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 (5 page)

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“Get In Where You Fit In”

Too $hort

Oakland in the mid-eighties was a very interesting place to be white. The real murderfest was just about to begin there, and East Bay gangster rap was about to hit. In a few years, rappers like Too $hort, Spice One, Tupac, E40, and the Dangerous Crew would become my mentors, my Eckhart Tolle, my Rilke. Rather than
The Power of Now
, I would study the power of
Freaky Tales
, the filthy anthem of Too $hort explaining the ins and outs of male-female love relations:

“I knew this girl, her name was Tina, bitch so dumb we named her misdemeanor. Cuz it had to be a crime to be that dumb, I took her to the house and she let me cum in her mouth.”

So my mother and grandmother hated men, and my philosopher kings and mentors hated women. With no one left not to hate, I spent my early years reading Gloria Steinem while imagining ejaculating on women’s faces in disdain.

Of course, I never would have been allowed to listen to Too $hort when I was eight and nine years old had my mother not been deaf. Luckily she was, though, so for all she knew, I was listening to Brahms.

Richard would sneak over and he, my brother, and I would blare X-rated rap albums with my mother in the room, unaware of a thing, often turning to us and exclaiming, “I can feel the bass, I love it!”

We grinned as Too $hort explained how Nancy Reagan had given him a blow job:

“She licked my dick, up and down, like it was corn on the cob.”

“I like the bass, too, Mom,” I’d snicker.

Those songs were how I learned about the birds and the bees. Or rather, they were what I chose to listen to. In typical Bay Area hippie mother fashion, my mother was hardly shy about teaching us about sex. The harsh “we don’t talk about that” boundaries of the 1950s were supplanted by porous, “I’m your buddy” parenting. I’m not saying I would have preferred an emotionally distant mother who never told me anything about sex other than that masturbating would make hair grow over your eyes and make you go blind, but it would have been nice to have had it as an option. My mother would be much more likely to cheer me on if she caught me jerking off, delightedly signing, “It’s natural!” as I came.

Tuesdays were sex talk nights. Every horrid Tuesday, my mother would call my brother and me away from whatever we were doing and gather us for a humiliation session.

“Boys, come in here!” my mother would yell from the kitchen.

We’d run in breathless, hoping for something cool.

Shit. The blue book.

Boys and Sex
was the name of the blue-covered manual from which my mother would read to us. For hours every Tuesday, we would pray for comets to hit the house and take us out of our misery as my mother droned on about “orgasms” and “rectal insertion.” As she talked, our disgust turned to a buzzing sleepiness. Somehow, she took all the fun out of it. Never has a nine-year-old been so thoroughly bored by sex.

At the end of every chat was the same question, “Are either of you gay?” If there is such a thing as being too supportive of homosexuality, my mother had it. We got the distinct impression that not only would it be
if we were gay, it would be preferred.

“Are either of you gay?”

“No, Mom,” we’d explain again, “we still aren’t fucking gay.”

Swearing around my mother was nothing but a thing to us. We’d just wipe at our faces like we were dabbing barbecue sauce away and mutter the F word from behind the veil of our hands. If she didn’t see it, she didn’t know it happened. Mostly we did this for each other, to see how many swear words we could add into our conversations without being caught. My mom had some kind of preternatural ability to know when we were doing this, though. She was like the blind superhero Daredevil whose other senses were heightened when he went blind. But rather than using her powers to lock up criminals, my mother used hers to bust us when we were being assholes.

like sucking an occasional dick, though.” I laughed from behind the back of my hand.

My brother and mother slapped me at the same time.

“Stop with the cussing-behind-your-hands crap.” My mom was about to begin a familiar admonishment.

“Being gay isn’t funny. It’s not a joke. It’s just like me being deaf. Would you like it if people laughed at me for being deaf?”

“No, Mom,” we’d repeat as one, “we wouldn’t.”

“Now”—she’d settle back in—“are either of you gay?”

“No, Mom, we aren’t,” we’d chant, “but we wish we were.”

It was at this point that I’d just zone out and stop listening. I would transcendentally leave my body and float to East Oakland and imagine Too $hort telling me all about pussy. Now
sex ed.

I learned to jerk off, too. A couple of years after my mother first cracked the blue book, I got my hands on a copy of Jim Carroll’s
The Basketball Diaries
. In it, I read about how he would steal away to his hot New York roof and stare at the silhouette of his neighbor’s body while he played with his dick in bliss. Up until that point, despite all the long-winded lectures from my mom, I thought masturbation, or “touching yourself,” was when you put your hand down your pants while watching TV, à la Al Bundy. But I could sense, in my reading of the passage in
The Basketball Diaries
, that he was doing something different and I studied it carefully, again and again, until I found that ancient bit of limbic, instinctive wisdom that tells man to constrict his hand into the shape of a vagina. I stole away to the bathroom for hours daily to try my new trick. I was eleven years old and unaware that there was such a thing as ejaculating. Quite happy with the sensations I’d found from using my new “pussy hand,” I’d simply lube up and jerk off for a while and then pack my little dick back in my pants and go on about my day, awaiting the next time me and me could be alone together again.

