STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“THE CROCUSES ARE UP!” I bellowed as I flung the back door open and charged into the house. I needed to charge into the house to be avoid being blown into the next block by the ferocious gusts of wind.

“Indeed?” commented Miss Carol T. Cat, sprawled on my desk in an attititude of “What Makes You Think I Could Possibly Care Less?”

“It’s true,” I declared, picking a chunk of broken shingle out of my hair. Did I mention I’m really sick of the wind? “Spring is well and truly here. And do you know what THAT means?”

“I shall soon be plagued by hordes of insufferable goldfinches, taunting me from the perch of their feeder, secure in the knowledge that they need fear no attack from me so long as I am confined in this dungeonous shanty?”

“Well, yeah,” I acknowledged. “But more than that. Did you know BASEBALL SEASON BEGINS ON THURSDAY?”

Miss Carol opened her eyes just enough to roll them.

“Don’t you know what that means? Millions of old ladies across New England will at last have a reason not to go to bed at 5 PM!” I quivered with barely-controlled excitement. “I got it all planned out! Thursday I’m gonna wear my Red Sox cap an’ my Red Sox jersey – an’ my RED SOX SOCKS! Can you beat it?”

“The entire American League can, no doubt, ‘beat it,’ if my media sources are to be relied upon,” sneered Miss Carol. She was not yet born when “The Curse” was finally lifted, but after a late night game from the Coast disrupted her slumber once too often, she proceeded to pronounce another Curse all her own. Hence the exodus of Mookie to Los Angeles and Jackie B. Jr. to Milwaukee. Bet you didn’t know that.

“You can’t do nothin’ to break my mood,” I laughed. “Spring is here! The world is reborn! There is hope anew!”

The phone rang, but I refused to answer it, knowing that it was that robot calling about the medical bill. That’s how determined I was not to let my joyous Springtime spirits be shattered. We waited all winter for this, and I believe in living Spring to its fullest. If I had spring flowers at hand, I would twine them into a garland and dance a Springtime dance. Fortunately for the spirit of Terpsichore, I do not have spring flowers at hand, except for four desperate little crocuses, so you can consider yourself fortunate.

“Speaking of hope,” rumbled Miss Carol, “have you yet had your vaccination?”

“I got my name in three places,” I declared, “but nobody’s called yet. I wonder if you can buy vaccine on Ebay?”

“I advise against it,” warned Miss Carol. “Recall the many times you have purchased items from that platform that did not in fact prove to be bona fide. That ‘Amusing Cat Toy’ you purchased last year proved to be anything but. I was forced to seek my entertainment by devouring the shipping carton.”

I moved into the living room,  sunk into the big blue chair and sighed with frustration. I want to get back to normal. I want to get my shots. I want to run movies again and sweep up the floor after concerts again and see people again without having to worry about the stupid screen freezing up. But instead, even though springtime beckons, still I “hurry up and wait.”  Oh well, at least we’re at the opposite end of the tunnel compared to where we were last year.

Miss Carol cleared her throat. Have you ever heard a cat clear her throat? It’s like the sound the cushion of an old leatherette office chair makes when you stand up quick on a hot day. She made that sound, and spoke. “You mentioned,” she began, a bit cautiously for her, “your Red Sox Socks.”

“Whattabout’em?” I queried, with eyes narrowed.

“You will recall that you left them on the bed this morning after you tried them on and pirouetted around the bedroom.”

“Shut up,” I hissed. “You think I want the world to know about that? Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“I found,” she continued, “that these articles interfered with my comfort. I took steps to remedy that situation.”

“Ahhh,” I sighed, “what’s one more thing thrown on the floor.”

“I did not throw them on the floor,” Miss Carol replied. 

“Then what..” I began, but I trailed off as I noticed a long string of red yarn trailing down the stairs and into the living room, ending in a frayed and chewed up end strewn absently on the rug.

Spring is here. And summer can’t get here soon enough.  

