into prominence in the 1980's. He grew tired of the never-ending pause which then delivered the inane question of identity and its equally inane follow-up question of general relation. He made a formal announcement in the early 1987 to his friends and family that due to the success of the driver Bill Elliott, he would be called ‘William’ going forward to people outside the primary circle. As the novelty diminished and general stupidity died down with direct proportion to the driver’s success. It rose up a bit when the independent film of the kid from Ireland or England (no one really knew) who wanted to dance was embraced by the critics but that idea, as with all independent films, fell just as quickly. Ironically, the racing Bill Elliott never came close to equaling the year in which he forced William Elliott to change his name and Mayor William Elliott decided that he did prefer the more formal name and there was nothing to gain by reversing his bold renaming so as many things, it remained as it was. Vox populi.

No matter the main reason, William made the strategic decision to use that first name, saving more confusion for future. Eventually, the first Elliott would have to win some race and the dancing movie was going to be released on DVD sooner or later. He had been a member of the swelling group of people that shared names with celebrities that achieved stardom during their lifetime. If someone today would name their child “Clark Gable,” they would hopefully be doing it with full knowledge of the consequences. Their child would suffer but a majority of blame could be laid squarely on their ignorant and foolish parents. But William was a part of the group of people that enjoyed their full name for a reasonable portion of their life without the stigma of a recent celebrity. All the children named Mariah, Viggo, Michael Bolton and Tito could still remember when their name meant nothing except for what it was intended except, in all honesty, anyone named "Tito." That name will follow one into the deep recesses of shame for their entire life.

His accidental notoriety notwithstanding, William had been mayor for half his life. Elected at twenty-four, when he was fresh out of Law School, he had run unopposed ever since when the town folks seemed pleased with his stewardship. Two elections ago, he chose not to run but won regardless thanks to a very organizedwrite-in strategy lead by no one and endorsed by less. Achieving celebrity in his own way, William felt comfortable in his role as the senior elected official and managed his own relationships well enough to stay in the technical limelight. It was what it was so Mayor Elliott didn't spend a lot of time worrying about things outside of his control.

Cheesetown had no idea why it was called what it was; it always had been named that and again, there was no compelling reason to change it. One time, the American Dairy Association asked, and received approval for the use of the town’s name in a montage of dairy images for a series of prime time television commercials but the viewers were largely uncompelled to visit because of other reasons. The American Dairy Association seemed enthralled by the town and kept it on a significant retainer to continually use its name and image with no restrictions. The main reason is the almost complete lack of formal entertainment within the town’s borders. Blessed with a constituency with the power to entertain itself, visitors often saw easier avenues to satisfy their need for immediate gratification and literally, would keep heading down the road.

The town had several economies of retail and manufacturing and enjoyed stability due to their history of quiet persistence. Their schools drew from the surrounding area and included a vast majority of farm families, which allowed Cheesetown to eschew the ugly reality of merging with several other towns. This also provided the local schools the opportunity to avoid wearing an emblazoned banner of multiple listings of several townships into some pitiful anagram of names. Both literally and figuratively, the people of Cheesetown stood alone.

The dynamics of several thousand people intermingling is sufficient enough to keep things moderately fresh and compelling. The protagonists and their victims were ever-changing and everyone seemed to allow for natural evolution of the human condition.

“This is a day you’ll never forget.”

The voice snapped William Elliott back to reality. He had been sitting in the café, drinking coffee and eating his breakfast, oblivious to the comings and goings around him. He was concentrating on the funny papers, as he was proud of his interest in following all the plot lines of all the comics, but what he gained into non-traditional wisdom, appeared to have lost with the ability to notice the obvious.

“What?” William Elliott looked around and saw his life-long friend in front of him.

“This is a day you’ll never forget.”

William thought for a moment and realized that this day was indeed an important one. He was finishing his breakfast with the subconscious knowledge that he was likely going to miss lunch and his dinner was also in jeopardy. Today, the mayor was going have to reside on the annual state of the city address in which took significant amounts of his dedicated time.

His friend, Hoot, stood in front of him. Carrying the mail and fiercely proud of the town’s zip code, Hoot was his unofficial chief of staff. Walking amongst the people everyday, she was uniquely qualified to sense the town’s attitude: delivering both good and bad news, seeing the faces six days a week and acting as a willing conduit between all citizens. People confided to Hoot and knew that if any issue was worthwhile or accumulating momentum, Hoot would reach out to William and let him know of issues that had some legitimacy behind them. William was a good communicator but he was only person and needed confidants that neither feared him nor desired to usurp his position as mayor.

