STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“That aroma,” sniffed Miss Carol T. Cat as I walked in the door and tried to get my coat off before bending to the demand of an immediate feline supper.

“What about it?” I grumbled. It had been a long day and I was in no mood for clawed repartee. But then I sighed and figured, well, without clawed repartee, what’s the point? So I smiled a willing smile and dived right in. “What about it?” I repeated for emphasis.

“I have not sensed that odor for some time,” Miss Carol declared. “It is a fragrance redolent of a long-lost past, a scent from another time and another place, from a world scarcely remembered yet forever recalled. It is…”

“Aw, can it, “ I snapped. “I made popcorn today, and I smell like oil. And when I wash my hands, all this yella stuff is gonna come off. Whattaya want from me?”

“Ah!” responded Miss Carol. “Then am I to assume that the Strand has at long last reopened its doors to an eager and vaccinated public?”

“Not yet,” I replied. “Not yet. But the wheels are, as they say, in motion. I’m workin’ on getting the equipment all set to go, so that when Zero Hour arrives, we’re gonna be all set. Hence,” I concluded, picking a recently-popped kernel out of my hair and into my mouth, “I made popcorn.”

“Indeed,” declared Miss Carol. “How exciting for you. Now, this matter of my evening meal…”

“And y’know what, “ I continued, brightening just a dite at the memory, “it was FUN! Yes, FUN! Do you know, do you have any idea, how much I miss the smell of popcorn, the sound of popcorn, the crunch of popcorn, the – dare I say – TASTE of popcorn? Seven months it’s been since we last popped popcorn for the Drive-In, and now, at long last, the Pop-O-Gold machine was, ever so briefly, alight again and all was well with the world. My soul, crushed and scarred by a year of forced ennui and social isolation, fairly rejoiced as the first delicate wisp of steam caressed my waiting nostrils!”

Miss Carol gazed at me, a gaze of stern reprimand. “Leave poetry to the poets,” she growled. “Even Professor Bookham, on your radio broadcasts, would hang his head in shame were you to cause him to recite such florid lines.”

“Let me be happy,” I snapped. “It happens so rarely anymore that when it does, you should share my joy.”

“I do not care for popcorn,” scoffed Miss Carol. “As obligate carnivores, cellulose, even when puffed, expanded, oiled, and salted, has a deleterious effect upon us. Although I will grant that the occasional kernel does make for entertaining enrichment, to be batted about the kitchen floor until it vanishes forever beneath the refrigerator. Really, I advise that you clean under the refrigerator immediately. My inventory of playthings is notably diminished, and I predict that you will recover several of them nestled beneath the condenser coils.”

“And you know what else?” I insisted. “Popcorn’s GOOD for ya. Just like getting together as part of a community to share an experience is good for ya.  It’s good for ya physically, and it’s good for ya emotionally. Do you know that one of the side effects of the pandemic has been a global shortage of positive endorphins?  As soon as all this mess is finally over with and we can get back to living as a society instead of a bunch of lonely people glued to screens all the time, everyone’s gonna feel a whole lot better.

“But you propose,” argued Miss Carol, “to bring them inside and show them – a screen. Is not your argument contradictory?”

“NO IT ISN”T” I yelled. “A SHARED EXPERIENCE LOOKIN’ AT A SCREEN WHILE YA EAT POPCORN WITH YA FRIENDS  IS NOT THE SAME THING AS HUDDLIN’ IN YA BED ALL BY YASELF WITH YA FACE STUCK TO A LAPTOP! WHATTAYA WANT FROM ME???”

“You had better go back to the Strand,” chuckled Miss Carol, “and make some more popcorn.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“But first,” she reminded, “my meal. And be certain that the food you serve me is grain free.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“Well, it’s done!” I declared as I flourished my Certificate Of Vaccination in the just-slightly-irritated face of Miss Carol T. Cat. 

Actually, I lie, she was more than just slightly irritated, and with a single swipe of her paw, claws fully deployed, she swept the intrusive document out of her personal space and under the big blue chair where she knew I’d probably leave it because who wants to have to pick that big heavy thing up anyway? I’m too old for that kind of exertion. I’ll know where it is when I need it, and that’s good enough, I guess.

