STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Enough of this!” snapped Miss Carol T. Cat in a voice that sounds to the uninitiated like a truck driver jake-braking down Camden Street on a Sunday morning when you’re trying to sleep.
I froze where I stood. “Enough of what?” I replied, a edge of fear in  my voice. These last few days had been especially tense between the two of us, with cold, foul weather compounding the stress of forced confinement.
“You have paced the full circuit of this dwelling sixteen and three-quarters times in the past thirty-four minutes,” calculated Miss Carol with her usual precision. “You are causing unnecessary wear to the imitation Persian rug covering the living room floor. Note that the nap is distorted in an exact tracing of your footpath.  This is unacceptable.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Apologies are irrelevant,” she replied. “You will cease pacing at once. As you know, I frequently recline upon this rug, and a raised nap is essential to my comfort.”
“I won’t do it again,” I stammered.
“No,” she stated with finality, “You will not.”
I sighed, and considered sighing again. But one glance at her stern visage caused that second sigh to stall in my esophagus. With some effort, I forced it back down, and shrugged with resignation. Another glance at Miss Carol suggested that further efforts along that line would also meet with brisk discouragement.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked. “We got a lotta day left here, and we gotta do something with it.”
“I suggest that you, in the vernacular of the present day, ‘Hulu and Refrigerate.’”
I had to think about that one for a minute. Finally, the light dawned. “You mean ‘Netflix and Chill?’”
“The exact wording is of no consequence,” Miss Carol replied with an impatient glare. “An afternoon of passive television entertainment would serve to settle your agitation, and would permit me to pursue my own activities free from distraction.”
“You mean sleep in the chair, right?”
“You are correct.”
I took a deep breath. We’d been over this before. “You know I don’t have Netflix here,” I said. “You know my computer can’t handle it.”
“I have been meaning to call this matter to your attention,” she interrupted. “The purchase of an updated device for internet access for this household is long overdue. Your current computer is now old enough to vote in all municipal, state, and federal elections. A computer of more recent manufacture would permit you access to a whole world of outstanding entertainment and enlightenment, such as is now offered by the ‘Strand at Home’ service.”
“Was that a commercial?” I asked.
“A public service announcement,” she corrected.
“Well anyway, computers cost money,” I protested, “and why spend money when you can find perfectly good ones at the side of the road with a ‘FREE’ sign?”
“You practice false economy,” she countered. “At some future time I shall demonstrate this to you mathematically. At present, however, there remains the question of entertainment for this afternoon.”
“Hey, I know,” I said. “Just a minute!” I ran upstairs –well, actually, I slowly ascended the stairs pausing every three steps to huff – and returned shortly carrying a large plastic storage bin. “Our problems are over,” I declared. “We’re gonna have some fun!”
Miss Carol threw me a frown fairly dripping with skepticism. “That container promises no stimulation, unless you intend to place it on the floor so that I might climb inside. This might prove distracting for a brief period, but I hardly would consider it sufficient entertainment for a full afternoon.”
I snapped off the lid and reached inside. “VHS tapes, baby!” I crowed. “Now we’re talkin’!”
Miss Carol cast me a look akin to that which she displays when she discovers a hair in her Friskies. “Recall that I was born in the year 2009,” she said. “I am unfamiliar with such an obsolescent format.”
“Oh, we got everything in here,” I said, plunging both hands into the bin. “Lookit – fifteen years of ‘Doctor Who’ episodes taped off MPBN! Some of ‘em even have pledge drive breaks with Bernie Rosetti! Remember? ‘Call within the next ten minutes and get this disappearing TARDIS mug?’”

Miss Carol was not impressed. She approached the bin and pawed one of the dust-covered cassettes. “’Beavis and Butt-Head Moron-A-Thon 1996,’” she read. “I hesitate even to ask.”
“Aw, that’s some great stuff,” I enthused. “Best pop-culture criticism of the ‘90s on that show. Did you know Patrick Stewart was a big fan?”
Miss Carol gazed at me with a look that can only be described as deep, profound pity. “You are the house manager of one of the finest independent theatres in New England,” she said, slowly shaking her head, “an establishment widely hailed for the unusual quality of its presentations. If only the public knew.”
