STRAND spotlight

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.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

"It has come to my attention that our property is littered with leafy refuse,” commented Miss Carol T. Cat. She was standing on my chest as she made this observation, rendering it impossible for me to ignore.

“So it is,” I groaned, squinting at the alarm clock on the nightstand. Most of the luminious paint on the dial lost its glow some time during the Johnson Administration, but enough of a shine remained that I could pick out the time in the gloom of the pre-dawn murk. “Quarter of six is no time to give a hang about leaves,” I growled, using a word other than “hang,” and pushing the pillow down over my face in hopes of concealing myself from the arrival of another morning.

“Our property is unsightly,” Miss Carol continued, “and it attracts vermin. I have observed several obese squirrels rampant in our yard. Release me for but a moment and I shall correct this.”

“I don’t care,” I moaned. “Squirrels deserve to live. In fact, they got a better life right now than we do. They don’t have to worry about the future, they don’t have to deal with everything we’re dealing with. All they do is pick up nuts off the ground an’ store them away for winter. I wish I could do that. There’s so many nuts around right now somebody needs to store ‘em away for the winter.”

“Your attempt at veiled social commentary does not alter the circumstances,” Miss Carol replied. “The autumnal equinox has passed. Leaves must be gathered and placed for municipal pickup. The norms of a dignified society demand it.”

“I’m leaving the leaves there for the bees,” I muttered from beneath the pillow. “Save the bees. The world needs the bees more than it needs a grubby little corner of the North End to be free of leaves.”

Miss Carol knew she was fighting a losing battle, and thumped to the floor, her fur bristling with irritation. I’d hear more about this later. I let out a sigh and pulled the pillow off my face, acknowledging the inevitability of another day. I made several attempts, and finally succeeded in rolling myself out of bed, into my bathrobe and into the bathroom, where an unspooled roll of toilet paper festooned the floor. Miss Carol had been busy about her work overnight, and with the sun just poking up behind the steam clouds from the carrageenan plant, it was time for me to be busy about mine.

I’ve got a lot to do these days down at the Strand, even though our doors remain closed. There’s our upcoming concert this weekend out at the Owls Head Transportation Museum featuring a live performance by Goldenoak – the first live show presented under Strand auspices in nearly seven months. There’s preparations for the October “Strand On The Air” broadcast, a Halloween-themed phantasmagoria in which the folks down in Abysmal Point encounter a spine-chilling tale of ghostly vengeance. And there’s the continuing work I’m doing toward bringing the building up to CDC specs in preparation for our eventual reopening – there’s techs to arrange, vendors to contact, labor to be done, and no time at all for such pointless trivialities as raking leaves. The leaves can stay until next spring, and the world will be better off for it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I was feeling as refreshed as I ever feel as I headed into the kitchen to feed Miss Carol and put the kettle on – but she wasn’t sitting as usual beside her bowl.  I stepped into the little room off the kitchen I use as an office, and there she was – sitting on my desk and gazing out the window with murderous slit-eyed hate at a plump grey squirrel – who sat on his haunches and gazed back at her with a look that can be described only as defiant insouciance. If a squirrel could ever look like a tap-dancing James Cagney about to punch an adversary in the moosh, this squirrel had it down.  Miss Carol resented him. Miss Carol resented the window pane that kept her from him.  I knew her frustration – there’s a lot of things to resent, to feel frustrated about  in the world right now, but just sitting there fuming about them isn’t going to change anything.

I turned back to the kitchen, plonked the kettle down on the burner, and wrenched open a can of Friskies Whitefish and Tuna Filets.  Miss Carol heard the can cracking open and sensed the tiny wisp of Whitefish and Tuna Filet scented aroma that hissed out when the lid came off, and thumped into the kitchen, resigned to one more day without a squirrel to mount in her trophy case.  I shrugged. “It ain’t an easy world,” I sighed, “an’ it ain’t a fair world. The leaves are fallin’, the dark is comin’, an’ we don’t know what’s out there. But hey, you got cans, I got opposable thumbs and a sapient cerebral cortex --  an’ somehow we’ll muddle thru.”

The kettle whistled, I poured it over the tea bag, and began to think about my day. “Maybe next time,” I heard Miss Carol say, as the first dribble of boiling water hit my bare foot, “you should put the tea bag in a cup first.”


By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“There!” I grunted, gracelessly maneuvering the rusty old air conditioner out of the bedroom window and onto a table that might or might not decide to hold its weight.

Miss Carol T. Cat glanced over at me from the bed, where she lay sprawled upon my bathrobe, oblivious to the hard physical labor under way just to her left. Miss Carol is always oblivious to hard physical labor. She’s a cat, whatta you want from her? 

“I hate this part of the job,” I muttered, as I tried not to break the knobs as I pried them off the front of the unit with a dull screwdriver. I pulled off the front of the cabinet, revealing what appeared to be a large felt mat, made entirely out of cat fur. 

Miss Carol’s eyebrows raised, if she’d had eyebrows. You know what I mean.

“Surely you cannot place responsibility upon me for this unfortunate state of affairs,” she sniffed. “I accept no responsibility for shed fur once it has separated from my person. There is ample legal precedent in the courts of our nation to establish the correctness of my views on this topic.”

I paid her no mind. It’s never a good idea to pay Miss Carol no mind, but in this annus horriblis 2020, what’s another consequence to worry about?  I’ve got a lot more to think about these days than offended felines.