But back to the matter at hand. “I got my shot!” I proclaimed triumphantly. “Covid can you-know-what my you-know-what. I’m IMMUNE, baby. Or I will be once this miracle of modern science takes full effect, and it won’t be long now.”

Miss Carol sighed. “I am of course pleased that you have taken this necessary step, but was it necessary for you to call the matter to my attention in just such a manner? Perhaps you had not noticed that I was busy about my work.”

“What work?” I snorted. “You were sleepin’.”

“Much of my most creative thought is accomplished in a state of REM slumber,” Miss Carol retorted. “Just now I was, in a dream, plotting complex strategy for the neutralization of that bold and offensive squirrel that capers outside my window. He shall soon meet his fate – if you will permit me now to resume my nap.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” I insisted, “but I’m just too excited. Do you know what this means? We talk an’ talk about ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ but this shot is a real step in th’ direction of that light! Because you don’t GET to th’ end of th’ tunnel unless you MOVE TOWARD IT! It’s like them stoplights on th’ corner, you know? ‘Push Button To Cross Street?’ Well, you can push th’ button all you want, but you won’t ever get across the street unless you actually start walkin’. AND I’M WALKIN’, BABY! WATCH ME MOVE!” 

I strutted ostentatiously about the room in such a manner as to cause Miss Carol’s eyes to narrow in resignation. Strutting ostentatiously is dangerously close, in her view, to dancing, and she invariably finds any attempt I might make in that direction to be profoundly offensive to art, culture, and common decency. “Are you aware,” she finally intoned, “that the vaccine may carry with it certain side effects that may cause you a degree of discomfort? You should at this time take to your bed to forestall the effects. Close the door after you do so, because your dissonant, raspy breathing interrupts the flow of my dreams.”

“I’ve had no side effects at all,” I boasted. “None at all. They gave me this paper, it says ‘you may experience headaches, muscle pains, fatigue’ – well, I mean, at my age, I ALWAYS experience headaches, muscle pains, and fatigue! So you can’t call THOSE side effects at all. And chills? Well, I turn the thermostat down to 50 degrees every night because the price of oil is goin’ up, and you’re tellin’ me to worry about chills? Hah, I say. HAH. No side effects for me!”

Miss Carol regarded me with a mix of aggravation and pity. Nobody mixes aggravation and pity like Miss Carol.

“There is one thing, though, “ I noted. “I woke up this morning with – well, kind of a pain in my jaw.”

“No doubt the result of overexertion,” Miss Carol snapped. “Such would not occur if you did not flap it quite so much. I recommend an extended period of complete silence. You may begin at once.”

“I’ll tell ya one thing funny that happened, though,” I chuckled. “When the person at the place was about to give me the shot, she took a look at my arms and said ‘well, give me a second here, I need to find a place to inject you that isn’t – ah – all scratched up. What happened, were you in an accident recently?’ An’ I says ‘no, ma’am, I adopted Miss Carol on purpose. All them scratches an’ scars on there, that’s all from her.’ An’ she says ‘well, you know,  ferrets can be hard pets to keep under control!’”

Miss Carol’s eyes grew wide, and reflexively her claws deployed.

“Ain’t that funny?” I chortled. “She thought you was a FERRET!”

“And of course,” thundered Miss Carol, “you corrected her offensive statement immediately!”

“I did,” I snorted. “I told her you wasn’t a ferret at all. I told her you are a RIDICULOUS FAT BARREL CAT.”

Miss Carol exhaled in a sharp and highly pointed manner. She’ll be glad when the pandemic is over.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“THE CROCUSES ARE UP!” I bellowed as I flung the back door open and charged into the house. I needed to charge into the house to be avoid being blown into the next block by the ferocious gusts of wind.

“Indeed?” commented Miss Carol T. Cat, sprawled on my desk in an attititude of “What Makes You Think I Could Possibly Care Less?”

“It’s true,” I declared, picking a chunk of broken shingle out of my hair. Did I mention I’m really sick of the wind? “Spring is well and truly here. And do you know what THAT means?”

