STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Again Your House Manager
 
“These climactic oscillations must end!” roared Miss Carol T. Cat as I shuffled thru the back door. Scarcely waiting for me to toss my jacket aside, she planted herself before me, and fixed me in a steely gaze. “I AM COLD,” she declared. “COMFORT ME AT ONCE.”
 
“Wow,” I replied. “Not even food first. You really *must* be cold.” I dropped my jacket over her. “Happy?” I snorted.
 
From beneath the jacket, I could hear a growl. “Impudent puppy!” she grumbled. “I direct that you turn on the heating system at once.”
 
“Now wait a minute,” I retorted. “It’s the middle of July! Turn on the furnace in the middle of July? You think I’m made of money?”
 
“No doubt soft currency,” sneered Miss Carol, not so chilled that her wit was dulled, “if the sponginess of your middle avoirdupois provides any indication.”
 
I disregarded the thrust. “Don’t worry about it,” I replied, reaching inside the refrigerator for my lavish supper of the evening, three slices of cheese. “Tomorrow it’s s’posed to be hot again. Gonna get back up into the 80s, an’ we’ll be back in the 90s again before you know it.”
 
“Monstrous!” hissed Miss Carol, making no effort to emerge from beneath the jacket. It’s a very comfortable jacket, after all, and what is a cat if not an eternal seeker of comfort? “I direct that you make preparations for this intolerable heat wave at once. Prepare several cold, wet washcloths with which you may gently soothe me as I struggle with the heat. Or, alternately, purchase adequate home air conditioning for this stagnant hovel.”
 
We’d been over the “whatta you think I am,  made of money?” schtick before, so I let that one pass. But I did pause to reflect on how fortunate we are at the Strand to have such an impressive air-conditioning and air-exchanging system.  During the worst of any heat wave, you know that when you visit us at the Strand you’ll be relaxing in solid comfort for the entire duration of your visit. And especially since the upgrade of our temperature control module, you’ll notice that conditions are much more level than they used to be. We all remember the days when veteran Strand patrons knew to bring along a sweater on hot days, because the old control system tended at times to overcompensate –but our new module maintains the theatre temperature much more evenly. There are fewer “cold spots” in the house than there used to be, and while it’s still a bit warmer in the balcony than it is on the main floor, the difference is usually less pronounced.  We’re happy that we were, thanks to the outstanding community support of our members and donors, able to pay for the not-insubstantial cost of this long-deferred upgrade project, and we know you’re going to enjoy it as well – not just to ease your concerns about air quality during the pandemic, but as a permanent, long-term improvement designed to enhance your every visit to our theatre.
 
Just don’t expect me, though, to come around to gently soothe you with a damp washcloth on a hot day. I regret that I must reserve that level of service only for Ridiculous Fat Barrel Cats.

By Liz McLeod

Again Your House Manager

 

“Whew!” I whewed, flinging my jacket over the newel post. I whewed I whew, and I really meant it.

Miss Carol T. Cat, however, was not impressed. “In future,” she sniffed, “I advise that you provide my evening meal immediately upon your entry into the house. Doffing your outer raiment is of lower priority, and to do so before my meal has been provided suggests certain inefficiencies in the performances of your duties that must be remedied at once if you are to retain your position in this household.”

I shot Miss Carol a glare, or as much of a glare as I dared to glare. I know my place.

“It’s been a long day,” I replied. “And the kind of a long day I’ve really missed! The Strand is open again,and I’m back on my old schedule! Suppertime’s at 9:30 PM, and you just gotta get used to it.”

“Do you intend to say that this late hour shall hereafter be the norm? This is monstrous!”

“Hey, you lived with it fine for eight years before the pandemic,” I retorted. “You’ll just have to adjust. Things are getting back to normal, at long last, and I’ve got a lot more to deal with than feeding you every five minutes.”

Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed. “A ridiculous exaggeration. My feeding schedule is entirely appropriate and well-regulated. Although,” and here she paused to lick an imaginary speck of dust from her immaculate paw, “since you raise the possibility, a five-minute feeding schedule might prove salubrious. I direct that you implement such a schedule at once.”

I sighed again. Life at the Strand is certainly getting back to a reasonable facsimile of normal. Sure, we’ve got reduced seating capacity for the time being, and masks are still in order for patrons entering, exiting, and moving around the theatre, but the important thing is that people are back – actual paying ticket-holding patrons, come to sit back in communal comfort to enjoy a feature picture on the big screen. That’s what “the movies” are all about, and that’s what the Strand was built for in the first place. And now we’re doing it again, and it’s just like riding a bicycle – you never forget how to do it, how to enjoy entertainment as part of a group again, the way entertainment works best. We of the Strand haven’t forgotten either. All the thousands of shows we’ve hosted since the grand reopening in 2005 taught us the best way and the right way to make our patrons happy – and it’s been rather amazing to see how smoothly we’ve been able to pick again right where we were interrupted fifteen months ago. 

