STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“I don’t know what to do,” I muttered to myself, sitting alone in the early morning gloom of a darkened living room. “What CAN I do? How can I TELL her?”
“Tell ‘her’ what?” queried Miss Carol T. Cat as she materialized out of the ether in that unsettling way that felines have. Wherever she had been during the long night, and whatever she had been doing were matters not for the likes of me to know, and I knew better than even to ask. “Has one of your beloved Young People become enmeshed in some peccadillo? I advise you leave them to their fate. A dose of ‘tough love,’ though it pains them now will doubtless do much to build a stern character for the challenges they will doubtless face in their declining years.” Miss Carol either gave a smug smirk or displayed just her regular face. I couldn’t really tell which. “Unless,” she continued after momentary musing, “the young hew-mon in question is the one whom you call ‘Lilita.’ I find the method by which she provides me with ‘skritches’ in the proper place entirely salubrious, and if she requires your aid you must rush to her assistance at once. I shall pack your bag.”
I gazed at Miss Carol for a long moment. Even after a decade sharing a house with her, she has lost none of her ability to take me aback. Being taken aback is no fun at 2 in the morning, and I expressed that opinion, but Miss Carol merely licked her paw and settled on the arm of the big blue chair. She seemed relaxed, and I figured, well, maybe this is as good a time as any. Not that there’s ever a good time for news like this, but sometimes you just gotta dive in.
“No,” I sighed. “It isn’t about any of the Kids. It’s about – it’s about YOU.”
Miss Carol’s ears twitched.
“More specific,” I went on, figuring once you start rolling down the hill you might just as well forget about stopping, “it’s about your FOOD.”
That did it. Miss Carol snapped upright as though her entire twenty pounds of massed felinity had transformed into a broken spring. Her bright green eyes burned a hole in my neck, and I pulled up the collar of my ratty old bathrobe to guard against further damage. “Explain your statement,” demanded Miss Carol. “Comply!”
“Maybe you noticed lately, the food I’ve been giving you…”
“If by your remark you mean to inquire if I have noted the lack of variety in my recent diet,” she replied in a voice that could have been chipped off the evaporator of a refrigerator that hasn’t been defrosted in six months, not that I would know anything about that, “it has been noted. I had, in fact intended to call this to your attention this very morning, at the usual hour for my breakfast meal. But since you raise the topic now, I can only assume that you have in fact come to a satisfactory resolution of the issue, and that no further action is required.”
I sighed again. I’ve gotten really good at sighing over the past eleven months. There’s a lot of it going around these days.
“There’s a problem,” I exhaled. “There’s actually a major cat food shortage right now, all along the East Coast. A shortage of canned cat food. Now, I could get you the dry kibble…”
“You know my views on that subject,” Miss Carol frowned. “I have sensitive teeth, and I am intolerant of grain products. A creature of lower evolution, such as a canine or a rodent, may be entirely comfortable consuming such matter, but I, as an obligate carnivore, cannot countenance such a meal.”
“I know, I know,” I replied. “But the thing is, I can only get what I can get. I go in the store, and there’s just a few cans of this and that in stock. And I know beef makes you sick…”
“Ill,” interrupted Miss Carol. “I realize that in your coarse working-class upbringing you were taught to say ‘sick,’ but those of refinement say ‘Ill.’ I refer you to the research of Professor Alan S. C. Ross on the use of language as a class marker in colloquial English. You will find his views educational, and possibly beneficial in your future endeavors.”
“Look, I’m trying to explain this to you, OK?” I blurted. “It’s not even really a food shortage – there’s plenty of food. The problem is there’s a shortage of aluminum to make the cans! Apparently so many people are staying home because of the pandemic, and eating and – um – drinking out of cans that you just can’t get the metal! And people aren’t recycling anywhere near enough old cans to make up for the shortage.”
Miss Carol’s eyes shot to the kitchen, and I knew what was coming.
“I observe,” she began, and I tried not to roll my eyes, “that you have gathered a large mound of empty aluminum cans in the pantry. You speak of an aluminum shortage that, it would appear, you yourself have done much to create.”
“No, no, no,” I protested. “I need those cans! I need them for the Strand radio show, for sound effects. See, if I have a character fall off a ladder or something, I take those cans and put them in this big wooden crate, and then I kinda shake ‘em up in the air and back down into the crate – and it makes a sound like a crash! I mean, it’s either I do that, or I set up a microphone in front of an ACTUAL LADDER, and then I climb up it and fall off! And I could break my neck doing that! Would you rather I do THAT?”
Miss Carol gave no reply.
I scowled. Miss Carol still gave no reply.
“Well? I demanded.
Miss Carol’s eyes fixed firmly on mine. “I’m thinking it over!”
I gazed back for a long moment. “You stole that gag from Jack Benny.”
“Never heard of him,” she replied, brushing a phantom bit of lint from her fur.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat!”
Miss Carol again fixed me in a gaze, and turned her head petulantly. “Now cut that out!”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager.


