STRAND spotlight

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.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“You smell of cassia, cinnamon, neroli, and phosphoric acid,” observed Miss Carol T. Cat as I stumbled in thru the kitchen door. “With a trace of vanilla and an unspecified alkaloid.”

My hand stuck to the doorknob, and I pulled it off with a dramatic sucking pop. “Caffeine,” I replied. “That’s the unspecified alkaloid. Caffeine. Whattaya want from me?”

Miss Carol’s bright green eyes tracked me as I shuffled exhaustedly across the room and tried to take off my jacket. I say “tried” advisedly, because the garment stuck to my hands, turning my simple attempt to toss it across the back of a chair into a particularly enervating vaudeville routine. “Well done,” declared Miss Carol, as I finally succeeded in disentangling myself from the jacket. “Your new career as a pantomime buffoon will no doubt bring you both fame and fortune. Remember please, in the days of your future success, those who have encouraged you on.”

I shot her a murderous glare, stepped to my sink, and shook half a pound of Boraxo onto my palms, the better to remove the thick and sticky layer that had just facilitated my comic performance. As I did so, I muttered several short, pithy phrases generally reserved for moments of extreme aggravation. You know the phrases. You do. When I was done, I wiped my hands on a soiled apron hanging on the pantry doorframe in lieu of a dishtowel, and mightily exhaled.

“It’s been one of those days,” I declared. “The fountain. I’ve been working on THE FOUNTAIN.”

Miss Carol recoiled. She has heard me on many occasions describe The Fountain, and she firmly believes that I have thoroughly exhausted all potential interest from that particular topic. But Miss Carol is, behind her austere countenance, a patient soul.  And so she sighed, and prepared to receive what was to come.

“Those VALVES!” I sputtered, giving a vivid imitation of the sound of an entire cylinder of carbon dioxide gas discharging itself thru a ruptured seal. “THOSE VALVES! Do I ask much from those valves? I ask you, DO I ASK MUCH FROM THOSE VALVES?” Miss Carol slowly lowered and then raised her eyes to indicate that she had no response. So I continued. “We haven’t used that fountain for most of the past year, and you’d think it could take the WEAR AND TEAR of not doing anything! But DOES IT? A ten-cent rubber O-ring fails and PFFFFFFFFT!  THERE YOU GO!. And then I go in there to figure out which valve it is, and what do I find? THE LEAK BLEW THE SYRUP LINE TOO! I just hooked the thing up to get it tested for when we reopen, and what happens? Coke syrup! All over the valves, and all over me! You ever hear of the Great Molasses Explosion of 1919? They ain’t got nothin’ on an EXPLODING COKE SYRUP VALVE! I got covered with the stuff! Just when I think I got it all cleaned off, I find some more!” I sunk into a chair, rested my chin on my palm, and found, indeed, that I could not pull it free. “YA SEE WHAT I MEAN???”

Miss Carol’s sides trembled. Were she any other felid, I might be worried to observe such trembling, thinking perhaps that she was experiencing respiratory woes. But no, long experience has taught me that when Miss Carol’s sides tremble, it is merely a sign that she is repressing an explosion of mirth. Cats, as you may know and as a rule, do not laugh. But that doesn’t mean they don’t think it.

“But I got it fixed, anyway,” I sighed. 

“Ah, you see?” replied Miss Carol. “Ingenuity has carried the day. No doubt you improvised some clever solution in the manner of 1980s television hero ‘MacGyver,’ whose adventures entertain me so in endless basic-cable reruns.”

“Yeah,” I began, with just a trace of peevish sarcasm. “I got up, pulled myself loose as best I could, and punched a number into the keypad in my office.”

“Indeed?” Miss Carol responded, showing a slight gleam of sincere interest. “You, seeking a technologically driven solution to a dilemma? You, sworn apostle of epoxy putty and duct tape? I am well and truly impressed that you have at last joined us here in the 21st Century. Please be seated,  and an automated AI droid will be along shortly to take your order. In the meantime, please describe your solution to this syrupy crisis.”

“I picked up th’ phone an’ called the Coca-Cola guy,” I sighed. “An’ he came an’ took out the old valve and snapped in a new one. Boom, end of problem. But he didn’t wipe up the syrup, that was my job.”

“And I’m certain that you performed that function with aplomb,” Miss Carol nodded with approval. “Which reminds me, you will observe that I have somehow spilled a quantity of Friskies gravy near my dining area. Please see to this at once. I am, as you know, most fastidious about such matters.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I groaned, reaching for a mop. 