“Ahem,” ahemed Miss Carol. I bet you didn’t know a cat can ahem, but Miss Carol has advanced abilities you could not likely comphrehend. A mere ahem is nothing.

“Ahem,” she ahemed again. “If you are finished with your digression, the matter of my evening meal remains at hand. I should like the turkey with giblet gravy this evening.”

“Large, medium or small?” I responded out of reflexive habit, and immediately regretted doing so. This is going to take some adjustment.

For the month of June 2021, Friends of the Strand Theatre will receive a $1 donation from each purchase of the $2.50 reusable Community Bag at the Hannaford store located at 75 Maverick Street, Rockland. We're back to using reusable shopping bags again, so now's a great time to refresh your stash (and support the Strand)!

Our thanks to Hannaford for selecting us to be this month's recipient!

My Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“Your face!” exhaled Miss Carol T. Cat, her bright green eyes dilated with shock and horror. “What have you DONE to it?”

I frowned. That’s what I did with it. And then I rolled my own eyes and I replied “I took my mask off, all right?”

“Is this – advisable?” demanded Miss Carol, expressing the caution which has become her byword over this long, excruciating year. “The world has become accustomed to – not viewing your sagging mien. Are you certain that you wish to inflict it again upon an unwitting population?”

“Things are changin’ fast,” I replied. “Pretty soon everybody will be able to show their faces again. Well, I can think of a few prominent figures on the global stage who probably shouldn’t ever show their faces again, but we won’t dwell on that, will we? The thing is, we’re finally gettin’ back closer to normal than we’ve been since this mess started. Normality, ya might say, is Just Around The Corner!”

Miss Carol regarded me with disdain. She’s been doing so for ten years now, so you think she should change?   “You have said that,” she intoned, “on many occasions over the past several months. And yet, the corner has shown a distressing ability to recede toward the horizon as if a fleeting mirage. Be certain, this time, that you do not merely speculate.”

“I do NOT merely speculate,” I countered. “I have it on the best of authority that, in fact, Normality Is Just Around The Corner. Do you know what I did today?”

“My mind reels with sarcastic replies,” Miss Carol shot back.

“I took delivery of half a ton of popcorn. HALF A TON!” I rubbed my shoulder at the memory of it. “Do you think I’d be doin’ such as that if NORMALITY WAS NOT JUST AROUND THE CORNER? An’ on toppa that, I ordered CANDY. Do you think I’d trust myself alone in a buildin’ with two cases of Milk Duds if NORMALITY WAS NOT JUST AROUND THE CORNER? It’s not just “around the corner,” you can hear it jake-braking down the hill as it rolls triumphantly into town! IT WON’T BE LONG NOW!”

Miss Carol’s features settled into a concerned scowl. Well, wait, what settle? She always scowls, but I guess if you squint you can maybe kinda see some concern. Or maybe that Tuna and Chicken with Gravy isn’t sitting well. Who knows?

“Does this mean,” she began, in careful measured tones, “that my feeding schedule will again be disrupted? I advise you in advance that I shall find this entirely unacceptable.”

“So you’ll get your supper at 9 instead of 7,” I countered. “Look, everybody’s had to make sacrifices to get thru this pandemic, right? We’ve all had to deal with things we didn’t want to deal with, and accept changes we didn’t like, and face realities that we never wanted to face – but you know what, we’ve come thru it. What if I told you when I get home at 9, you’ll get the best supper you ever got? Extra gravy, even!”

“You would be capable of delivering on this promise?” she queried. “Because I must warn you, I do not respond well to ‘bait and switch’ methods. If you make such a bargain, I shall most certainly hold you to it.” She flourished her claws to emphasize the point, and I instinctively pulled the sleeves of my sweater down to protect my  slash-marked forearms.

“I will. I’ll be just like old times. I’ll even rub your belly on the kitchen floor.”

“I require that you mop it first.”

“Yep,” I nodded. “Just like old times.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“When I advised you to ‘go soak your head,’” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “I did not intend for you to take my admonition literally.”

“If there’s one thing the world needs less of,” I growled, wringing out my sodden hair, “it’s wise cats.”