“I shall soon be plagued by hordes of insufferable goldfinches, taunting me from the perch of their feeder, secure in the knowledge that they need fear no attack from me so long as I am confined in this dungeonous shanty?”

“Well, yeah,” I acknowledged. “But more than that. Did you know BASEBALL SEASON BEGINS ON THURSDAY?”

Miss Carol opened her eyes just enough to roll them.

“Don’t you know what that means? Millions of old ladies across New England will at last have a reason not to go to bed at 5 PM!” I quivered with barely-controlled excitement. “I got it all planned out! Thursday I’m gonna wear my Red Sox cap an’ my Red Sox jersey – an’ my RED SOX SOCKS! Can you beat it?”

“The entire American League can, no doubt, ‘beat it,’ if my media sources are to be relied upon,” sneered Miss Carol. She was not yet born when “The Curse” was finally lifted, but after a late night game from the Coast disrupted her slumber once too often, she proceeded to pronounce another Curse all her own. Hence the exodus of Mookie to Los Angeles and Jackie B. Jr. to Milwaukee. Bet you didn’t know that.

“You can’t do nothin’ to break my mood,” I laughed. “Spring is here! The world is reborn! There is hope anew!”

The phone rang, but I refused to answer it, knowing that it was that robot calling about the medical bill. That’s how determined I was not to let my joyous Springtime spirits be shattered. We waited all winter for this, and I believe in living Spring to its fullest. If I had spring flowers at hand, I would twine them into a garland and dance a Springtime dance. Fortunately for the spirit of Terpsichore, I do not have spring flowers at hand, except for four desperate little crocuses, so you can consider yourself fortunate.

“Speaking of hope,” rumbled Miss Carol, “have you yet had your vaccination?”

“I got my name in three places,” I declared, “but nobody’s called yet. I wonder if you can buy vaccine on Ebay?”

“I advise against it,” warned Miss Carol. “Recall the many times you have purchased items from that platform that did not in fact prove to be bona fide. That ‘Amusing Cat Toy’ you purchased last year proved to be anything but. I was forced to seek my entertainment by devouring the shipping carton.”

I moved into the living room,  sunk into the big blue chair and sighed with frustration. I want to get back to normal. I want to get my shots. I want to run movies again and sweep up the floor after concerts again and see people again without having to worry about the stupid screen freezing up. But instead, even though springtime beckons, still I “hurry up and wait.”  Oh well, at least we’re at the opposite end of the tunnel compared to where we were last year.

Miss Carol cleared her throat. Have you ever heard a cat clear her throat? It’s like the sound the cushion of an old leatherette office chair makes when you stand up quick on a hot day. She made that sound, and spoke. “You mentioned,” she began, a bit cautiously for her, “your Red Sox Socks.”

“Whattabout’em?” I queried, with eyes narrowed.

“You will recall that you left them on the bed this morning after you tried them on and pirouetted around the bedroom.”

“Shut up,” I hissed. “You think I want the world to know about that? Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“I found,” she continued, “that these articles interfered with my comfort. I took steps to remedy that situation.”

“Ahhh,” I sighed, “what’s one more thing thrown on the floor.”

“I did not throw them on the floor,” Miss Carol replied. 

“Then what..” I began, but I trailed off as I noticed a long string of red yarn trailing down the stairs and into the living room, ending in a frayed and chewed up end strewn absently on the rug.

Spring is here. And summer can’t get here soon enough.  

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“Today’s the day!” I declared triumphantly, sweeping with a dramatic flourish an aggregation of old newspapers, candy bar wrappers, and an uneaten take-out fortune cookie from last winter off the top of my desk. I probably should open that some time and get some idea of where I’m headed. Might be good to know.
 
Miss Carol, from her position at the edge of my desk, declined to be swept off, and dispatched in my direction a deep and doleful frown.  “If you continue to conduct yourself in such a reckless manner about my person,” she warned, in a voice like the sound of your bed collapsing in the middle of the night because you forgot to tighten the frame after the last time you turned the mattress, “you shall learn that today is, in fact, The Day. And I assure you that you, in fact, shall rue it.”
 
