Al Goldstein co-founded Screw in 1968, calling his magazine “the Consumer Reports of sex” and then spent half a century battling the forces of American puritanism. Despite the raunchiness of his publication, Goldstein was unafraid to take on everyone from J. Edgar Hoover to Donald Trump. His appetites were legendary—for sex, food and controversy. Larry “Ratso” Sloman chronicles the rise and fall of the man he calls his mentor and friend.
By Larry “Ratso” Sloman
The writer David Samuels came up with a stellar definition of a New York Jew in a thought-provoking article he wrote for New York Magazine. A New York Jew was “a kind of universally acknowledged wizard, like a Swiss banker, an English tailor, or a Parisian couturier. Fast talking, funny, obnoxious, able to conjure some shimmering, tantalizing brilliance on the fly while complaining about the stale Danish and bad coffee and waving a folded copy of the New York Times at the oncoming traffic, with one foot planted firmly on the cracked sidewalk and the other tapping on the curb.” You don’t find people like that in Butte, Montana even if they’re Jewish. New York Jews are, said Samuels, “less polite, more exciting, more exacting and didactic, with different ideas about pleasure and sin.”
Which is a spot-on description of my biggest mentor in my process of attaining New York Jewdom: the late, great Al Goldstein. With the death of Hefner, and the subsequent fawning over his creation of the cosmopolitan, urbane pipe-smoking Playboy after dark Lothario, it’s time to reassess Goldstein’s contributions in creating a counter-narrative – the emancipation and glorification of the decidedly uncouth, unsophisticated, schlubby serial masturbator.
Al Goldstein’s amazingly prescient rant about Donald Trump on his Midnight Blue program in the mid-1980s:
Al was born in 1936 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His father Sam was a timid, lecherous photojournalist and his mother Gert was an ex-burlesque trouper. Al was a bed-wetting, stutterer who was on the receiving end of the wrath of the neighborhood bullies. He was a fanatical baseball fan who, when he was 12, summered with his family at a bungalow colony near Morristown, N.J., where he was remembered by his peers for being the least interested of them in the temptations of the opposite sex.
Goldstein would later blame his myriad neuroses on his weak father and his “insensitive” mother, who began to have an affair with his speech therapist. He followed in his father’s footsteps into photojournalism, covering a trip by the first lady Jackie Kennedy to Pakistan, and taking unauthorized photos of Raul Castro which led to him being thrown in the infamous Morro Castle Prison in Havana for a few days. He married early and poorly (the first of his five wives) and wound up selling insurance by day and jerking off to movies of nudists playing volleyball in the Capri Theater on Eighth Avenue by night – when he didn’t have the money to actually pay for a hooker.
When Al and his wife separated, he became a talker at a dime pitch concession at the World’s Fair, then drove a cab, sold rugs, encyclopedias and, desperate, his own blood. He started writing for tabloid “men’s magazines” like Hush Hush News and the National Mirror where he fabricated stories about ice pick murderers and a man who had a horse’s penis implanted onto his puny member and would only eat grass afterwards. He took a job as an industrial spy infiltrating a labor union for the Bendix Corporation, but the work was so repugnant that he decided to blow the lid off the practice in an expose he wrote for the underground paper The New York Press.
“I felt I was the headlight into the fog of Puritanism.”
Al met James Buckley, one of the editors there, and they each put in $175 dollars and, in 1968, founded Screw. Sick of the violent pulp men’s magazines that glorified violence yet considered sex a taboo subject, Al was determined to start a paper that was all about sex. “I’m truly the Thomas Alva Edison of pussy,” Al told adult film historian Ashley West a few years ago. “I felt I was the headlight into the fog of Puritanism. I came up with a newspaper that validated masturbators. No other paper mirrored my interests – getting hookers and getting laid.”