“No doubt there is an entertaining explanation for your present condition of saturation,” Miss Carol continued. “I look forward to being amused by it – after, of course, you have seen to more immediate needs.”

I peeled the lid off a can of Friskies Chicken and Tuna In Gravy and fulfilled my duty by splatting it into Miss Carol’s bowl. Then I sunk into a kitchen chair, sent a stack of bills flying with a sharp snap of the back of my hand, and allowed my head to sink to the tablecloth.

“OW!” I bellowed, as a sewing pin left scattered on the tablecloth during a recent project penetrated my eyebrow. I just can’t win.

“No, you cannot,” agreed Miss Carol, sensing my thoughts as is her custom. “But as the poet tells us, 'when the one great scorer comes, to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.' ”   

I shot Miss Carol a look. “Grantland Rice?” I scoffed. “What happened to Milton?”

“I find him prolix,” replied Miss Carol, with a toss of her whiskers. “But literary criticism aside, I am now prepared to hear your explanation for your present condition. Your sogginess – explain it.”

“I was fixing a leak in the ice bin drain,” I growled, regarding the damp spot I had left behind on the tablecloth. “Stupid ice bin at the soda fountain, I fixed that leak twelve years ago, and now it’s gotta start leakin’ again? I ASK YOU.”

“It would appear,” Miss Carol observed, “that your repair methods were not entirely successful. I recommend that you leave matters of plumbing to qualified professionals.”

“What plumbing?” I erupted. “It’s a plastic tube screwed into the bottom of a metal tub! But the stuff it’s sealed with musta shrunk with age or somethin’. That happens, y’know. Stuff shrinks with age.”

“You yourself, of course,” sniffed Miss Carol, “would present a notable exception to this rule.”

“You should talk,” I snorted back. “You with that danglin’ avoirdupois.”

“My physique is perfectly adapted for the life I lead,” Miss Carol stated, with a prim elevation of her nose. “But, pray, continue with your absorbing anecdote. And, if you will, introduce a clever analogy linking your present condition to the greater crisis that remains at hand.”

I shot her another look, but what was the point? “Yeah,” I continued, “that ice bin is a lot like the pandemic. I tried an’ tried to get the leak to stop, with patchin’ an’ caulkin’, an’ silicone, an’ putty, an’ even that Flex Paste stuff that guy made the boat out of on TV. I wouldn’t recommend tryin’ that, by the way. Unless you wanna get wet. But you know, no matter how much I tried, it kept leakin’ – until every single part of the leak was plugged. It’s the same with the pandemic. You can’t go part-ways. If too many people skip getting their shots, why, that’s just throwing on a little bit of duct tape to stop a leak. You’re not gonna stop that leak at all! A halfway job just won’t cut it.”

“A passable analogy,” concluded Miss Carol. “You have, however, done better.”

“I do better when I’m not wet.” 

“I advise that you take immediate steps to absorb this excessive moisture, then. Note that you have caused the paint on that chair to blister.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“Perhaps,” she nodded. “But dry.”

 

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“The appointed hour is long past!” proclaimed Miss Carol T. Cat as I stumbled in thru the back door and threw my jacket in any old direction. You live alone, you can get away with that. Make a note of it, kids, it’ll come in handy someday.

Miss Carol’s gleaming green eyes traced my route as I reached for a can of Friskies Tuna and Sardines In Gravy and pulled off the lid with perhaps more force than the situation might have warranted. She pushed my hand away as I unfurled the can’s gloppy contents into her dish, gaining for her haste a dollop of fishy sauce atop her furry forehead. Oh well, nice to know she’s glad to see me home.

It’d been a long day, if you will excuse a lapse into the passive voice. I’m too tired to write in the active, you know? Twelve and a half hours had gone by since I left home in the morning, on the heels of another twelve-and-a-half-hour day before it. It’s been a busy week at the Strand. A very very busy, very intense week. I took a deep breath, applied a can opener to a small tin of Campbell’s Pork and Beans, and dropped my incipient supper into a saucepan. As the mass of processed legumery extruded out of its container, it made a sucky sound like a moose extracting its foot from a quicksand bog. I examined my meal for any traces of pork among the beans, but as ever I knew I’d be disappointed. Whattaya expect for fifty-six cents, anyway? Someday I’m going to write a long and angry letter to somebody about that. But not now. As the beans slowly simmered to life, and as the gentle slurping sounds of Miss Carol’s graceful dining echoed in the background, I let my eyes close long enough to not quite fall asleep on my feet. Yeah, that’s the kind of a day it was.

