Writer, Cat Owner

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"You're no Erma Bombeck"



Who's There?

By Ira Bloom

       I tried my hand at stand-up comedy, but I really never had the knack. I can’t do funny voices or make faces like the people who really crack me up. The funniest comics are the ones who take on a crazy persona, but once you start doing crazy for money on a stage it takes the fun out of it in the produce aisle.

       But there was a time when my partner and I would take the stage and perform our routine for a hall full of drunks on a Saturday night, and we used to kill. We were practitioners of that classic American comedy genre, the knock-knock joke. Our routine was twenty minutes of back-to-back knock-knock jokes, and if you think that couldn’t possibly be funny well, buddy, you’ve never heard a well-timed, beautifully rendered knock-knock joke, as told by a master “two-banger.”

       Back in the days when the knock-knock joke was the Cadillac of the humor circuit, the competition was cutthroat. People would pay top dollar for the best material. The guy who wrote “Boo!” “Boo who?” retired a millionaire on the royalties. But my partner and I were not wealthy or well-known, so we focused on delivery. Delivery is cheap, if you’re willing to make the commitment. I remember standing for hours in front of my bathroom mirror at night, practicing my line, saying it dead-pan, saying it with a smirk, saying it with a tear in the eye, with a funny accent or a hint of irony: “Who’s there? Who’s there? Who’s there? Whooooo’s there?” Sometimes I’d say it with nuance, like William Shatner, though I never hadhis talent. I’d start in a whisper and practice for hours, and end up hoarse from shouting at the mirror: “Who’s there? WHO’S THERE? WHO’S THERE?

       It used to drive my upstairs neighbor nuts. “Nobody’s there, you damned fool!” she’d shout. “Go to bed!”

       You may wonder why you need two people to do knock-knock jokes. A long time ago, before my day, you only needed one comic on stage to do knock-knock: the audience used to do the “Who’s there?” part. I remember seeing Mookie Boyle, who was one of the old masters from the school of hard knocks, doing the classic “banana” routine once, and the audience just went crazy. Boyle started out “Knock-knock,” and the audience all shouted “Who’s there?” and already they were almost falling out of their seats, because they knew it was going to be brilliant. And Boyle came back with “Banana,” and the audience completely lost it, because in those days everyone knew that gag, and nobody did it better than Uncle Mookie. So they shouted out “Banana who?” and Boyle, cool as ice, went back to “Knock-knock” again. No lie, I saw him say “banana” no fewer than seventeen times, and every time he said it, the audience got more and more hysterical, and shouted out “Banana who?” even louder, and classy folks in tuxedos and formal gowns lost control of their bladders and wet themselves, and strapping young men passed out in the aisles of oxygen deprivation from laughing so hard, and Uncle Mookie just kept at them, until finally he said “Orange.” “Orange who?” the audience shouted, gouging out their own eyes and setting each other on fire, and Boyle put one hand on the side of his face and deadpanned: “Orange you glad I didn’t say ‘banana’ again?” You’re damned right they were glad he didn’t say “banana” again. They couldn’t take it anymore.

       But recently, you get the jaded, hipster crowds, and none are worse than the snobs in the big metropolitan venues. You can shout “knock-knock” at the top of your lungs: those “sophisticated” audiences think it’s the height of cool to leave you hanging. That’s why you’ve needed the partner these last thirty years or so.

       I used to perform the old “rat-a-tat-tat” in the days before I was married, but I never made any money at stand-up. I did it to meet girls, though I never had much success with them. If you do a routine with a dreamy, effeminate looking guy and you go around calling him your partner, the ladies get the wrong idea. “You don’t understand,” I remember pleading to the women at the bar. “I say ‘who’s there?’ I’m the straight man.”

       These days, people say “knock-knock” is dead, but I say it’s a part of our psyche, part of the collective unconscious, part of our American heritage. It’s still out there, mark my words—the zombie that keeps returning from the grave. One day it will hunt you down and buttonhole you by the water cooler and pinion you to the wall with a bony finger:

       “Knock-knock” it will say, breathing it’s fetid breath on you expectantly.

       “Who’s there?” you’ll answer. At least, you will if you know what’s good for you.

       “Little old lady,” the brain-eating undead horror will reply.

       And there you have it. Your moment of truth. You know it’s coming, and there’s no way to stop it. “Little old lady who?” you will ask, bracing yourself.

       Just relax. It will all be over in a minute.