Al laid out his mission statement in the first issue – “We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ. We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.” And he did. There were public service articles like “How to Fuck a Fatty” and “A Screw Guide to Gonorrhea.” Al himself reviewed porn movies using the Peter Meter – no thumbs but erect members up. He even ran a column called “Homosexual Citizen” the first gay-themed column in a straight magazine.
Al caught flak from both prudes and the nascent women’s movement but there really wasn’t anything chauvinistic about his philosophy, unlike say Hef’s. Al was a hedonist who loved women. One of the first times he ever masturbated was to Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses. “I love eating pussy because if I can put a smile on a woman’s face that’s an approval I can’t buy,” he told Ashley. “If I can give a girl pleasure that means I’m potent and virile, a real man. I started Screw to validate myself but when the paper sold I realized there were others just like me. They weren’t perverts or degenerates; no one was fucking eight-year-olds. They were just people who had a sexual appetite.” Al knew Screw would be successful when he got a letter from a man in his 80s who wrote that he was a Catholic who had always believed that sex was a sin but from reading Screw he had learned how to perform cunnilingus and it gave him great pleasure.
As a trade magazine for porno theaters and massage parlors and with the back pages filled with hooker ads, Screw’s readership blew up to 100,000 copies a week. While Goldstein himself distributed the first issues, he soon got a call that Joey Gallo’s brother Al (“the baby they called Kid Blast” as Dylan sung) wanted to meet him. The mob then informed Goldstein that they were his new distributors. “I thanked them,” Al told Ashley. “I needed a distributor. I was selling Screw for 25 cents an issue so I raised the price to 35 cents – 10 to them, 10 to me, and 15 to the newsstand.”
Al always found ways to generate controversy, which he thrived on. In 1973, he bought some full-fronted nudes of his old friend Jackie O sunbathing on Aristotle’s yacht that had appeared in European magazines. That issue sold a half a million copies. But it was Al’s review of an obscure porn film called Deep Throat that validated the entire “adult film” industry. Al thought that the premise of a woman who visits her doctor because she’s sexually frustrated only to learn that through a birth defect her clitoris resides at the base of her throat was hilarious. He instantly championed the movie, gave it his highest rating on the Peter Meter and wrote, “I was never so moved by any theatrical performance since stuttering through my own bar mitzvah.” The movie spawned the whole “porno chic” movement and Al was able to attract celebrities like John Lennon, Timothy Leary, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Nicholson (who talked about his masturbatory techniques) to sit for candid interviews.
From the earliest issues, Al fashioned Screw into a political tool for his left/libertarian views. When he disagreed with the then New York City mayor John Lindsay, he Photoshopped Lindsay’s head onto the body of a man’s in a porno still. Eight hours later, he was arrested. He was found not guilty because the judge couldn’t determine whether the offending male member was truly erect or just semi-strong. He was busted nearly twenty times for depictions of bush and penises and then their conjoining in the pages of Screw and once even for selling dildos in the Screw store but when Al published the first article that questioned J. Edgar Hoover’s sexuality (“Is J. Edgar a Fag?), the big guns came out. Jurisdiction shopping, the Feds had three postmasters in Wichita, Kansas take out subscriptions to Screw. Upon delivery, Al was charged with 12 obscenity and conspiracy charges which could have landed him in the slammer for more than 60 years.
Al hired Herald Price Fahringer, an elite lawyer who was recommended by his Mafia distributors. Fahringer tried to argue that there was redeeming value in Screw magazine because of Al’s anti-obscenity rants but Al undercut his own lawyer (not for the last time) by arguing that his readers’ erections were the “redeeming value” of his rag. Al maintained that the jury in the first Wichita trial took “eight seconds” to convict him. “They were all crying when they looked at Screw and they immediately crossed themselves.” Before his sentencing, Fahringer obtained character testimonials for Al from everyone from Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Vincent Canby, Lynn Redgrave, Norah Ephron, Hugh Hefner, and Gay Talese to two of his rabbis, then Congressman Ed Koch, his dentist, his CPA, one ex-wife, and a surgeon who had concerns about Al’s “morbid” obesity and the strains that prison life might put upon him.