“You are aware,” intoned Miss Carol T. Cat, “that this Sunday is a day of great import? A hew-mon festival commemorating your peculiar mating practices.”

“Izzat so?” I sighed. “Who’s got time for that stuff, anyway? I work for a living.”

“Ah,” replied Miss Carol. “And yet, I cannot help but observe that you seem to have laid in some manner of preparation for an afternoon beyond your usual scope of activity.”

Miss Carol’s gaze directed toward a small collection of objects laid out on the living room coffee table. Actually, since I don’t drink coffee, it’s more of a books-and-cats table, but we’ll let that go for now. Suffice it to say that a small collection of objects was so laid out as previously stated. 

“Yes indeed!” I declared, with a flare of energy unaccustomed in these present February doldrums. “I been working pretty hard lately, so I decided that the only Valentine I’m gonna treat this year is *me.* As the saying goes, ‘Live Alone An’ Like It!’”

“I call your attention to a misstatement of fact in your previous remark,” snapped Miss Carol. “You do not, in fact, Live Alone, and it has occasionally been my observation that you do not, in fact, Like It. Otherwise, there could be no possible explanation for your action last night ejecting me from the bedchamber.”

“You knocked over that pile of books and magazines and a copy of ‘In Dubious Battle’ hit me in the head,” I retorted. “I like Steinbeck as well as the next one, but not at 2 in the morning, and not in the head. I’m kinda funny like that. Deal with it.”

“So I am to surmise, then,” Miss Carol continued, “that these objects so displayed are not intended for my perusal. Presumably my Valentine’s gift awaits its proper presentation at an appointed hour?”

I squirmed with discomfort, which when you come to think about it, is about the only way there really is to squirm. I mean, who ever heard of anybody squirming comfortably? It just isn’t done. So, indeed, I squirmed with discomfort. “I – ah – wasn’t able to get you a Valentine’s present this year. I went to the store – and – well – you might not believe it, but there’s a chronic cat food shortage in this town right now.”

If Miss Carol had visible eyebrows they would have elevated dangerously.

“It’s true,” I stammered. “I went to every store around here an’ the shelves are picked clean. Probably something to do with this stupid pandemic, I dunno. Nobody at the store could explain it. Why do you think you’ve had all them weird flavors lately instead of the stuff you usually like?”

“I had been intending,” nodded Miss Carol, “to draw this to your notice. I am skeptical that the so-called ‘ocean whitefish’ specified on the label is in fact a product of any recognized ocean. But no doubt this dilemma will be resolved with alacrity. An uprising among the feline population of the greater Midcoast would be a severe consequence for an already pandemic-wracked population, and no doubt the authorities well understand the risk they face.”

“Yeah,” I said. “So sorry ‘bout that.”

Miss Carol sighed. When Miss Carol sighs, you can see all three of her fangs – the fourth she lost in an incident too horrific to disclose involving a strip of flypaper one early summer morning – and it’s a disturbing sight. So I proceeded with caution.

“Anyways,” I said, “I decided since it’s just you an’ me here, I’d get something we could do together for Valentine’s Day. I thought we’d have a movie marathon an’ you could sit in my lap an’ go to sleep or something. Look, I got a complete DVD collection of Wheeler & Woolsey movies. Even ‘Mummy’s Boys!’ That’s the one, you know, where they fight an actual mummy.”

