Selected Poetry: 1974-
HUMAN CHEESE, INCORPORATED
a story by
Paul Seifert, M.D.
Clayton Morrison suspected he would become a millionaire eventually. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to transubstantiate inspirational insights into the stuff of everyday life. Unfortunately, not one of his many gadgets--like his mousetrap with self-activating guillotine--had heretofore brought him monetary success.
At twenty-four, Clayton was becoming disconcerted that the ultimate inspiration had not yet appeared, until one day--totally unexpected--the fatalistic idea did pop into his brain and flourish there like Shelly's glowing ember, brought to flame by the breath of the Gods. Clayton was casually poring over Aristotle's treatise entitled: "The History of Animals," in the public library. As he was mulling over the erudite discussion of the philosophy of milk and cheese in Book Three, Chapters 20 and 21, the solution to his own predicament struck Clayton Morrison squarely between the eyes like a dumdum bullet. The answer was human cheese!
Clayton knew of a secluded place in the library hidden amid the stacks of nearly forgotten books. Using this sanctuary as base of operations, he began his search for vital references to cheese. By closing time--sweaty, exhausted, and doubly in need of shower and sustenance--Clayton Morrison, who resembled a slightly sexier version of Woody Allen, emerged from the library a moderate expert on rennet, ripening, and curing, as well as on the subtle nuances of the manufacture of cheese.
Clayton made his was back to his apartment, oblivious of the entreaties of the street people that emanated from the storefront recesses as he passed by. Clayton was basking in the glory of the new direction his life had suddenly taken as the world's first entrepreneurial guru of human cheese. Why had this seminal idea been suppressed for so many centuries? If cheese could be produced from the milk of llamas, yaks, and water buffalo, why not from the milk of humans? The very idea of cannibalism was absurd in Clayton's view. Perhaps the erroneous conviction that the human female animal was capable of producing only enough milk for the sustenance of her own young had been the critical stumbling block. Again, how ridiculous! One had only to consider the honored profession of wet nursing to see the obvious fallacy. The untapped reservoirs (pun well intended, Clayton chuckled to himself) of wet nurses as the source of raw material for his new industry boggled Clayton’s own now pregnant mind.
Clayton had been elated to discover the relatively low saturated fat content of human milk, a definite marketing plus in a cholesterol obsessed society. He could already envision ads promoting human cheese as a natural preventative of heart attacks. When he allowed his mind to range over the additional advantages of the product, which would contain no preservatives, antibiotics, or intoxicants of any kind, Clayton found himself in a state of capitalistic nirvana. The possibilities for the new product were endless. Soon there would be Chicago-style deep dish or traditional pizza made with human mozzarella cheese--an additional two bucks for extra cheese, of course. The dairy sections of supermarkets and 7-Elevens would be stacked with American sliced human cheese, human cheese whip, and human cottage cheese in curd sizes ranging from small to extra large. Theaters would be selling nachos with melted human cheese. Bars would be stocking human cheese popcorn. Clayton would market human cheese balls for Christmas or office parties, to say nothing of bagels and lox served with Philadelphia style creamed human cheese. Clayton salivated--he hadn't eaten in over twelve hours—as he savored culinary conceptions such as aged human Cheddar (sharp to mild and presented in wax encased wheels), human Port du Salut, human Stilton, creamy human Havarti, and for sophisticates, human Brie or human Camembert best served after gentle warming to room temperature and taken with Chardonay or champagne on very special occasions. Human Roquefort might be a problem. There were plenty of dank, humid caves in New York City suitable for the aging of Roquefort, but most of those Clayton knew about were being lived in.
So complete was Clayton's preoccupation with the commercial potential of his new enterprise, he nearly barreled over the group of four little Italian ladies who were standing outside their own and Clayton's apartment building taking in the early evening air and lamenting the lost treasures of their beloved Calabria. The four Calabrians were Clayton’s most cherished neighbors, who fed him body and soul.
"Mama Mias, have I got an idea that is going to blow you away!!" Clayton chortled with the enthusiasm of a madman only partially subdued with Thorazine.
The cadre of Italian ladies burst in unison into a peal of stress incontinence inducing laughter. They had all been through this movie before.