Fahringer was ultimately able to have the conviction overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct and a second trial in Wichita resulted in a (well?) hung jury. Goldstein then flew the entire jury to New York to celebrate at the swing club Plato’s Retreat.
Besides breaking taboos about sex, Screw was inherently funny. Besides arrests, Al was continually being sued by the targets of his wit. The Pillsbury Company sued Screw for $50 million after Al had an artist depict the doughboy having sex with the doughgirl while she had a yeast infection. Goldstein was livid at the suit. He went out and bought two shares in General Mills, the parent company, and showed up at their annual stockholder’s meeting dressed as the doughboy and redressed the executives for wasting shareholder’s money on frivolous lawsuits. When the case was thrown out, he used the doughboy as Screw’s cover logo for a year.
I met Al in the early 1980s when I interviewed him for High Times magazine. He was so thrilled with the interview that we became fast friends. Just my luck, by then, Al was getting bored with sex (he claimed to have had sex with over 7,000 women and fifteen guys who were the recipients of oral favors from him during orgies at Plato’s Retreat) and he was indulging his truly favorite pastime – eating. Over the years, he had ballooned up to as much as 350 pounds and he was constantly going on crash diets, losing 75 pounds at a time only to put them back on again. His obsession was so severe that Screw employees were dispatched to all the food businesses within a two-block radius of Screw’s 14th St. offices with cash to pay the shopkeepers to refuse service to Al.
Back then I used to play ice hockey at odd hours and one late night after a pickup game in Queens, my teammates and I stopped at a White Castle in Queens. I was shocked to see a huge limo parked outside this decidedly downscale burger joint and when I got on line to order I saw a cowering Al and his chauffeur, an ex-vice squad cop named John Flynn who had once busted newsstands for selling Screw.
“Al? What the fuck are you doing here?” I said.
“You caught me! Don’t tell anyone,” Al looked chagrined and grabbed his huge suitcase of bellybombs and rushed into his limo.
I made the mistake of turning Al onto Big Wong, the fabulous Cantonese joint on Mott St. that I discovered back in 1975 and that Kinky Friedman has since immortalized in his mystery novel series.
“You’re gonna love these spareribs and roast pork,” I told Al. We never got past the appetizers that day. Al kept reordering both dishes.
I later found out that Al had returned to Big Wong every day for the next three weeks to gorge himself on the ribs and roast pork until his office manager called for an intervention and Al was shipped off to a fat farm.
But mostly we met over Al’s legendary brunches at an upscale Italian restaurant on Lexington Ave. The first time I attended one, I found myself sitting at a table with twenty of Al’s closet friends, a motley group that included his psychiatrist Dr. Theodore Isaac Rubin (of “David and Lisa” fame), NYC coroner Michael Baden, Second Ave Deli owner Abe Lebewohl, and “Grandpa” Al Lewis of The Munsters fame. Al would preside over the table, joyfully insulting the sexual prowess of each guest in his unique version of the Jewish dozens, truly happy that he could share his generosity with his pals.
Years later, I brought Gilbert Gottfried to one of the brunches. Gilbert never met a free lunch that he didn’t like, and he was soon a regular. Each week, he’d do a little choreographed routine with Al that was hilarious.
When it came time to order, Gilbert acted confused.
“I don’t know whether I should get the eggs benedict or the lox, eggs, and onion. Or maybe the cheeseburger deluxe,” Gilbert fretted. The waiter patiently waited as Gilbert scratched his head, deep in menu contemplation.
“Get them all!” Al said imperially. “Get them all!”
“OK,” Gilbert acted relieved. “You twisted my arm.”
And Gilbert would then instruct the waiter which dish to bring first and which dishes to pack into to-go cartons.
