STRAND spotlight

 
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.
 
“Siii….”
 
“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.”
 
“But…”
 
“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!”
 
“Silence!”
 
“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.

 

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“Id oo mama’s widoo baybee cat,” I oozed, skritching Miss Carol T. Cat’s furry cheek. “Ess  ooo id!”
 
She glowered at me, from the comfortable living room chair where she reclined with dignity. Her ears tipped back ever so slightly.
 
“Id mama’s baybee kiddy wassum fooooood? Ess  ooo does!”
 
Her eyes narrowed. “Cease that witless prattle at once,” she snapped, in a voice that sounds to the unfamiliar like the old Carlton Bridge raising on a winter afternoon. “If you mean to ask me if I wish to dine, the answer is of course in the affirmative.” She thumped off the chair and took two steps toward the kitchen before freezing in place. “That odor,” she demanded, turning to face me. “Identify its source.”
 
I shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.  I knew I’d forgotten something.
 
“Well?” she asked, fixing me in a penetrating glare. “Your answer, please. My time is valuable.”
 
“I guess I forgot to – ah – I forgot…”
 
“My patience has a limit,” she interrupted. “I have determined the source of the aroma for myself. It would seem that my personal facilities have not been serviced according to our agreed-upon schedule. Is this an accurate conclusion?”
 
“Yeah,” I replied with a weak shrug. “I guess I forgot to clean your box.”
 
“Ah. You realize of course that this is unacceptable.”
 
“Well, I had other stuff to do.”
 
“Indeed? It is your view that other activities carry a higher priority than my own personal hygiene?”
 
“I was down at the Strand,” I countered. “I have a lot of work to do there.”
 
“Describe it,” she commanded.
 
“Well, you know,” I began, with a sad, wheedling tone to my voice, “ even though there’s nothing going on at the Strand in the way of shows, I still got a lot to do in the building. I have the popcorn kettle all dismantled for one thing so I can do a bunch of deferred maintenance  that’s hard to do when you’re using it every day.”
 
“Popcorn?” she snorted. “You hew-mons and your fixation on idle snacking. Surely you realize that steam-extruded vegetable starch is hardly of any meaningful nutritive value. You should follow the feline example, and snack on small rodents, which serve as a complete source of healthy protein. But continue, explain to me why these activities are of greater importance than your duties here.”
 
“The more work I can get done there now,” I argued, “the better prepared we’ll be for when we reopen. And not only that, I did some work under the sinks, cleaning the drains, making sure all the lines feeding the soda fountain are secure, that there’s no unexpected leaks or anything. Do you know what a mess soda syrup can make if it leaks and there’s no one there to deal with it? That’s the spreadin’est stuff in the world. Ever hear of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919? Soda syrup’s even worse!”
 
“As usual,” Miss Carol disdained, “you exaggerate.” She paused to nibble an imaginary speck from her flawlessly-groomed coat. “But I suppose that these tasks that you mention are of significant importance, since they relate to the ultimate source of our family income, and thus by extension to my own personal sustenance and comfort.”
 
“Thank you,” I murmured, my head bowed.
 
“But see to it that in future, your duties there do not interfere with your duties here.”
 
“I’ll reevaluate my priorities at once.”
 
“See that you do.” She turned, and approached her feeding bowl.
 
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
 
“What was that?” She whirled around to confront me.
 
“Oh, nothing,” I assured her. “I was merely complimenting your distinctive physique.”
 
“As well you might,” she replied.
 
And I think I heard her purr.
 
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“Here!” came the sharp voice of Miss Carol the Fat Barrel Cat,  a voice that to the nonconversant sounds like a rusty cellar door pulling open after an especially wet winter. “What’s the meaning of this!”
 
I knew what was coming, and I steeled myself for the ordeal.
 
“What’s ya problem now,” I snapped back, trying without much success to put my inquisitor on the defensive.
 
She stood in a posture of ripe indignity before her feeding bowl. Her eyes blazed with the green fire of her ancestral rage. I flinched. “What’s the meaning of this – ah – food?” she demanded. “You know my views.”
 
I took a deep breath, wrung my hands, and tried to stammer an explanation. “Well, y’see,” I began, “it’s like this…”
 
“Come to the point,” she interrupted. “I haven’t all day. My time is valuable.”
 
“I couldn’t get it,” I shrugged. “I couldn’t get it, that’s all. I had to get this other kind…”
 
“By Pasht’s whiskers!” she roared. Miss Carol seldom swears, so I knew she was seriously inflamed by my presumptuous actions. “You mean to stand there and tell me – here, LOOK AT ME when I speak to you – you mean to tell me that THIS is what you presume for me to eat?”
 
I could feel the cold sweat coming. “Look, it’s all they had!”
 
“ALL THEY HAD???” I knew instantly that I’d said the wrong thing. “IS THAT SO? Did you TELL them that I have a DELICATE DIGESTION? Did you INSIST on my rights? Did you PUSH your way to the front of the line? Or did you merely bow your head and accept this ridiculous can of – of – abbatoir’s sweepings – and expect me to SETTLE for it because it’s ALL THEY HAD?”
 
