STRAND spotlight

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“What do you say,” I mumbled out loud, “when you can’t think of anything else to say?”

“Never has this stopped you before,” replied Miss Carol T. Cat, turning to lick her rear haunch in a manner clearly intended to display her irritation at such a nonsensical question. Miss Carol T. Cat is not much for two-bit philosophy. Being a felid, she is an advocate at all times of clear, directly-expressed thought.

“No,” I replied, “but still – what am I supposed to say? I’ve got a column or a blog or whatever you wanna call it due today and I can’t think of anything I want to write about.”

“And again I reiterate,” Miss Carol volleyed back, “ never has this stopped you before. Your formula is all too clear. You state each week’s theme with a tedious complaint, I offer a glitteringly witty rejoinder, and we continue in this fashion for several hundred words, until all possibilities inherent in the topic have been exhausted. You then dismiss me as – ah – ‘ridiculous fat barrel cat,’ and then I respond with a masterful ‘topper’ to conclude the essay. The task before you is simplicity itself -- *if* you know how.”

I hate literary critics. Did I ever mention that? Apropos of nothing, you understand, but I really hate literary critics. Especially ridiculous fat barrel literary critics.

“Yeah, you’re pretty smart, ain’cha?” I replied just to keep the conversation moving. Miss Carol nodded to acknowledge the absolute veracity of my statement. She is, in fact, pretty smart. “But what I mean is – what can I say right now? With things the way they are, I mean. In the world. You know what’s going on in the world right now, don’cha?”

Miss Carol scowled.  “I have this morning observed a garbage truck collecting the barrels from the apartment complex across the block, a procedure I have found unnecessarily loud and invasive. I have witnessed an intriguingly plump grey squirrel busy about the construction of its autumnal cache of forage. Three chickadees and a tufted titmouse have goaded me from the safety of an outdoor tree limb.  And I have viewed three episodes of  ‘Star Trek: Voyager,’ none of them especially good.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I interrupted.

“The episode in which Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Paris were transformed into disturbing amphibian-like creatures was especially offensive,” continued Miss Carol. “That concludes the resume of my activities this morning, an agenda, which, you will note, has been severely constricted by your unreasonable refusal to permit me to adequately patrol this neighborhood.”

“No,” I sighed. “I mean, do you know what’s going on in the world. Everything feels like it’s out of control. The virus is flaring up again, the news is haywire, the Internet has been hijacked by raging lunatics, and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in over a week. And now I’m supposed to sit here and be funny. Only I feel like I just don’t have anything to say. What *can* you say?”

Miss Carol frowned. 

“I thought of a whole good, funny bit I could do today,” I continued, “while I was sitting in the drive-thru line up at the Clown’s. But by the time I got my Sausage McMuffin, I couldn’t remember a word of it. Is that normal? To be that forgetful, I mean?”

“Considering that yesterday, between the hours of 8 AM and 7:45 PM, you forgot to provide two of my scheduled meals,” Miss Carol growled, “it would seem that your lack of memory has progressed far beyond the nuisance stage and has reached that of a significant personal crisis. I must advise you that further deviations from your appointed schedule cannot be tolerated.”

“And then there’s the next radio show,” I wailed, throwing my head back and staring at the spreading cracks in the ceiling. “I need to have the script finished soon – but how do you do topical gags when you don’t know how anything’s going to come out? And what’s even safe to joke about anymore? You don’t know what it’s like!”

Miss Carol regarded me for a long moment. “The solution to your dilemma is clear. I prescribe extensive bed rest, commencing at once. A midday nap, under a heavy blanket, with a large feline atop your chest, is considered a universal panacea in times of extreme mental and emotional stress." She hopped down from her perch atop my desk, and headed toward the stairs. “I shall meet you in the bedchamber post-haste.”

“Ridic…” I grunted – but then stopped short. She was exactly right.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Your attention is required at once,” demanded Miss Carol T. Cat.

It was quarter of six in the morning, Miss Carol T. Cat was resting all eighteen pounds of her avoirdupois upon my chest, and consequently, and understandably, I met her demand as thoroughly as my circumstances could permit.

“What?” I sputtered, coughing out a tuft of Miss Carol T. Cat’s fur, no doubt deposited in my bronchial passage as an added incentive for my immediate notice. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Your attempt to deceive me by altering the setting of the clocks this weekend was to no effect,” she glared, her green eyes shining in the pre-dawn gloom. “But I have not roused you at this hour to insist upon my morning meal. Matters of even greater consequence at at hand. I have observed disquieting evidence of a conspiracy so vast, so monstrous, as to galvanize even your lackadaisical self into action.”