Al Goldstein interviews Debbie Harry and Chris Stein on Midnight Blue:
Usually after brunch, Al would invite some of us to his huge townhouse around the corner. I remember the first time I walked over there with Al. He had one of his trademark cigars in his hand, pointing out the adjacent multimillion-dollar townhouses.
“This is Bill Cosby’s house,” he said. “And on the other side of me are the musicians Ashford and Simpson.”
Once inside, it turned out that Al was like a Collyer brother. All four stories of the townhouse were packed with stuff. Goldstein’s desperate need to be loved and accepted seemed to be assuaged by a massive pursuit to fill up his life with gadgets of every sort. There were jukeboxes, pinball machines, a massive amount of stereo equipment, some pieces still boxed and piled up, enough humidors for every cigar at J&R Cigars, telescopes, binoculars, and camera equipment strewn around the house. The couch was filled with newspapers and magazines, except for one spot for Al to sit where he could watch the big-screen TV that was perpetually tuned to the History Channel. Al loved his Hitler documentaries.
I remember being there for a party one day. Al was excited beyond belief because he had invited Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse and his wife, Kathy Keeton, to get a tour of his townhouse. Al was so desperate to impress the Gooch (who had his own double-wide garish, gilded townhouse a few blocks away complete with a massive indoor pool and Romanesque columns) that he had hired a tuxedoed butler to pass hors d’oeuvres.
“You gotta see the house, Bob,” Al corralled Gooch and Kathy, and I followed. Al pointed out the pinball machines and the stocked jukebox. I couldn’t discern whether Gooch got the joke or whether there was a joke at all, because both he and Keeton had had such massive amounts of plastic surgery that you had the feeling that if either of them had even tried to smile, their faces would crack like a fault line.
Finally we made our way to the top floor.
“You gotta see this, this is the best,” Al was giddy.
We stopped in front of a long counter. Behind it was what looked like the carousel mechanisms that dry-cleaning stores used to organize and store their customers’ clothing. In fact, that was what it was.
Al hit a button and the machinery started whirring and a cascade of clothing started spinning by us.
“I keep all my clothing here, two of each piece. One for when I’m dieting and one for when I’m not,” Al said.
Snakeskin leather jackets, embroidered cowboy shirts, green suits, two by two they flashed past us. I looked over at Bob and Kathy but their granite faces didn’t evince a reaction.
When the Ayatollah issued a fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie accusing him of promoting blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses, Al was quick to respond. He immediately created a full-page ad in Screw offering $1,000,000 to anyone who would assassinate Khomeini.
That was when Al was still in the bucks. At one point, he had the townhouse, two other apartments in Manhattan, a pad in LA, a rental apartment in Amsterdam where he went to smoke pot, and a huge mansion in Pompano Beach, Florida. My mother was living in Margate at that time, just a few minutes’ drive away so I headed over to visit Al.
He gave me a grand tour of his newest mansion, 10,000 square feet stocked with wine, stereo equipment, an entire humidor room, typical Al. But the piece de resistance was in the back yard, next to the pool. It was a ten-foot sculpture of a hand with its middle finger proudly jutting skywards. And it was placed right next to the Intracoastal Waterway that abutted Al’s property, which meant that every boater traveling through south Florida had to pass it by. We sat out by the pool and most of the boats would hit their horn and cheer as they went by. Al would smile and give them a live middle finger salute. We hung out for a while and then picked up my elderly mother and went to dinner where Al was a perfect gentleman.
Even though Al seemed to be heading toward some sort of semi-retirement, a good freedom of expression fight always got his juices flowing. When the Ayatollah issued a fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie accusing him of promoting blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses, Al was quick to respond. He immediately created a full-page ad in Screw offering $1,000,000 to anyone who would assassinate Khomeini. In 1990, a year later, after a Federal judge deemed 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be album obscene, a Fort Lauderdale record store owner was arrested for selling the album to an undercover agent and the group itself was arrested and faced a year in jail on obscenity charges when they performed some of the songs at a Hollywood, Florida club. Al was outraged by the local sheriff’s actions and denounced him in Screw and then threw his hat in the ring to oust him. He printed up thousands of Goldstein for Sheriff T-shirts but he eventually withdrew from the race.