"What’sa matter, Clayton," said one of the jolliest, whose name was Angela, "you finda the fountain of youth drainin' inta the East River? You remember lasta year," she challenged her compatriots, "when thisa boy, he discover a way to make love potions outta tom cat's piss? He'sa gonna make perfume outta that stuff, and drive alla us ladies crazy, ain't that right, Amore?"
"Don't laugh," Clayton implored with bonhomie, while making a sweeping and gallant bow. "Six, eight months from now, Pisanas, you are going to see billboards all over this city showing mammary glands dripping droplets of Liebfraumilch and reading: "The breast is the best--buy human cheese!"
"Human cheese!!" The ladies echoed in syncopation, bemused expressions twinkling from their eyes. "Now, that’sa good one, Clayton!"
"Think of it," Clayton suggested, "lasagna, fettuccine, linguini Alfredo, all made with human cheese and topped with...? Well, come on!" he prompted.
"Parmesan human cheese!" The four Calabrians squealed in unison.
Bowing gallantly once again at what he interpreted an acknowledgement of his genius, Clayton Morrison fumbled with his key and then disappeared into the stairwell, leaving his four companions shaking their heads in unmitigated delight.
Clayton Morrison spent the rest of a busy evening working through the logistical details of his new project. He saw the actual manufacture of the product as no great hurdle. He recalled reading about the initial discovery of cheese. Some sage had raced across a desert on a camel, carrying milk for sustenance in bags made of sheep stomach--the unwitting source of the original rennet. Imagine the shock, Clayton surmised, when his thirsty predecessor had attempted to take a swig of the world's first bag of cheese! At least the rider had had the presence of mind to eat the stuff!
When he had earlier addressed the problem of mass production of human cheese in the library that afternoon, Clayton had rued the demise of the urban cowboy craze of the eighties. There might have been a flair to the mass production of human cheese in country western bars throughout south Texas, with cowhide bags of human milk jostling to the gyrations of thousands of mechanical bulls. Fortunately, modern technology rendered such crude production methods obsolete. No, manufacture of the product was not the problem. As Clayton saw it, his difficulty would be the procurement of sufficient raw material--a steady supply of human milk. He soberly recalled the fact that, on average, ten volumes of milk are necessary for each volume of cheese produced. Where to obtain the necessary quantities of human milk was the rub. But then the answer to that conundrum zapped into Clayton Morrison's overwrought cerebral cortex like a spark arcing through a Leyden jar. The answer was the homeless!!
"Why not create a cadre of respectfully employed wet nurses?" Clayton asked himself. Why not, indeed! By recruiting to the ranks recently pregnant members of America's homeless women as the producers of the raw material necessary to the production of human cheese, Clayton suddenly realized that he would be resurrecting an old and very honored profession. He would also be adding taxpayers to the economy, reducing the welfare rolls, and bringing respect to the downtrodden and forsaken. It was sad that fifty percent of the homeless would be immediately eliminated from participation in the venture through gender discrimination, but Clayton realized that such was the luck of the draw for those unfortunate enough to have been born male in America.
As he thought more about it, Clayton's neurons began to tingle with the sheer poetic beauty of the entire process of wet-nursing. How miraculous, Clayton conceded--as he thought about lactation in the abstract --that once milk production is initiated, the process will continue indefinitely--for years, in any event--with no more incentive than the natural act of suckling. Ideas were catapulting out of Clayton's inventive brain. The circuitry, gears, wheels, and suction diaphragms of Clayton Morrison's new high-tech milking machine--exquisitely adapted to the contours of the human breast--were nearly ready for the drafting table, so eager was he to bring his dream to fruition.
Clayton's immediate problem was the procurement of a prototype sample of human cheese. After a quick afternoon nap to cool off his steaming cortical circuits, Clayton Morrison took to the streets, in search of a homeless mother with a suckling babe in arms. After trailing a couple of false leads, he found a nearly perfect subject, working the trash cans just off Seventh Avenue. She was a young, thin, swarthy, soft, shy, slim slip of a thing--Clayton was in one of his Joycean moods that evening--so thin, in fact, that he worried not only about her productivity, but also about the possibility she might have consumption. Clayton had read a little about bovine mammary tuberculosis during his exploration that afternoon of certain esoteric aspects of the lore of milk. He was not certain that human TB might not be similarly transmissible via the breast.