Miss Carol rolled her eyes, and extended a claw in the direction of a cellophane bag. “And what,” she inquired, “do you call this?”

“Um,” I hesitated, knowing that I would soon earn her censure, “that’s a bag of fun-size $100,000 Bars.”

“WHAT?” Miss Carol erupted. “The roof of our shabby hovel left nearly perforate after the recent storms, and yet you squander our valuable funds on expensive chocolate? By what dubious means have you even ACQUIRED such a prodigious sum? Were you,” and here her eyes narrowed, “in any way involved in the recent Gamestop debacle?”

“They don’t actually cost $100,000,” I explained in a rather desperate tone. “That’s just marketin’. You know, to appeal to ritzy people.”

Miss Carol frowned. She herself, as a devoted disciple of Mr. Veblen, disdains the moral emptiness of conspicuous consumption, but realizing that hewmons are, after all, a less-evolved species than catdom, is usually willing to let such things slide, and when the claws didn’t lash the bag of candy from my hand, I knew I was in the clear.

“Come on,” I said. “Get up in the chair with me here. It’s time to take it easy. Look, we’ll start off with ‘Hips Hips Hooray!’ You like that one, don’t you?”

Miss Carol rolled her bright green eyes again, and jumped up into my lap. And I could swear I heard her purr, “ridiculous fat barrel hew-mon.”

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“The Pandemic,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “while not yet over, is clearly approaching its end.”

“Izzat so?” I replied, not looking up from the newspaper I was trying to read. Miss Carol T. Cat dispensed with that obstacle with one deft swipe of her claws, neatly shredding Dan Shaughnessy’s sports column thru the center and flinging the paper to the floor.  I knew that Miss Carol had plans in mind for the paper, and made a mental note to myself to toss the pages in the wastebasket before she could scatter them in small shredded pieces all over the house.

“To continue,” resumed Miss Carol, “I call your attention to local progress on the vaccination front. The COVID-19 vaccine has commenced distribution in our area, and I presume you have been fully inoculated? Bear in mind that felids have also been demonstrated as being susceptible to the virus, and steps must be taken to ensure that our household remains safe. Please produce your certificate of vaccination for my inspection. I wish to ensure that all precautions have been taken.”

“No,” I responded with a shake of the head. “Not yet. I don’t qualify yet. I’m not old enough.”

“You jest,” scowled Miss Carol. “You are one hundred and eight years of age, are you not?”

“No,” I retorted with some indignation, “that’s just one of the characters I play on the radio show. I’m only fifty-eight. And that means it’s not my time yet to get a shot.”

“Ridiculous,” Miss Carol snapped. “You appear to my examination to be far older than fifty-eight.  The bagging of your eyes, the greying of your hair, the sagging of your…”

“THAT’S ENOUGH,” I erupted. “Nothing a little concealer and hair dye and – other show business artifices – won’t fix. Don’t bug me, you’re no spring chicken anymore yourself.”

At the mention of the word “chicken,” Miss Carol’s bright green eyes glittered with excitement. I shook my head and said “Poor choice of words. Let’s just say you in cat years an’ me in people years are about the same age now an’ let it go at that. Anyway, like I said, it ain’t my turn yet to get the vaccine. When it is, then I will.”

Miss Carol frowned further. “I require a specific timetable,” she declared. “At what time may I be assured that you do not bring contagion into our home?”

I threw up my hands. “Go ask the woodwork,” I sighed. “This is a complicated process, and it has to be done a certain way. Right now, people my mother’s age are getting their shots.”

“Ah yes,” nodded Miss Carol. “The dear old lady who brings me toys and treats, and assures me that I am a good cat and a pretty cat. Ensure, please that she is placed at the front of the line.”

“It doesn’t work that way either,” I continued. “People have to take their turns and go by the rules. That’s the only way to make sure everybody gets taken care of. It’s frustratin’ with all the paperwork and waiting, but all in good time, OK?”

