January 16, 2018

#137) Remembering Joe Frank

In the spring of 1992, I was interning at WBUR-FM, Boston’s National Public Radio affiliate. As I was sorting through the mail, I came across one letter from a listener who was complaining about a program the station carried called “Joe Frank: Work In Progress.” “Joe Frank should be spouting his mentally disturbing drivel to a psychiatrist, not to listeners who pay to support the station,” the listener wrote. I asked my supervisor if he knew anything about Joe Frank. “Joe Frank,” he said, “is a nut.”

Fancying myself as a sort of nut in my own right, I made a point of staying up late – WBUR broadcast “Work in progress” from midnight to 1 am on Monday mornings, begging the question of why the letter writer was up so late – and tuned in. The first couple of shows didn’t make much of an impression on me so I went about my business, which back then consisted mainly of telling everyone why they should be listening to Dave Brubeck instead of Nirvana and wondering why playing jazz fusion on my portable Kawai keyboard wasn’t getting me laid.

One night I was lying awake pondering the above mentioned when I realized that Joe Frank’s program was on the air. I caught the tail end of a show called “Sleep” which intrigued me enough to come back the following week. This time, I heard a monologue from a street lunatic who threatened to kill a little girl and make sandwiches out of her. I laughed so hard it’s a wonder I didn’t wake my parents. I had seen my destiny and its name was Joe Frank.

The man whose radio programs spoke of street loonies eating girls, who once put himself on trial for misogyny, who told of a plane ride where the evening movie was a Walt Disney children’s adventure set in Berlin in 1936, who once did an entire hour-long monologue about why he had no show prepared and who set a story in a dystopian city where people line up to commit suicide by jumping into a vat of acid died yesterday at age 79 following a lengthy illness.

Joe Frank was born Joseph Langermann in Strasbourg, France in 1938. His family fled to the U.S. the following year and he grew up in New York. His radio career began in the 1970s on WBAI in New York where his proteges included a young Ira Glass. The future host of “This American Life” said of Joe Frank, “Before I saw Joe put together a show, I had never thought about radio as a place where you could tell a certain kind of story.” In the 1980s he moved to California, where he became a mainstay on KCRW in Santa Monica.

After getting hooked on Joe Frank, his voice and those of his collaborators became the soundtrack to the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I would tape the shows and play them for anyone who would listen. I had been grappling with whether to make music or writing my career and for a good while, Joe Frank swung the needle toward writing. Much of what I wrote was hopelessly derivative, pale imitations of the master, but in my blissful ignorance I was convinced I was the new, cutting edge voice from the mean streets of Brookline, MA, going so far as to call myself Brookline High’s best kept secret. When, in one of his programs, I heard Joe decry “people who send me their Joe Frank style monologues with hopes that I might read them on the air” I enthusiastically refused to get the hint. (I soon checked myself and abstained from sending him anything, but I did submit some stories to magazines, surely providing the editors with unintentional laughter.)

Then, as many summer romances do, this one came to an end. September brought the tragic news that Joe Frank’s “Work in Progress” was going to be discontinued. The show that aired on the last day was part one of a three part program, giving me hope for a few more weeks, but it proved to be an Indian summer. Joe Frank was no longer on WBUR. The World Wide Web was still a few years from ubiquity and the people who invented I Heart Radio were likely prepubescent. In late 1992 the only cure for my Joe fix was to purchase cassettes from KCRW with my limited budget. I bought a few, cherishing them and the programs I’d taped like letters from a departed lover.

The following spring, the needle of my professional goals began its permanent swung back toward music. I started college, began my first long term relationships, moved from one job to another and even had a degree of success with some of my bands. Joe Frank gradually began to fade, although I still revisited those old cassettes from time to time. My new life experiences gave me appreciation for details in Frank’s programs that I missed the first time around, such as a dream sequence in which the character finds himself strapped to two giant gourds, one on each side of his body, and then finds his entire body stiffening and having an acrid white liquid shoot out of his mouth. Once, perusing the personals in the Boston Phoenix (Craigslist before there was Craigslist) I came across one that read, “Help me unravel this knot and find my way back to the place where I first saw you, where all this started, this thirst.” Most would-be suitors probably would have dismissed it as the rantings of a lonely housewife but I frantically called her, convinced that my recognition of this Joe Frank monologue from his program “The Dictator” would be my golden ticket. (In keeping with my luck with women, she turned out to be 17 years older than me, and this was before cougars became a thing.)