“What?” I spluttered. At quarter of six in the morning I’m no particular rival to Dorothy Parker in the department of acid wit. “What?” is a good, all purpose reply to being roused at quarter of six in the morning, and I stuck to it.

“Are you aware of the developments overnight?” she challenged. “A glance outside the window will bring powerful confirmation of the danger we face.”

“Well, if you’ll kindly hoist your bulk and lemme sit up,” I muttered, “I’ll take a look.”

Miss Carol obliged me, and I threw off the blankets and swung myself out of bed. A polar chill in the bedroom air caused me to snap my eyes wide open. That’s never a good sign.  I stumbled over to the window, barely avoiding a poke in the eye from the wizened old ficus tree in the corner, and squinted out the window. 

I blurted out a  naughty word.

“You see?” snapped Miss Carol. “You are now aware, I presume, of the threat we face?”

I gazed out over the empty lot where the old Shafter Junkyard used to be, scarcely fifty feet from my bedroom window, and I saw not the usual weedy, chemical-laden expanse of dirty brown, but instead a magical fairyland dappled in fluffy white snow, a landscape daintily dappled by the enchanted wintry pen of Mr. Jack Frost Himself, Esq.

I blurted out the naughty word again. 

“You see?” repeated Miss Carol. “It is obvious what has occurred. Hostile aliens have tampered with the global weather-control grid. No doubt evil shapeshifters have infiltrated the highest levels of hew-mon authority, and are even now preparing a lethal strike at the very heart of the Federation.”

“You watch too much ‘Star Trek,” I growled,  turning away from the depressing vision outside and fumbling in the dark for my bathrobe.

“There is no such thing as ‘too much Star Trek,” I heard her reply as I staggered downstairs in the general direction of the teakettle, and I grumbled out the naughty word again. Even if it isn’t the harbinger of a sinister alien attack, snow is still my least favorite thing in the world. I don’t like getting it in my shoes, I don’t like having to shovel it or chip it off my car in the morning, and did I mention I don’t like to shovel it?  All right, fine, the snow we got this week wasn’t enough to shovel, it came and went like a surprise visit from a relative you go out of your way to avoid, but it’s still snow, and that’s a sign of winter. And this winter is already shaping up to be a scary one. We’re all aware of that, all aware of what’s going on outside our own little spheres of influence, our own personal  routines. It wasn’t a happy summer, it isn’t a happy fall, and who knows what the winter is going to bring.

Yeah, that’s how I was feeling as I waited for my tea to get strong enough to motivate me to go ahead with the rest of the day. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about other things. The arrival of winter means that this year 2020 is almost over. That’s something to be said right there. 2021 has got to be better – better for the world, better for the Strand, better for all of us. A winter will come, but that means so will a spring, and a summer. And there will come a day when we look back on what we’ve been thru this year as something we’ve *been thru,* a memory to be revisited rather than a present to be overcome.  There will come a day when the Strand is open again, and we’ll all meet together like we used to. None of us know for sure exactly where it’s all going to end up, but no matter what,  we’re one day closer to knowing it. And that’s something to keep us going, that’s something that makes us want to kick the snow off the back stoop and push on out to tackle whatever’s out there.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“Well,” I declared, “the time has come.”

“Indeed,” agreed Miss Carol T. Cat. “I need not glance at the clock to know that the hour has struck for my mid-morning meal, but I must acknowledge that I am pleasantly surprised to observe your sudden punctuality concerning this matter. Please see to the necessary arrangements at once.” She paused to lick a disarranged spot of fur at the small of her back. “While you do so, I shall perform my customary pre-meal ablutions.”

“What?” I replied. “Look, we been over this before. There is no mid-morning meal. That’s not even a thing. You can’t make it a thing by saying it’s a  thing. Reality is not so malleable as you seem to think it is.”

“My method has worked for others,” she observed. “Consider the nature of the world in which we live.”

“Yeah, well, that’s exactly the point, ain’t it?” I snapped back. “An’ that’s why I say, ‘the time has come.’ The time has come – for me to vote.”

Miss Carol’s eyes widened. “Surely,” she began, “YOU are not permitted the franchise.”

“Whassats’posetamean?” I blurted, taking as much umbrage as I dared.

“Consider yourself,” she insisted. “You are a person of no influence whatsoever upon the body politic. You possess no wealth. You possess no power or authority or influential role in society. You control no resources. You boast no legion of followers. You are a mere menial, a ticket tearer, a popcorn-hustler, an unfurler of threadbare jokes and japes, lost in the vastness in the great scheme of the world’s affairs. Of what possible consequence could YOUR opinion be?”

