STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

 

“Where is it?” snapped Miss Carol T. Cat, her green eyes flashing with irritation.

“Where’s what?” I mumbled, my brown eyes rolling behind sagging lids with “aw jeez, what is it NOW, can’t I even take a nap without having to deal with something I don’t wanna deal with?”

“The sheep,” she replied. “A quadruped ruminant of the genus Ovis, commonly kept as livestock. As you are no doubt aware, this municipality prohibits the keeping of livestock in a Residential B zone. Remove this animal at once, les you be held accountable. I am advised that the authorities offer no lenience in the enforcement of this ordinance. Furthermore, you are no farmer. You must be aware that sufficient pasturage to provide the nutritional needs of even a single sheep cannot be produced by the fallow, contaminant-ridden soil of this plot of land.”

“What are you talking about?” I groaned, as I considered whether throwing a pillow would be considered a gross breach of discipline. “There’s no sheep. I don’t even know where this is headed.”

“My highly-developed olfactory sense detects the presence of a sheep,” insisted Miss Carol. “To be specific, a damp sheep.”

Light dawned over Marblehead. “Oh,” I sighed. “It’s probably my wool jacket.” I gestured to the patched grey garment tossed over the newel post. “I got soaked to the bone out at the concert in Owls Head the other night, an’ my jacket probably hasn’t dried all the way out yet. Don’t worry about it.”

Miss Carol frowned. “It is unfortunate that nature interfered with your activity,” she began, with as much sympathy as you can expect from a cat. “No doubt you were left to mumble apologies as your audience filed away in disappointment."

“That’s the thing,” I said, sitting up to continue the conversation. “Nobody left. It absolutely poured out there, just after the show got started, and everybody just sat there and took it. Not only that, some of ‘em even got up to dance. Can you figure that? People were so happy to finally get a chance to see a Strand show, an actual live Strand show again that they were willing to sit out in a wet field in the mud and all they said was ‘give us more!’ I knew people were tired of being cooped up with the pandemic and all, but I never expected a reaction like that.”

“I, however, completely understand,” said Miss Carol, turning to lick her haunches. “I too spend my life confined to an environment not of my choosing. My recreational activities are limited, my social interactions are stifled. I am limited to the companionship provided by a television set, a radio, and a painfully slow and obsolete internet connection in order to find personal enrichment.”

“Ya got ME,” I protested. “Remember? Me that took you out of that shelter? Me that opens the cans? Me that lets you get under the blanket when it’s cold?”

“Oh yes, of course,” she acknowledged. “You who allows goldfinches and chickadees to taunt and goad me behind the safety of a storm window. You who refuses to permit squirrel hunting in the cellar or attic. You who…”

“All right,” I  interrupted. “I get the point. But you gotta agree that people are really primed for entertainment right now. And we’re gonna keep doing everything we can to bring it to them, every way we can, right up to the time when we can finally reopen the theatre. Streaming entertainment, streaming movies, the ‘Strand On The Air’ radio show. Even this blog. Some people even find *you* entertaining. You know what somebody said to me the other day?”

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

“She said to me, ‘you ought to sell T-shirts with Miss Carol’s picture on them. ‘Ridiculous Fat Barrel Cat’ T-shirts. Whattaya think of *that!*”

“I would require a minimum percentage of 40 percent of the gross sales,” declared Miss Carol, “along with the right of creative refusal.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means that if I find the T-shirts insufficiently creative, I am entitled to refuse their sale. One must necessarily take steps to ensure the integrity of such an image as mine.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“Indeed,” stated Miss Carol. “You may remit my percentage to my agent. The balance I would be pleased to donate to the Strand. It is a worthy cause, and I am well aware of the vital role it plays in the community. It has, indeed, done much to build me in to a recognized and well-loved personality worthy to be immortalized on a T-shirt.”

“I’m not the only one who’s all wet,” I opined. Miss Carol glared at me, and strode purposefully into the next room. No doubt her agent will be getting a call.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

"It has come to my attention that our property is littered with leafy refuse,” commented Miss Carol T. Cat. She was standing on my chest as she made this observation, rendering it impossible for me to ignore.

“So it is,” I groaned, squinting at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Most of the luminious paint on the dial lost its glow some time during the Johnson Administration, but enough of a shine remained that I could pick out the time in the gloom of the pre-dawn murk. “Quarter of six is no time to give a hang about leaves,” I growled, using a word other than “hang,” and pushing the pillow down over my face in hopes of concealing myself from the arrival of another morning.