“You’re a snob,” I retorted. “Hey, lookit! Here’s something you’ll like.”
“I very much doubt it,” she snorted.
“No, this is great. A silent movie starring John Barrymore and Dolores Costello. They were married, you know.”
“Indeed,” she replied with no enthusiasm whatsoever.
“They were Drew Barrymore’s grandparents,” I continued.
“Who?” asked Miss Carol. “You move from irrelevance to irrelevance.”
“Oh, this is a great picture. See, it’s based on the story ‘Manon Lescaut,’ same as the opera. Costello is Manon, and Barrymore plays this chevalier guy. Not Maurice Chevalier, but he’s still French, right? And they’re in love an’ all that, an’ when she gets kidnapped by this evil Count Whatshisname, Barrymore takes care of her cat!”
That got Miss Carol’s attention. “The cat doubtless steals the production,” she said.
“An’ Barrymore goes all around Paris looking for Manon, an’ he’s carrying this cat with him, an’ some musketeers or whatever make fun of him an’ he gets in this big swordfight – all the while he’s carryin’ the cat, and the cat is all ‘whatever!’”
Miss Carol displayed the first enthusiasm she’d shown all day. “I should like to meet this cat,” she said. “Arrange for this at once.”
“Uh, this picture was made in 1927, so – uh – I’m afraid that – ah….”
“Leaves have their time to fall,” sighed Miss Carol, “and flowers to wither at the north…”
“I quote from the hew-mon poet Milton,” she explained, “in reference to the evanescent nature of existence. I am not surprised that you are unfamiliar with his work. To my knowledge he never wrote for the comic magazines.”
“Well, anyway, it’s a great movie. We oughta watch it.”
“I suggest that you do so and leave me in peace,” she said, taking her customary place in the living room chair. “The hour has arrived for my midday rest period. View your film but with the volume muted.”
“It’s a silent picture,” I protested.
“As it should be.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
“As *you* should be.”
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Mggpphhrrr!” I exclaimed, as Miss Carol T. Cat sunk her needle-like claws deep into my thigh. Miss Carol resists all attempts to trim her claws, viewing them as protected under the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  “Mgggrrrrph!” I repeated, as she slammed them in again, putting behind the attack the full force of her weight. Apparently she wanted my attention.
“I require social stimulation,” she declared, in a voice that to the uninitiated sounds like a freight train rattling thru the South End that you can hear all the way up in the North End. “I require at this time that you lie on the living room floor so that I may lie on my side and lightly paw you about the head and neck. You may, if you wish, refer to me at this time as ‘a good cat’ and as ‘a pretty cat.’ Do not, however, resort to infantile ‘baby talk’ in making these statements. I find such to be highly distasteful.”
“Mmgggrrph,” I repeated. I was seated at my desk, busy with matters of vital importance.
“You would communicate more effectively,” frowned Miss Carol, “if you were to remove that odd utensil from your mouth. It renders you even more unintelligible than usual.”
“It’s a thermometer,” I replied, removing it from under my tongue. “I’m takin’ my temperature.”
“You are hardly what anyone would consider ‘hot blooded,’” observed Miss Carol, turning to lick her furry flank. “No doubt your temperature is well within accepted parameters.”
“Yeah, well, I feel funny,” I snapped. “I felt funny when I woke up today and I feel even funnier now.”
“I have reviewed your comedy material,” she sneered. “I assure you that you are in no way funny.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I said, my irritation building. “I think I have – symptoms.”
“Nonsense,” declared Miss Carol. “You appear in every way to be asymptomatic.”
“I was cold when I got up this morning! I had the shivers.”
“If you heated this establishment sufficiently during the overnight hours, you would avoid such an outcome,” she countered. “I recommend a minimum temperature of 75 degrees Farenheit for best results.”
“I’d cook,” I protested. “Do you want to boil me alive?”

“I have no desire for such an outcome,” she said. “I merely call to your attention that ambient temperature is of considerable significance in determining personal comfort. If you have ‘the chills,’ consider this factor before drawing medical conclusions.’”
“I’ve been coughing,” I coughed. “See?”