Seven years after the Summer of Joe, I packed my bags for Los Angeles. My fascination with California, in particular my craving of the hard-partying L.A. lifestyle – temptation of the highest order for a nerd trapped in cold, proper Boston – predated my interest in Joe Frank, but his presence in Santa Monica was more proof that the Golden State was the promised land. That the L.A. of Joe Frank’s programs was one of wildfires, mudslides and characters by turns lost in the urban sprawl and burned out from one excessive party after another (not far from the truth, as I would learn) didn’t deter me; at least they didn’t have to shovel 40 stairs every time it snowed.

In California, I checked in with Joe Frank every so often. Thanks to Youtube, streaming and social media, I had unlimited access to him, although like many things that were once unattainable that become attainable, the novelty had worn off. I did enjoy bragging that, thanks to Joe Frank, I knew what KCRW was long before it became cool, but that fact didn’t play as impressively as I hoped it would.

I never became the mad genius I was convinced Joe Frank would inspire me to be, but I am still glad that I happened to tune in to his show that night and that WBUR didn’t give into the demands of the irate letter writer. He may be gone now but his dark humor will continue to be a touchstone for those who have shared in the experience.

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January 2, 2018

#136) Language court 2018: the D-Theory verdicts on the LSSU 43rd annual list of banished words

Let me ask you this: was 2017 an impactful year or was it a big nothingburger? Hopefully you didn’t spill your covfefe while you were drilling down the tons of fake news stories over the hot water heater at the office – if so, you might have quickly learned about your company’s offboarding process. Let that sink in.

Truthfully, I was a little perplexed and disappointed by this year’s edition of Lake Superior State University’s Banished Words List. Did over use of “pre-owned” really come to that much of a head in 2017? How is it more annoying than the words and phrases that didn’t make the list? Am I really the only one who has to hold back violent impulses when confronted by the terms “Fri-yay”, “Sunday Funday” and “Fam Bam?”

Oh well, I guess lists are meant to be debated, so debate we will. Because of the tepidity of this year’s list – several items did get me nodding my head but still fell short of making me say, “Thank GOD it’s not just me!” – a new level has been introduced: guilty parties will be divided into misdemeanors (annoying but not as severe) and felonies.

Court is in session. Time to unpack this list!

UNPACK

Charges: “Misused word for analyze, consider, assess.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). The charges are valid but this word will soon run its course and will be as obscure to future generations as “real gone” is to millennials.

TONS

Charges: Refers to an exaggerated quantity…”Lots” would surely suffice

Verdict: Not guilty. Maybe I’m just hopelessly out of touch but I didn’t feel over-saturated by the word “tons” in 2017. Is “Lots” really that much more eloquent?

DISH

Charges: Let’s go back to “talk about” and leave the dishes in the cupboard.

Verdict: Not guilty.

PRE-OWNED

Charges: “What’s so disgraceful about owning a new car now and then?”

Verdict: Not guilty. Like “Tons”, this one has been around and at the same level for a while; sure, it could be retired but it’s harmless enough.

ONBOARDING/OFFBOARDING

Charges: Being a creature from the Human Resources lagoon.

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). If Mike Judge decided to remake “Office Space” he would surely have some fun with this one – but like “Unpack” it will probably just soon fade into obscurity – especially as the gig economy takes over.

NOTHINGBURGER

Charges: Says nothing that “nothing” doesn’t already.

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor).

LET THAT SINK IN

Charges: “One could say, shocking, profound or important.”

Verdict: Not guilty. Yes, it’s a little preachy and ponderous, but there tons of far more preachy and ponderous things out there than this nothingburger.

LET ME ASK YOU THIS

Charges: “Just ask the question already.”

Verdict: Not guilty. These days people are jumping to conclusions without asking enough questions. Questions are important – even if they are wordier than necessary.

IMPACTFUL

Charges: A frivolous word groping for something “effective” or “influential.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). When people realize they will no longer sound hip by using this word, it will fade.

COVFEFE

Charges: Self-explanatory.