Richard was kept apprised of all these sessions as he had recently learned the wisdom of the “tube hand” as well. We would
talk on the phone about different techniques. It was very gay, which would have made my mother proud, but we were too young to know it so it hardly counted.

Then, one day, I was happily in the midst of my stroking when something started to go very wrong. My arm started to tingle and then go numb. My latent Semitic hypochondria immediately rang alarm bells. “Oh my God, I’m having a stroke. The bad kind, not the good kind.”

I wanted to stop but I couldn’t as the terror and the ecstasy rushed into me. Trickling waterfalls of electric sand filled my arm and then back to my dick and then back to my arm. It shot through every square inch of my body and set my scalp on fire. My toes curled. My world changed.


I called Richard immediately to report the results.

“Dude, you just keep going until it happens. I’m not sure if it’s good for you or not but it feels… I can’t describe it.”

Richard was excited to try. “Hold on the phone, I’m gonna go into the bathroom and try it, I’ll be right back.”

I waited as I wanted to hear his supplications as he thanked me for changing his world. Ten minutes later I could hear him bray from the background:

He returned to the phone, “Wow, dude. Wow. I’m gonna go do that again, but my grandma wants to know if you want to come over for dinner.”

“What, was she there when you did it? ‘Oh, now that you’re done jerking off, ask if he wants dinner.’ ”

“Shut up, dude, she told me to ask you earlier. Yes or no, I really want to go try again.”

“Yeah, okay, perv, I’ll see you tonight, have fun jerking off in front of your grandma.”

“Fuck you.” He laughed and hung up.

Dinner over there was always pretty good. They were American gentile-type people, not Jewish hippies on welfare, and therefore, the meals were a lot cooler. Meat and potatoes kind of things with Jell-O for dessert, contrasting with the tempeh rice torture device waiting for me at home with a side of cool disappointment for dessert. I leapt at the invitation.

After gentile dinner ended, Richard’s dad lit a cigarette and his grandmother looked at me and said, “Richard, don’t you need to tell your friend something?”

I looked around, confused. “Uh-oh, are you gay, Richard? I’m okay with it if you are.”

Richard’s dad coughed. “I told you there was something wrong with the kid, Mom.”

She looked at me with compassion, turned to Richard, and said, “Tell him.”

Richard shifted in his seat guiltily. “We are moving to Lafayette.”


Lafayette was a suburb of Oakland but was so phenomenally wealthy that you’d never know by looking at it. Apparently, Richard’s grandmother had liquidated her assets and bought a home there to set Richard up for success and, I suspect now, to get him away from his mother.

“But we’ll still be best friends. I mean, you can come over all the time.”

I paused, considering. This sucked.

“Well, fuck, man, now I’ll be the
white kid at Claremont. Oh. Sorry I cussed, Mr. and Grandma Lilly. My mom lets me.”

I’d been looking forward to middle school for a long time. A strange thing when you consider that middle school is one of the most horrible environments on earth. In terms of torturous social environments the order goes:

  1. Holocaust (various)

  2. Siberian Gulag

  3. Middle School

  4. Iron Maiden (torture device or concert)

I had enrolled in Claremont Middle School filled with excitement and hope after having come precariously close to failing fifth grade. I was on my way into uncomfortable prepubescent adolescence. The world looked like my underdeveloped oyster. But now, with Richard gallivanting with wealthy cheerleaders (I imagined), I was suddenly alone, friendless, and about to get exiled into a social no-man’s-land.

I saw pretty quickly that Claremont was deeply divided into racial and class strata. The semi-equality of elementary school dissipated the second it touched the blacktop at Claremont. The roles here were quite clearly demarcated. I just didn’t know where I fit yet.

At Claremont Middle School, there were three kinds of white people. There were the white people who made it to the popular group (a multiethnic power clique brought together by their sheer disdain for others), the nerds, and the fuckups.

A word on the nerds. These aren’t the classic nerds you may see in your mind’s eye. They aren’t bespectacled losers with acne so thick you don’t notice their Dungeons and Dragons customized pocket protectors. I’m not defending them, I’m just clarifying. Mostly,
just meant
. For some reason,
just conjured images of squares and losers in the imagination of Claremont’s consciousness. So the nerds, who would’ve just been “people” at another school, became the lowest rung of the social ladder at the watering hole that was Claremont.

Among the black people, there was diversity. There was the square, the churchgoer, the clown, the thug, the ladies’ man, the crack dealer, the oft-flunked, the gay dude, the African, big-ass muthafucka, retard, rapist, nice to whites, hella tall, half Asian, knows karate, has a twin, black with freckles, going to college and more, and more and more. But if you were white, you were just white.

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