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“Today’s the day!” I declared triumphantly, sweeping with a dramatic flourish an aggregation of old newspapers, candy bar wrappers, and an uneaten take-out fortune cookie from last winter off the top of my desk. I probably should open that some time and get some idea of where I’m headed. Might be good to know.
Miss Carol, from her position at the edge of my desk, declined to be swept off, and dispatched in my direction a deep and doleful frown.  “If you continue to conduct yourself in such a reckless manner about my person,” she warned, in a voice like the sound of your bed collapsing in the middle of the night because you forgot to tighten the frame after the last time you turned the mattress, “you shall learn that today is, in fact, The Day. And I assure you that you, in fact, shall rue it.”
“Hah!” I replied with reckless confidence. Miss Carol unsheathed her claws, but otherwise kept her own counsel. “You don’t know what today is, do you? You have no idea whatsoever of the import of today!”
Miss Carol scoffed, in that way that only a 12-year-old cat who has seen far too much can scoff. “On this date in the year 1066,” she stated, in an even and professorial tone, “the comet later to be known as Halley’s made its 18th recorded perihelion approach to Earth. It was sighted in the skies over the English coast by Norman troops under the command of William the Conqueror as they engaged in the Battle of Hastings, where it was viewed as an omen of their ultimate triumph over the forces of Harold of Wessex. The event is visually commemorated in embroidered images borne by the famous Bayeux Tapestry.”
“Well, yeah,” I both hemmed and hawed, “there’s that. But what I was really thinkin’ about is – today. You know, March 23, 2021.”
“I am unaware of any significance to that date,” Miss Carol sniffed, “other than the fact that my morning meal was 37 minutes late. I had intended to call this to your attention.”
“Today,” I surged onward, regardless of the claws now fully extended, “is the day people in my age group can sign up to get the Covid vaccine!”
Miss Carol’s eyes slowly narrowed. “You must advise the authorities that you are especially decrepit for your age,” she commanded. “You will then be placed at the front of the line.”
I knew what she was talking about and I resented it. Just because I fell down the stairs four steps from the bottom the other day because I forgot there were four more steps before the bottom is no sign that I am aging poorly. I am in fact in full vigor for my years, aside from a bit of spreading where persons of my age have a tendency to spread, and what of it, anyway? What business of it is yours? IF I WANTED YOUR OPINION I’D ASK FOR IT.
Miss Carol slowly opened her eyes, and I realized I was talking to myself. “Never mind, “ I told myself. “I didn’t mean to be talking to you. Get back to work and finish this essay so you can go get a Wasses hot dog for lunch.” I responded to that advice with enthusiasm and focused with renewed zeal upon my purpose. I reached for the telephone sitting on my desk, lifted the receiver to my ear, and prepared to dial.
“Surely you do not intend to make your call upon that antiquated device,” sneered Miss Carol, who does not appreciate said telephone’s tendency to ring loud and strong while she is deep in slumber next to it.
I squinted at the number I’d scrawled on a slip of paper and tried to figure out if that was an 8 or a 3. Or a 5. “What’s wrong with this phone?” I muttered as I discovered that it wasn’t a 5, slapped the hook for a new dial tone, and tried again.
“You cannot possibly be unaware of the fact that you will not be speaking to an actual person when you make this call,” Miss Carol continued in an enragingly self-satisfied voice. “You will connect with an automated call-processing system that will require you to submit your information in the form of standard DTMF tones. Your telephone, manufactured, I believe, during the administration of the late Mr. Hoover, is incapable of this function.”
“You mean I can’t call? Nertz!” I huffed, slamming the receiver back on the hook and the phone back on the desk. “Well, I can’t sign up over the internet either, the website crashes my browser.”
“Computers manufactured in the present century offer no such limitation. I suggest you purchase one at once.”
“Never mind,” I snorted, reaching for my jacket. “I’ll go down the Strand an’ use the phone there.”
“Be certain that you do,” ordered Miss Carol. “As you know, felids are also susceptible to the coronavirus, and until authorities provide an effective vaccine for my own species, it is your responsibility to ensure that I remain virus-free.”
“Don’t worry,” I reassured, “nothin’s gonna keep me from gettin’ this shot."
“While you are out,” commanded Miss Carol, extending a fully-clawed paw in my direction, “I require that you purchase a sufficient supply of Friskies Ocean Whitefish with Sardines Filets. Be certain that, with your fading and inadequate vision, you do not purchase Ocean Whitefish and Tuna in error. I found it nearly impossible to swallow the last three cans.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I muttered. But I didn’t mutter it until I was safely in the car. With the windows up and the doors locked.