Which stuck immediately to my hand.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“This activity!” demanded Miss Carol T. Cat as she leaped with astounding feline poise onto the kitchen table. “Explain.”

“I’m fixing something,” I snapped, annoyed by the disruption of the close concentration required by my task. Before me on the table, among the bills, the “Sell Your House While You Still Can!” flyers, and copies of the Atlantic Monthly, lay dismantled a piece of equipment from the Strand projection booth. In my right hand I held a sizzling-hot soldering iron, and in the other, a huge spool of solder someone who shall be nameless, because I can’t remember who, appropriated for me from some department at Bath Iron Works back in the ‘90s. The statute of limitations has expired on that, so don’t get any ideas.

“This task could better be accomplished at the Strand Theatre itself,” replied Miss Carol. “It is distracting you from necessary household tasks. I find the accumulation of food particles around my bowl offensive.”

“Then eat neater,” I growled, throwing caution to the winds. It’s hard to concentrate on delicate electronic work when forced to defend your housekeeping skills, but since my housekeeping skills are, in fact, indefensible, I saw no reason to take the bait.

“Explain the purpose of this device,” commanded Miss Carol, a glint of curiosity a cliché-ridden writer would be sorely-bound to describe as “catlike” flickering across her furry features. “No doubt its complexity exceeds the capability of your rudimentary technical skills to repair. I recall your attempt to rehang the bathroom door using broken matchsticks and machine screws. When it fell from its frame in the night, the crash resulted in a serious disturbance to my slumber. I advise that you leave such tasks to qualified professionals."

“I know what I’m doing,” I retorted. “It’s a switcher. It switches. Now leave me alone.”

“I observe that you disregard vital warnings appearing on the casing of this apparatus,” she responded in a bland tone. “It appears to read ‘No User-Serviceable Parts Inside,’ although you seem to have attempted to scrape away this legend with a sharp instrument of some sort. It will of course avail you not.”

“Just shut up and let me work,” I yelled, losing what little remained of my patience. “I know what I’m doing, all right? I’ve been working with this equipment longer than you’ve been alive. I know what it does, I know why it does what it does, and I know what to do to make it do what it does when it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do anymore. We haven’t used the projector booth much over the past year, and there’s things that need to be done to get ready to start using it again. It gets warm in the equipment rack, and that can cause parts to break down as they age –and when I can fix them myself, like I’m doing here, it saves the Strand money. And that’s something we’ve got to be very conscious of at the moment – everything we save on the small things is that much more that we have available for the big things we need to do! There’s some work coming up on the digital-cinema projector, for example, that we have to get an outside technician in to do so we can be ready to go again when we reopen. And the less time we have to spend having that technician deal with small stuff like this, the faster we’ll be able to get the big stuff done and out of the way!”

Miss Carol watched me apply a tiny dot of solder to a connection with some degree of fascination.

“There!” I declared, with perhaps a bit more of an attitude than might have been advisible, just to make my point. “All done.  Everything we can do to save money is something that will do that much more to keep the Strand going.”

Miss Carol seemed satisfied with that statement, so I figured I’d take a chance on something else I needed to address. “And speaking of saving money, well, it looks like our monthly oil bill is going to be going up next month. I mean, by a lot. And with all the other bills sitting on the table there, that means something else is going to have to give. So starting today...”  I glanced at Miss Carol and something about her frosty expression sent a wave of terror up my neck. But once started, must finish, so on I plunged. “Starting today,"  I continued, “ I gotta cut your ration down to two cans of food a day.”

Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed, widened, and narrowed again. “This is monstrous!” she spat. “Monstrous!”

“I can’t help it,” I groaned, raising my arm to ward off a possible swipe of ferocious feline claws. “We gotta pull in the belts all around. You don’t think I’m eatin’ beans every night because I like ‘em!”

Miss Carol fixed me with a stare of utter fury – but then she – well, as much as a cat can do so, she snickered. And as she snickered, I smelled an odd, pungent odor wafting about my head and saw a thin curl of smoke rising from…

“Have a care!” she erupted. “You seem to have, with your electrically-heated repair device, ignited your own hair!”

With a strangled yelp, I plunged the singed strands into a convenient glass of water that just happened to be there in case I set my hair on fire or something. You know how it is.  “Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I choked.

“Yes indeed,” nodded Miss Carol, mirth wreathing her features, “you certainly do know what you’re doing.”

Not boring Lizzie
Lovemiss CAROL T. cat.
PS – Lisen to LIZZIE radio STRAND on the AIR brocast on W R F R radio STATION 93.3 99.3 on SUNDAE APEril 25 at 5PM. Or she wil CRY and I will haf too SCRATCH hre.
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