“Hah!” I replied with reckless confidence. Miss Carol unsheathed her claws, but otherwise kept her own counsel. “You don’t know what today is, do you? You have no idea whatsoever of the import of today!”
 
Miss Carol scoffed, in that way that only a 12-year-old cat who has seen far too much can scoff. “On this date in the year 1066,” she stated, in an even and professorial tone, “the comet later to be known as Halley’s made its 18th recorded perihelion approach to Earth. It was sighted in the skies over the English coast by Norman troops under the command of William the Conqueror as they engaged in the Battle of Hastings, where it was viewed as an omen of their ultimate triumph over the forces of Harold of Wessex. The event is visually commemorated in embroidered images borne by the famous Bayeux Tapestry.”
 
“Well, yeah,” I both hemmed and hawed, “there’s that. But what I was really thinkin’ about is – today. You know, March 23, 2021.”
 
“I am unaware of any significance to that date,” Miss Carol sniffed, “other than the fact that my morning meal was 37 minutes late. I had intended to call this to your attention.”
 
“Today,” I surged onward, regardless of the claws now fully extended, “is the day people in my age group can sign up to get the Covid vaccine!”
 
Miss Carol’s eyes slowly narrowed. “You must advise the authorities that you are especially decrepit for your age,” she commanded. “You will then be placed at the front of the line.”
 
I knew what she was talking about and I resented it. Just because I fell down the stairs four steps from the bottom the other day because I forgot there were four more steps before the bottom is no sign that I am aging poorly. I am in fact in full vigor for my years, aside from a bit of spreading where persons of my age have a tendency to spread, and what of it, anyway? What business of it is yours? IF I WANTED YOUR OPINION I’D ASK FOR IT.
 
Miss Carol slowly opened her eyes, and I realized I was talking to myself. “Never mind, “ I told myself. “I didn’t mean to be talking to you. Get back to work and finish this essay so you can go get a Wasses hot dog for lunch.” I responded to that advice with enthusiasm and focused with renewed zeal upon my purpose. I reached for the telephone sitting on my desk, lifted the receiver to my ear, and prepared to dial.
 
“Surely you do not intend to make your call upon that antiquated device,” sneered Miss Carol, who does not appreciate said telephone’s tendency to ring loud and strong while she is deep in slumber next to it.
 
I squinted at the number I’d scrawled on a slip of paper and tried to figure out if that was an 8 or a 3. Or a 5. “What’s wrong with this phone?” I muttered as I discovered that it wasn’t a 5, slapped the hook for a new dial tone, and tried again.
 
“You cannot possibly be unaware of the fact that you will not be speaking to an actual person when you make this call,” Miss Carol continued in an enragingly self-satisfied voice. “You will connect with an automated call-processing system that will require you to submit your information in the form of standard DTMF tones. Your telephone, manufactured, I believe, during the administration of the late Mr. Hoover, is incapable of this function.”
 
“You mean I can’t call? Nertz!” I huffed, slamming the receiver back on the hook and the phone back on the desk. “Well, I can’t sign up over the internet either, the website crashes my browser.”
 
“Computers manufactured in the present century offer no such limitation. I suggest you purchase one at once.”
 
“Never mind,” I snorted, reaching for my jacket. “I’ll go down the Strand an’ use the phone there.”
 
“Be certain that you do,” ordered Miss Carol. “As you know, felids are also susceptible to the coronavirus, and until authorities provide an effective vaccine for my own species, it is your responsibility to ensure that I remain virus-free.”
 
“Don’t worry,” I reassured, “nothin’s gonna keep me from gettin’ this shot."
 
“While you are out,” commanded Miss Carol, extending a fully-clawed paw in my direction, “I require that you purchase a sufficient supply of Friskies Ocean Whitefish with Sardines Filets. Be certain that, with your fading and inadequate vision, you do not purchase Ocean Whitefish and Tuna in error. I found it nearly impossible to swallow the last three cans.”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I muttered. But I didn’t mutter it until I was safely in the car. With the windows up and the doors locked.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“This clutter is unacceptable,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, as she knocked a shoebox full of receipts off the kitchen table and onto the kitchen floor.
 
I blinked. What else can you do when you’ve been awake for thirty-six hours straight? That’s the kind of a weekend it was.
 