“As you have often reminded me,” she replied, “you suffer from chronic bronchitis. You always cough. It is of no further significance.”
“I’m sneezing,” I sneezed.
“This structure is heavily laden with dust. You are a lackadaisical and indifferent housekeeper.”
“I had a sore throat yesterday!”
“A symptom caused by inappropriately raising your voice when I advised you that the hour for my morning meal had arrived.”
“It was 3:30 in the morning!”
“Ah,” she noted. “Again you raise your voice, thus irritating your larynx. Your symptoms will recur, but they do not denote a serious illness. I advise that you learn to restrain your emotions.”
“Look,” I said. “I been sittin’ here all day readin’ the internet. There’s all kinds of stuff on here about this virus, an’ it’s scary, okay? What if I *do* have it? What’ll happen? Who’s gonna take care of you?”
“A matter of legitimate concern,” she acknowledged. “I advise you to contact an attorney at once and draw up a power of attorney to see to my needs.”
“See,” I said, ignoring her usual lack of concern for my personal well-being. “Right here. This gal on this blog. She shows all these things you need to worry about. She’s got the truth about the virus!”
“Is this hew-mon a physician? Has she the necessary clinical training to diagnose illness and prescribe treatment?”
“How do I know?” I asked. “I come acrost her on this forum where I was lookin’ for advice on how to strip varnish.”
“Ah,” she nodded. “And there is your problem. You allow yourself to be agitated into a state of fear and panic by random hew-mons you encounter on the internet – persons no more qualified than you yourself to pass a medical judgement.”
“But the internet…”
“It has been my observation that ‘crowdsourced’ knowledge is generally of little value. A million hew-mons believing a fiction does not make that fiction a fact. Information gathered from improperly vetted, irresponsible sources and unaccredited, self-designated ‘experts’  is more dangerous even than no information at all.”
I thought about what she’d said, and I had to admit she was right. The deeper I plunged down the tunnel of Internet Self-Diagnosis the more I panicked – and the more confused I found myself. 

“You have taken your temperature,” said Miss Carol. “What is the result?”

I squinted at the thermometer. “Ninety five degrees,” I read. “See, I told you I was cold.”

“You have no fever, “ she stated with finality, “and you have no real cause for fear. Your temperature is, in fact, several degrees below normal. I suggest that you retire to bed at once, and I will join you there shortly. I shall sit on top of your chest and warm you with my body heat.”
I was touched. She was rarely so altruistic. 
“After, of course, you prepare my evening meal. And I recommend you prepare my morning meal in advance to avoid wasted time on the morrow. I am, as you are well aware, an early riser.”
So what did I do? Well, I did what you would.
I shut off the computer and I went to bed.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“A bandit!” exclaimed Miss Carol T. Cat as she beheld the figure standing before her. “You will depart at once. Your attempt to rob this establishment will come to naught. The hew-mon who resides here is of the proletariat, and possesses no goods of significant material value. You will find no cash, nor gems, nor negotiable securities upon the premises. If you have come here to steal prescription drugs, be advised that the only medication in situ is a small bottle of tablets generally prescribed to reduce the incidence of so-called ‘hot flashes.’ If you are troubled by this complaint I shall direct you to the place where the medication is stored.  Otherwise, I advise you to depart at once and leave us in peace. I shall not trouble the authorities to dispose of you – you will please note” – and here she unsheathed her claws – “that I am sufficiently armed to repel any attack upon my person.”
“Settle down,” I chuckled, pulling down the bandana that covered the lower half of my face. “It’s just me.”
Miss Carol was nonplussed. “What is the purpose of this preposterous disguise?” she demanded. “Has your mind finally shattered under the strain of forced confinement? Have you realized the desperation of your current situation and made the decision to turn to crime?  Do you now also harbor delusions?  Have you assumed the criminal persona of a hard-riding 19th Century pistolero?”
“This,” I said, with a touch of pride, ”is a mask.”
“Indeed,” replied Miss Carol. “Thank you for sharing this information. Now please leave me.” She rolled over on her side. “I have a great deal to do today.”
I ignored her dismissal. “A lot of people are wearing these now, you know,” I continued. “It’s one more way to fight the pandemic.”
“Is that so?” she replied. “How embarrassing for you.”