Verdict: Guilty (felony). If you reward the two year old with a poopy diaper when he has a temper tantrum, you can’t get upset when it happens again.

DRILL DOWN

Charges: “Instead of expanding on a statement, we drill down on it.”

Verdict: Not guilty.

FAKE NEWS

Charges: “Fake news” is any story you disagree with.

Verdict: Guilty (felony).

HOT WATER HEATER

Charges: “Hot water does not need to be heated.”

Verdict: Not guilty; let’s stay away from this slippery slope. Do we want the court docket clogged every time someone says “ATM Machine” and “PIN Number?”

GIG ECONOMY

Charges: “Gigs are for musicians and stand up comedians.”

Verdict: Guilty (misdemeanor). The court hopes that a slap on the wrist will prevent this (so far) minor offender from becoming gratuitously overused and making anyone old enough to remember the first Bush presidency embarrass themselves by misusing it.

What say you?

January 2, 2018

#135) No, Steve Harvey doesn’t hate white people

Maybe you’re right, @bvega02: if a white person said it, all hell probably would break loose. Maybe you’re right. Let’s move on.

In response to a performance of “Auld Lang Syne” by three young African American boys on New Years Eve in New York, Fox host Steve Harvey said that they had sung “the song better than all the white people I know.” I was tipped off to this by a friend who posted an outraged rant on Facebook, upset not only with Harvey’s comments but also  that social media wasn’t collectively losing its mind over it.

To his point, when I googled Steve Harvey and New Years’ Eve (God forbid I actually start off 2018 by doing something productive) there was far more attention given to his outfit (which, I must say, he wore better than all the white people I know would have – and besides, give the guy a break – it’s cold in NYC) than to his comments about white people. That being said, maybe the fact that the Twitterverse is relatively quiet about this is a good thing.

Everyone – black, white, brown, beige, yellow, red, taupe, chartreuse – can do their race proud by having a sense of humor about it or at least by understanding context and not over-reacting to every tiny thing. Gray area is your friend. A buddy of mine says that he can tell how good a Mexican restaurant is by how many gardening trucks are in the parking lot. Some might be ready to fit him with a white hood for such a remark; I see it as a useful tip. As a Jew, I appreciate that there is a difference between “Why do Jews watch porn backward? So they can see the guy get his money back” and “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? The pizza comes out of the oven.” (Though personally I find them both pretty funny). I’m here to tell you that on scale of backward porn to ovens, Harvey’s comments are closer to backward porn.

Yes, it’s fun to be right. Yes, it’s exciting to have your righteous indignation validated by algorithms that are coded to do just that. Let’s unclench that fist. Steve Harvey made an offhand comment that might not have been terribly funny but doesn’t require the Justine Sacco treatment. He handled his brush with infamy a few years back with humor; let’s give him some slack on this one. You will have plenty of other opportunities to be offended before 2018 is through.

And besides, those boys probably did sing it better than any white people Steve knows.

 

November 20, 2017

#134) How well do you know social media’s newest whipping boy? Take this quiz and find out!

“He deserves to be beaten up in a strip club parking lot, while Bukowski rolls by in a limo and does not notice.”

So went one of many comments about the poetry of 26-year old Collin Andrew Yost, “the most hated poet in Portland.” Since August, when a Twitter user went viral by shaming Yost (“this guy is a PUBLISHED author”) the poet has become a scapegoat for all things hipster. But is the backlash deserved?

To help answer that question, D-Theory presents this interactive quiz. In the spirit of  “Heavy Metal Lyric or Bible Verse” or “Florida, Not Florida” we ask you: are the following the words of the “laureate of American lowlife” Charles Bukowski or Collin Andrew Yost, the literary Rebecca Black of the PNW?

#1)

I am a broken

banjo

I am a telephone wire

strung up in

Toledo, Ohio

#2)

I remember when

I thought sleeping away

half of the day

was a waste of living.

Now I roll out of bed

at a quarter after one

glad I killed

some time

dying.

#3)

Poetry is decaying.

We have slaughtered it.

You are not poetry.

If more than four lines

Loses your attention

Then you are not deserving

Of these thoughts.

#4)

She gave me a lipstick diary

of all her past lovers and

I can’t seem to shake the taste

from my tongue.