“I will likely forget this one, just like the ones before,” smiled William. “I remember my first one, when I threw up right afterwards and I will likely remember my last one.”

“You need to concentrate on this one.”

“I will. I realize that becoming complacent is not an attractive descriptor. I want to give the town reassurance that things are good and the future looks pretty good.”

“As we discussed last night,” continued Hoot, “We need to hear that over and over again.”

“Agreed.”

Hoot and William gathered their belongings and headed to the City Hall. Hoot had finished the mail delivery and William needed counsel. Hoot was never afraid to neither give opinions nor shrink from the fiduciary responsibility. Cheesetown was a healthy city with no formal direction of inclusion or exclusion. Similar to a student that was not called on during a class discussion, the question of preparedness was always diluted by the fact of the unknown. Cheesetown didn’t actively seek out relationships outside their town for many reasons but the only legitimate one was the lack of interest, not the lack of acceptance.

William walked into his office; still in his late forties and not considered old, his office had the accumulation and trappings of an older man with the physical attributes of a much younger man. Thanks to his sheer longevity, the office was full of mementos, magazine covers, and letters of congratulations and the stuff that comes with political duration. When he sat behind his desk, it appeared that he was just a visitor or younger relative, ready to jump up and clear the way when the real mayor would show up. He never meant to develop a shrine to his administration but the product of length of time and his lack of bringing things home resulted in an office that was stuffed to the gills with barely memorable memorabilia.

“Any locals planning on rising up and wrestling away control from me in the next election?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

“How about some young stud, someone fighting to make a difference?”

“No, no one wants difference.”

“Anyone new in town?”

“Yes, a few nice couples have moved in last week,” detailed Hoot. “Spread out through the metroplex. One North, one East and one South.”

“Do you think any of them want to be Mayor?” William could only hope.

“Well, I doubt it,” said Hoot, “I usually don’t offer that opportunity to them on first meeting.”

William smiled and Hoot continued.

“I don’t know which part is more confusing. The city’s mail carrier acting as a political power broker or the opportunity to become Mayor just by agreeing to the role.”

“True.”

Hoot handed William his mail and sat down in one of the two comfortable chairs, purchased by this month’s residuals from the American Dairy Association commercials. The rest of the money went to fixing the stoplight near the interstate and the finally fix the curbs and gutters near the school. The local taxes were non-existent so the town relied on William’s almost savant-like ability to hustle government grants and the steady residual payments from the ADA. If they couldn’t hustle a grant or make a case for that month’s ADA payment, it wasn’t that important and certainly wait awhile.

People would stop in regularly and say hello to William or Hoot but since the job of Mayor was just part-time and only earned a modest stipend, the city allowed William and any of his friends to use the office for their personal use. That did not include anything that generated hard costs, such as long distance calls, but since the office was there, the general consensus was to put the space to good use. The town had not survived as long as it did by encouraging wasteful activities so it was a common site for the Mayor’s office to be a busy, social place and the community knew it. This evening was William’s annual State of the City speech and it was considered one of the social high points of the season. The speeches usually lasted a few minutes but the town was always looking for a reason to get together and the annual speech always did the trick.

Hoot left William alone in his office to finish his remarks and to polish the formal speech. The speech was always given at the bandstand because of its enclosed roof. The late spring nights were usually free of rain and the image of William giving his speech on a pleasant spring evening was galvanized in most Cheesetown minds. William quickly reviewed the last five or six speeches and liberally edited some of the passages from the group to be recycled into this year’s remarks. He wanted bold but wise, he wanted to be funny but respectful and most of all, he wanted to reassure but at the same time, challenge the next generation of townsfolk to replace him in office.

The town was not at any crossroads but the collective wisdom of the group was aware that, sooner or later, the town would be discovered by someone for some type of renewal. The commutes to the larger cities were just as puzzling as Cheesetown but the entrepreneurial types would stumble on the city and begin buying land for single family dwellings and start developing new names with complimentary references to the little town. There was a literal smorgasbord of dairy related names and all it would take would be some self-professed marketing visionary with a love for the foolish consistency.

The evening started nicely and the weather cooperated with pleasant weather and low humidity. William approached the stage and put his paper on the podium. He leaned into the microphone and began: “Good evening, citizens of Cheesetown. I come before you to tell you that the state of the city is good. I have just completed my twelfth term as your Mayor and I want to thank everyone for your support for both myself and my administration. Please take a moment to say hello to your neighbors as the friendships and relationships that you currently enjoy are the strength and spirit of our legacy. God bless America and God bless the good folks of Cheesetown.”