“Our property is unsightly,” Miss Carol continued, “and it attracts vermin. I have observed several obese squirrels rampant in our yard. Release me for but a moment and I shall correct this.”

“I don’t care,” I moaned. “Squirrels deserve to live. In fact, they got a better life right now than we do. They don’t have to worry about the future, they don’t have to deal with everything we’re dealing with. All they do is pick up nuts off the ground an’ store them away for winter. I wish I could do that. There’s so many nuts around right now somebody needs to store ‘em away for the winter.”

“Your attempt at veiled social commentary does not alter the circumstances,” Miss Carol replied. “The autumnal equinox has passed. Leaves must be gathered and placed for municipal pickup. The norms of a dignified society demand it.”

“I’m leaving the leaves there for the bees,” I muttered from beneath the pillow. “Save the bees. The world needs the bees more than it needs a grubby little corner of the North End to be free of leaves.”

Miss Carol knew she was fighting a losing battle, and thumped to the floor, her fur bristling with irritation. I’d hear more about this later. I let out a sigh and pulled the pillow off my face, acknowledging the inevitability of another day. I made several attempts, and finally succeeded in rolling myself out of bed, into my bathrobe and into the bathroom, where an unspooled roll of toilet paper festooned the floor. Miss Carol had been busy about her work overnight, and with the sun just poking up behind the steam clouds from the carrageenan plant, it was time for me to be busy about mine.

I’ve got a lot to do these days down at the Strand, even though our doors remain closed. There’s our upcoming concert this weekend out at the Owls Head Transportation Museum featuring a live performance by Goldenoak – the first live show presented under Strand auspices in nearly seven months. There’s preparations for the October “Strand On The Air” broadcast, a Halloween-themed phantasmagoria in which the folks down in Abysmal Point encounter a spine-chilling tale of ghostly vengeance. And there’s the continuing work I’m doing toward bringing the building up to CDC specs in preparation for our eventual reopening – there’s techs to arrange, vendors to contact, labor to be done, and no time at all for such pointless trivialities as raking leaves. The leaves can stay until next spring, and the world will be better off for it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I was feeling as refreshed as I ever feel as I headed into the kitchen to feed Miss Carol and put the kettle on – but she wasn’t sitting as usual beside her bowl.  I stepped into the little room off the kitchen I use as an office, and there she was – sitting on my desk and gazing out the window with murderous slit-eyed hate at a plump grey squirrel – who sat on his haunches and gazed back at her with a look that can be described only as defiant insouciance. If a squirrel could ever look like a tap-dancing James Cagney about to punch an adversary in the moosh, this squirrel had it down.  Miss Carol resented him. Miss Carol resented the window pane that kept her from him.  I knew her frustration – there’s a lot of things to resent, to feel frustrated about  in the world right now, but just sitting there fuming about them isn’t going to change anything.

I turned back to the kitchen, plonked the kettle down on the burner, and wrenched open a can of Friskies Whitefish and Tuna Filets.  Miss Carol heard the can cracking open and sensed the tiny wisp of Whitefish and Tuna Filet scented aroma that hissed out when the lid came off, and thumped into the kitchen, resigned to one more day without a squirrel to mount in her trophy case.  I shrugged. “It ain’t an easy world,” I sighed, “an’ it ain’t a fair world. The leaves are fallin’, the dark is comin’, an’ we don’t know what’s out there. But hey, you got cans, I got opposable thumbs and a sapient cerebral cortex --  an’ somehow we’ll muddle thru.”

The kettle whistled, I poured it over the tea bag, and began to think about my day. “Maybe next time,” I heard Miss Carol say, as the first dribble of boiling water hit my bare foot, “you should put the tea bag in a cup first.”

 

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“There!” I grunted, gracelessly maneuvering the rusty old air conditioner out of the bedroom window and onto a table that might or might not decide to hold its weight.

Miss Carol T. Cat glanced over at me from the bed, where she lay sprawled upon my bathrobe, oblivious to the hard physical labor under way just to her left. Miss Carol is always oblivious to hard physical labor. She’s a cat, whatta you want from her? 

“I hate this part of the job,” I muttered, as I tried not to break the knobs as I pried them off the front of the unit with a dull screwdriver. I pulled off the front of the cabinet, revealing what appeared to be a large felt mat, made entirely out of cat fur. 