#5)

we are always asked

to understand the other person’s

view point

no matter how

out-dated

foolish or

obnoxious.

#6)

the family stinks of Christ

and the American Stock Exchange.

#7)

She’s the pills you’re not supposed

to mix with alcohol.

I’d dodge a bullet for her.

#8)

Van Gogh cut off his ear

gave it to

a prostitute

who flung it away in

extreme

disgust.

Van, whores don’t want

ears

they want

money.

#9)

Our education system tells us

that we can all be

big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us

about the gutters

or the suicides.

#10)

She plants lipstick stains on my skin like

C-4 ready to blow open my ribcage and

free my heart.

September 15, 2017

#133) Movie review: “mother!”

“mother!”, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem and directed by Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), opening in wide release today, is a horror film that is not a sequel, remake, reboot or origin story. That’s the good news. Whether or not there is bad news depends on the expectations of the viewer.

Lawrence and Bardem live in a Gothic mansion in the middle of nowhere. Lawrence, who is known to the viewer simply as “mother”, is renovating the place while Bardem’s character, “Him”, is a writer who is searching for inspiration in the peace and quiet of the countryside. Of course, in the horror canon, peace and quiet usually portend approaching peril and the early scenes of the film are filled with awkward silence. We are waiting for disaster, but when the couple receives a visitor who turns out to be a sickly doctor (Ed Harris) who mistakenly thought their house was a bed and breakfast, we think, surely this can’t be the villain, can he?

The plot thickens the next morning when the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. She is an overbearing harpy who makes Larry David look charming. But she’s too awkward and unlikable to be the villain – after all the scariest villains are the ones who know how to get in our good graces. So who, exactly, is the villain and who is the victim?

“mother!” is a battle between plot and style. The suspense is there: most of the information is withheld and the little pieces we get only beg more questions. We sense that not everything is right with the marriage but that feeling comes less from the few tense exchanges between them than it does from long, uncomfortable close-ups of Lawrence’s placid eyes and Bardem’s brooding face and from seemingly mundane dialogue that is mixed to sound as if it is echoing from far away.

Where the movie may lose some viewers however is when it becomes excessive. Yes, Aronofsky has set the stage for horror and he must deliver, but the supernatural elements seem more like an exercise, disconnected from the characters and their circumstances. One is left asking, “What’s the point?” No, not all horror films have to have a point, but by its climax, “mother!” has become more about showing off its own weird universe than providing thrills and chills or provoking thought. We could analyze possible interpretations – but we just don’t care enough.

Ultimately, “mother!” is like a buffet at a high end casino: it offers a variety of delicacies that will keep you engaged, but when you’re done it’s not very satisfying or memorable.

 

August 18, 2017

#132) Book review: “Getting Stoned with the Savages” by J. Maarten Troost

Having enjoyed “The Sex Lives of Cannibals” by J. Maarten Troost, when I found its sequel, “Getting Stoned with Savages” at a thrift store, I felt confident the book would be a good return on a one dollar investment, especially since I had a long plane trip coming up. Indeed, my investment was returned – but not by as much as I would have liked. Despite some good moments, like many sequels, “Savages” is basically a less potent rehashing of the original. Upon returning from my trip, still twenty pages from the end, having forgotten that I’d placed the book in a different pocket of my suitcase from where I usually store reading material, thought that I’d left it at the hotel. When I found it, I was mildly relieved, but certainly wouldn’t have been heartbroken about missing the last twenty pages.

At the beginning of “Savages” Troost and his wife Sylvia find themselves leaving the U.S. for the South Pacific. The Troost of “Savages”, however, is a different protagonist from that of “Cannibals”: while his Kiribati voyage was basically done on a whim, born from lack of direction, his trip to Vanuatu (changed from Fiji after the coup of 2000) was a conscious decision. After having lived in utter deprivation for two years in Kiribati, the Troosts found that despite its material comforts, life in Washington, D.C. was pretty much empty. “Savages” is at its best when it describes that disconnect in a way that is alternately poignant (“I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something–a book, a sunset, a fine meal. It was as if the sensory overload that is American life had somehow lead to a sensory deprivation, a gilded weariness, where everything is permitted and nothing is appreciated…”) and humorous (“While…finding a decomposing pig in your yard is not an ideal way to begin one’s day, I found that beginning each new day in Washington, as I did, with the shocking blast of an alarm clock buzzer, shortly to be followed by a frantic race to the office, where I would be greeted by…ninety-two new messages, of which thirty-seven were alleged to be urgent…well, I found that such a day stinks too.”)