“Is that clutter any more acceptable on the floor than it is on the table?” I queried, in what, in my state of near-delirium, I imagined to be an impeccable sword-thrust of logic.
 
“On the floor,” Miss Carol replied, as she thumped in its general direction, “this random scattering of pocket-and-purse-worn slips and tatters will provide sufficient enrichment to hasten the passage of this otherwise-interminable afternoon. You should be grateful that I have spared you the effort of entertaining me as you labor away at pointless toil.”
 
“I’m doing my taxes,” in that scraping nasal whine that I reserve exclusively for that weekend when I am Doing My Taxes. “And as always, you are of no help.”
 
Miss Carol scoffed between bites of an Applebee’s sales slip, a ragged remnant of a pleasant lunch taken in those long-ago pre-pandemic times. “As you know,” she droned in the voice of one firmly convinced of the exclusive certainty of her views, “I favor the so-called ‘single tax’ plan advanced in the late 19th Century by the late economist Henry George. It is my view that the present complexity of the American tax code is profoundly unnecessary. If you wish, I shall at this time outline my beliefs in great and all-consuming detail.”
 
“Nertz,” I growled. “That’s what the internet is for. Go post on Reddit and let me work.”
 
“You cannot claim me as a dependent,” she warned. “In fact, it is painfully obvious that it is you who is entirely dependent upon me. Were it not for my strict control of your personal habits, it is unlikely that you would be in any way a productive member of society. Instead you would loll pointless in bed until representatives of the bank that holds the chattel on this dismal shanty arrived to forcibly remove you.”
 
“Sez the one who sleeps eighteen hours a day,” I muttered, as I tried to figure out if I could deduct all those Humpty Dumpty potato chips I ate last year as a “home office” expense. I mean, it even suggests “office snacks” would qualify, but how do I know that’s not a gag stuck in there by the underpaid coder who put together this cheesy software I’m using?  It’s questions like this that keep me awake nights.  These freelance writing jobs I do on the side create many complications in my life when tax time rolls around. Actually, I correct myself – tax time does not “roll around.” It falls on you like a sandbag and you spend an entire weekend trying to push it off.
 
Miss Carol finished eating two sales slips and what appeared to be part of the bill for fixing my brakes last August. I used my car to ride staff out to the Drive In last summer, so that ought to be deductible, right?  Will they accept a bill that’s half eaten by a cat? What if they audit me? Can I just show them Miss Carol as evidence? I bet H & R Block never gets questions like that, but then again, they’ve never had to deal with me after three days of sleep deprivation.
 
“I’m almost done here,” I exhaled, in that way that I imagine I might exhale going up Heartbreak Hill if I was ever so rash as to attempt to run the Boston Marathon. Actually, if I ever tried that I’d probably pull a Rosie Ruiz, but hey, you know her name and not the name of whoever it was who won that year, so that’s gotta count for something, right? You see what my mind does when I’m sleep deprived? I let out another triumphant sigh as I pressed the button marked “TRANSMIT.”
 
“I cannot help but notice,” Miss Carol commented, “that this envelope containing a 1099-MISC form from one of your writing clients remains unopened. No doubt this was an error, and you have omitted vital information from your return.”
 
I dropped my head to the worn old tablecloth and emitted a sound not unlike that of a wounded elk. Actually, I’ve never heard a wounded Elk, but I did hear a Knight of Pythias once with a sprained ankle, and he made a pretty loud noise.
 
“Do not be alarmed. The authorities will no doubt be stern but merciful in the handling of your case. When you are sentenced to the Federal penitentiary for tax evasion, doubtless you will be permitted the occasional visitor. I shall make every effort to comfort you during your incarceration.”
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I groaned in the voice of a poor taxpayer just trying to get along.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“You are of course aware,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she pushed a bowl of hot canned chili off my desk and into my lap in order to make way for matters of greater importance, “that Daylight Saving Time commences effective at 2 AM on Sunday March 14th. “

“Excellent,” I sighed in that way that you sigh when a hot bowl of canned chili has just been pushed off the desk and into your lap. “That means one less hour of my life to be taken up by crap.”