The haunted expression on the young mother's face reminded Clayton of an actress who had played Doll Tearsheet in a recent off Broadway production of Part II Henry IV. When he accosted her and learned that the young woman's name was Dolly, the near conjunction of appellations seemed prophetic, in Clayton's view, of a predestined relationship.
"Don't you be bothering me, mister," Doll, erstwhile Dolly, warned. She immediately regretted her unthinking response to Clayton's request for her name. "I don't work these streets that way."
"I'd just like you to read something for me," Clayton suggested. He spoke gently, encouragingly, as if Doll were a precious and rare butterfly, so near to capture, and yet so likely to fly away.
Doll took the proffered book hesitantly, her street instincts not yet having concluded whether Clayton was a complete nut case, a meal ticket, or maybe even a roof for the night for her and her child.
"Just the last paragraphs, there on the last page," Clayton prompted.
The book was a novel: Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Doll Tearsheet glanced briefly at the page and then back at Clayton Morrison's encouraging, almost gentle face.
"I can't read," she said softly, her voice breaking with poorly suppressed shame. Her apologetic eyes pleadingly offered the book's return.
"Let me then," Clayton said.
There in the evening air, in the lambent glow of an inner city street light, he read the tender passage, tenderly. When he had finished Steinbeck's description of Rosa Sharon's gift of life, he looked supportively into Doll's face. Then he softly closed the book.
Doll Tearsheet peered at Clayton Morrison with an expression of incredulous disdain on her street wise face.
"You want to suck my tits!?" she said, with indignation. "I told you, mister," she repeated haughtily, "I don't work these streets that way!"
Perhaps it was a mother's instinctive fear of the oncoming night that prompted Doll Tearsheet to listen to Clayton Morrison's bizarre proposal. Perhaps there was something magnetic in the glow of his eyes in the street lamp. Perhaps it was the tiny intermittent cry from the backpack strapped to her shoulders. Maybe it was Clayton Morrison's general demeanor, or his promise of a hot meal and a warm bunk with no obligation of sex. Whatever it was, Doll Tearsheet--with her meager supply of mother's milk--followed Clayton Morrison home. Doll was fated, so it seemed, to make a vital contribution to Clayton's first batch of human cheese.
Procurement of the necessary specimens proved more problematic than Clayton had anticipated. For one thing, Doll was adamant that the needs of her child take precedence over Clayton's own requirements.
"Hey, what about Alex?" Ms Tearsheet challenged, when Clayton asked for a bowl of milk the moment the trio had been ensconced in his apartment.
"My baby," Doll explained. "His name is Alexander. I named him after Alexander the Great," she explained. "He is great, don't you think?" she elaborated, while peering down at the infant with a glint of maternal pride in her eye that left no doubt of her confidence in little Alex's ability to conquer the classical world.
Kids were not Clayton Morrison's bag. His neutral feelings for Alex were not changed when the drooling object in Ms Tearsheet's arms deposited a load of curds on the carpet five minutes following his feeding. Clayton looked wistfully at those curds, convinced that he could have put Doll's milk to much better use.
Clayton had to make a quick trip to the local deli for a fridge full of formula before Doll would consent to make the historical donation. Clayton had to bolster his claim with Madison Avenue assurances to Ms Tearsheet that cow's milk is somehow better for human babies than the original material provided by nature. The process was messy and awkward. Clayton insisted upon camcording the event for his new corporation archives. As President and CEO of Human Cheese, Incorporated, Clayton felt it necessary to assist, as Doll milked herself into a large Tupperware container labeled: "Specimen Number One." Clayton found the process extremely erotic (the video recorded his fidgety discomfort), causing him to regret the blanket proscription on sex. Unknown to Clayton, Doll was equally provoked, although she added sufficient inflections to the mewling Clayton's bimanual manipulations of her breasts induced, to suggest--on the tape--not pleasure, but the pain of a supreme sacrifice.
Initially, Doll's yield was extremely meager. Several milkings were necessary before enough raw material had been harvested to attempt the prototype.
"How have you been able to keep Alex alive?" Clayton asked rhetorically, as Doll swirled the scanty output of the initial few milkings around the bottom of the bowl.