“They say the virus can be spread by breathing,” I explained. “Or you can catch it by inhaling particles someone else has exhaled.”
“I advise that you cease respiration at once.”
“Yeah, well, if that happened, who’d open the cans for you?” I was feeling sassier than advisible, but went ahead anyway. “Remember who’s got the opposable thumbs.”
“A fluke of genetics that will one day be corrected,” she sneered. You’ve never been sneered at until you’ve been sneered at by Miss Carol. She sat up, regarding me with her usual skepticism. “Why do you wear this contrivance inside our dwelling? Do you suspect *ME* of harboring disease?”
“Oh, no, no,” I assured her. “Nothin’ like that. But the CDC recommends that people wear some kind of face covering when they go to the grocery store, for example, as an added margin of safety in case it’s not always possible to stay six feet away from other people.”
“If I were so unfortunate as to possess a face like your own,” Miss Carol declared with a smirk, “I should welcome any opportunity to conceal it. Fortunately, of course, felines are immune to the current pathogen.”
“Don’t be so sure,” I replied. “Didn’t you hear about that tiger who lives in the Bronx? She tested positive for the virus, and apparently caught it from a human.”
Miss Carol snapped upright, and her blazing green eyes bored a hole right thru me. “You lie,” she hissed. “A GREAT CAT could not possibly be infected by a trivial hew-mon disease.”
I held up a newspaper. “Read it an’ weep,” I said, laying the sheet before her. She scanned the page and her usual stony calm began to crack.
“This tiger has no business living in the Bronx!” she exclaimed, in a voice that to the uninitiated might sound like Johnny One-Note over in the next block practicing his trombone at 2 in the morning. “She has reaped the consequences of her own folly.”
“Well, I don’t think she exactly moved there of her own volition.”
Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed. “You hew-mons will pay a great price for interfering in the affairs of GREAT CATS. I am certain that when this tiger regains her health she will wreak a terrible vengeance.”
“She’ll be fine,” I assured her. “They say she’ll make a full recovery. But with people, you never know. That’s why it’s important to take whatever precautions you can now to keep the virus from spreading. And if wearing a mask when you go to the store can make even a small difference, it’s worth the sacrifice and the inconvenience.”
Miss Carol pondered for a long moment. “If donning such a ridiculous contrivance when you venture abroad to purchase supplies means I am protected from possible infection,” she said, “then you have my permission to do so.”
“I’m glad you agree,” I replied, reaching out to give her neck a skritch.
She recoiled. “Here!” she snapped. “None of that. For the duration of this pandemic, I require that you observe ‘social distancing.’”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
“Your gibes are of no consequence. You will keep your distance. Now, please find pen and paper. I wish to correspond with this tiger in the Bronx. We have much to discuss.”
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“I find this author offensive,” commented Miss Carol T. Cat, in a voice that sounds to the uninitiated like an oil barrel full of tin cans rolling down four flights of stairs in a cheap walkup building with no elevator. With an expression of infinite distaste. she shoved the heavy volume off the arm of the chair. It hit the floor with a hollow thud. “This author, this insufferable Joyce James, is incoherent, bombastic, and self-absorbed.”
I took a deep breath, knowing that contradicting Herself is one of those things that Just Isn’t Done. But somewhere, a line must be drawn.
“Not to be combative,” I began, “ but the name is James Joyce, not Joyce James.”
“The name of the author is of no significance to me,” she replied. “I find this work ponderously self-important and of little true merit. The quotidian experiences of this Leopold Bloom are tiresome and repetitive. He learns nothing over the course of the work of the consequences of his actions, nor do his activities carry any consequence to the world in which he moves.  Further, his actions say nothing to the feline experience”
I saw an opening, and I seized it. “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong.”
She jerked her head up and glared at me. “Wrong?”
I gulped as I hurriedly rephrased my remark. “I believe you may have overlooked certain passages in the work.” I picked up the book and riffled thru it, looking for a specific passage.
Miss Carol sneezed. “I might call to your attention,” she said, as she delicately wiped her nose with an impeccably-groomed paw, “to the fact that many of the volumes in your – ah – personal library seem not to have been consulted in quite some time. The books are laden with dust.”