Still he retained his bully pulpit via his Manhattan cable public access show Midnight Blue. Besides interviewing porn stars and giving a platform to his friends like Gilbert Gottfried and Grandpa Al Lewis, the show was Al’s ultimate vehicle for redressing any slight that may have been occasioned upon him. He did it through the popular “Fuck You” segment in which he faced the camera on a bare set and issued his Fuck You fatwas to judges, D.A.’s, politicians, dry cleaners that ruined his clothing, restaurants that screwed up his take-outs, the multimillionaire Carl Icahn who had just taken over TWA after the airline lost his luggage, and, in a memorably prescient moment, gave a Fuck You to Donald Trump in the mid-1980s.
“I loved doing the Fuck You’s,” Al told Ashley West. “It’s great fun to be negative. It’s wonderful to strike back because we’re all zombies, treated like non-existent clones so what I could do in Screw and on Midnight Blue was to highlight villains and enemies.”
By the turn of the century, Screw had fallen on hard times. Goldstein never had a viable on-line presence; the hookers had migrated and took out their ads in free weeklies like the Village Voice or just used Craigslist. If someone wanted to jerk off they didn’t need Al’s mag, they could just Google “free porn.” Screw had also been victimized by a succession of employees who had embezzled money while Al was busy at his brunches or getting high in Amsterdam.
Al had also started picking the wrong fights. He had spent vast amounts to put his only son Jordan through Georgetown University and then Harvard Law, and he was shattered when Jordan refused to invite him to his Harvard graduation. Al plastered the pages of Screw with doctored photos of Jordan giving blow-jobs to well-hung men and even screwing his own mother, Al’s ex-wife Gena. When his secretary quit while he was in L.A., Goldstein got unmoored. Indignant that she didn’t have the guts to resign face to face, he began bombarding her phone message with obscene messages and threats.
Al was arrested on 19 counts of aggravated harassment in the second degree. Shortly before his arrest, Al happened to meet a lawyer named Charles DeStefano at a party at Pastis. Charlie was with a friend of his, a mixed martial arts cage fighter from New Orleans, when Al walked past them, resplendent in a snakeskin vest and Cazal glasses.
Al sat down at their table and within minutes, had invited them to sit in on a Screw editorial meeting. A week after the meeting, Charlie got the call that Al had been busted and they needed him to spring Al from jail. Charlie rushed to the arraignment in Brooklyn and got Al released on his own recognizance.
Charlie met with the district attorney and worked out a deal where Al would be charged with disorderly conduct, a lesser offense, and his secretary would be issued an order of protection for Al to stop harassing her. But when Charlie brought the proposed deal back, Goldstein exploded.
“Fuck you, you scumbag guinea wop faggot!” he screamed. “I’m not accepting a plea deal. You want to represent me, we’re going to court.”
Which they did. But not before Al began attacking the Brooklyn DA, Joe Hynes, calling him a political hack. The judge assigned to the case was Danny Chin, and Al got his high school yearbook photo and superimposed it on a photo of Hynes fucking Chin in the ass. Then, the morning of the first court appearance, Al faxed the image to both Judge Chin and Hynes. When court convened, Judge Chin called both sides to the bench. He held up the fax.
“Your honor, I had nothing to do with that,” Charlie stammered.
“I didn’t think you did,” Judge Chin said. “I just want to know if you want me to continue to preside over this case?” He looked towards Al.
“Sure,” Al said. “I’m totally fine with this judge.”
Charlie called one character witness for the defense. Grandpa Al Lewis. He ambled to the witness stand wearing a big fedora and then spent the next five minutes in a vaudeville routine trying to comply with the court officer’s request to remove his hat and raise his right hand without holding the hat in his raised right hand. Now it was time for his testimony.