Fortunately, the augmented nipple stimulation of a breast pump (neither of the entrepreneurs could tolerate ongoing hand to breast contact) plus a diet of pasta three times a day, remarkably affected Ms Tearsheet's productivity, which Clayton graphed in anticipation of the profit curves of his fledgling company.
The pasta was contributed, of course, by the four little Italian ladies, who adopted Doll and Alex in typical Calabrian fashion. The four had also become founding stockholders in Human Cheese, Inc., opining that--this time--Clayton was really on to something.
At last the fateful day arrived. Doll, Angela and her sisters, and Clayton were on tenterhooks as the mold was cautiously opened and "specimen number one" was brought to light. The camcorder recorded the moment for posterity, as Doll and the others sampled what looked like a shapeless glob of low grade Bulgarian feta.
"Hey, Clayton, this stuff is delicious!" Doll finally pronounced, after a prolonged tasting ritual--Ms Tearsheet realized that she was on camera--which included a great deal of slightly theatrical sniffing, smacking, and munching, topped off by a sexy swirl of human cheese around the tip of her tongue.
Clayton Morrison was beaming. Human cheese was delectable.
"Itsa not bad," the Calabrians agreed, taking a second stock option that very evening.
A perhaps more prophetic endorsement came from Alexander the Great. Alex couldn't seem to get enough of the stuff.
The relationship between Doll Tearsheet--whose real name was Dolly Madison, she said--deepened over the ensuing weeks. One evening--when Alex was abed and the four Calabrians were busy with the last of the thrice daily novenas they had imposed upon themselves to atone for the sin of praying too fervently for the material success of Human Cheese, Incorporated--Clayton and Doll were in the afterglow of a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which they had complemented with soft garlic bread croutons embellished by a wonderfully textured creamy human cheese variety developed only that day.
The haunted look in Ms Tearsheet's eyes was no longer in evidence. In the candlelight, Doll resembled a beautiful black Madonna.
"Hey, Clayton," she said suggestively, speaking through the softly seductive light that was glimmering through the vermilion, candle lit clarity of the wine in the glass she was holding before her eyes, "do you remember that story you read to me, the first day we met?"
There was something strange about Clayton Morrison--his inventive mind, or his genuine kindness--that Doll Tearsheet was finding extremely attractive and that transcended any limitations in the physical beauty he possessed.
Clayton nodded in affirmation.
"Well," Doll said--her voice throaty in tone--as she undraped her magnificently sculpted breasts to Clayton Morrison's adoring gaze. With nothing more than a sigh from the depths of his soul, Clayton slid into position within Doll's encircling arms and suckled her tenderly, as if he were a starving, homeless Okie himself. Pristine, glorious, images of every Raphael Madonna and Child he had ever witnessed were cascading through Clayton Morrison's brain, as he took warm human milk into his being, the milk of human kindness and love. The experience was pregnant with symbolic meaning for both participants. By evening's end, the proscription of sex had delightfully ended.
Although Doll Tearsheet had never learned to read, Clayton Morrison soon discovered that her problem was dyslexia, not the usual social deprivation form of illiteracy. One evening, Clayton was running through some figures on per capita breast productivity extrapolated to volumetric yield in human cheese. Doll had astounded him by offering a verbal recapitulation of several columns of calculations right off the top of her head. No one was more surprised than Ms Tearsheet to discover that her unique ability with numbers was special in any way. Because of her apparent illiteracy, society had chosen to overlook any talents that may have been hidden in her left, right, or mid brain like the mother lode of some gem of self sufficiency. But Clayton Morrison recognized potential when it appeared. That very evening Ms Tearsheet was promoted to full partnership in Human Cheese, Incorporated.
With the success of the prototypes, the next problem facing the fledgling corporation was the recruitment of a sufficient number of wet nurses to put production into full swing. Doll suggested setting up a small booth on 42nd street, like that psychiatric clinic Lucy uses in Peanuts. The firm's booth was to sport a sign reading: "Jobs: homeless, single women wanted for enterprising new career. Males need not apply."
The first day out--before the cops shut the operation down for solicitation without a license--Clayton and Doll recruited thirty-six potential wet nurses. Word of mouth advertising filled out the company's employment roster after that.
The corporation's pitch was straight forward. The candidates were wild with enthusiasm.