She glared at me. Miss Carol doesn’t raise her voice often, but the tensions of the times are getting to all of us. I could see her flanks heave as she regained her customary composure.
 
“Look,” I started, “it’s not that simple. This crisis – this thing we’re dealing with – is unlike anything this country has ever seen. Do you know what World War II was?”
 
Miss Carol sneered. I know she participates in a virtual wartime history symposium on the internet while I’m at work, and has been credited as a contributor to several notable works of scholarship dealing with feline contributions to the war effort. I didn’t mean to be condescending, so I reframed my question accordingly. “You know how they dealt with shortages then, right” She gave me a curt nod, emboldening me to continue. “They knew if something wasn’t done, that people would hoard, and that an aggressive few would end up with all the stuff while the majority couldn’t even get the basics. So they put in a Federal rationing program. You had to have government stamps to buy the stuff that was in the greatest demand, and everybody got a fair and equal share of those stamps. That broke the backs of the hoarders, and while nobody had as much as they’d had before the war, everybody got a reasonable share. But right now, we don’t have that. We have hoarding. We have people taking more than their fair share of the limited amount of goods available, and that means some of us have to go without. And that means sometimes I can’t get you the kind of food you need.”
 
“And you haven’t done anything about this?” Miss Carol fixed me in a stern gaze. “And why is that?”
 
“It’s not that easy,” I murmured. 
 
“So I am to presume that nothing will be done?”
 
“No, the stores are doing the best they can trying to control the situation, but you’ve still got people who think the rules don’t apply to them.”
 
“Bring them to me at once,” she ordered, in a tone that could cut steel. “I shall readjust their thinking.”
 
“How about I just pass along what you have to say? I think the problem isn’t that people are hoarding deliberately – it’s just that sometimes they don’t think of how it’s going to affect other people.”
 
“I would prefer a more direct confrontation,” she replied. “But if you feel my words will prove stimulating to the public you may relay them thru the appropriate channels.”
 
“I’ll do that, I promise. I’ll say something like, ‘Folks, when you go to the store, remember there’s someone else out there who needs that stuff every bit as much as you do. And ‘everyone for themselves’ isn’t going to end up helping anybody in the long run – not even you. Buy only what you need, and leave enough so that the next person that comes along can get what they need too. And especially when you’re getting cat food. Remember that Miss Carol has a delicate digestion, and can’t eat beef, wheat products, or rice.’ Is that OK?”
 
“It will suffice. See that you deliver it without any of your usual threadbare jokes or strained witticisms. Unlike you,” she concluded, “I prefer to be taken seriously.”
 
By Liz McLeod
Your House Manager
 
“Now just a minute,” I wailed. “’Zyzzyx’ isn’t a word! You can’t play that!” I got up and flipped thru the enormous hardbound edition of Webster’s Second New International sitting atop the bookcase. “Nope, no such thing as ‘zyzzyx!’ Get it off the board there, it’s not a legitimate word.”
 
Miss Carol T. Cat glared back at me from across the board. Her eyes narrowed, and she assumed even more of an air of superiority than usual. “Zyzzyx,” she stated in calm and measured tones that sound to those not fluent in her tongue like the sqeaking of a rusty swivel chair, “is the name of an unincorporated village in the Mojave desert in California, formerly known as the site of the Zyzzyx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. Of course, to look at you, one would reasonably understand why you are unfamiliar with such a place.”
 
“Hah!” I retorted, feeling my dudgeon grow that much higher. “You can’t use proper names in Scrabble! It’s against the rules. Lookit – right there on the box cover, it’s printed right out. Don’t try to pull your funny stuff with me, you  ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
 
Miss Carol emitted a snort that fairly dripped with derision. After wiping the derision off her chin with a swipe of her furry paw, she tossed back her head and again addressed me. “How old is this copy of the game?”
 
I consulted the box lid and read aloud the tiny type. “Copyright 1948, P&M Corporation.”
 
“I might have thought as much,” my feline companion sniffed. “I think you’ll find, my friend, that the Official Rules of Scrabble were changed in 2010 to permit and encourage the use of proper names as valid for play. You may look it up on the internet if you doubt me. Really, you must learn to keep up.”
 
I wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction. I swept all the tiles off the board, including her – her – TRIPLE WORD SCORE for “Zyzzyx,” – and stood up in a huff, storming away to stew in private.
 
It went like this all weekend. With nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I was reduced to playing board games with my cat. We tried them all. Monopoly fell by the boards early, after she misinterpreted my statement that “landing on Free Parking takes the kitty.” We tried Sorry, the “Slide Pursuit Game,” but she decided sliding her own voluminous avoirdupois across the board was more stimulating that actually manipulating the pawns. Parcheesi  fell short when she batted the dice into a furnace register when a turn went against her. “Jeopardy” was no fun – not only did she never miss, she also corrected the information in the question book four times. Every game we played, every game we tried, left me more frustrated and her more smugly superior. I couldn’t stand it.
 