Air conditioners have been very much in my thoughts of late. My shabby little thirty-year-old Sears and Roebuck blow-box is as nothing compared to the vast HVAC system I supervise down at the Strand, where we’ve been spending a lot of time lately working up a plan to bring it into compliance with recommended anti-Coronavirus standards. We’re lucky that the system installed during the renovation in 2005 was vastly overbuilt and overengineered – one technician told me once that it was sufficient to handle the needs of a small factory, so don’t worry about a 350-seat theatre. But even with a first-rate air-handling system there’s plenty we can do to tweak its capacity to ensure that when the Strand does reopen the air will be clean and sweet and safe. This week we’re having the dampers adjusted in accord with CDC recommendations for allowing in more outside air when the building is occupied.  We’re planning to add special anti-viral ultraviolet-ray emitters to the inside of the air-handler units.  And we’ll be upgrading the vast battery of replaceable paper filters inside the machinery to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size. Given the demand for such work over the summer, it’s taking a while to get all this work done, but once it *is* done you can be confident that the air you’ll be breathing once you come back to the Strand will be safe and sanitary.

And, of course, though it is a source of endless conflict between Miss Carol and me, there will be no large felt mats made entirely out of cat fur clogging up the filters. That is purely a domestic problem.

Miss Carol glared as I peeled the furry filter out of my old AC,  and stuffed it into a plastic trash bag. She resented the implication, and I had every reason to expect that she equally resented the implicator. But sometimes you gotta just grit your teeth and do what you gotta do. 

So after I installed the new filter and snapped the front of the casing back into place, and slid the knobs back onto their shafts, I did exactly that. I gritted my teeth and attempted to wrestle the heavy, clumsy machine back into the window – forgetting the gnarled old ficus tree directly behind me. It’s been sitting in that corner for twenty years, but you get to my age, you forget things. What can I say?

And in rapid succession the following events occurred:

A thin and pointy branch from the gnarled old ficus tree caught me square in the eye and pulled my glasses off my face.

I reached up to grab my glasses to keep them from smashing against the wall.

I forgot I was holding a fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering.

I dropped said fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering on my foot.

I howled with pain and mingled rage.

Miss Carol rolled over on her side and casually licked her paw. “I have been meaning,” she tossed off lightly, “to call your attention to that ficus tree. It requires pruning. Please see to that when you have completed your present task. I find unsightly foliage distasteful.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel –“ I began. 

But I decided not to press my luck.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“What is the meaning of this?” snorted Miss Carol T. Cat as she examined the plastic bag I dropped on the kitchen table. “Are you at last preparing to insulate the attic of this wretched hovel? The job is long overdue. Crisp fall temperatures have arrived, and my summer fur is insufficient to meet its challenge."

“That ain’t insulation,” I snapped back. “It’s popcorn. I made it down at the theatre today.”

Miss Carol squinted and wrinkled her nose in distaste. “You hew-mons are a peculiar species,” she declared, snagging the bag with an extended paw and dragging it to the floor. She batted it about for a bit, distracted by the crinkling of the plastic bag, but soon exhausted the possibilities thus presented.  She glared at me again. “What is the purpose of this substance? It appears to be some manner of steam-extruded grain product. You cannot possibly intend to consume it.”

“It is, and I do,” I declared. “I was making popcorn for the Strand Drive In this week, and had a little bit left over after making the quota for the night, so rather than waste it by throwing it away I brought it home. You’re lookin’ at supper.”

Miss Carol gaped. Until that moment I was unware that felids were capable of gaping – it seems so beneath them to acknowledge the type of astonished shock that generally leads to the deployment of a gape. But gape, nonetheless, she did. 

“This is pure cellulose,” she sneered. “As an obligate carnivore, I must warn you that I find the entire concept offensive. Take it away and bring me shredded poultry at once.”

“It’s MY supper,” I replied. “Not YOUR supper. Money’s tight this week, which you’d know if you’d just shelled out thirteen bills to get your brakes fixed. These are not times in which gustatory luxuries are to be indulged in. In other words, no hamburger tonight. The chicken noodle soup must stay on the shelf. Besides, popcorn is good for you.”

Miss Carol gazed inscrutably, her head cocked like one of those ceramic figurines your grandmother kept on top of her TV set.  “I find this information  doubtful,” she finally declared. “As packing foam, I should think it would be most efficacious. As nutrition? Your thesis is unproven.”

“Look it up on the internet. But for that matter,” I argued, “what’s wrong with eating something just because you like the way it tastes? People don’t base their whole diets on popcorn – unless they just spent thirteen bills getting their brakes fixed, but that’s an exception – they eat it as a treat. And it’s a treat everyone’s been missing lately – I mean, it’s been six months that the Strand has been closed, and all that time, no movie popcorn to munch on? Just that lame microwave stuff or that air-popped stuff that tastes, yeah, like packin’ foam. Real theatre popcorn, baby. That’s what people are missing, and I’m here to tell ya, it tastes just as good as ever when you come see us out at the Strand Drive In at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. Every car gets a complimentary bag, popped with love by me, myself, in the actual Strand popper using techniques perfected thru a decade and a half of careful experimentation in the preparation of exploded-grain treats.”

“Astonishing,” commented Miss Carol. “You turned this entire conversation into a commercial announcement.”

“That’s show-biz, cat.” I chuckled, tossing a few kernels into the air and trying unsuccessfully to catch them in my mouth.

“Hmph,” Miss Carol snorted. “Ridiculous fat barrel hew-mon.”

“HEY!” I shouted, as a kernel bounced off my nose. But Miss Carol had already retreated to that place in the corner of the room where she sits and contemplates the iniquities of fate.


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