By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“This clutter is unacceptable,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, as she knocked a shoebox full of receipts off the kitchen table and onto the kitchen floor.
I blinked. What else can you do when you’ve been awake for thirty-six hours straight? That’s the kind of a weekend it was.
“Is that clutter any more acceptable on the floor than it is on the table?” I queried, in what, in my state of near-delirium, I imagined to be an impeccable sword-thrust of logic.
“On the floor,” Miss Carol replied, as she thumped in its general direction, “this random scattering of pocket-and-purse-worn slips and tatters will provide sufficient enrichment to hasten the passage of this otherwise-interminable afternoon. You should be grateful that I have spared you the effort of entertaining me as you labor away at pointless toil.”
“I’m doing my taxes,” in that scraping nasal whine that I reserve exclusively for that weekend when I am Doing My Taxes. “And as always, you are of no help.”
Miss Carol scoffed between bites of an Applebee’s sales slip, a ragged remnant of a pleasant lunch taken in those long-ago pre-pandemic times. “As you know,” she droned in the voice of one firmly convinced of the exclusive certainty of her views, “I favor the so-called ‘single tax’ plan advanced in the late 19th Century by the late economist Henry George. It is my view that the present complexity of the American tax code is profoundly unnecessary. If you wish, I shall at this time outline my beliefs in great and all-consuming detail.”
“Nertz,” I growled. “That’s what the internet is for. Go post on Reddit and let me work.”
“You cannot claim me as a dependent,” she warned. “In fact, it is painfully obvious that it is you who is entirely dependent upon me. Were it not for my strict control of your personal habits, it is unlikely that you would be in any way a productive member of society. Instead you would loll pointless in bed until representatives of the bank that holds the chattel on this dismal shanty arrived to forcibly remove you.”
“Sez the one who sleeps eighteen hours a day,” I muttered, as I tried to figure out if I could deduct all those Humpty Dumpty potato chips I ate last year as a “home office” expense. I mean, it even suggests “office snacks” would qualify, but how do I know that’s not a gag stuck in there by the underpaid coder who put together this cheesy software I’m using?  It’s questions like this that keep me awake nights.  These freelance writing jobs I do on the side create many complications in my life when tax time rolls around. Actually, I correct myself – tax time does not “roll around.” It falls on you like a sandbag and you spend an entire weekend trying to push it off.
Miss Carol finished eating two sales slips and what appeared to be part of the bill for fixing my brakes last August. I used my car to ride staff out to the Drive In last summer, so that ought to be deductible, right?  Will they accept a bill that’s half eaten by a cat? What if they audit me? Can I just show them Miss Carol as evidence? I bet H & R Block never gets questions like that, but then again, they’ve never had to deal with me after three days of sleep deprivation.
“I’m almost done here,” I exhaled, in that way that I imagine I might exhale going up Heartbreak Hill if I was ever so rash as to attempt to run the Boston Marathon. Actually, if I ever tried that I’d probably pull a Rosie Ruiz, but hey, you know her name and not the name of whoever it was who won that year, so that’s gotta count for something, right? You see what my mind does when I’m sleep deprived? I let out another triumphant sigh as I pressed the button marked “TRANSMIT.”
“I cannot help but notice,” Miss Carol commented, “that this envelope containing a 1099-MISC form from one of your writing clients remains unopened. No doubt this was an error, and you have omitted vital information from your return.”
I dropped my head to the worn old tablecloth and emitted a sound not unlike that of a wounded elk. Actually, I’ve never heard a wounded Elk, but I did hear a Knight of Pythias once with a sprained ankle, and he made a pretty loud noise.
“Do not be alarmed. The authorities will no doubt be stern but merciful in the handling of your case. When you are sentenced to the Federal penitentiary for tax evasion, doubtless you will be permitted the occasional visitor. I shall make every effort to comfort you during your incarceration.”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I groaned in the voice of a poor taxpayer just trying to get along.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“You are of course aware,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she pushed a bowl of hot canned chili off my desk and into my lap in order to make way for matters of greater importance, “that Daylight Saving Time commences effective at 2 AM on Sunday March 14th. “