Finally there were only two games left. Chess I discarded immediately. I know she’s been playing chess-by-mail for years with this Russian Blue cat, and I’d never even get the game set up before she declared checkmate. The only other option was “Major League Baseball – You Are The Manager!,” a game using special dice and encoded cards to reproduce the actual performance of real ballplayers. The most recent edition available reflected the 1970 season, but anything is better than nothing. Or so I thought, until, after four innings, Miss Carol, managing the Baltimore Orioles, held a 15-0 lead over my woebegone Red Sox. I threw the card representing my pitcher down on the table in disgust. “Sonny Siebert!” I growled. “Who ever told you you could pitch.” And Miss Carol, in full Earl Weaver mode, just gazed inscrutably across the field at me, her expression offering the imperturbability of one who knows that Frank Robinson is in the on-deck circle. As she extended her paw again for the dice, I “accidentally” spilled my drink on the table, flushing the cards and dice away in a sudden rushing torrent. “Game called,” I snapped, “on account of rain.”
 
Miss Carol just glared at me,  and turned to lick her behind in a marked manner.  
 
She knows I’ll be back. She knows there’ll be more games. Because what else do I have to do and where else do I have to go?
 
This crisis better end soon. I can hear her in the kitchen right now, shuffling a deck of cards. She’s a demon at gin rummy, and I can’t afford to lose any more.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
 
“I can tell you right now what your problem is,” declared Carol the Fat Barrel Cat, as she delicately nibbled at the most remote quarter of her rear haunches that she could reach. “You’re addicted to your job.”
 
“Hah,” I scoffed, meaning it to sting. “What would you know about jobs? When did you ever have a job?”
 
“Oh, but I have one right now, hew-mon,” she retorted, rolling over on her side. “My job is to keep you in line. I saw you last night, pacing the floor at two o’clock in the morning when you should have been providing me heat in the bed – and by the way, how do you call that a blanket? It’s a moth hole surrounded by a few pathetic shreds of old wool. You can do better.”
 
“Now just a minute,” I protested, brandishing a half-eaten sausage on the point of my fork and stabbing it in Carol’s direction for emphasis. “You know very well that I…”
 
With a lightning-like swipe of her paw, Miss Carol plucked the sausage from the fork and swallowed it in a few quick bites. She made an unintelligible remark as she chewed.
 
“I better not find that on the rug later,” I warned. “You got some nerve.”
 
Miss Carol nibbled daintily at her extended paw to ensure that the no microscopic bit of sausage grease remained to soil her fur. “Let’s get back to you,” she said, in a firm voice that to the uninitiated would sound much like the hiss of a air brake. “Just what do you hope to accomplish with all this fretting? Do you think because *you’re* inconvenienced, because *your* routine has been fractured, because *your* life has been tipped on its back to wave its helpless legs in the air, that everything’s just going to settle right down and get back to normal because *you’re* frustrated and annoyed? Is that going to accomplish anything? Of course it isn’t.”
 
I saw her eyeing the few scraps of scrambled egg left on my plate and made a preemptive strike to claim them for myself. “You’re one to talk,” I replied in a peevish tone I knew would rile her. “Look how you get when *your* routine gets disrupted. Remember that time the guy from the oil company was here to fix the burner. Tromping thru the house with those big boots on, making all that noise and smell. And you hid under that end table in the living room for two days. Remember? You knocked over that stack of Artie Shaw records on your way there, and broke “Frenesi.” I haven’t forgotten that, you know, Miss Self Righteous Know It All Fat Barrel Cat.” I swallowed the egg with conviction, knowing I’d scored a thrust.
 
Miss Carol stretched out, doubling her length and halving her width, like some sort of non-Newtonian fluid contained within a semi-permeable membrane. Or like a lump of Silly Putty. Whatever. Her eyes narrowed to slits “We’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you,” she countered. “You need to think more like me. Look how I’m dealing with this. Do you realize how annoyed *I* am by your constant fussing and fretting and kvetching and the way you stare out the window expecting the Fed Ex truck to pull up outside with An Answer To It All? But do you see *me* fretting about it? No, you don’t. Because *I* know that Whatever Will Be Will Be.”
 
“I can’t stand Doris Day,” I snapped back. “Too saccharine. Helen Ward was a much better…”
 
“And that’s another thing,” she interrupted. “Enough with the Big Band references. You’re writing for boomers here. They don’t know who you’re talking about. Get with the program.”
 
“Now just a minute,” I yelled, feeling my thread growing ever more taut. “I’ll put up with a lot from you, but when you start with the music shaming…”
 
“You’ll do anything to deflect my arguments,” Carol said with a smug look of catly satisifaction firmly set on her face. “You know I’m right. The only way to deal with this situation is to accept it – and to understand that time is a linear progression. We are at this point on our timeline. Eventually, inevitably, we must arrive at a further point on that same timeline in which these events are part of the past.”
 
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you watch ‘Star Trek,’” I  muttered. “Enough with the Spock stuff. Talk English. Or Catglish. Or whatever language it is you speak.”
 
“This too,” she exclaimed with finality, “shall pass.”
 
I had no reply.
 
“Now, If you’ll excuse me” she added,” climbing slowly to her feet and lumbering out of the room, “I have something I must do. That sausage isn’t sitting well. Good day to you.”
 
I sighed. This too, shall pass.
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