I looked up. “Who has time to read when they’re working all the time.”
“You are not working now,” she pointed out, with a trace of irritation in her tone. “You have spent the weekend seated in the chair gazing with glassy eyes at the television set, and I will add that your viewing habits leave much to be desired. I believe that I have seen all of “Green Acres” that I care for. The hew-mon characters are woefully incompetent and unspeakably bizarre, and clearly irrational in their refusal to accept the guidance of a superior species.”
I stopped riffling the book. “I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t get that last?”
She sharpened her gaze. “I am speaking of course of the swine. Clearly the swine is the most intelligent individual in the program’s cast, and the human characters would do well to accept his counsel.”
“You mean the pig? Arnold the Pig?”
“Indeed. His wise leadership could easily lift them all from their dismal rural poverty and elevate them to a higher, better way of life. And yet they resist. Judging from your own repeated failure to act upon my own advice, this seems to be a common hew-mon weakness. Your hubris will be your downfall.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I replied, starting to get my back up. “Look how people are cooperating now, look how they’re doing what they gotta do to slow down the spread of this virus. They don’t like standing in line at the store or staying out of public places or standing six feet apart an’ all the rest of it – but most people are putting aside their individual agendas and working for the good of the community. I think that’s pretty darn commendable, myself.”
Her face took on a thoughtful expression. “Some progress has indeed been made,” she conceded, “but your species will face further challenges before final resolution of the crisis. This is no time to slacken the hand. I’m sure that Arnold the Pig, in his supreme wisdom, would agree with me.”
“I’m sure he would,” I sighed, and returned to the book. I riffled further until I found what I wanted. “Here,” I said. “Chapter four. You’’ll see that Leopold Bloom has a significant personal impact on the feline experience.”  I rested the book on the hassock in front of the chair, and pointed to the relevant passage.
Miss Carol squinted her eyes – she would hate me for sharing this, but she needs glasses and is too vain to wear them – and scanned down the page to the section I had indicated. She cleared her throat and read aloud in an elegant and cultured voice reminiscent of Miss Tallulah Bankhead in her prime:
"Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.
She blinked up out of her avid shameclosing eyes, mewing plaintively and long, showing him her milkwhite teeth. He watched the dark eyeslits narrowing with greed till her eyes were green stones. Then he went to the dresser, took the jug Hanlon's milkman had just filled for him, poured warmbubbled milk on a saucer and set it slowly on the floor.
Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap."
"There," I said, taking back the book. "You see? Leopold Bloom had a significant impact on the life of this cat. Had it not been for his efforts, she would have had no milk that day."
"Nonsense," sneered Miss Carol. "To leap atop the dresser and knock the milk jug to the floor would have been the work of an instant for this clever, intelligent, and highly-perceptive feline. The actions of Mr. Bloom were no doubt well-intended, but in the end were non-essential."
"Hmph," I hmphed, and opened the book again. "He gazed with perplexity upon the sleek wellfurred form, and stated aloud 'Ridiculous fatbarrel cat.'"
Miss Carol snapped her head up and gave me a withering look. I slipped the volume back onto the shelf and walked into the kitchen, ignoring the heavy thud that echoed behind me as the book again hit the floor. I had had my fill of James Joyce for the day, but Miss Carol's experience was only beginning.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Sighhhhhhhhhh,” I sighed.
Miss Carol T. Cat glared at me from the couch, where she lay coiled upon a blanket and twitched her tail in irritation. Miss Carol maintains a positive attitude at all times and does not care for sighs.
“Sighhhhhhhh.” I sighed again.
Miss Carol continued to glare.
“Enough,” she snapped with finality, a voice that to the uninitiated sounds like that public works crew that used to wake you up with jackhammers at 6:30 in the morning. “Exhalations of despair do nothing to remedy difficult situations.”
“Easy for you to say,” I grumbled. “You’re not the one who just got laid off one of her writing jobs. That’s a 30 percent whack in the family income, in case you’re keeping track.”
“It is of no consequence. Matters will ultimately resolve in our favor.”

“Yeah, well, how ‘bout this,” I countered. “You eat three cans of food a day. What if I told you from now on you get by on two.”