“You will, however, receive the vaccine when the appropriate time arrives?” queried Miss Carol. “You will not collapse in fright at the sight of the injection apparatus?”

“Look who’s talkin’,” I chuckled with as much of a chuckle as I dared to chuck. “Who was it that ripped a big piece out of the vet’s jacket that time?”

“I had no fear of injection,” growled Miss Carol. “The practitioner approached me with a thermometer, in a manner not entirely respectful of my privacy. My response was entirely justified.”

“Well, this’ll be nothing to be afraid of anyway,” I assured her. “I’ve had plenty of shots before, and they don’t scare me a bit. Here,” I said, rolling up my sleeve and displaying a cigarette-burn-like cicatrix on my shoulder. “Ya see that? That’s from a vaccination for the smallpox I got when I was five. I’ll never forget that. It was the law that you couldn’t go to school unless you had the vaccination, and on this one particular day the doctor got set up at the Town Office, and all the kids had to be brought in. And when it was my turn they sat me up on the table and the doctor came at me with this thing that looked like a pickle fork and jabbed it right in my arm there.”

“Are you certain,” scowled Miss Carol, “that you are not one hundred and eight years of age?”

“Every kid had to have this vaccination up until the ‘70s,” I continued. “And then they stopped requirin’ it – and do you know why? Because smallpox was finally eradicated. People did their part and science made the difference. Same thing with polio. I remember they gave me a little sugar cube with some stuff on it, and told me to eat it. And I did. I knew what polio was – I had a relative that had it, and I knew what it did to her. And because of them little sugar cubes, my generation was the first generation that didn’t have to worry about that happenin’ to them. You’re darn right I’m gonna get my shot when I’m supposed to.”

“You are to be commended for your attitude,” declared Miss Carol.

“Y’know,” I ventured, “I think I know somebody else who might be due for some shots. How long’s it been since you went to the vet, anyway?”

I awaited a sarcastic reply, but none came. Miss Carol, in that unique manner of her species, had abruptly vanished from the room.

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I laughed. But quietly, because I knew that in whatever secret dimension it is to which felines retreat at such times, she could hear me, and I didn’t want to have to get a tetanus shot too.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“That was really somethin,’” I declared as I threw my coat over the stair railing and advanced toward the kitchen. Miss Carol T. Cat met me at the refrigerator with an expectant gaze.  “You are twenty-four minutes late,” she observed, with just the slightest edge to her voice. I know that tone, but filled with endorphins from the day just completed, I ignored it.

“I was surrounded by food today,” I continued to Miss Carol, as I pulled a cold slice of boiled ham from the refrigerator for me and a half-can of Friskies Chicken Filets In Gravy for Herself. She eyed the ham covetously, but I gave no ground. Miss Carol was nonplussed.

“You spent the day surrounded by food?” she inquired, her head tilted, the better to follow the cold slice of boiled ham as it followed a neat path toward my mouth. “Why was I not invited to partake in such a repast? It may interest to you to know that I have spent the afternoon by the window, pondering the unjust fate that leaves such a fine felid as myself locked away from the squirrels and birds that would bring fulfillment to my life, and thus to learn that you have spent your day frisking and capering about among articles of food is, to say the least, a grave insult. Explain yourself.”

“It was nothin’ like that,” I said, between chews of ham. “You remember that AIO Food Pantry drive we had down at the Strand that we talked about before, that you were all gung-ho about? Well, it came off better than we could’ve ever expected. People came out in force, an’ they filled the Strand with food not once, not twice, but THRICE. That’s three times, awright? Izzat somethin’ or what? All those people comin’ together to put the Strand to good use, an’ I gotta tell ya, it was the best feeling I’ve had in a very long time. Seeing PEOPLE back in the Strand again, having an EVENT again at the Strand was somethin’ I’ve been waitin’ for for months now, and it felt, I have to say, really really good.”