Miss Carol’s eyebrows raised, if she’d had eyebrows. You know what I mean.

“Surely you cannot place responsibility upon me for this unfortunate state of affairs,” she sniffed. “I accept no responsibility for shed fur once it has separated from my person. There is ample legal precedent in the courts of our nation to establish the correctness of my views on this topic.”

I paid her no mind. It’s never a good idea to pay Miss Carol no mind, but in this annus horriblis 2020, what’s another consequence to worry about?  I’ve got a lot more to think about these days than offended felines.

Air conditioners have been very much in my thoughts of late. My shabby little thirty-year-old Sears and Roebuck blow-box is as nothing compared to the vast HVAC system I supervise down at the Strand, where we’ve been spending a lot of time lately working up a plan to bring it into compliance with recommended anti-Coronavirus standards. We’re lucky that the system installed during the renovation in 2005 was vastly overbuilt and overengineered – one technician told me once that it was sufficient to handle the needs of a small factory, so don’t worry about a 350-seat theatre. But even with a first-rate air-handling system there’s plenty we can do to tweak its capacity to ensure that when the Strand does reopen the air will be clean and sweet and safe. This week we’re having the dampers adjusted in accord with CDC recommendations for allowing in more outside air when the building is occupied.  We’re planning to add special anti-viral ultraviolet-ray emitters to the inside of the air-handler units.  And we’ll be upgrading the vast battery of replaceable paper filters inside the machinery to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size. Given the demand for such work over the summer, it’s taking a while to get all this work done, but once it *is* done you can be confident that the air you’ll be breathing once you come back to the Strand will be safe and sanitary.

And, of course, though it is a source of endless conflict between Miss Carol and me, there will be no large felt mats made entirely out of cat fur clogging up the filters. That is purely a domestic problem.

Miss Carol glared as I peeled the furry filter out of my old AC,  and stuffed it into a plastic trash bag. She resented the implication, and I had every reason to expect that she equally resented the implicator. But sometimes you gotta just grit your teeth and do what you gotta do. 

So after I installed the new filter and snapped the front of the casing back into place, and slid the knobs back onto their shafts, I did exactly that. I gritted my teeth and attempted to wrestle the heavy, clumsy machine back into the window – forgetting the gnarled old ficus tree directly behind me. It’s been sitting in that corner for twenty years, but you get to my age, you forget things. What can I say?

And in rapid succession the following events occurred:

A thin and pointy branch from the gnarled old ficus tree caught me square in the eye and pulled my glasses off my face.

I reached up to grab my glasses to keep them from smashing against the wall.

I forgot I was holding a fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering.

I dropped said fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering on my foot.

I howled with pain and mingled rage.

Miss Carol rolled over on her side and casually licked her paw. “I have been meaning,” she tossed off lightly, “to call your attention to that ficus tree. It requires pruning. Please see to that when you have completed your present task. I find unsightly foliage distasteful.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel –“ I began. 

But I decided not to press my luck.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“What is the meaning of this?” snorted Miss Carol T. Cat as she examined the plastic bag I dropped on the kitchen table. “Are you at last preparing to insulate the attic of this wretched hovel? The job is long overdue. Crisp fall temperatures have arrived, and my summer fur is insufficient to meet its challenge."

“That ain’t insulation,” I snapped back. “It’s popcorn. I made it down at the theatre today.”

Miss Carol squinted and wrinkled her nose in distaste. “You hew-mons are a peculiar species,” she declared, snagging the bag with an extended paw and dragging it to the floor. She batted it about for a bit, distracted by the crinkling of the plastic bag, but soon exhausted the possibilities thus presented.  She glared at me again. “What is the purpose of this substance? It appears to be some manner of steam-extruded grain product. You cannot possibly intend to consume it.”

“It is, and I do,” I declared. “I was making popcorn for the Strand Drive In this week, and had a little bit left over after making the quota for the night, so rather than waste it by throwing it away I brought it home. You’re lookin’ at supper.”

Miss Carol gaped. Until that moment I was unware that felids were capable of gaping – it seems so beneath them to acknowledge the type of astonished shock that generally leads to the deployment of a gape. But gape, nonetheless, she did. 

“This is pure cellulose,” she sneered. “As an obligate carnivore, I must warn you that I find the entire concept offensive. Take it away and bring me shredded poultry at once.”