Her pupils widened. “You will of course make the necessary adjustments in your personal expenditures to ensure that my normal feeding regimen continues with neither alteration nor interruption.”
I slumped back in my chair and picked up the newspaper. And then I sighed again.
“You try my patience,” warned Miss Carol. “Your continued distress over trivial matters contributes little to the ‘can-do’ spirit your species will require in order to weather the circumstances of this unpredictable situation.”
“Do you know what today is?” I moaned. “This woulda been Opening Day at Fenway Park.”
“The hew-mon fixation on spectator sports is an unfortunate squandering of valuable resources,” Miss Carol sneered. “And as you yourself have often exclaimed in recent weeks, the coming season would be as nothing without the hew-mon you designate as ‘Mookie Betts.’ ”
“You just don’t get it,” I argued. “Opening Day is special. Opening Day is a celebration of survival! We got thru another winter! Even if it’s still raw an’ cold outside, it won’t be forever. Pretty soon it’ll be warm, I’ll sit in the cheap seats out in right field with the Strand Kids, and I’ll eat a hot dog, and all will be right with the world. But now I don’t even have that to look forward to. Baseball isn’t just a game – it’s symbolic!”
“Hmph. Baseball is shambolic. I have viewed the contests via television, and find them far less stimulating than, say, this paper bag on the living room floor.”
I pressed on despite her resistance. “You know what summer means to me? Falling asleep at night with the game on the radio. You know how comforting that is?”
“A contest so somnolescent that it serves as an active aid to sleep.” Miss Carol shook her head with derision. “That is baseball.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t have any trouble sleeping,” I retorted. “I do. I worry about stuff. And right now I’m worrying about a lot of stuff.”
“You worry because you fail to take advantage of resources available to you,” said Miss Carol. “If there is no baseball, you have it within your power to create your own baseball experience.”
I didn’t know what she was getting at, and she gave me another impatient scowl.
“You have recordings of previous contests, and the equipment upon which to view them,” she noted. “You have a reading lamp that may be turned up to successive levels of brightness to simulate midday sunlight. And you have a central heating system with a thermostat which may be adjusted upward to an approximation of summer conditions. All the ingredients necessary to recreate the experience of the baseball season are in your possession now. You need only arrange them. And by careful selection of recorded contests, you may even avoid the disappointment that attends a defeat of your favorite team. I recommend you avoid viewing contests from 1986. I have heard you lament the unfortunate events of that season on multiple occasions, and no good could come from revisiting it at this time. And, to fully recreate the stadium environment, you have a package of frankfurters in the refrigerator.”
I thought over what she had to say, and could see her point. The only way any of us are going to get thru this is to seize control of our own environments. If we can’t have our normal activities out in the world, we’ve got to do the best we can to recreate them at home. I headed to the kitchen.
“You want a hot dog?” I asked.
Her eyes narrowed. “I find them revolting. However, I have become aware that there is a fillet of smoked haddock in the refrigerator as well. If you wish to repay my sound advice, I suggest you prepare it at once, lightly seasoned, in a milk-based sauce. Omit the parsley, I have no need of roughage at this time.”
And you know, that’s exactly what I did.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Cease that cacaphonous din at once!” commanded Miss Carol T. Cat.
I pushed the “reject” lever and the “Ride of the Valkyries” fell to silence.
Miss Carol frowned. “What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, in a voice that to the uninitiated sounds much like the anchor chain being hoisted on a decommissioned Gearing-class destroyer. “What is the purpose of flailing your arms in that preposterous manner? Have you allowed a fly or other winged carrier of disease to enter my home?”
“I was conducting,” I sheepishly admitted. “I always conduct when I play that record.”
Her frown deepened into an outright scowl. “The shade of Artur Bodanzky, deep in whatever netherworld to which he has been consigned, writhes in deeper torment at your defilement of his memory.”
My mind raced for a lancing reply. “Sez you,” I stammered.
She turned to nip at an invisible irritant at the base of her magnificent tail. “You realize of course that this is the designated hour for my mid-afternoon rest period.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I groveled. “I thought you just got done with your early-afternoon rest period.”