Al maintained that the jury in the first Wichita trial took “eight seconds” to convict him. “They were all crying when they looked at Screw and they immediately crossed themselves.”
“Sir, do you know Al Goldstein?” Charlie asked.
“What kind of lawyer are you? We just spoke this morning. What a stupid question!” Grandpa said.
“I’m asking you for the jury’s benefit. They need to know you know Mr. Goldstein.”
“Oh Al and I go out all the time,” Grandpa said. Then he turned towards Judge Chin. “We go to Chinee restaurants. We love Chinee food. I know every good Chinee joint from the Bowery to the Upper East Side. And we don’t eat alone. We go with politicians, we go with cops, we go with judges.”
“What would you say Mr. Goldstein’s reputation for honesty is among the community of friends you just described?” Charlie tried to rein him in.
“Let me tell you something, counselor. I was walking down the street just the other day and this stranger came up to me, it was by the Brooklyn Bridge, and he says ‘Grandpa! How are you doing?’ and I say ‘I’m doing good. And by the way, that Al Goldstein, what a reputation he has in this community for honesty.”
The jury was cracking up. Then it was the DA’s turn and they called Al to the stand. This was right after 9/11 and Al had published Hyne’s photo in Screw and wished that the terrorists had attacked the Brooklyn’s DA office instead of the Twin Towers.
“Mr. Goldstein, is it true that you directed terrorists to aim their planes at the Brooklyn DA’s office?”
Al exploded. He started screaming and picked up his chair and threw it on the floor.
“That’s my constitutional right! You can’t tell me what to do!”
The court officers grabbed Al and handcuffed him and took him out. There was silence in the court for what seemed like an eternity but was only three minutes. Being a veteran defendant, Al knew that in order to be in summary contempt of court he must receive a warning from the judge.
“Bring him back in,” Judge Chin ordered, and Al came in and was docile for the rest of the trial.
Al wound up being convicted on 11 of the 19 charges, but he called Fahringer in for the appeal. Once again, the conviction was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct when they accused Goldstein of being a danger to society. It was another legal victory but the most ignoble case Al had ever participated in.
Screw folded in 2003, selling only 600 copies of its last issue. Midnight Blue hung on for another year. Over the next few years Al slowly began a decline. He had blown through the $11 million that he had squirreled under his bed. He had spent it on everything from huge legal fees to kidnapping insurance for his son Jordan to a brand new 928 Porsche for his good friend Joey Buttafucco. He lost the townhouse; he gifted his two condos to his girlfriend Rose shortly before they broke up. The Florida mansion? Gone to back taxes. He asked Jordan to hold his only remaining valuable possessions, a few watches worth big bucks. The rest of his possessions, including his underwear, his shoes, his furniture, and his cigars wound up being sold for $150,000 by his fifth wife right before she left him.
Al had managed to salvage all the awards and plaques and celebrity photos that had once graced the hallways and his office at Screw and they were all piled up in a corner of the bedroom, along with a complete bound collection of Screw.
I had fallen out of touch with Al but when I read in Page Six that he was living in a homeless shelter at Bellevue, I was shocked and immediately called our mutual friend Penn Jillette.
“Get him out of the shelter, find him an apartment, and I’ll pay for it,” Penn said without batting an eye.
Charlie got him a temporary place in Staten Island, but Al found it hard to adjust to his new life. His health began to deteriorate and he was in and out of the VA hospital in Manhattan. He still charmed people. One time while Penn and I were visiting, Al got a visit from a nurse who had tended to him at the VA the previous year. She had left her job and moved to Jersey, but she made the trip to the city to cheer Al up. He needed cheering up. All his so-called friends had abandoned him, he would complain. (Although a case could be made that Al drove most of them away.) He was still estranged from Jordan, who had his own son by now, a grandchild that Al had never laid eyes on. And Jordan still had the watches. Penn and I said our goodbyes that day and waited in the hallway for the elevator.
