Posts tagged ‘addiction’

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.

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March 1, 2015

#90) Gall bladders and crazy relatives (or why likes are the new calories)

What do the removal of my wife’s gall bladder and Facebook comments by an odd cousin have to do with each other?

I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s start with a simpler question. What do high calorie foods and social media recognition have in common? We’re hard-wired to crave both.

According to one theory, our predisposition to high calorie foods is left over from our caveman days when we didn’t know when our next meal would be. Seems like a fair enough explanation to me; it makes me feel less guilty about putting away Big Carls left and right. I also believe that props from our followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and rest feed our appetite for recognition which, like our hunger for calories, is instilled in us early on. Popularity contests are nothing new of course, but they happen more quickly and intensely now than ever before, for worse as well as better (just ask Justine Sacco).

My dad’s cousin, in her late 70s, is a fairly avid Facebook user and while she’s no “Crazy Jewish Mom” she’s gotten off a few beauties in her time. When my wife jokingly used the word “pendejos” in in the context of sharing a “Bubala, please!” video, Crazy Jewish Cousin fired back with, “I don’t think you understand how offensive that term is.” When I posted pictures of my new dog, Meecham: “Bassets do NOT perk their ears up. He needs to be told.” (Duh, he’s not purebred–what do you think #bassetmix means?”) Recently she wanted to know, “I sure hope Instagram pays you for all the showings of your pictures that they use to advertise their product. What does Instagram have that just snapping a photo and posting it doesn’t have?”

The last part of that statement notwithstanding (I don’t feel like getting into an Instagram vs. Facebook debate just now) she did happen on an interesting point, if unknowingly. If Facebook doesn’t pay its users and in fact continues to alienate them while sites such as Bubblews and Bitlanders do pay users for their content, why don’t people just flock to the latter? Well, in the case of Bubblews they did, for a while. As of this writing, Bubblews holds an Alexa ranking of 4,946th globally: not bad, but the site ranked in the top 2,000 globally toward the end of last year, suggesting that it hasn’t gained market share. Bitlanders made a brief appearance in the global top 20,000 before dropping earlier this year; TSU had a brief flare last October. Throughout all of the above events, Facebook has retained its #2 ranking, behind only Google. According to Alexa data, the average time spent on Facebook daily is about the same as TSU, Bubblews and Bitlander put together.

Why? If you are reading this, odds are Facebook has outlived its usefulness to you. Yeah, some of you perhaps use it to promote or follow local businesses, bands, restaurants and communities, but by this point most of us have already reconnected with all of the long lost friends that we’re going to reconnect with. Why do we still log on? To get into political arguments? Parenting debates? No, to get likes, comments and recognition. Like calories, we’re addicted to them. Pinterest, Instagram and especially Facebook provide us with feedback that the little guys just can’t match.

Which brings me to the gall bladder. The gall bladder is left over from our caveman days, a storage chamber for us to stock up on calories back when our problem was too few, not too many. According to a recent blog post by Jenny McCarthy, “The gall bladder is vulnerable to stones, inflammation and polyps. For some individuals, it’s not only obsolete, it’s also a liability.” In other words, it’s kind of like Facebook.

Now, I have nothing against gall bladders, Facebook or calories. It’s just interesting to consider parallels between our relationships with social media and food. No one says, “I wish I spent more time arguing politics on Facebook.” Just as one has to weigh the tastiness of an item to its caloric impact, it might not be a bad idea for us to consider just how important those “likes” really are.