“That’s exactly the reason I’m GONNA vote,” I declared, squaring my shoulders and envisioning a courageous line of people from every walk of everyday life marching smartly and socially-distant toward the ballot box. Somewhere in the distant background, a fife played “Yankee Doodle.” 

“Preposterous,” sniffed Miss Carol. “Your vote is but one in hundreds of millions. You are a statistical nonentity.”

“An’ once again,” I snapped back, “that’s exactly the point. What is a mass, anyway? A mass is made up of millions and millions of individuals. Maybe me, alone – well, maybe my vote don’t amount to much. But put me alongside millions and millions of others – an’, well, that’s something. You say I don’t have any power? Well,  hah, I say to you. Hah. You’re darn tootin’ I’m gonna vote. And so will millions and millions of other people – because no matter how little any one of us might have, we’ve got a vote, and nobody – but nobody – can take that away from us. And that vote is just as valuable as the vote of anyone else. My vote counts just the same as a billionaire’s vote or a power-broker’s vote, an’ it’s just as sacred. An’ it’s not for sale at any price. Because once I step in that booth, what I do with that ballot is between me an’ my conscience. An’ that’s the same for anybody else. Yeah, I’m gonna vote –an’  I’d like to see anybody try an’ stop me!”

Miss Carol considered my words carefully, and finally nodded. “Very well,” she declared. “You have my permission to…”

“An’ that’s another thing!” I roared. “I don’t NEED your permission, or anybody else’s permission. Didn’t you hear a word I said??”

Miss Carol’s bright green eyes rolled precipitously, and she took a deep breath. “You have my permission to devote as much time as your expedition to the polls might require,” she finished. “My mid-morning meal may wait until you have completed this vital task. I urge you to cast your ballot wisely.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel…” I began, but broke off with amazement upon realizing what she had said. “Thank you,” I replied, taking a deep breath and buttoning my jacket against the autumn chill. “I will do exactly that.”

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“I need to lose four seconds here,” I mumbled to myself, bent over the computer screen at my ad-hoc studio in a corner of the Strand auditorium. It was ten o’clock at night, my eyes felt like BBs rattling around inside one of those fit-the-BBs-in-the-clown’s-face puzzle toys your mother used to give to keep you quiet in the back seat when you were six, and I was just about ready to cash it in for the night – when suddenly, the Facebook Messenger window popped open.
I hate windows that pop open. When I’m running the universe, windows that pop open will be shut, latched, and painted over so they can’t ever pop open again. So there. But alas, I am not running the universe, and for as long as I am not, windows will continue to pop open and I will be forced to reckon with them.
“THE HOUR FOR MY EVENING MEAL HAS LONG PASSED,” declared a message in big capital letters, as the icon displayed none other than the frowning face of Miss Carol T. Cat. Ordinarily she doesn’t trifle with such nonsense as Facebook, no doubt to Mr. Zuckerberg’s eternal relief, but under trying circumstances she is known to indulge in long and pandemonious rants. I braced for the worst. “REPORT TO YOUR DUTIES AT ONCE, I  SHAN’T ISSUE THIS ORDER AGAIN.”
I took a deep breath. “Working on radio show,” I typed. “Got to finish before Friday, on air Sunday. That’s Show Biz.” I thought of adding a LOL and a sticker of Pusheen The Cat wearing headphones, but realized that if I did so I would never enjoy an undisturbed night’s sleep again.
Miss Carol and I have been over this repeatedly over the seven months since the Strand shut its doors in the face of the pandemic. Just because we aren’t open doesn’t mean I don’t have a full load of work to do. The “Strand On The Air” broadcasts alone take up a lot more time than she is willing to tolerate – for every hour of airtime, thirty or more hours of production time go into each one, between recording, editing, mixing, re-editing, listening, rewriting, rerecording, remixing, re-editing, listening again, and on and on. You get the idea. A live show is a big piece of cheese by comparison – rehearse a couple of times, check the timing, and hit the air live. And then it’s done unless you want to torture yourself by listening to the aircheck so you can wonder why that gag you sweated over didn’t get as big a laugh as you thought it should have. But Miss Carol is not in the entertainment business. Miss Carol is a cat. Miss Carol has certain expectations, tied to the clock. There is feed-me time, and there is sleep time. When feed-me time arrives, she expects to be fed.  And woe unto me if I am unable to immediately comply.
But the first rule of show business is that The Show Must Go On – whether for the Strand On The Air or for anything else we do here. For seven months we’ve been working toward the day when the show will go on again – not just this show or that show, but all the shows we do, all the events that are a part of our regular routine of entertainment, education, enlightenment, and involvement in the community. If that means we have to push harder for donations, or put in extra hours editing sound and trying to cut four seconds out of a program that runs 60:04 instead of ending right on the nose like it’s supposed to, or – alas – causing Miss Carol T. Cat to wait just a bit longer than she likes for her late-evening serving of Friskies Turkey Filets with Giblet Gravy, well, time marches on and so must we. In two months 2020 will finally be over, 2021 will dawn, and all we can do is hope the future Time we’re Marching On into will be something we can all look forward to.
I settled back in my chair, figuring I could nip a second or two out of a meaningful pause that could stand to be a little less meaningful, but as I did so the window popped open again. “NEVER MIND,” said Miss Carol. “PULLED CUPBOARD OPEN. HIDDEN BAG OF DRY KIBBLE NOT HIDDEN WELL. WILL DISCUSS MATTER ON YOUR RETURN. DO NOT SWITCH ON LIGHT – THE HOUR FOR MY EVENING NAP HAS ARRIVED.”
I typed “Ridiculous Fat Barrell…” but immediately thought better. A Pusheen sticker might be less combative.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“Of the three varieties of ultraviolet radiation,” I mumbled to myself, “only class C radiation at a wavelength of 254 nanometers has been proven conclusively to be destructive to coronaviruses including H1N1, SARS-Cov, MERS-Cov, and the Covid-19 virus officially designated SARS-Cov-2.”