Within twenty-four hours of the Troosts’ arrival on Vanuatu, their island nostalgia is shattered as a seemingly care-free drive along country roads turns into an ordeal when their jeep gets stuck in the mud. But while this would seem to be a set-up for a humorous “the grass isn’t always greener” story, “Savages” soon runs out of gas, sorely missing the fish out of water element that made “Cannibals” work. That’s not to say that life on Vanuatu (and later Fiji, where the Troosts move after the dust settles from the coup) is all fun and games – they endure a cyclone and lose their backyard to a mudslide – but Troost fails to give these incidents much bite. Yes, we are rooting for him, but only because he’s the Good Guy in some abstract sense, not because he’s particularly interesting or charismatic. While the Troost of “Cannibals” had to fight a daily battle for survival, the Troost of “Savages” has time to explore and delve into the history of the area, but fails to make it very interesting. Maybe I’m just one of the typical, non-intellectually-curious Americans that made Troost glad to leave the U.S. but this book didn’t make me want to frantically google information about the history of relations between India and Fiji or the impact that French colonists from New Caledonia have had on Vanuatu.

That’s not to say that “Savages” doesn’t have its flashes of brilliance. Troost’s send-up of the writing style of Captain James Cook rivals the funniest bits from “Cannibals” and when he plays the “silly Americans” card he at least does it with some humor: “Apparently, while we had been living abroad, someone had sent a missive to all Western women under the age of twenty-five: Put a large tattoo above your butt.” Other times he shrewdly backs out, allowing unintentional American humor to speak for itself: “So that works out to about $415 a square foot. We’re roughly at $375 where we live. I bought a house last month that I plan on flipping when it gets to $400.” Ironically, the book also delves a lot more into cannibalism than “Sex Lives of Cannibals”: Troost devotes a chapter to a trek to one of Vanuatu’s remote “kastom” (“custom” – where traditions remain unchanged over millennia) islands where the locals still “eat the man.”

Sadly, its bright spots notwithstanding, I took about twice as long to get through “Savages” as I did the 40-pages longer “Cannibals.” My copy’s fate will likely see it re-donated to a thrift store where someone else can decide if they want to make a one dollar investment.

 

 

July 13, 2017

#131) Movie review: “Don’t Think Twice”

“Don’t Think Twice” takes its name both from one of the rules of improv comedy and from the Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Just as Dylan’s success caused feelings of both happiness and resentment among his contemporaries in the New York City folk music scene, “Don’t Think Twice” explores the changes of dynamics, both on and off the stage, when one of the members of a closely knit improv comedy troupe hits the big time.

The six members of “The Commune” – Miles (Mike Birbiglia, who also directed); Allison (Kate Micucci), Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Jack’s girlfriend Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Bill (Chris Gethard) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) plod through their jobs by day and perform improv comedy at night. Though the theater is on its last legs financially, it is still frequented by talent scouts from a Saturday Night Live-style show and each of the six actors hopes that they will be discovered. Miles was “inches away” from having made the show back in 2003 but is still stuck teaching beginning improv classes as he waits for his big break. Meanwhile Jack, an alumnus of one of Miles’ classes and who has a reputation as a showboat, launches into an Obama impersonation that is spot-on but doesn’t fit in with the sketch that is being performed. His grandstanding pays off, however, as he is given an audition. He gets the call from the studio heads right after Bill finds out his father has been in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. Upon returning to the rest of the group to find them quiet and somber after absorbing the news about Bill’s father, Jack tells them about his audition anyways.

Like “Funny People”, the Adam Sandler/Seth Rogen movie of a few years back, “Don’t Think Twice” is a drama about comedy, but it doesn’t try too hard for hand wringing or laughs. It avoids the “all comics are miserable off stage” trope, showing us that the members of the Commune are less than thrilled with their day jobs but not belaboring the point. The film also doesn’t rely on one-liners (though there are a few good ones), instead drawing on the subtle and not so subtle jabs among people who still like (maybe even love) each other but have been stuck together for too long. It comes off like an extended episode of a high quality TV show that feels complete without having to wrap everything up nice and neatly a la Hollywood. The story lines don’t resolve the way they’re “supposed” to.