“Excellent,” I sighed in that way that you sigh when a hot bowl of canned chili has just been pushed off the desk and into your lap. “That means one less hour of my life to be taken up by crap.”

“I find your language unsuitable for a family audience,” sniffed Miss Carol, “but then, having met your family, I will excuse the transgression. You speak, as do we all, the language of our upbringing. But to continue, I call your attention to the matter of the impending timekeeping change in order to ensure that my feeding schedule is in no way disrupted.  Although the fiction of ‘spring ahead’ is enforced upon your hew-mon affairs by means of the Daylight Savings law, I advise you that as a felid I am of course exempt from the provisions of this legislation, and that my own affairs shall remain governed by Standard Time.  I shall therefore require my meals one hour earlier than the time indicated by the clock. Be aware that I shall carefully and thoroughly enforce this policy.” She paused to lick a splatter of chili off the edge of the desk. “I have advised you before that Hormel brand chili is too highly seasoned for my digestion, and I recommend that in the future you purchase a milder blend.”

Miss Carol licked the back of my neck, because, you see, by this time my head was slumped on the desk.

“You seem disquieted,” Miss Carol observed. “I should think that the shift in time, heralding as it does the approach of the vernal equinox when the world is, as the poet says, ‘puddle-wonderful,’ would lift your spirits.”

I raised my head and sighed again, pausing to wipe a spot of chili off my forehead with the sleeve of my sweater. Hey, I need to wash it anyway, whatever.

“I thought they said,” I groaned, “that 2021 was supposed to be a better year than that sack of politics and plague called 2020. But look what’s happened since. That gawdawful mess in January. Then in February, I have to go to the doctor. You know how much I love to go to the doctor. Nothing makes me happier than subjecting myself to the tender mercies of that octopus-like entity we know and love as the Health Care Industrial Complex, especially when they mess up my paperwork and I have to spend a month – or more – trying to get it fixed. And then JACKIE BRADLEY GOES TO MILWAUKEE! On top of all the terrible things in the world, my favorite ballplayer JUST UPS AND LEAVES AND HE DOESN’T EVEN SAY GOOD BYE. And here I am, sitting here, with a lapful of chili and a sarcastic cat who judges me. I ASK YOU.” I sighed a sigh so sighful that it resonated in the faraway capital of West Sighghistan. “And you know what else? You know what Friday is? March 13th? It’s exactly one year since I ran my last movie show at the Strand.”

Miss Carol regarded me with a doleful but not unsympathetic gaze.

“How can it even be a whole year ago,” I moaned. “Does time really go by that fast? I remember that night in every detail. We all knew something was coming but didn’t know what. And I stood there that night, while fifty-four people came to see ‘Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears’ and I tried to joke and kid around and I said ‘step right in neighbors, guaranteed Covid Free show tonight, I can take your ticket,’ and I had no way of knowing that after fourteen years that would be the last ticket I’d ever tear until – who knows when?  And then two days later we closed and that was it. A whole year’s gone by, and I’ve spent most of it sitting in my office down there surrounded by McDonald’s wrappers and memories. I ask you. Is that fun? Where’s the laughs? Where’s the popcorn? Where’s the Strand Kids whose happy youthful spirits keep me from souring into a bitter old woman who sits alone at night eating stale Wheat Chex and watching ‘The Bachelor?’”

“I think,” commented Miss Carol evenly, “that you are once again exaggerating your situation for the sake of humorous hyperbole. It is a common trope of comedy, but if I may venture to express an opinion, you here take it to an extreme. You are indeed a ‘sad  sack,’ but I submit that you are not, in fact THAT sad a sack.”