“It’s MY supper,” I replied. “Not YOUR supper. Money’s tight this week, which you’d know if you’d just shelled out thirteen bills to get your brakes fixed. These are not times in which gustatory luxuries are to be indulged in. In other words, no hamburger tonight. The chicken noodle soup must stay on the shelf. Besides, popcorn is good for you.”

Miss Carol gazed inscrutably, her head cocked like one of those ceramic figurines your grandmother kept on top of her TV set.  “I find this information  doubtful,” she finally declared. “As packing foam, I should think it would be most efficacious. As nutrition? Your thesis is unproven.”

“Look it up on the internet. But for that matter,” I argued, “what’s wrong with eating something just because you like the way it tastes? People don’t base their whole diets on popcorn – unless they just spent thirteen bills getting their brakes fixed, but that’s an exception – they eat it as a treat. And it’s a treat everyone’s been missing lately – I mean, it’s been six months that the Strand has been closed, and all that time, no movie popcorn to munch on? Just that lame microwave stuff or that air-popped stuff that tastes, yeah, like packin’ foam. Real theatre popcorn, baby. That’s what people are missing, and I’m here to tell ya, it tastes just as good as ever when you come see us out at the Strand Drive In at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. Every car gets a complimentary bag, popped with love by me, myself, in the actual Strand popper using techniques perfected thru a decade and a half of careful experimentation in the preparation of exploded-grain treats.”

“Astonishing,” commented Miss Carol. “You turned this entire conversation into a commercial announcement.”

“That’s show-biz, cat.” I chuckled, tossing a few kernels into the air and trying unsuccessfully to catch them in my mouth.

“Hmph,” Miss Carol snorted. “Ridiculous fat barrel hew-mon.”

“HEY!” I shouted, as a kernel bounced off my nose. But Miss Carol had already retreated to that place in the corner of the room where she sits and contemplates the iniquities of fate.

 

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“You reek of chemical stink,” frowned Miss Carol T. Cat as I shambled into the kitchen via the back door.

It was almost eleven o’clock at night, and I’d spent the evening out at the Owls Head Transportation Museum screening another presentation for our Strand Drive In Theatre, and it was too late and I was too tired to be reprimanded for my personal bouquet. “It’s bug spray,” I muttered, tossing my mask on the table and reaching into the refrigerator for something to eat. A lone cellophane-wrapped slice of pasteurized-process cheese food seemed to offer the most promise. It was too late and I was too tired to risk interaction with that brown paper bag full of left-over General Tso’s Chicken.  Miss Carol gazed at me with impatient frustration as I peeled the plastic off the cheese slice and methodically folded and refolded it until if formed a small but pliable cube. “Did you know,” I began, “that you can only fold a slice of pasteurized-process cheese food five times before its molecular cohesion breaks down? Try it yourself some time – it’s fascinating.” I dropped the cube into my mouth and chewed without much satisfaction. Eleven o’clock at night is no time for pasteurized-process cheese food. At my age, eleven o’clock at night is really no time for much of anything.

Miss Carol glanced at the stack of cat food cans on the kitchen table, and then flicked her deep green eyes in the direction of her food bowl.  “Do not come too close,” she warned, a hint of claw extending from her raised paw. “Your chemical odor is offensive. Once you have completed your food service obligations, you will immediately remove the residue of your insecticide product.” She didn’t need to tell me that, of course, because I’d have done it anyway. Bug spray goes with drive-in theatres like popcorn and kids in the back seat, but it does have its downside. I’ve gone thru five cans of the stuff since June, and if there’s one thing I know about in this year 2020, it’s bug spray.  But it’s worth the effort, because no matter how many mosquitoes, gnats, and those beetly-looking things with the long antennae show up to crash the proceedings,  the Drive In has given us a chance over the summer to see and interact with our patrons, and to make a lot of new friends for the Strand. It’s worth giving up a few quarts of the old Type O to the mosquito population in exchange for that chance, and though I scratch the night away following every show, let it please be noted that I scratch every bite with gratitude.

But yeah, it doesn’t smell too good, and I can’t wait to scrub off the residue when I get home. There is such a thing as too much Deet, and I have learned, in this trying summer of 2020, exactly what those consequences are. 

Miss Carol intercepted me again as I stepped out of the bathroom, refreshed and ready to hit the sack for the night. She came immediately to the point. “I call to your attention the condition of the bedroom window screen,” she said. “During your absence a large moth entered our establishment, and since you were not present to deal with the crisis thus manifested, I took it upon myself to dispatch the invading creature.  When it lit upon the window screen, I neutralized the winged menace with a single decisive claw stroke. Its remains made for a stimulating mid-evening snack.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever.” Moths I don’t worry about much anymore.  One more hole in the wool blanket isn’t going to make much difference in my life.