“Don’t Think Twice” may be about comedians, but it also is about anyone who has chased a dream and about anyone who has been part of a tight social circle that gradually starts drifting apart. The film’s not perfect – side plots about Miles’ high school girlfriend showing up in New York and Allison’s interest in graphic novels don’t add to the story and indeed Allison’s character isn’t developed much beyond her thousand yard stare while watching Jack on TV – but “Don’t Think Twice” still shows how far believable performances and dialogue can stretch a $3 million budget.

 

 

 

 

 

May 30, 2017

#130) How not to offend people #2: Terry Frei

“I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day Weekend,” tweeted sports writer Terry Frei. Hopefully Mr. Frei will ease his discomfort by purchasing some quality shoes that will feel good on his feet while he is standing in the unemployment line.

After the backlash hit, the former Denver Post sports writer tried to walk it back in a manner that made Al Campanis’s 1987 Nightline appearance look articulate. (The Post didn’t buy it). I leave it to better bloggers than myself to debate whether Frei’s words are simply those of a mouthy malcontent or are a dire warning about throngs of racists who now feel emboldened by the current political climate to say whatever is on their mind. I can’t say either whether Frei is innocently operating on a vintage 1956 set of social mores (like Amy Schumer’s grandma in her “Generations” sketch or the “Women in the Workplace” bit from “Family Guy”) or, like someone who overdoes it on Taco Tuesday and then finds themselves stuck in a public place with no restroom in sight, just had to let it loose right then and there, consequences be damned. I really can’t say. When the waffle iron at the Holiday Inn breakfast bar has a sign saying that the griddle must be opened before the batter is to be poured in, it’s hard to make assumptions about peoples’ intelligence.

What I do know is that Frei took the bar for offending people to a new low. Sometimes there can be an upside to offending people. You might get a laugh; your brazenness might be appreciated; you might become the president. But Frei got nothing out of his racist tweet other than not having to worry about showing up to work with a Memorial Day hangover.  His predecessor in this series, Sergio Garcia, made a joke – albeit a wholly unoriginal one – at the expense of a rather self-serious target, Tiger Woods. (Who knows, perhaps there are a few people in the deep south who still soil themselves laughing over black people/fried chicken jokes). Frei could have at least have riffed on the stereotype about Asians being bad drivers and drawn a few cheap laughs on his way out the door. Or perhaps he could have drawn inspiration from Lisa Lampanelli, who built a career on over-the-top racial/ist humor: “Hey, Asian guy! That black guy’s not laughing. Throw a star at him.”

Being a lover of Holocaust humor (what’s the difference between a Jew and a boy scout?) when I see the name Frei, I immediately think of “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will make you free”) – the phrase that was often seen at the gates to the concentration camps and sometimes shows up in Auschwitz selfies. Well, let’s just say that sportswriter Terry of Denver is now frei of his arbeit.

May 15, 2017

#129) Book review: “Kasher in the Rye” by Moshe Kasher

You couldn’t make someone like Moshe Kasher up if you tried. Long before he became  a standup comic, guest star on “The League” and “Drunk History”, a writer and Mr. Natasha Leggero, he was, to quote his own description of his memoir, “A white boy from Oakland who became a drug addict, criminal, mental patient and then turned 16.” Thankfully, he recovered and not only lived to tell the tale, but did so in a way that is both moving and humorous.

Not surprisingly, the Moshe Kasher of “Kasher in the Rye” is a Holden Caulfield for our times. Add to that the libido of Alex Portnoy, a David Sedaris-esque attraction to depraved characters and two divorced deaf parents on opposite sides of the country and you begin to get a sense of what to expect.

Whether Kasher was one of the few white students at an inner city Oakland school or the only resident of an orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn who didn’t read Yiddish, he was an outsider. “Somewhere along the line, I figured the more I made people laugh, the less of a loser I would be,” he notes. He thrived in the role of class clown until his poor grades caused the school to decide that he had a learning disability. “A fat teacher/clinician combo meal of a woman approached me in class and pulled me aside with the private solemnity of an army officiant charged with delivering the heartbreaking condolences to the next of kin…’You learn differently than other students. Everyone learns differently and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people learn better with their ears.’ As she talked, she pointed to her ears just in case I wasn’t aware of what an ear was.”