Confessions of a Cat Lover

by Ira Bloom

       So the girls brought this ridiculously cute animal into the house and they’re trying to pass it off as some kind of a dog called a Coton. A likely story. It looks like something out of a Hayao Miyazaki film. I don’t know what it is, but it had better do something soon to distinguish itself as a dog, or the cats are going to eat it.

     When I was a childmy siblings and I all wanted dogs I suppose, at one time or another, but my father, knowing how much trouble they were, would never agree to one. He hated to deprive us, so he concocted a rather devious rule regarding stray animals: we could have any kind of pet we wanted, and he didn’t care what it ate, but we weren’t allowed to bring anything into the house that pooped. So we were always on the lookout for a constipated cocker spaniel or a gerbil with a colostomy bag, to little avail. We did, however, have a couple cats that were grandfathered in under the previous administration (my mom had more energy before the four kids) so I grew up a cat person.

     Cats I understand. They appeal to my slightly misanthropic sensibilities. Cats are lazy, indifferent, sadistic little carnage machines capable of feigning affection when they want something. Just like people. They’re pretty to look at and clean, constantly grooming themselves, a juxtaposition of soft fur and sharp claws that will suddenly lash out and rake the flesh off your hand if you cross some invisible line while petting them. They’re independent and aren’t particularly needy or demanding. They rarely express remorse or grief. They lack a moral compass. I suspect they are existentialists.
     Dogs, in contrast, are loving and loyal. I don’t get it. What’s that all about? If they were people, I’d avoid them. And they stink, especially if you didn’t grow up inured to the smell. Their overall hygiene is highly suspect, and their personal habits can be disgusting. I’ve seen dogs eat feces and then lick people on the hand or face, with no consideration of what was just in their mouths. They sniff crotches and hump legs and jump up on strangers with their muddy paws. They bark at all hours of the night and growl at people for no good reason. They dig out under fences, need to be walked and cleaned up after, and are inclined to roll in carrion or poop. They like smelling like that, the reprobates.

     For me, the choice has always been a no-brainer: cats. I’m a cat person.

     Anyway, this particular breed of dog is rather rare, so it was pretty expensive, pound-for-pound. I feel a little guilty about the cost. For what we paid for our puppy, we could have bought enough dogs to feed a small Vietnamese village for 3 months. They do live a long time though, so it works out to just pennies a day, fully amortized. And of course, you can’t put a price on something that reduces my wife and daughter to blathering, high-pitched baby-talking jabberers:

     “Who’s a good dog?” my wife will warble, and my daughter will babble, “You’re the cutest wittle puppy in the world, yes you are.” All this in a register so high Christina Aguilera couldn’t hit it in falsetto.

     The dog itself, though, is a loving, sweet tempered animal. It most resembles a giant cotton ball with a little face at one end. With an adorable little face. With the most adorable little face you’ve ever seen. I’ll admit, I rather like the little guy. He warms the cockles of my heart, and I’m a man with extremely low baseline heart cockles. He’s merry and sweet. And adorable. I’m repeating myself. And he likes nothing more than to sit on someone’s lap, and his fur is quite soft, in fact he has most of the better qualities of a cat, without the narcissistic personality disorder. Odd, actually, that I would like a dog. And I do like this dog. Because he’s the cutest wittle puppy in the world, yes he is.

Minions vs. Henchmen vs. Interns

by Ira Bloom


     Recently, all my friends seem to be launching nefarious plots to take over the world. It’s the only game in town for those of us in no position to profit from the inevitable corporate oligarchy, or disenfranchised by the futile, oxymoronic absurdity of organized anarchy. Some of my friends hint at clandestine intents to undermine reality and insinuate their own expansionist solipsism into the collective unconscious. Others murmur in hushed undertones of channeling the eldritch energies of the spiraling vortex of doom to their own dubious machinations. One friend has launched a Kickstarter campaign. I contributed $5.00. It’s always best to hedge one’s bets.

     Frankly, I’m not at liberty to discuss these plots in detail. This is partly out of a reluctance to thwart the plans of an evil genius who may well, one day, be our overlord. Also, out of professional courtesy. I may or may not have a few irons in the fire of my own.

     What I can share, however, is my extensive research on the subject of underlings. Let’s face it: we all need them for the heavy lifting, mindless repetitious tasks, and messy wet-work. They stoke our egos, take our falls, suffer our abuse, supply a level of plausible deniability, and in a pinch, pick up our dry cleaning. No, don’t thank me. Just remember my contribution to the cause, if ever you should be in a position to dole out largess:

     I feel strongly that minions are by far the superior choice for underlings. They do as they're told and can be very resourceful. They have no scruples whatsoever, which could come in handy in our line of work. They are far cheaper, in terms of operating costs, than either henchmen or interns. Back in my day, you could get minions for a dime a dozen, and even at today’s prices (2 for a nickel) they are a bargain. They will stand for almost any extremes of abuse without complaint. In fact, they thrive on it.