“I must inform you, however,” Miss Carol continued, “that in taking action against this interloping specimen of Lepidoptera, it was necessary to cause a significant tear in the window screen. This has permitted the entrance of additional insects, including a large number of Culex Pipiens, which species seems to flourish in the unkempt and overgrown municipally-owned lot behind our domicile. I suggest you call the unacceptable condition of this property to the attention of the appropriate city officials and demand immediate remediation. Threaten punitive legal action if satisfaction is not provided. This usually proves a stimulus. I have secured the telephone numbers of several reputable legal firms from late night television advertisements who might provide the necessary counsel.”

I heard a high buzz around my head, and swatted hard , but too late. I could already feel the itch.

“In the meantime, I suggest that you see to a repair of the window screen at once, “ Miss Carol concluded, turning to lick at her ample haunches. “You will find duct tape in the bottom bureau drawer.”

I would have grumbled “ridiculous fat barrel cat,” but I was too busy trying to get the last drop out of the bottle of calamine lotion.

 

 

 

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

The claws just missed my jugular vein as I sat at my desk staring into a screen full of things I’d rather not be looking at.  A blur of fur and teeth sailed over my shoulder and thumped with emphasis onto the desktop in front of me. A tepid stream of flat Coca-Cola tricked onto my thigh from an upset bottle as Miss Carol T. Cat turned to glare directly into my bloodshot eyes.

“Flies are not a healthful component of a balanced feline diet,” she hissed.

“Hah?” I blurted. I blurt a lot these days. It’s been that kind of year.

“You have failed yet again to provide my sustenance according to our agreed-upon schedule,” she snapped. “Flies circle my empty bowl, picking at the few dried-on scraps. Your performance of your duties is unsatisfactory.”

I dug thru the cluttered drawers of my sleep-deprived mind in search of Le Mot Juste. “Hah?” I blurted once again.

“I have been most patient with you over these past several months,” declared Miss Carol, her bulk rippling as she settled upon her haunches, her green eyes blazing. “I have permitted you to spend your days at the Strand Theatre building, seeing to the facilities-maintenance needs of that organization, I have permitted you to spend valuable weekend hours preparing your Strand radio program – which, incidentally, has made no mention of me in its three most recent installments – and I have waited tolerantly as you have spent three nights each week presenting entertainment al fresco at the Strand Drive-In Theatre in a neighboring town. But my patience is at a limit. You are now present in our place of residence, and yet my food bowl remains empty.”

“That’s because you ate it all,” I retorted, my hand clamped tightly to my neck to stanch the bleeding. “Whatta you want from me?”

“Cease your impudence,” she commanded. “You have been remiss in your duties, and you must reevaluate your priorities at once.”

“Look,” I explained. “Do you realize that the only thing keeping you from a diet of mice, birds, and squirrels – is me?”

“I have been meaning to speak to you about this. I observe that the goldfinch population in our neighborhood of late has exploded to unacceptable levels. You will permit me to ‘thin the flock’ at once.”

I ignored her and plowed on. “And do you realize that the only thing keeping *me* from a diet of that leftover case of ramen I bought in 2004 is doing everything I can to help keep the Strand afloat?  And do you realize that the Strand itself, thru all its many alternative entertainment programs, is playing an essential role in providing needed distraction and relaxation to a tense, overstressed community in this time of crisis? That means your usual schedule is going to be off the beam until further notice? Get it?”

Miss Carol scowled, resenting the implication that she does not control her own destiny. But in this world today, in this situation in which we find ourselves, who does? We’re all at the mercy right now of forces largely beyond our individual control, leaving mass cooperation as the only way forward. But try and explain that to a cat.

I wrenched my body off the chair and moved toward the kitchen. I heard Miss Carol thump meaningfully to the floor behind me as I fumbled with a can of Friskies. She glared at me as I shooed the flies away and glopped Turkey With Giblet Gravy Dinner into her bowl. 

“Should not you be at work?” she growled. “You have essential duties to perform this evening at the Drive-In.  Cease malingering, and be busy about them.”

I sighed. Some things change, but Miss Carol never will.

I grabbed my mask and my keys. "Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I muttered as I headed out the door.

 

But all I heard in return was a satisfied purr.

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