"You mean all I got to do is come to your factory and get milked twice a day, for how much in salary and benefits!?"
"If it ain't illegal, sign me up, baby! Human cheese, now who'da ever thought of that?"
A few of the applicants came pre-qualified.
"You don't have to worry about gettin' me pregnant, honey. I'm already knocked up higher than the Trade Center. And when I gives milk, I gives torrents!!"
The next few days were hectic, as Clayton and Doll masterminded the pre-production phase of their new business. The wet nurses needed counseling on how to submit applications for Aid to Dependent Children, this to be done as soon as their pregnancy tests became positive. Clayton and Ms. Tearsheet viewed ADC as a form of small business loan from the government to Human Cheese, Incorporated.
Doll knew of an abandoned warehouse, where she and Alex had spent a few unmolested nights. With preliminary approval of a bona fide small business loan, the corporation secured a lease on the building. In exchange for a third stock option, the four Calabrians vowed to bring the place into spotless condition and guarantied certification by the Department of Public Health.
Clayton was pleased at how easily the milking machines made the leap from his neurons to the material realm of the machine shop he had established in the basement of the new warehouse. The first working model did need modification when it was subjected to field testing, however. One of the bolder Italian sisters offered--red faced--a dry, but ample dug to the jaws of the new machine, but Morrison's Milker tickled the little lady mercilessly, to the point of urinary incontinence. Clayton solved the glitch by dampening the vibration in the suckling jaws with an ample lining of moleskin.
There were a few additional problems. The patent office balked, for one thing.
"We might be able to cut a deal on the milking machines, but you can't have a patent on cheese, at any price," the office clerk gloated. "Cheese has been around for thousands of years."
"But this is human cheese!"
The unified cry of appeal went unheeded. No patent was granted on human cheese.
But the greatest vexation of all came from the corps of newly hired wet nurses themselves.
Each of the prospective mothers insisted upon a clause in her contract affording the option of diversion of the first six months of milk to her offspring. Added to the natural delay in curing and ripening of the product, this would set back market entry significantly, but the mothers had the edge, of course, appearing at the bargaining sessions conspicuously bra-less, and wearing extremely low cut blouses. The company settled in arbitration--conducted by the local parish priest and a panel of Carmelite nuns--for three months lactation to the babies, with an option for six, in the event of failure to thrive.
A much more serious drawback--one that nearly destroyed Human Cheese, Incorporated before the production lines began to roll--concerned the basic issue of motherhood itself.
"Just where do you expect me to find somebody suitable to become the father of my child on these streets? A person can't even trust the high-class johns anymore!"
The speaker was a former lady of the night named, Rita. Rita put the issue into even more striking perspective by adding: "You're talking pregnancy here, Clayton. That means unprotected, unsafe sex, baby! You got death benefits written into my contract?"
Rita had a valid point, of course. The issue drove Clayton, Doll, and the four major Calabrian stockholders back to the drawing board. The conundrum concerning impregnation of the wetnurses was territory none of the principals had anticipated. Human Cheese, Incorporated came to the brink of liquidation, even before going public with stock options. When a solution was finally agreed upon, neither of the corporate directors was particularly happy with the decision.
"You have to do it, Clayton," Doll insisted, while commiserating sincerely with her forlorn and dejected senior partner. "I know it's a sacrifice, but it has to be done."
Clayton Morrison--sobered, but resigned--returned to the library once more. Two long and tormented days passed in the stacks before the founding partner and CEO of Human Cheese, Incorporated emerged as an expert on artificial insemination. If the corporation was to succeed, it would be necessary to impregnate each of the prospective wet nurses on the employment roster with Clayton Morrison's own sperm.
Twelve more months passed before Human Cheese, Incorporated finally went into full production. USDA approval of the new product had been obtained surprisingly easily. The corporation's application was supported by independent analyses of human cheese by three of the nation's most respected chemical firms. Each report attested eloquently to the product's "good old fashioned American purity!" A particularly endearing letter--subsequently framed and hung in a place of honor at corporate headquarters--had been attached to one of the analytic reports.
"Never in the last fifteen years," it read, "has a product designed for internal consumption by the public passed through our laboratories in a state so free of contaminants, preservatives, antibiotics, PCPs, or steroid hormones. Your gimmick of calling the material 'human cheese' seems to us a masterstroke of advertising genius!"