“Indeed,” she replied. “My mid-afternoon rest period, as you should well know by now, commences immediately upon the conclusion of my early-afternoon rest period. See that you refresh your memory concerning my daily schedule.”
I nodded. I’m not usually at home on Saturday afternoons, and I probably have lost sight of certain critical matters during the long years of my regular weekend work schedule, now disrupted by a situation beyond anyone’s control. It’s hard on both of us.
“Since I am now awake,” she continued,  I would like to receive my late-afternoon meal at this time. Please see to this at once.”
“Um, I’m kinda busy right now,” I responded, immediately regretting the statement. You just don’t talk that way to Miss Carol T. Cat.
“Are you now? Matters of no consequence, no doubt.”
“Actually,” I said, mustering my dignity, “I was fixing the record player.” I gestured to a large wooden box atop a living room stand, a box containing a Garrard RC-65 record changer -- an impressive piece of fine British engineering that will play eight ten or twelve inch records at a single loading, it says in the instruction book.  But it was frozen up from long lack of use, and I’d been working more or less continuously since Friday night to get it working again, a job requiring copious application of sewing machine oil and white lithium grease – a combination that I discovered turns a sooty carbon black when it gets on your hands.  I’d more than exceeded CDC handwashing recommendations in concluding the task, but the work served its purpose. I hadn’t thought about coronavirus or the disruption of the entire world’s routine or my own precarious situation for nearly twelve hours, and I had a perfectly functional record player besides. Now, I was testing its operation by playing hundreds of records pulled out of the back of an upstairs closet, and I wasn’t being particular. Wagnerian opera gave way to Fats Waller, Toscanini was pushed aside by Spike Jones, Rosa Ponselle stood shoulder to shoulder with Kay Kyser. I didn’t care. Mix it up, that’s my motto. But Miss Carol’s tastes are more specific, and I knew what was coming.
“Your choice of recordings leaves much to be desired,” she said. “You are of course aware that in addition to his many other moral failings, Richard Wagner possessed strongly anti-feline views. I find his music objectionable on this ground.”
“Sorry,” I replied, fumbling the record off the spindle. “I won’t play this one again.”
“See that you don’t.” She strode imperiously across the living room, crowded now by milk crates full of dusty recordings, and examined some of the records more closely. “This one appears likely to be of greater value than Mr. Wagner’s harsh and unpleasant screechings. Place it on your device. I wish to listen.”
I looked at the record she’d selected. “Are you sure?” I asked. “That one’s kind of corny.”
“Your misguided personal views are not sought,” she insisted. “Play the recording at once.”
“You will comply,” she commanded, with a flourish of ever so slightly unsheathed claws.
I sighed. Anything to keep the peace. I took the record out of its envelope and placed it on the spindle. “This isn’t my record,” I said,” as I reached to trip the lever. “I think it belonged to my mother. I dunno how it got mixed up with mine. Hey, I know one you’d like better – how about ‘Three Little Fishies!’ You  know that one – ‘down in the meadow by an itty-bitty poo, fwam fwee widdle fishies an’ a mama fishie too…’ You like fish, right? It’s a great cat song!”
“Boop –boop-diddum-daddum-waddum-choo…”
“Whoever told you that you could sing was sadly misinformed on the fundamentals of music. I have no desire for you to continue. Leave vocalization to the professionals. Play the recording at once.”
I took a deep breath and tripped the lever. With a clunk the mechanism swung into motion, dropping the platter on the turntable. The arm swung from its rest and the needle lowered gracefully into the groove. There was a quick grinding sound and then the annoying gravel voice of Arthur Godfrey filled the room.  “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me! She’s too fat for me! She’s too fat for me!” I winced. She sat impassively as “Too Fat Polka” played thru, the reject mechanism tripped, the arm returned to its rest, and the room fell silent.
For a long moment, she said nothing. I waited for the explosion, but remarkably, none came. Then, she spoke.
“I find this song offensive,” she began. “But at the same time, I do find it instructive.” She glared at my midsection, swollen in recent days by too much comfort eating. “You should profit by its lesson.”
She turned and walked into the kitchen. “Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I hissed in her wake.
Pretending not to hear, she strode triumphantly to her bowl. I decided not to play any more records for a while.
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