“Well, I wasn’t kiddin’ about the McDonald’s wrappers,” I admitted. “I mean, let’s face it – over the past year, I’ve had more contact with Ronald than anybody else. Well, maybe the Colonel is up there too, but you get what I mean. I miss HUMAN CONTACT WITH ACTUAL HUMANS. I’d even settle for somebody telling me the drain is clogged.”

“I had intended to call that to your attention,” Miss Carol replied, “but I concluded that you would soon discover this for yourself when you observed the water dripping even now thru the kitchen ceiling.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!” I yelled, rushing for mop and bucket.

“Fly envious time,” recited Miss Carol, licking up the last chili splatter, “till thou run out thy race.”

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“March,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “has arrived!”
Ordinarily I would have welcomed this news. March is the harbinger of many things that bring me great pleasure  – the Vernal Equinox, Baseball, ... um…. Well, OK, March is the harbinger of two things that bring me great pleasure, and the news of its arrival should be something I would greet with much eager anticipation. But it’s hard to greet anything with eager anticipation at three in the morning, especially after the news of its arrival has been delivered following a swift, blood-drawing swat at the forehead by one’s  feline companion.
“Yeah, swell,” I growled, attempting to suffocate myself with the pillow. “Actually, it got here yesterday. What’s your point?”
“I call your attention to the leonine manner of its arrival,” continued Miss Carol. “The wind is howling outside our window at a distressing speed and strength. The dying poplar tree next to the window is bending and sagging precipitously under its fearsome gale. Doubtless more shingles are being torn from the roof of our shabby hovel at this very instant, and carried thru the air to fall on the unsuspecting heads of the unfortunate few who must be busy about their daily employment at this unwholesome hour.”
“Good,” I exhaled from within the pillow. “Maybe they’ll conk whoever it was that stole those quarters out of my car the other night. I needed  those to buy my breakfast.”
“Your attitude,” rebuked Miss Carol, “is uncalled for. The arrival of spring is a time of great portent. This month will mark exactly one year since the Strand Theatre was forced to shutter its doors in the wake of the present cataclysm.  The spring season traditionally represents a time of new growth, of rebirth, of emergence from the grim cocoon of a cold and dismal wintertime into a bright new world of promise. And yet there you lie, foundering in the ocean of your own pathos.”
Well, I ask you. Who could argue with a line of bunk like that? I ask you. Certainly not me. With a sigh I reached over and snapped on the light, put on my glasses, and squinted at the furred bulk that sat, like a plaster garden statue, at the end of my bed. And weighed about as much to boot.
“You’re right,” I said,  “Spring is comin’, and things are lookin’ up. At the theater we’re working on all sorts of projects for the spring and summer, and before you know it the time will come when we won’t just be virtual anymore. Remember last year when I said ‘every day brings us one day closer to reopening?’ Well, that’s still true. Every day. One day closer.”
I paused as a severed shingle slapped hard against the bedroom window, but I wasn’t worried. You only have to worry about them when they come in side-on, that’s when your glass gets cracked. You learn this kind of stuff. It’s been that kind of winter.
“So you agree, then” continued Miss Carol, “that steps should also be taken to resume a more normalized routine in our own daily lives. The reinstatement of my mid-afternoon pre-evening meal would be an appropriate step in that direction.”
“Oh no you don’t,” I snapped. “That was never a thing. Uh uh. You never had four meals a day, that was never a normal thing.”
“Your advancing years,” sniffed Miss Carol, “have clearly taken their toll on your memory. Perhaps you will recall my early-morning pre-breakfast jentacular?”
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I sighed, burying my face in the pillow and fumbling for the light. Even after all these years, every day of my life “comes in like a lion.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“I require your attention,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat as she leaped forcefully onto my desk in that way that felines leap forcefully onto desks.

“So what else is new?” I replied, with more irritation than is generally advisible. “I’m busy. Go find something to do.”

“I have in fact found something to do,” Miss Carol replied. “I am, in fact, doing it now.”

How do you respond to an argument like that? I ask you. I ask you, I guess, because I know if I ever ask her I won’t like the answer. So, I ask you. And you don’t know the answer any more than I do, so let’s just forget the whole thing.