There was a postscript: "Best of luck with your new venture. Please include us on your product line mailing list."
A last worrisome hurdle had been the Health Department inspection of the manufacturing plant, but the four Italian ladies proved good to their word. The floors, walls, windows, assembly lines, milking machines, and ripening vats were in hygienically sterile condition as the inspector walked in. The hapless bureaucrat cowered beneath the intimidating glare of eight flaming Calabrian eyes; he accepted his bribe without a word and stamped the certificate of approval.
As the first delivery truck loaded with the eight most promising varieties of human cheese rolled out onto the street a few months later, a tremendous cheer arose from the sidewalk outside the converted warehouse that was now international headquarters of Human Cheese, Incorporated. Clayton led the corporation staff in singing the national anthem. Then came a solemn rendition--sung by Angela, the eldest of the four Calabrians, who was a stunning alto--of the tenth section of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. This was the corporation theme song, which seemed totally appropriate; the new product line had been christened: "Madonna-the finest in human cheese."
The events that ensued astounded everyone. Human cheese took off with the earth shaking commercial electricity of pet rocks, hula hoops, and cabbage patch dolls. From Manhattan, the product surged into markets along the entire east-coast as far south as the Florida Keys, picking up testimonials in unexpected quarters--from the edentulous and those with dyspeptic gastrointestinal disorders, for example. Market entry became a saber thrust reminiscent of Sherman's march to the sea. From the east-coast, interest in human cheese swarmed across the nation, reaching capitalistic nirvana in southern California six short weeks later. To keep pace with the growing demand, Clayton and Doll sold franchises by the thousand. Wet nursing rapidly became one of the most respectable new occupations in America.
The new corporation rejected high-pressure offers from several prestigious Madison Avenue advertising firms. Clayton remained faithful to his original instincts, and the strategy paid off. "The Breast is the Best!" soon rivaled "Where's the beef?" as the slogan of the century.
The VIPs at Human Cheese, Incorporated became deluged with subsidiary offers. Clayton and Doll were guests on talk shows and motivation seminars from coast to coast. The little Italian cohort made the circuit of the syndicated cooking shows in America and in Italy, pushing pasta dishes garnished with a dozen varieties of human cheese.
The corporation also had to fend off the crazies, such as Plaster Casters, Limited, of England, who solicited rights to casts of the three original wet nurse's breasts. Doll flatly refused, even when plied with an offer to display her own personal casting next to those of the great rock stars of the Sixties.
The money came pouring in. Clayton Morrison became a millionaire two days shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. Doll and the other four original stockholders followed the CEO into seven figure assets shortly thereafter. The corporation had established a liberal fiscal policy that included generous profit sharing for the nurses and other personnel, so everyone involved in the enterprise benefited from the financial windfall. By unanimous agreement, the Board of Directors established an endowment policy, which disbursed 25% of the net profits in grants to the needy, especially to America's homeless.
Doll Tearsheet--able to afford health insurance for the first time in her life--entered a period of intensive psychological testing at Columbia University, at Clayton's insistence. Doll's I.Q. was found to be l60. She entered a remedial reading program for dyslexics and celebrated the second anniversary of the corporation's founding by reading favored passages from Wuthering Heights, bringing down the house with a few of the more moving speeches of Joseph.
The corporation's profit margin continued to soar, spurred on by a feature article on human cheese that appeared in Bon Appetit. When the yuppies of America adopted Madonna Cheese as "chic," corporate income went off the chart. It was soon gauche, and certainly by no means PC, to serve anything but human cheese in one of its delectable varieties at cocktail parties or other jet set tete-a-tete's. Human Cheese, Incorporated made the Forbes top 400 list three weeks after stock options went public.
There had been problems, of course. Shortly after Human Cheese, Incorporated had opened for business, a package arrived at corporate headquarters. Inside, were two amputated breasts made of silicone. At least the dreadful objects appeared to be made of silicone.
"These could not be real breasts!?" Doll and Clayton parroted simultaneously.
"No!!" the four Calabrian ladies assured them in a single, but less than confident voice.