     Henchmen are the second best choice. They are strong and intimidating, though they work best in pairs, so there is some additional expense involved. They are often ruthless, which can be useful. Sometimes you can get witty banter out of them, but they are higher maintenance than minions, and their loyalty is inversely related to their proximity, unless you are a particularly cruel master. They are generally not trustworthy.

     Personally, I would never have an intern, even a good-looking one. They will cause nothing but grief, especially the unpaid ones. On the surface, they are presentable and pleasant, and the first few times you beat them, they take it well enough, but they are inclined to stew in resentment. Sometimes they smell nice, and their hygiene is better than that of either henchmen or minions, though you should regularly inspect behind the ears. They may look like a bargain at first, but you'll soon find yourself out of pocket for pizza and birthday cakes and little fez caps. They will absorb everything you teach them and make you dependent on them, until they reduce you to a gibbering fool wandering around in your bathrobe muttering about how your enemies will rue the day and cackling maniacally. Eventually they will own you.

     Assistants, secretaries, receptionists and mercenaries generally expect to be paid with real currency. They rarely will accept compensation in the form of bills with your face on it, in any denomination, regardless of the quality of your inkjet printer, nor are they apt to accept promises of future rewards or a cut of the take. This puts them beyond the means of most evil geniuses. In my experience, the people who can afford them are generally happy with the status quo.

     We're still about 5 years out on the steampunk robot horde technology. The prototypes look very spiffy in their monocles and bowler hats. Apple is working the bugs out of the operating system as we speak, and you'll be able to download all kinds of apps for typing and filing and crushing your enemies to a fine, bloody pulp. I'm saving my money up for a steampunk robot. In the meantime, my advice is to obtain as many minions as your cellar will accommodate.




by Ira Bloom

     I noticed, the last several times I bought eggs at the supermarket, that they don't all seem properly egg shaped these days. Sometimes I get one that's too rounded on the pointy end, like it was laid by a chicken that's lost tone in the egg shaping muscles down there. Worse yet are the eggs that are too pointy there, like some mutant hen pinched them off too fast. It's disconcerting, I tell you. Sometimes I have to pick through five or six cartons to get a good dozen. Blame it on Monsanto if you like. Blame it on Obama, or Global Warming, or Jews and gays. Me, I say it’s the clueless aliens coming down here and probing the wrong species.

     The big scam they have these days is the cage-free eggs. They charge an extra dollar a dozen for them. Who needs their eggs in a cage anyway? Next they’ll be charging us up the wazoo for radio-free yogurt, or octopus-free orange juice. Food is expensive enough as it is, why should we pay extra for something we don’t want just because they pointed out we didn’t get it? (While I’m on the subject, I’d also like to mention that I refuse to buy 1% milk until somebody explains to me what the other 99% is. Is it the milk of the elites, the Wall Street brokers and corporate bigwigs who rob us blind at every turn? What did those bastards do with the rest of the milk already? Somebody’s getting rich off of us.)

     They say not to put all your eggs in one basket, but how else can you get them up to the cashier to pay for them? And they come in a carton anyway. The most eggs I ever have at one time is maybe eighteen or so. If I don’t put them all together, what am I supposed to do with them? Scatter them all over the house like Easter eggs? They keep better in the refrigerator. A few dozen eggs, I’m willing to absorb the risk here, for convenience sake.

     Another one I hear a lot is “You can’t put the egg back into the chicken.” That’s the conventional wisdom. I have no use for conventional wisdom. Some joker says the first inane thing that comes into his silly head, like “You can’t put the egg back into the chicken,” and all the sheeple nod their heads with a glazed look at the profundity without even bothering to check the research. Of course you can put the egg back into the chicken. It came out of there, it can go back in, and you don’t have to Google “Testlacle’s Deviant to Fudd’s Law” to know the truth of that. You’ll need a very docile chicken, though.

     There’s been a lot of debate about which came first, the chicken or the egg. Like that’s the great Zen koan for the ages. Let’s just deconstruct a few of these so-called puzzlers: it takes two hands to clap, one hand can only slap, as I’ll be pleased to demonstrate to the next person who’s smug or stupid enough to ask me what one hand clapping sounds like. Also, if a tree falls in a forest it definitely makes a sound: the laws of physics do not change in the absence or presence of a human observer. And clearly, the first chicken must have hatched out of an egg, so the answer is, the egg. Don’t know what laid it, but it wasn’t a chicken.