“I repeat,” continued Miss Carol. “I require your attention.”

“Look,” I grouched, “I really don’t have time for this routine right now. We go on the air with the Strand On The Air broadcast in just a few days, and it came out five minutes over. I’ve got to cut five minutes worth of breaths, sighs, groans, and extraneous syllables here. Do you have any idea how much time a breath represents? About two tenths of a second. Do you know how many of those you’ve got to trim to take out five whole minutes?”

“How many?” inquired Miss Carol, her face an impassive mask. She always wears that face when she has a firm grasp on my chain and is prepared to yank it, but I won’t give her the satisifaction of knowing that I know what she knows that I know. Or something.

“A lot,” I said, refusing to be compromised by my unfortunate inability to do arithmetic beyond a fourth-grade level. You people who forced me to learn the New Math, you’ll hear from me some day, you can be sure of it. “So lemme alone to work here, I need to get this done. This is a very important show.”

“Indeed?” Miss Carol asked, with a flicker of bemusement akin to that she displayed that time she found the mouse in her food dish. “Upon which obvious target do you turn your oh-so-mordant wit on this occasion?”

I let the sarcasm slide. Living with Miss Carol, you get pretty good at that. “We’re gonna do the Internet this time,” I declared, stabbing an accusatory finger in the general direction of that place downtown where Midcoast Internet Solutions used to be. “Yeah. The INTERNET. In this show we’re gonna put it in its place but good.”

“You will excuse,” smirked Miss Carol without attempting to hide it, and that’s when you know you’re really in for it, “my skepticism of the sincerity of your quixotic attack. You are, and I am certain that my statement is fully supported by all available relevant facts, entirely in the thrall of the online environment. Were you charged by the minute for your Internet access, as was the case in days of yore, you would most certainly be living in greatly reduced circumstances.” She looked around at the clutter of my office. “Even more so,” she continued, “than at present.”

I glared at her, and her bright green eyes flashed an ever so fleeting spark of amusement. That made me even madder, but knowing what I was in for if I let on, I squelched the riposte straining for expression, and instead filed it carefully away for future reference. Instead, I glared again, and tossed off a simple “Oh yeah?” That ought to fix her.

“It would seem to me,” she continued, “that you owe a great deal to the Internet. It has permitted you much during the present global crisis. You have taken advantage of a steady flow of useful information. You have been permitted a limited sort of social access with your various young persons. And the Strand Theatre itself has taken full advantage of the possibilities offered in securing alternative methods for the presentation and distribution of content.”

“I hate that word,” I interrupted. “Content. Makes it sound like we’re stuffing some cheap, generic product into a plastic tub on a production line or something. We offer entertainment, enlightenment and education, not creamed cottage cheese.”

“I have reviewed your most recent radio script,” countered Miss Carol. “The jury is, as they say, still out on that particular question. But my larger point remains unrefuted. Your attack on the internet is unsound given your personal dependence upon it.”

“That’s the whole problem though,” I snapped back. “We need the Internet – but we DON’T need what it does to us! It’s the problem of the 21st Century – a dependence upon technology that is fundamentally designed to make us ever more dependent on it!”

“And you intend to solve this problem – how?”

“I can’t solve it!” I retorted. “All I can do is point out the absurdity of it! We’ve got comedy sketches that do that – and Brittany Parker’s written a great new song called ‘Doomscrolling Blues’ that really lays it all out! If all we do is give people a bit of catharisis for their feelings about the Internet, it’ll be a job well done!”

“But,” inquired Miss Carol with a studied sincerity that I always find absolutely terrifying, “what if persons outside the area served by station WRFR 93.3 and 99.3 FM wish to hear the broadcast. Surely you do not wish to exclude this portion of the audience from your broadcast words of solace?”

“Well, they can tune in over, February 28th at 5pm Eastern, 4pm Central, and 3pm Pacific – or they can download the show starting next week via their favorite podcasting platform or!”

Miss Carol nodded. “I rest my case.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I murmured, laying my head on the desk. It’s going to be a long night.

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