The Board of Directors was contacted by phone a few hours later. The corporation's "assessment for fiscal security" was established at 10% of net profit. Notification of the "authorities" and/or failure to make timely payments would result in the same fate as had befallen Jimmy Hoffa. Clayton was dying to ask what fate had befallen Mr. Hoffa, but bit his tongue in a gesture of corporate responsibility.
"Can you believe that?" Doll remarked. "The Mafia wants a piece of our action!?"
The little Italian ladies clucked their tongues in unison and sadly nodded.
The Tong was at least a little more reasonable when they made their pitch, one week later. The new company's "contribution" to the orient was a mere 5% of the corporation's gross.
"Avoiding greed is the eastern way of doing business, much more civilized," Clayton was assured.
The Tong also promised to "pressure" the mob with a few surgical strikes, if La Cosa Nostra turned up any more heat.
"Maintaining a healthy competitive balance in the marketplace is an example of the way of the Tao," the Tong's representative explained, "a suitable balance of yin and yang."
Despite the extortion, the executives at Human Cheese, Incorporated found the Tong extremely endearing.
More threatening to Clayton Morrison personally had been an epistle from a little known, but particularly vicious feminist group.
"You will cease your chauvinist pig exploitation of women," the letter read, "or we will abduct you and--with great pleasure--serve you thin slices of your own testicles on wheat thins, garnished with strips of your disgusting Limburger variety of human cheese, you cannibal!"
As the only male on the Board of Directors--other than the parish priest, who probably wasn't using his testicles--Clayton assumed the letter was meant for him. The feminists had made no demands. They were simply out to get him--parts of him, anyway. Clayton would have relished an opportunity to explain HC, Inc's anti-sexist corporate policies, which included equal pay and benefits regardless of gender. Clayton would have been delighted to point out--in case the gender specificity of wet nursing had somehow been missed--that most of the firm's employees were women, including the majority of the truck drivers. But such is the effect of mindless prejudice. Look what the Athenians had done to Socrates. Clayton's defensive strategy necessitated a return to his basement workshop. He managed to design a very uncomfortable scrotal shield that was impossible to remove without two sets of keys. The device--which Doll dubbed a male version of the chastity belt--resembled a stainless steel codpiece, like those on display in a Breughal painting.
Once these early impediments to free market entry had been resolved, however, the sale of human cheese proceeded smoothly. Strident cries of foul were occasionally directed at the Board of Directors of Human Cheese, Incorporated from representatives of the Dairy Farmers of America, as human cheese progressively decimated the market share of a line of similar products derived from the milk of cows. A proposal to package a combination bovine/human product--Elsie-Madonna apparently had a certain ring to the dairy farmers--was flatly refused by Clayton and the others.
"Business is business!" Doll stated succinctly, echoing unanimous agreement on corporate policy.
But then without warning, the bubble of prosperity suddenly burst. One day, near the third anniversary of the founding of Human Cheese, Incorporated, a telephone call was placed to the old warehouse. The speaker--who enunciated each word with great circumspection and erudition--informed Clayton that the company had been under scrutiny for some time. Doll was listening in on the conversation.
"Frankly speaking, we expected you to fail long before this, Mr. Morrison," the caller explained. "But it appears you have managed to survive in any event, despite your foolhardy fiscal policy on liberal endowments, which has been an embarrassment to the business community, I might add."
"Who the hell are you?" Clayton interrupted at Doll's prompting.
"Let's just say that I am a representative of the Captains and Kings," the caller said glibly.
"So?" Clayton added, more timidly than he would have wished. Somewhere in the back of his mind he recalled a whacko theory that American business has been under the control of a strange cartel called The Captains and the Kings, since the Nineteenth Century.
"You no longer exist as a corporate entity, Mr. Morrison. We have effected a buy out of Human Cheese, Incorporated. You will be contacted regarding the necessary paperwork to effect the transition of ownership. I believe you will find the remuneration we have in mind quite satisfactory."
"Suppose we refuse?" Clayton shouted, this time at Doll's insistence. "Suppose we go to the media, or to the Securities Exchange, to protest? This is America, you know," he added sharply.
"Actually, this is business," the caller said softly, almost apologetically. He suggested quite paternalistically that protest or refusal would be futile, perhaps even dangerous. After an appropriately theatrical pause, the caller whispered the selling price, and quietly hung up.
