SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 1: In Which We Adjust To The New Reality

 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
I am a creature of routine. Always have been, always will be. And for the better part of fifteen years my routine and the Strand’s routine have been one, tick tick ticking its way along the familiar mileposts of the Midcoast show business calendar. Fall and Winter? Not a time of falling leaves, gentle snows, and Ho Ho Ho, but Opera Season – Saturday Matinees and Tuesday Encores breaking up the flow of the film calendar, and a couple times a month a live concert to keep things lively. Spring and Summer? Simply that all-too-short interval of long days and short nights and propping the front door open to let the popcorn fumes out that comes between the Camden Conference and CIFF. Season after season, year after year, that’s the way it’s gone. Well over 6000 movie shows, close to 300 live concerts, almost as many opera screenings, and I’ve lost track of all the other events. You get the idea.
 
And now, bupkis.
 
You know what it’s like when you’re riding a speeding subway car and it has to come to a fast stop? But you keep moving and let go of the pole and crash into the person in front of you? Well, this situation is like that, except of course without the close personal contact. Keep your distance, bub. Six foot minimum.
 
Or to quote a great Duke Ellington tune, “Don’t Get Around Much Any More.” Look it up on the You Tube if you don’t know it.
 
Not that I ever got around much in the first place. For the best part of a decade and a half the Strand has pretty much been the extent of my social life. Show business is like that. Your job isn’t to have fun yourself – although I try to violate that rule as often as I can get away with it – but to make sure everyone else is having fun. So I spend most of my waking hours here, either preparing for shows or doing what has to be done once they start. Contrary to what you might have heard, though, I do have a home other than the theatre – a modest little working-class house in the North End of Rockland, the kind of place with a bathroom the size of a broom closet, steep stairs that desperately need to be painted, a kitchen with no ventilation other than an open window, and a living room that gets sunlight about half an hour a day. But as the realtor who sold it to me said, “it’s got plenny a’ chahm.” It’s not much, but for twenty years it’s been my home. It’s just that when you coop me up there, take away my daily work routine, I get antsy. Jittery. Stir-crazy.
 
I don’t get many visitors, other than a couple of Strand Kids Emerita who serve as my de facto Next Of Kin. One of them dropped by the other day to check in on me and see how I was handling these latest developments. She found me hunched like a pot-bellied Gollum over my kitchen table, shoving cold French fries into my mouth with both hands.
 
“You don’t handle capitivity well, do you?” she observed with insight.
 
“Mgggggrpph!” I replied, hunching lower over my plate as if to defend it. “MUSTN’T TAKE THE PRECCCCCCIOUSSSSS!”
 
“Ah,” she nodded. “You’ve been grocery shopping.”
 
And indeed I had. I’m not what they call a prepper by any means, so I don’t actually keep much food in the house other than what I need for each day. Most of my meals, given my work routine, tend to be eaten on the run, and the waitstaff at the Rockland Café and the Waterworks Pub know my order before I even sit down. But we live in a bewildering new era now, and I’d hit the store hoping to pick up a bit more than my usual daily routine of Boston Globe, cat food, and lottery tickets. So I ventured deep into the empty-shelved aisles of the nearest supermarket – passing red-eyed throngs trawling the aisles for any lone misplaced roll of toilet paper --  and emerged, somewhat shell shocked twenty minutes later, with two cans of Hormel Chili, two boxes of matzo, an industrial-sized jar of peanut butter, a can of Vienna sausage – can you tell I go in for fusion cuisine? – and of course six cans of Friskies Filets.
 
I might not be dealing well with household captivity, but Carol – she’s my eleven-year-old, equally pot-bellied feline housemate – will be living large.
 
Now, just because the Strand is closed doesn’t mean I’m not working. There’s plenty of maintenance and upkeep required to keep the building ready to reopen once this situation blows over, and I’ll be there for the forseeable trying to keep up with it all. And from time to time I’ll take a minute to jot down a few lines reflecting on, hopefully, the lighter side of this rather unpredecented situation. I’d invite you to drop by the house some time, if you ever get around to the North End, to sample my famous Chili Matzo Delight, but, you know, Social Distancing and all…
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