“Silence,” interrupted Miss Carol T. Cat. “Talking to yourself will solve nothing. Only firm, decisive, and above all united action can successfully resolve the present global crisis.”

“What?” I replied, catching only the end of it. I was sunken deep into the old mohair living room armchair, while Miss Carol coiled on a throw pillow, artlessly thrown on the floor underneath the television set. She was trying to sleep, and I was trying to study. “No,” I said, holding out a sheaf of diagrams and print-outs. “I gotta read this stuff for work. Technical articles.”

“I was not aware that such literature was available in comic-strip format,” snapped Herself in return. “No doubt Captain Marvel or the Incredible Squirrel Girl or some other preposterous costumed entity will appear to clarify your understanding of such scientific complexities.”

“Why you gotta be like that?” I responded, with a sad shake of my head. “I can remember when you used to be such a nice cat. The Strand Kids would come over and pat you and skritch you and you’d roll on the floor and be all cute and junk.”

“There is no time for ‘cute and junk’ in the teeth of the present crisis,” she declared, sitting up to fix me in a steely-eyed glare. “These are serious times, to be taken seriously. Given your affinity for the trivial and the inconsequential, it is necessary that I take matters twice as seriously as I might otherwise. It is a difficult burden, even for one such as myself.”

“If you weren’t such a butt,” I snorted, “maybe you could give me a hand with this. We’re going to be installing these special UV radiators in the ventilation system down to the Strand this week.” I held out a diagram for Miss Carol’s examination. “See? We mount these inside the air ducts and the rays kill viruses and bacteria and other things people don’t want to breathe.”

Miss Carol looked up, and I saw what appeared to be a flicker of concern playing momentarily across her stern features. “You must ensure that you are adequately shielded from these rays,” she warned. “Note the effect the ultraviolet radiation from merely the sun had upon your unprotected skin during your activities over the recent summer at your ‘Drive In Theatre.’  It has taken on the tone and the texture of an old catcher’s mitt, aging you decades in just the space of a few months. You ignored my sage advice to apply sufficient protectant, and now you reap the consequences of your folly. All that is required to complete the image is Carlton Fisk’s signature imprinted across your leathery cheek.”

“The sun is one thing, these devices are something else entirely. It’s a controlled use of UV light in a carefully defined and confined space. We’re not going to be shining these things down on people as they come in the door or anything like that. They’re going to be deep inside the air-handling machinery, completely out of sight and out of mind for anybody coming into the theatre. But they’re going to be in there, working  twenty-four-seven to keep our air that much fresher and that much safer for everybody, patrons and staff alike. It’s not going to be inexpensive to do this, but it’s the right thing to do – especially now. So there.”

Miss Carol looked over the diagrams thoughtfully. “Everything seems to be in order,” she finally concluded, pushing the pages back toward me with a graceful stroke of her paw. “You have my approval to proceed with the installation.”

“Thank you, I guess,” I replied, rolling my eyes just enough so she didn’t see it.

“Now,” she said, “I call your attention to the condition of my personal  facilities. They also require careful attention to sanitation at this time. If you complete this assignment to my complete satisfaction, I shall permit you to ‘skritch’ me for three minutes, and shall endeavor during that time to ‘be all cute and junk,’ But no longer than that. These are, as I have noted, serious times.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat,” I mumbled.  But I did as I was told. These are, indeed, serious times, and one can only take so much.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What does that even mean?”

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

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

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

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

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