Miss Carol gazed upon the vanishing remnant of the ham slice, reflecting on my statement. “I have often been sorely critical of hew-mons,” she began, “ particularly given the events of the past four years. You have seemed to me to be a species uniquely unsuited to a self-governing society. Other felids, I know, share my view. But I have been pleased and impressed by your resilience during the recent times of crisis, and the news that the community responded with such zeal to your charity drive is both heartening and encouraging that you may, at long last, be ready to proceed forward toward a more just social order. We, of course – that is to say, we of the felids – stand ready to offer our guidance in this direction at all times.  And that said,  I observe with some consternation that you have returned from your day empty handed.”

“Uh yeah,” I said. “You got plenty of food right here.”

“It’s the thought,” she snapped back, “that counts. And this brings me to another matter. Are you aware that in the ten years that I have shared my home with you…”

“Um, who’s name izzat on th’ mortgage again?”

“A mere legal technicality,” she sniffed, “arranged for tax purposes.  As I was saying, are you aware that in the ten years that I have shared my home with you, I have never once stepped foot across the threshold of the Strand?”

“Cats aren’t allowed at the Strand,” I shrugged. “That’s just the way it goes.”

“Nonsense,” she snapped back. “I am aware that DOGS, foul canine beasts, have been permitted access to your facility. To bar CATS from the premises is entirely inappropriate.”

“Those are service dogs,” I replied. “They come there to do work, helping their humans. What work did you ever do?”

“My work takes place in realms beyond your comprehension. Scarcely could you even begin to comprehend the planes upon which my work is undertaken. But it would please me on some occasion to be admitted to the Strand for, let us say, a private viewing of some feline-themed motion picture. ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ perhaps.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“You may, of course, forego the popcorn. I find grain products unpalatable. Have you considered offering herring filets to your audience?”

“I’ll get right on it,” I sighed.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Look,” I declared, fixing Miss Carol T. Cat in a steely gaze. “We gotta talk.”

Miss Carol T. Cat opened one green eye, sized up my gaze, and found it wanting. I would not be dissuaded.

“Look,” I repeated, “we gotta talk. About food.”

I said the secret word, but no duck came down to give me $100. (Kids, ask grandma what that means.) Too bad, I could use $100 right now. But be that as it may, my pronunciation of that monosyllable was sufficient to snap Miss Carol to full attention. Her eyes glistened, and I could see her muscles tensing, the better to make an immediate leap off the saggy cushion of the big blue chair and scramble rapidly to her kitchen bowl. And she seemed a bit perturbed that I made no move in that direction myself.

Nor did I intend to. This was serious.

“Have you ever,” I began, “gone to bed hungry? Do you know what that feels like?”

Miss Carol toyed with a sarcastic reply, but something about my unsmiling mien restrained her. That doesn’t happen often, so she knew I *must* be serious.

“I *do* know what that feels like,” I continued. “I *have* gone to bed hungry in my life, and more than once. I *have* scrambled for whatever resources I could find just to buy something to eat. I *have* had to decide between eating and paying the bills. I *have* turned the heat down to 50 degrees in the middle of winter because it’s the only way to make the money stretch out a little further. And let me tell you something, it’s not something you ever forget, no matter how long ago it was. Even when you’ve got enough to eat, for the rest of your life it’ll be in the back of your head that it could happen again someday --  all it would take is a stretch of bad luck, like losing your job to a pandemic. And when you see someone else in that position, well – it’s time to do something about it.”

Miss Carol returned my gaze.

“So here’s what’s gonna happen,” I said. “The Strand is cooperating the with Area Interfaith Outreach and their Food and Energy Assistance Drive – they help people around the community who are really up against it, people who can’t pay the bills and feed the kids on sympathetic talk and good wishes and Facebook likes. On Monday January 18th, they’ll have volunteers at the Strand to take donations of groceries, and the idea is to fill every seat in the Strand with a bagful. That’s three hundred and fifty seats, and we can even squeeze in some portable chairs down in the orchestra pit if we have to. Any kind of non-perishable food will help – pop-topped canned goods, packaged goods, cereals, shelf-stable or powdered milk – all that kind of stuff, anything that ISN’T EXPIRED, and anything that isn’t packaged in glass. Or, a $25 cash donation will sponsor a bagful. However you do it, this is a time, especially now, with people losing jobs to the pandemic, and the winter here, when AIO really needs help. I’m gonna be down there that day doing my bit, and I hope everybody else out there who read us every week will do their bit too.”