Closed door emergency sessions of the Board of Directors of Human Cheese, Incorporated continued for days.
"I know the price isn't bad," Doll shouted hotly at one point, "but we built this corporation out of body and soul, out of our blood, sweat, and milk! How can we sell out without a whimper, Clayton?"
Clayton Morrison scanned the disconcerted faces at the table. Only at that moment did an insight of similar magnitude to his original conception of human cheese flood his overworked brain.
"What ever happened to pet rocks?" he asked.
"Pet rocks?" Doll parroted in frustration. "What the hell do pet rocks have to do with this?"
"Show me one household in America where you can find a single pet rock that is being nurtured or cherished by its owner," Clayton persisted. "All of them--millions of them--are lying abandoned in closets or trunks--those that have not been just thrown into the gutters, that is."
"What's the point, Clayton?" Doll demanded. "You don't mean to suggest that human cheese is just a fad?" she challenged petulantly. "You can't be serious! We've been in business nearly three years, Clayton! Human cheese is the next great American institution, like Coca-Cola, Campbell's Soup, or Gerber's Baby Food."
"I don't think so," Clayton suggested ruefully. "Those products represent the residuals of the country's strength. I don't think the nation has the fiber left to nurture anything of lasting value. American consumers are like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Without a new sop every few years, the populace dies of ennui."
Clayton--an aficionado of Charles Baudelaire--loved that word--ennui.
"It seems to me that we have probably taken this venture to the very brink of fiscal collapse, without even knowing it," he concluded. "I think we should sell."
"But Clayton, suppose you are wrong," Doll protested. "We haven't even cornered the foreign markets yet. What are we giving away, baby?"
The discussion wore on for days, as the deadline for a decision relentlessly approached. None of the members of the Board of Directors was totally happy with the bottom line, but on the eve of its third year of corporate existence, Human Cheese, Incorporated became the property of the Captains and the Kings.
Several years elapsed. Any regret the corporate directors may have had over the loss of Human Cheese, Incorporated, had long since been assuaged when Clayton Morrison's prediction about the commercial longevity of the product proved prophetic. Under the impetus of a few cancer scares instigated by the American Dietetic Association--whose directorship may have been bought off by the Diary Farmers of America--human cheese quickly faded from the American marketplace. Near the end, there seemed to be a growing consensus that the consumption of the product was a subtle form of cannibalism.
Investing wisely, the executive body of H.C., Inc did extremely well financially. The sting of the corporation's loss was mollified by the steady application of certain green poultices to the lingering wound.
One evening, a small gathering took place at an elegant retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains of California. The house-guests were of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but they shared the conviviality of old and true friends. The group met annually--at least--at the home of one of the members.
A chamber orchestral performance highlighted the evening's festivities on this particular occasion. The violinist was a stunningly attractive, matronly woman of swarthy complexion, who fingered and bowed the resonating instrument until it seemed to cry out in ecstasy, giving forth warm sheets of purely musical tears.
The cellist was a strange, but polished young man who was graying slightly at the temples. As he played, his body swayed with intense concentration on the melodious progression of notes emanating from the sounding boxes. He seemed--in his preoccupation--to be absorbing the homey atmosphere of the place, as if finding there the inspirations of a talented inventor.
At the piano, and contributing the vocal part, was a younger male--a statuesque, nearly Greekly perfect specimen of adolescent beauty, with the voice of an angel.
In honor of a certain robust quartet of special guests, the featured work of the evening was Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, to which one of the foursome contributed selected alto parts. This piece brought tears to the eyes and warm nostalgia to the heart of another person in attendance. This woman was also black, but comely--oh, so comely--who may once have charmed the hearts of total strangers with no more than a meaningful glance on the lonely, homeless, streets of any large American metropolis.
An alcove in this home was filled with momentos of the past, highlighted by the successful, self-confident portraits of scores of young professionals. Each photograph had been tenderly autographed. "To Father, with love," was a common motif among the inscriptions.
The gathering in this charming and elegant home was brought to a fitting close that evening with a champagne toast to more difficult times. This special toast was accompanied by a very special treat. No longer available on the American market place, this condiment--served eucharistically by an aging, retired priest--had been cut from one of the original, wax encased wheels of specially aged, pungently perfect, human cheddar cheese.