You know, or maybe you don’t, and if you don’t, well, sit back and I’ll tell you. Movie projectors ain’t what they used to be. When I first became acquainted with the technology as a wee child, watching my mother’s clattering Brownie 8 casting images of my youthful antics on the side of the refrigerator, projectors, no matter how big or how small, were all pretty much the same basic technology they’d been when the Brothers Lumiere unleashed them upon the world back at the tail end of the nineteenth century. A light source shined thru a moving strip of celluloid, moved from one spool to another across an intermittent movement and behind a shutter, and thru a lens that cast the images recorded upon the celluloid upon whatever flat white surface one might happen to have had on hand. That’s all there was to it. And for over a hundred years, despite enhancement of the basic tech by such extravagances as sound and color, that continued to be all there was to it.

Those were happy times, simple times, when if something went wrong it wasn’t anything you couldn’t cure with a  screwdriver, a wrench, a can of Esso Household Oil, and a roll of splicing tape. As I watched my beans blurping in the pan, inhaling the gentle fragrance of their steam, I shed a tear for the lost innocence of my youth. Yeah, because projectors now ain’t nothing like that. Ooowee.

Since the Digital Revolution burst gaudily upon we of the cinema business in the 2010s, life’s gotten a whole lot more complicated. A Digital Cinema Projector was designed by three disparate groups of people – electronics technicians, software developers, and lawyers. The developers ensure that the proprietary encryption necessary to the protection of the lawyers’ intellectual property rights is completely impenetrable and proof against movie pirates, while the technicians are charged with building an infrastructure capable both of living up to the marketing hype and to actually functioning in a day-to-day theatre environment with a minimum of disruptions.

We’ve been lucky. Our Christie Solaria One, purchased at the end of 2013, has been astonishingly trouble free except when it hasn’t been. But finally, this January, one of its key components – the “Integrated Media Block” – decided that it had done just about all it was going to do, and laid down dead. The “IMB” is, in civilian terms, the “brain” of the projector. It takes the digital movie file, determines if we are legally allowed to possess and present that movie, and if we pass muster, it decrypts the file and allows it to be projected, within a span of time decided for us by the terms of our contract. And if the IMB refuses to do so, there will be no movie shown. Simple as that. Nothing you can do will cause this triumph of technology to renege on its Prime Directive. So when an IMB dies, it must be replaced. It cannot be fixed, it cannot be reprogrammed, and it cannot be bypassed in any way. If you so much as touch a single component that you are not legally authorized to touch, it will “brick” the projector, and then won’t you be in a fix.

“Your meal,” interjected Miss Carol, “is burning. I find the odor of incinerated beans in a corn-syrup based tomato sauce offensive. Please open all windows at once. And silence that smoke alarm!”

Roused from my reverie, I sighed and complied, and scraped what salvageable beans I could out of the saucepan. Live the dream, baby. And still no pork.

And as I gorged myself on my lavish repast, I continued to think about all I had seen and done. The replacement of an IMB is no small task. You have to be a Christie-certified official technician to even unseal the compartment in which the device is sealed inside the projector casing, so a tech from our booth contractor down in Boston had to come up for a couple of days to do the heavy lifting, while I stood by to assist. It’s a delicate, nervewracking procedure surrounded by anti-static wrist straps, insulated rubber mats, and lots and lots of microscopic screws that have the unsettling habit of vanishing into a pocket universe whenever you try to replace them.  And once it’s in, it must be configured. And all ancillary components – hearing-assist devices, captioning systems, file storage devices – must also be configured to recognize their new commanding entity. It’s not like that Star Trek episode where Bones replaces Spock’s brain by putting on a funny helmet. I wish it was, but once again Hollywood has deceived us. Nothing is ever that easy. Instead, there are consultations with manuals that turn out to contain erroneous information, there are phone calls with tech support people who say “well, read the manual," and there are repeated attempts to work around the work arounds that don’t actually work.  But finally, when the final screw tightens down and the lid is closed and you switch it on and it ACTUALLY WORKS, well, that’s about as rewarding as it gets.

Miss Carol jumped up on the table and wrinkled her nose with disgust at the lone bean remaining on my plate. I felt sorry for that bean, and speared it with a fork to put it out of its misery. “It is time,” Miss Carol declared. “You have been gone far too long, and it is time for you to lie on the living room floor while I bat your head with my paws, roll on the floor myself, and purr. You have been lax in your obligations these past two days, and I am here to collect what is due. We must begin at once to make up for lost time.”

“Lead the way,” I sighed, assuming my position on the worn old rug. And I was fast asleep before a single claw found its mark.

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