     They say you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and I can’t disagree with that one. You can make a hard-boiled egg without breaking any, but you’ll still have to break it to eat it. The real question here, though, isn’t whether or not you can make an omelet without breaking eggs, it’s why in the hell would you want to in the first place? Of all the windmills to tilt at, seems to me making an omelet without breaking eggs is one of the most pointless. Just break the stupid eggs already. Why the hell do people always have to do things the hard way? Throw in some cheese, while you’re at it.




 The Art of Cat

                                                                                                             by Ira Bloom

     Our cat Cuddles likes gopher, but gopher doesn’t agree with her. She’s been leaving piles of partially digested gopher all over the house. As I don’t possess even a layman’s grasp of rodent haruspicy, I have no use for gopher entrails in my house. In ancient times, the reading of entrails was commonly practiced to predict the future, but the only future I ever see in Cuddles’ little gifts involves me and cleaning supplies. Apparently, cleaning up random regurgitations of rodent is another one of the household chores allocated to the man of the house, like killing the spiders and giving the pedicures. So of late, I find myself spending more and more of my scant free time cleaning gopher carnage out of the carpets.

     When I do this, Cuddles often sits nearby and watches me with that rueful expression a child might have on finding his crayon rendering of a house (a parallelogram with a truncated glob of smoldering protoplasm for a roof) in the garbage. And though I find it difficult to attribute complex reasoning to an animal that finds gopher such a delicacy, still her expression appears to be chagrinned, as if to say “You’re getting rid of it? You know, I put a lot of thought into that.” I suspect this is the reason Cuddles has taken, in the past few weeks, to leaving her souvenirs in my son’s room, where they blend into the landscape.

     I’ve said before that cats, in addition to their roles as warm, soft, affectionate pest control devices, serve their primary purpose in our house as living, shedding, interactive decorations. I’m the first to admit that Cuddles has a certain aesthetic appeal, especially when stretched out in the sunlight of a picture window on a spring day, but there is something fundamentally wrong with the model when the decorations start decorating.

     ‘Cuddles’ was not my first choice of a name for the cat. When we brought her home from the SPCA, the first thing the playful little kitten did was attack our elderly white short hair, Picasso. Named for his cubistic markings, Picasso was somewhat skeptical of the newcomer’s artistic merits. For her part, the kitten antagonized the poor old coot mercilessly, so I wanted to name her ‘Matisse.’ I was overruled by my then six-year-old daughter, who felt that having more than one impressionist cat in the house would be putting on airs.

     Cuddles first became a fan of the culinary attributes of gopher sashimi a few years ago, when we planted a vegetable garden. At the time, we envisioned weekend organic gardening with the kids as a life lesson and the joy of harvesting fresh vegetables for our efforts. We were fools on a lunatic’s quest. Gophers came from miles around, from parts unknown, from other dimensions, to feast on the vegetables of our labor. These West Sonoma County gophers have paramilitary skills. We were visited by stealth gophers, Viking raider gophers, and the dreaded ninja gophers. And what the gophers didn’t ruin, the insects had their way with. Sad to say, our harvest was a trim reckoning.

     But while we failed to prevent the onslaught of gophers, the one bright spot was Cuddles’ uncanny ability to inflict retribution upon the pests. Yea though she walks in the valley in the shadow of darkness between the rosemary bushes and the tomatoes, she shall fear no weevil. The carnage that ensued wasn’t pretty, but it was not without a measure of satisfaction that I swept the decapitated gopher craniums off the deck, their little faces with grotesque expressions of disapproval still attached.

     By mid July, Cuddles had gained 2 pounds and was eschewing canned food and chewing gopher-on-the-hoof. I wrote the entire experience off as a wash. True, we lost the cost of the seedlings and our time and effort, and perhaps to some extent our innocence, but we saved a fortune on cat food. I never put the numbers on a balance sheet (the worm medicine was fairly pricey, as I recall) but that’s what I tell myself, and I’m sticking to it.

     I do not begrudge Cuddles her altruistic little attempts to spruce the place up. The antique kilim rugs are a bit gaudy, I’ll admit, so a few earth-tone accents here and there may be just the thing. It doesn’t look any worse than some Jackson Pollock paintings I’ve seen, and those are hanging in museums. The only thing needed to counterbalance the effect in the living room is a black mixed tortoiseshell cat sunning herself luxuriously in the rays shining through the picture window on a lazy afternoon. And we already have one of those.