He folded his paper, slipped it into his back pocket and walked off the bandstand and went directly to the beer tent for his complimentary beverage. All performers have always received their first drink on the house at each city event and William knew his rights. The applause died down and William sat down at the first picnic table and began to meet and greet his constituents. William kept a lookout for any new folks, as they usually stuck out like cleaner, sore thumbs, to formally welcome them to the city. He felt that although he wasn’t a big fan of the office, at least he could be cordial. He had the ability to engage into conversations with almost anyone and if he wasn’t sure of the person or their intent, he would keep on talking until he could gauge their interest and purpose. He could just keep asking questions or introducing comfortable topics just to keep the issues from slowing down and requiring some type of resolution.

During his third beer, a young couple approached him and introduced themselves. The couple was recently married and had moved to Cheesetown several months earlier and their names and general information was already memorized due to Hoot’s recent inroads. There was a cordial discussion, a brief exchange of ideas and a sincere appreciation both shown by William and the new family. The family wandered into the night, walking back home and William continued to sit on the picnic table. The last five minutes was what made his job, at times boring and at times thankless, truly worthwhile. The simple interaction between people with no hidden agenda or ulterior motive; just simple, common courtesy that allows people to get along with each other, regardless of upbringing, religious belief, miscellaneous orientations or social status. They were all neighbors in Cheesetown.

The next morning, William went to the office to check in and receive the usual kudos for a reassuring and consistent message. There were several emails and voice mails to go through so he made a pot of coffee and poured a cup and sat down to read the messages. There was a knock on the door which almost always meant a stranger as locals knew enough to walk in and just sit down. William looked up and saw a young man, complete with briefcase, paused by the door. William waved him in and motioned him to take a seat. He took a sip of the coffee and gave the visitor the universal sign to help himself to a cup of coffee.

“No, thanks,” said the young man, “Are you Bill Elliott?”

“Yes, I am.”

“The NASCAR driver?”

“No, that is my Uncle. You can call me Bill or William if the nomenclature confuses you.” Bill/William had that prepared lie laying in wait for over ten years and he finally was able to use it in a conversation. He had come up with it one day but with the reduction of NASCAR successes, he hadn't been able to use the line until today but there wasn't any question that the misconception pleased him.

“No, that is fine,” said the young man, “My name is Thomas Primatine and I am representing several real estate venture capitalist consortium that are very interested in Cheesetown.”

“I see,” said the Mayor. “And what can I do for you?”

“It is what I can do for you,” smiled the young man.

That phrase forced William’s hair up on his neck. He heard it about a dozen times in the last twenty-plus years. Each time someone said it, they did not mean “It is what I can do for you” but rather “What we are going to do to you.” The adversarial relationship was well on its way and William learned long ago not to dismiss anyone that may cause him problems and he fell into his normal strategy of asking questions until he could better determine their motivations. So, William smiled, and allowed the young Mr. Primatine to keep talking.

“As I was saying, I represent a group that can allow Cheesetown to grow to impressive heights with a comprehensive development strategy of real estate excellence. We have developed an exciting vision and think that Cheesetown will provide an outstanding platform for this new concept.”

William smiled and knew where this was going. This guy was going to spew adjectives until he was on the verge of hyperventilation. He had a script and William had no intention of throwing him off his pace until he was done. Whomever the brains behind this development, Primatine would be the first one to contend for the prize but not the last one to get this deal done. William smiled and allowed him to continue.

“Thank you….Bill. As I was saying, Cheesetown can see population double in two years and double again for the next ten. I see improved infrastructure, new schools, quality retail, state of the art transportation and a vibrant new way of living.”

William smiled again and motioned for the punch line.

“And,” said Mr. Primatine, pausing for maximum effect, “you can be the father of this vision.”

Thomas looked sincerely at this young man and said, “I am flattered. Do you have some collateral and pro formas I can look at?”

Primatine almost convulsed and handed over two, identical prepared packets of information. He thought about asking for William’s signature on a non-disclosure form but changed his mind. He had accomplished his goal of making a dramatic connection so that was victory enough for one day.

William looked furtively around and sincerely shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Primatine. Let me give this material by full and complete attention.”