“Poor Al,” Penn said. “Can you imagine how fucked up it is if Ratso and Penn are your only friends?”
Besides his physical ailments it appeared that Al suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. By now, he was living out in Far Rockaway renting a small apartment from a lovely woman who owned a small two-family home. Ashley West visited him out there for an interview that appeared on Ashley’s website “The Rialto Report.” By the end of the interview, Al was morose.
“I lost every possession I ever had. It’s a horror story. The realization is that I’m finished. I think of suicide. I don’t think I will kill myself, but it’s possible. The biggest betrayal of all was my son. My son was so ashamed of his father, the pornographer, that he wouldn’t invite me to his graduation at Harvard. I paid a million dollars for his tuition, and that money would have paid off my note and allowed me to keep my house.
“So my life has turned to shit. Now I live in Rockaway. I panhandle. Two things: One, Screw folded, which was a humiliation for me. And the other thing, which I haven’t reconciled myself to, was that I’ve gotten older and this is a world where older people have no value. And I’m lonely. I would love to have a girlfriend. I used to have sex with three women a day for thirty-five years. Not necessarily fuck them – if I could give them an orgasm it made me feel good. I haven’t had sex in two years and I’m lonely. I’m just one more once-was.
“To wind up homeless is pathetic. To trust a woman who sold everything, sold all my furniture, all the things I loved and cared about is pathetic. I was once rich and there are times now when I have 85 cents in my pocket and I’m waiting for my Social Security check. I try. I’ve applied for jobs at Starbucks. Two days ago Dunkin’ Donuts would not hire me. Look at the people working at Dunkin’ Donuts. If I don’t qualify to work there, what am I? How could I be that pathetic?”
Shortly after that interview, Charlie got a call from Al at 3 A.M.
“Charles, I have a .38 snub nose that’s loaded and I’m going to put it to my skull and blow my brains out. There’s no point in living anymore.”
Charlie tried to talk Al down and requested that they talk in person. Al agreed. Charlie called his friend Stewie, a retired police captain, and they rushed out to Far Rockaway. When they arrived at the house, Al was outside with the gun in his hand.
“Al, put the gun down,” Charlie begged, and Al handed it to Charlie. On the way home, Stewie stopped at a police precinct and turned the gun in.
By now Al was suffering from kidney disease. He had broken his hip in a fall from his hospital bed at the VA, and he was confined to a wheelchair. The social worker at the VA suggested that someone be designated as his health care proxy. Penn and I chose and I lost. But Penn was gracious enough to persuade his friend Viveca Gardiner, who lived in Brooklyn, to help me provide Al with some companionship.
Viveca and I quickly realized that Al was too isolated and too ill to live by himself in Far Rockaway, so I got him into a great nursing home in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn. It helped that the chief administrator there was a huge fan of Al’s. But it was poignant when Viveca and I schlepped to Far Rockaway to clean out Al’s apartment. There was no more massive high-end stereo equipment now, just off- brand shitty tape recorders and speakers. There were also hundreds of pill bottles containing every pain pill known to man. Amazingly, through all of his downsizing and ultimate homelessness, Al had managed to salvage all the awards and plaques and celebrity photos that had once graced the hallways and his office at Screw and they were all piled up in a corner of the bedroom, along with a complete bound collection of Screw.
Al settled into a nice routine at the nursing home for a while. He was thrilled to spend time with Viveca, and he’d propose to her at least twice a visit. He seemed truly grateful for the help that Penn and I were giving him. “You’re true friends,” he’d keep saying sweetly. “Thank you. Thank you.” That was a side of Al few people ever saw.
The only problem with being his health care proxy was the all too frequent calls I’d get at 3 A.M. The ringing phone would jar me awake, and I’d fumble for the receiver at my bedside.