Miss Carol looked on intently, obviously in deep thought. “I was unaware,” she finally replied, “of the depths of the present situation. I entirely approve of this decision, and this evening I shall help you make the rounds of our own kitchen in order to collect for the cause. This is no time for repartee or pointed jests. The situation demands action.”

“Thank you,” I said. And, might I add, Miss Carol wasn’t just talking to me.

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“I call your attention,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “to an essential truth. The year 2020 is now at its conclusion.”
“What?” I muttered, brushing six hours’ attempts at sleep out of my saggy baggy eyes.

“The old year now recedes into history,” Miss Carol continued, with crisp authority. “A new year dawns.”
“Not yet it doesn’t,” I growled back. “It’s five o’clock in the morning. Call me again when the sun comes up. I can’t face what I can’t see.”
Miss Carol would not be so glibly dismissed. Glib dismissal is something Miss Carol does, it is not something that is done to her. You’d think after ten years I’d know that by now, and as if to reassert her controlling position in the conversation, she brushed her claws, ever so lightly but ever so unmistakably, against my jugular vein. One of these days I’m going to get a turtle-neck nightgown.
“It is customary at this season of the year to take stock,” Miss Carol declared, and knowing when I was licked, I turned on the light. “We must consider the lessons learned as the old year closes, and we must consider the eventualities of the year to come. It is my observation, to begin the review of 2020, that you have not handled the challenges of the year past with particular aplomb.”
“Sez you,” I rejoindered, without putting much effort into it. How much effort could *you* muster, arguing with a cat at 5 o’clock in the morning. “I thought I been doing pretty well, all things considered.”
“Crouching in a fetal position on the bathroom floor as you weep uncontrollably is not ‘pretty well,’” countered Miss Carol, “by any acceptable definition of the term.”
“I only done that once,” I snapped. “That day they traded Mookie was rough on everybody.”
“Nonetheless,”  insisted Miss Carol, “the breach of self-control was unacceptable. I recommend a program of rigorous self-criticism designed to focus your poorly-balanced emotional state into more productive channels.”
“I’ll get right on it,” I sighed, pressing the pillow over my face.
“Now, to our second concern,” segued Miss Carol. All that was missing from her presentation was Powerpoint slides, but fortunately my computer is too old to run that application. “It is customary at this time, as you hew-mons put it, to ‘make resolutions’ intended to focus your attention on positive accomplishments over the twelve months to follow. I have several suggestions, which you may implement to your benefit.”
“I’m sure you do,” I mumbled, with a mouth full of pillow.
“It goes without saying,” she continued, “although I shall, for the sake of the conversation, say it -- the year to come will feature numerous challenges. The end of the year 2020 by no means cancels the many difficulties which have taken their toll on the twelve months previous  -- indeed, the arrival of the new year only emphasizes the necessity for calm but decisive action on multiple fronts. The matter of the coronavirus pandemic must be resolved, and in the wake of that resolution must come a reordering of social and economic matters thrown into disarray by the events of the past nine months.”
“Absolutely,” I groaned. “Consider it done.”
“Excellent,” she nodded. “I have no doubt that the proper steps will be taken.”
“That’s a relief,” I agreed. It’s so much easier to sleep at night knowing your cat is confident that all will be well with the world. I hope hope hope hope that she is right.
“There is another matter that requires your attention,” Miss Carol declared. “It has come to my notice that on several occasions during 2020 you substituted Friskies Chicken with Salmon for my customary Thursday supper of Friskies Chicken with Tuna. As you are no doubt aware, felids are beings of habit. Please see that such errors are not repeated in the year to come.”
“I promise,” I moaned, and I meant it. I might have no control whatsoever over anything that may happen in the world in the year 2021, but I’ll tell you one thing, I can read a label on a can of cat food, and to do so with greater caution in the year ahead is a resolution I feel that I can confidently keep.  If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that you gotta pick your battles.
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