Embarrassed by having to go to “the retarded portable”, Kasher sought recognition by the other school misfits. “I breathed a deep sigh of relief when they took me in. These were the first people in my life who weren’t asking me what was wrong with me. They didn’t give a fuck.” Kasher felt a similar relief the first time he got high: “Before I got high, I had no idea that’s what had been wrong the whole time. It wasn’t that I had deaf parents…that I was fat and retarded or crazy, angry, Jewish or anything else. I just needed to get high…parents and shrinks never tell you that you will forget all the reasons you had to hate yourself. They don’t tell you that shit because then everyone will want to get high.”

The constant search for that high caused Kasher to lie, steal and fight his way to rock bottom, described in a way that is both disturbing and insightful. “Temptation stacked against prudence….temptation conquers. That’s how it should work. How it actually does work is much scarier…when the thought to take a hit, hit, I simply forgot I was planning on quitting. I just forgot…no struggle. How are you supposed to combat that?”

Yet Kasher manages to infuse the story of his downward spiral with a wealth of humor, however dark it may be. “Cisco was for real men. Cisco was my favorite. A lethal sort of synthetic bum wine, it was made out of a combination of distilled Now and Laters, Ajax, and broken dreams. People called it Liquid Crack. I called it dinner.” En route to running up a phone sex bill in the thousands of dollars: “I ejaculated to both Trinidad and Tobago. I brought rivers of cum to drought-addled islands. I e-JAH-culated onto Rastafarian marijuana fields.” On his enrollment in an alternative high school: “Literally, the entire student body…with one notable, adorable, Jewish exception, was straight up retarded…some were just mildly retarded…with enough smarts to make you wonder, ‘Is he or isn’t he?’ and then you’d see them picking their nose in front of a cute girl and you’d think, ‘Ahhh! Of course!'”

“Kasher in the Rye” shares with its namesake the idea that even the most pain-in-the-ass,  unsympathetic adolescent male is still human, with emotions, wants and needs. Is it the responsibility of society, family and school to accommodate them or is it up to the individual? Kasher leaves the question open-ended, focusing on what worked for him, declining to speculate about what might work for others. One could argue that this book’s very existence, along with the reclaimed life of its author, shows that investing in troubled youth can pay off, no matter how long the odds may seem.

May 12, 2017

#128) Autopsy of an unfollow #4: Hey, “You Had One Job” – You had one job!

It’s time for another cautionary tale of a social media outlet that met a fate worse than death: the dreaded Unfollow!

Sometimes we need a humorous reminder that our life isn’t so bad and that we’re not the only ones who are idiots. A Facebook page called “You Had One Job” provided me with such reminders – until recently.

For a while, I’d enjoyed having my constant feed of kid pics and political fights broken up by the occasional picture of an intersection with “SOTP” painted in big white letters, cans of peaches labeled “TOMATOES” and the like. But “You Had One Job” stopped doing its one job.

As of the moment of my unfollowing, the last five posts on “You Had One Job” were:

  1. “25+ Crazy Tattoos That Will Twist your Mind”*
  2. “15 Hilarious Love Notes That Illustrate The Modern Relationship”
  3. “What If Guys Acted Like Girls On Instagram?”
  4. “Mom Sews Incredibly Accurate Costumes For Her Daughter To Wear At Disneyland”
  5. “Domestic Bliss: Mother Of Two Takes Darkly Humorous Family Photos

For me, it’s not so much that my desperate craving for photos of handicapped access railings going the opposite way of the staircase has been going more and more unfulfilled by “YHOJ” as it is that I’ve long been over-saturated by the type of content the site is sharing instead. I don’t want to see clever parenting. I want to see Storm Troopers coffee mugs in Paw Patrol packaging.

Would the novelty of “You Had One Job” worn off anyway? Possibly, but alas, I shall never know. The lesson: sometimes it’s better to be a one-trick pony, however niche that trick may be, than to become just another generic face in the social media crowd.

* Don’t even get me started on upstyle.