“Mr. Sloman, dis is da nurse at Cobble Hill Nursing Home,” she’d bark through the receiver in a thick Jamaican patois. “Mr. Goldstein has fallen out of de bed, mon, but he’s okay.”
“If he’s okay, why are you waking me at 3 A.M. to tell me this?” I protested groggily.
“It’s da law Mr. Sloman. It’s da law,” she’d say and then hang up.
After a few months there, some of Al’s old feistiness began to surface. I got a call one day that Al had attempted to break out of the nursing home. He had run out of his favorite chocolate-covered peanuts from Trader Joe’s so he had wheeled himself down to the front desk and demanded someone accompany him to the local Trader Joe’s, which was about ten blocks away. Of course, they refused. Al started yelling and then tried to wheel himself out the front door. He wound up being sent to Kingsboro Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation.
I drove out to the hospital armed with a Big Mac and a large soda and strolled into Al’s room. He was thrilled to see me and, especially, the food. And when his middle-aged black nurse came in to check on him, the old Al surfaced for a minute.
“Look at how pretty she is,” Al said. “Oh, if you only knew me in my prime. I had the quickest tongue in the east. I would give you so many orgasms you’d pass out from exhaustion.”
The nurse cracked up. “So you’re feeling better today, Mr. Goldstein?” she laughed.
In the last few months of his life, Penn convinced Al to try to reconcile with his son Jordan. One day, Jordan came to the nursing home with his infant son. They had a nice visit, and Al was happy to see his grandson, but a few days later he was back to cursing Jordan for not inviting him to his graduation and for refusing to return his watches.
I knew how much Al loved pastrami sandwiches, so one time I brought Al the Montreal version of pastrami: a smoked meat sandwich from Mile End in Brooklyn, which was owned by a transplanted Montreal hebe. Al was really appreciative, and he nibbled on the sandwich but his appetite had waned. Plus although he’d demanded that the VA pay for new dentures, he never wore them, so he’d gum his food toothlessly. We had been downstairs in the day room so I wrapped up the sandwich and wheeled him back up to his room and put the food on his bedside table. That was the last time I saw Al.
I got the call he died a few days later. It’s a pity that Al never got to see his long, positive obituary in the Times, complete with a picture! He was afraid that he’d be forgotten when he died. Charlie, Viveca and I knew we had to give Al a proper send-off so we organized a memorial for him at the Museum of Sex, of course. We plastered some photos of Al around the space and set up a large folding table where we piled up 500 White Castle cheeseburgers and fries. Viveca and I had salvaged suitcases full of Al’s “Goldstein for Sheriff” T-shirts so we gave them away.
The tribute started with Charlie and I driving slowly down Fifth Ave to the museum in Charlie’s vintage Caddy convertible with a huge framed photo of Al in the back seat. We were escorted by a phalanx of motorcyclists that Charlie had defended and befriended in the past. Once inside, I emceed the tributes and introduced the speakers, who included porn stars, editors from Screw, and even a wheelchair-bound Herald Price Fahringer. I cued up two heartfelt video tributes – one from Ron Jeremy in LA and one from Penn in Vegas. Finally, it was time for the proper eulogy.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Rabbi Gilbert Gottfried …”
I handed Gilbert the mike.
“Yes, I’m here to give you a final Fuck-You Al. You tiny-dicked little fucking kyke. You disgusting fucking Jew kyke. You piece of shit, fuck you! I hope you’re in hell, sucking the cocks of the entire Third Reich. I hope that for eternity Hitler is fucking you in the ass. You fucking tiny-dicked, fat, fucking kyke. Fuck you Al Goldstein. I hope the only oral sex you get in hell is when you’re sucking off Goebbels. Fuck you. Your dick is so tiny it’s smaller than the average clit. Fuck you, Al Goldstein.”
Gilbert got a standing ovation and then headed straight for the White Castles.