“Being the hearing child of deaf parents,” says stand-up comic Moshe Kasher in his new memoir, Kasher in the Rye, “is a membership card to a very elite club. To other deaf people, we aren’t ‘hearing.’ We’re family.”
Kasher’s parents, both deaf, met one year at the Deaf Olympics (yes, there is such a thing). Moshe and his older brother were both born hearing. When his parents divorced, Moshe was two years old. His mother took him back to Oakland where they subsisted on welfare. His father stayed in New York and became a Satmar Hasid. For half of every summer, Moshe and his brother returned to New York, donned skullcaps, and attempted to blend in. During the year, Moshe crashed through an increasingly unsuccessful chain of schools, becoming a 13-year-old drug addict.
Every addiction memoir has a cycle–falling down, false recovery, relapse–and then recovery at the end. But it’s rare to find someone who’s both wise and hilarious about the falling-down parts. Kasher does some truly awful things–beatings, gangfights, selling LSD to a 12-year-old who has a heart attack. At one point he’s thrown into a school for severely disabled kids, and about to get beaten by a 300-pound deaf kid. Then Kasher starts a sign-language conversation and avoids the fight. And he realizes, the deaf kid and the druggy kid are stuck here for the same reason. Nobody knows what else to do with them.
A lot of Kasher’s memoir is about getting into trouble. But if we were all able to gain the insights that Kasher does, then getting into trouble might not be such a bad thing after all.