Mr. Primatine looked into his eyes and knew he had them. He had only been in the real estate game for a few years but he had this whole thing dicked. They shook hands and Primatine left with a dramatic turn of his heels and walked down the hall. William looked out the window and saw him get into an entry-level luxury sedan and scoot down the street. He saw Primatine reach over for a cell phone, no doubt calling his boss to tell him that the deal was almost done already.

William gathered up the material and wandered over to the café for lunch. He saw some of the locals and dropped off one of the packages on the counter. Everyone knew what the package meant so no one wanted to waste anyone’s time to discuss the obvious intrusion of another challenge.

Hoot walked over to William and dropped her mail bag next to the booth. She slid over and a few moments later, plates of hot food were put in front of both of them. The café didn’t have menus, the owners made lunch on their own rules: if you don’t like what they are serving, you could go elsewhere, but no one did.

“Another packet?”

“Yep,” said William, “this is the second one this year and the third one in the last fifteen months.”

“I don’t like the trend.”

“Sooner or later, someone is going to get through. We have to build an exit strategy.”

“I have a few ideas but I am really not in the mood to jump into so soon after the annual announcement.”

“I can see that. You are probably exhausted from all the pomp and circumstance.”

“Exactly. I just want to eat my lunch.”

The two friends started eating and William began, unprovoked by Hoot, to lay out his plan. It was somewhat complicated and relied on several different groups working on skewed paths to all arrive at the same place at the same time. The plan was plausible and the critical key was already accomplished: the town, even the new arrivals, would do whatever William wanted them to do as citizens of Cheesetown. However, the town was too small to receive political cover from the assigned Congressman or state government; in fact, those groups would rather get more people into the city as an increasing census figure is the grease that spins the appropriations world. More people meant more money for that group as well. It was clear that Cheesetown was standing alone, once again.

After lunch, William went back to the Mayor’s office. His regular office, as a patent attorney was another block and a half down the street, and relied only on emails and overnight packages. There was never walk-in traffic for patent issues and he sent all visitors seeking legal advice, no matter the subject, to the town’s other attorney who proficiently handled them all quickly and at impressively low rates. William never had an interest in the basic community law issues of divorce, probate, bankruptcy, personal injury, real estate and wills. However, he knew that if he pushed all that business to the other attorney in town, a well-intentioned monopoly would occur. So, upon graduating law school, he sat down with the slightly more seasoned lawyer and made one of his only cases clear: the business would come his way but he could not gouge the citizens. The attorney agreed and the folks of the town got their representation and William practiced patent law long-distance and through overnight mail. His business thrived due to his ability to market himself to mid-sized law firms that did not have a patent expert. His name was on the stationary of several firms and he did his work as an independent. The only time he would enter the court was as a favor to the county public defender when he was viewed as the last resort. It wasn’t due to his ability, as he successfully defended a vast majority of the cases, but because no one wanted to abuse his good nature.

However, Mr. Primatine did just that. He was one of many real estate whores that combed the countryside looked for sleepy little towns to violate with aggressive and short-sighted urban renewal strategies built only to make a quick return on investment with no interest in the town’s future. William resented the sheer audacity-soaked ignorance of a faceless group of capital investors that were looking for profits with no respect or understanding of the effects of their scorched-earth policy. This group could likely be blocked successfully but the pace was quickening. It was time to protect Cheesetown for the future. William cracked open the second packet of information, making notations on a legal pad with names, dates and clues to his next move.

Almost twenty years ago, he had trademarked the name “Cheesetown” in both block and stylized letters and at the time, no one thought twice due to the city’s name had been in use for over a hundred years and the idea of a town made of cheese was too absurd for any marketer to comprehend. The Patent and Trade Office awarded the trademarks quickly and as a result, the name stood strong against any type of trademark dispute and most companies and associations, the American Dairy Association in particular, realized it was much easier to work with the folks of Cheesetown than against them.

After reviewing the packets, it was time to contact some friends in the Department of Natural Resources to discuss his plan. He had prepared them for this day so the plan was already a known quantity, ready to be implemented. He set up a conference for the next day to begin the process of final resolution.

The small city of Cheesetown was named a historical preservation and protected under the US Department of Natural Resources. Any current citizen or their dependents are free to conduct business within the established borders of the city but since the location has been designated and protected within the US civil codes, no further development from outside entities would be allowed. If an individual wishes to liquidate their interests in Cheesetown, the city’s trust account would purchase the property at a mutually agreed upon price. In other words, now the people of Cheesetown stood apart.

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