“I find your language unsuitable for a family audience,” sniffed Miss Carol, “but then, having met your family, I will excuse the transgression. You speak, as do we all, the language of our upbringing. But to continue, I call your attention to the matter of the impending timekeeping change in order to ensure that my feeding schedule is in no way disrupted.  Although the fiction of ‘spring ahead’ is enforced upon your hew-mon affairs by means of the Daylight Savings law, I advise you that as a felid I am of course exempt from the provisions of this legislation, and that my own affairs shall remain governed by Standard Time.  I shall therefore require my meals one hour earlier than the time indicated by the clock. Be aware that I shall carefully and thoroughly enforce this policy.” She paused to lick a splatter of chili off the edge of the desk. “I have advised you before that Hormel brand chili is too highly seasoned for my digestion, and I recommend that in the future you purchase a milder blend.”

Miss Carol licked the back of my neck, because, you see, by this time my head was slumped on the desk.

“You seem disquieted,” Miss Carol observed. “I should think that the shift in time, heralding as it does the approach of the vernal equinox when the world is, as the poet says, ‘puddle-wonderful,’ would lift your spirits.”

I raised my head and sighed again, pausing to wipe a spot of chili off my forehead with the sleeve of my sweater. Hey, I need to wash it anyway, whatever.

“I thought they said,” I groaned, “that 2021 was supposed to be a better year than that sack of politics and plague called 2020. But look what’s happened since. That gawdawful mess in January. Then in February, I have to go to the doctor. You know how much I love to go to the doctor. Nothing makes me happier than subjecting myself to the tender mercies of that octopus-like entity we know and love as the Health Care Industrial Complex, especially when they mess up my paperwork and I have to spend a month – or more – trying to get it fixed. And then JACKIE BRADLEY GOES TO MILWAUKEE! On top of all the terrible things in the world, my favorite ballplayer JUST UPS AND LEAVES AND HE DOESN’T EVEN SAY GOOD BYE. And here I am, sitting here, with a lapful of chili and a sarcastic cat who judges me. I ASK YOU.” I sighed a sigh so sighful that it resonated in the faraway capital of West Sighghistan. “And you know what else? You know what Friday is? March 13th? It’s exactly one year since I ran my last movie show at the Strand.”

Miss Carol regarded me with a doleful but not unsympathetic gaze.

“How can it even be a whole year ago,” I moaned. “Does time really go by that fast? I remember that night in every detail. We all knew something was coming but didn’t know what. And I stood there that night, while fifty-four people came to see ‘Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears’ and I tried to joke and kid around and I said ‘step right in neighbors, guaranteed Covid Free show tonight, I can take your ticket,’ and I had no way of knowing that after fourteen years that would be the last ticket I’d ever tear until – who knows when?  And then two days later we closed and that was it. A whole year’s gone by, and I’ve spent most of it sitting in my office down there surrounded by McDonald’s wrappers and memories. I ask you. Is that fun? Where’s the laughs? Where’s the popcorn? Where’s the Strand Kids whose happy youthful spirits keep me from souring into a bitter old woman who sits alone at night eating stale Wheat Chex and watching ‘The Bachelor?’”

“I think,” commented Miss Carol evenly, “that you are once again exaggerating your situation for the sake of humorous hyperbole. It is a common trope of comedy, but if I may venture to express an opinion, you here take it to an extreme. You are indeed a ‘sad  sack,’ but I submit that you are not, in fact THAT sad a sack.”

“Well, I wasn’t kiddin’ about the McDonald’s wrappers,” I admitted. “I mean, let’s face it – over the past year, I’ve had more contact with Ronald than anybody else. Well, maybe the Colonel is up there too, but you get what I mean. I miss HUMAN CONTACT WITH ACTUAL HUMANS. I’d even settle for somebody telling me the drain is clogged.”

“I had intended to call that to your attention,” Miss Carol replied, “but I concluded that you would soon discover this for yourself when you observed the water dripping even now thru the kitchen ceiling.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I yelled, rushing for mop and bucket.

“Fly envious time,” recited Miss Carol, licking up the last chili splatter, “till thou run out thy race.”

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