Confession: I’ve been looking forward to my column this week more so than usual, mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been this pumped to plug a book in a while. Last week, comic Moshe Kasher released his memoir, Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16. A bit of a lengthy title, I know. But it is, to give credit where credit is due, a completely accurate description. If you aren’t familiar with Kasher, YouTube some of his work and check out his podcast The Champs with Neal Brennan where guests include folks like Blake Griffin and Sasha Grey. (Since you’re asking, one of my favorite bits of Kasher’s standup is on complimenting vaginas. Look it up.)
Kasher begins with a declaration that will haunt him throughout his youth: the persistent asking by his family of, “What’s wrong with him?” Now this is pre-drugs, pre-theft and pre-purposeful lying. This is straight out of the womb. Both of Kasher’s parents are deaf, and he and his older brother are not. There’s not too much about his brother in the book, as it’s more about Kasher’s personal journey through his rage. What kind of rage? The kind where your mother, scared, sends you to a therapist by age four. That’s not a typo. I didn’t mean fourteen, I meant four. And yes, dear reader, there’s even some family history. It’s really interesting, but the thing to take away is that rage runs in the men of his family, and it runs deep. His mother took Kasher and his brother to Oakland, California for two weeks. They never came back.
Divorce ran in the family as well, as was the wont of the women of his mother’s side. They stayed with Kasher’s grandmother, where the boys were “the princes of a man-hating coven.” Papa Kasher stayed in New York where he re-married and became a member of a Chassidic sect, the Satmars. (In case you missed it, Moshe Kasher is Jewish. Le gasp!) In Kasher’s own words, “Of all the Yiddish-speaking, society-rejecting, gown and fur hat-wearing Chassidic groups, the group my father married into was the most bizarre and outside the lines of society. It would be like being among the fattest groups of Walmart shoppers.” These trips put Kasher into the position of being Chassidic six weeks of the year when visits happened. Later, he would end up spending his Bar Mitzvah money on phone sex while visiting. No one’s perfect, especially Kasher, and he’d be the first to tell you.
When Kasher talks about the beginnings of his life in Oakland, he’s still an angry kid, but like most kids with a troubled past we befriend the wrong people and just want to be a part of something, to be accepted. Before the drugs happen, I feel it’s important to shed light on one of my favorite moments in the book. Before you start calling me a pervert, yes, it’s about masturbation. Hear me out, though! I’m a female, and male anatomy is simple but still mystifying. At the age of eleven, he understood the “lube up and jerk off,” but was still oblivious to ejaculation. So one day, happily jerking it, something goes awry. Brain buzzers go off, things are going numb. Then an electric current goes through his body, and his “world changed.” So I guess first orgasms are universal. Noted.
While in Oakland in the seventh grade, Kasher was told he had “learning disabilities.” This leads to a “How do I become some semblance of cool?” phase that stays with him. Before the downward spiral accelerates, he tells of a cringe-inducing story of not being invited to a popular kid’s birthday and showing up with a gift regardless. You can imagine how things go, or you could pick up a copy and read for yourself. The important thing is, this is what drives Kasher to steal his first pack of cigarettes. He was twelve. A month after this, Donny enters young Kasher’s life.
Donny was the leader of a group of kids Kasher affectionately calls the “fuckups.” These were a group of kids that (you guessed it) fucked shit up. Donny brings Kasher into his group, and there’s an attempt at initiation. They come up with a string of hazing rituals, but after a couple of months decide to just let him in. After bringing pot and alcohol into the equation, Kasher believes he’s found the answers to his problems. If you’re numb, how can you worry about anything?
This is the true meat of Kasher’s memoir. The dark spiral he takes us on is completely unnerving. To be fair, I didn’t realize how unnerved I was until I was finished. The insanity that ensues after this first evening of getting fucked up leaves the reader repeating over and over that “This shit happened, this shit happened…” Kasher goes in and out of schools like it’s his job. He abuses combinations of drugs and alcohol that I’m sure would kill any other young teen, and to fulfill the prophecy, there is a rage inside of him that leads him to commit some violent acts, including towards his own mother.
I truly applaud Kasher for sharing his tale, as he’s not looking for your sympathy or even your understanding. He’s telling his story. So without delving further, because I could go on about this memoir for at least three more pages, I’ll simply say: read it. Kasher’s sense of humor makes you feel like he’s that friend that had the story you never knew about. You know, the one you end up talking to until 4 in the morning on someone’s porch after a party. So do yourself a favor, pick up a copy. I promise you won’t be disappointed.