Meet the New Sheriff
Gloria Leonard, Al Goldstein's friend and colleague, is on the phone from New York City. "Victims again?" Goldstein says to the former pornographic-movie star and publisher of High Society magazine. "It was a setup. You can't win, Gloria." It seems Leonard had been invited to appear on Geraldo to discuss police raids on porn parlors, but she soon realized the show was about women becoming "victims" of pornography, a subject Al Goldstein knows quite a bit about. "So Geraldo lied again," Goldstein says in a conciliatory tone. "He's the ultimate slut.... Listen, I had lunch with a guy from Newsweek the other day. I want you to talk to him. You can have space in my magazine to editorialize. You can come on my show and do a `Fuck You' to Geraldo...."
For Goldstein, such a reaction is typical. For the past 23 years he has published the New York tabloid Screw, a raunchy weekly whose newsprint pages are filled with images of copulating human flesh. He is one of the nation's most outspoken advocates of pornography, a man whose views on the subject amount to one credo: anything goes. And he's not at all shy about jumping into the fray when anyone suggests life should be governed otherwise. So it was only natural that he should have taken up residence in Pompano Beach, which is part of Broward County, infamous for its intolerance toward matters risque. Not only does moving to a Pompano Beach condominium put the rotund Goldstein in the belly of the beast, but it also allows him to run for sheriff, a position currently held by Nick Navarro, a national symbol of censorship after his much-publicized efforts to ban rap group the 2 Live Crew. But Sheriff Nick had better watch out. With a ferocity that belies his mild, personable manner, Goldstein has a tendency to assault his enemies with verbiage.
In the February 11 issue of Screw, for example, Goldstein attacks Leonard Stern, owner of the Hartz Mountain pet products corporation and the Village Voice. "All of Stern's cutthroat business dealings are a feeble attempt on his part to compensate for his ugliness, his shortness, his vile and malodorous existence," writes the Screw publisher. "Here was a man, I thought - giving him the benefit of the doubt - who would try anything to erase the shame of his tiny dick." After outlining how Hartz was to blame for dog and cat deaths related to the use of the company's Blockade flea repellant, Goldstein adds, "Stern already has to kick away the dead animals at his doorstep just to go home at night."
Broward County won't elect a sheriff until November of 1992, but Al Goldstein's campaign has already begun, despite the fact that he doesn't expect to have established permanent residency for another six months. Goldstein, who is the travel editor for the Australian Penthouse magazine and the author of a book-in-progress about travel (he's assisted in much of this by Gil Reavill, his long-time ghostwriter), is a mover, but he hopes to cut down on his globe hopping soon. "I hope to finish all those obligations within the next six months," he says. "In June the Libertarian Party will, hopefully, choose me as their candidate. If not, I'll run as an independent. Beginning in June I hope to be here permanently. And whether I win or lose, I'll probably be here 95 percent of the time." (A Libertarian Party official says Goldstein has been invited to speak at the group's convention at the end of May.)
Goldstein has a soft spot for animals. On the square, glass coffee table that separates his big-screen Sylvania TV set from his overstuffed living-room couch stands a framed photograph of Porky Pig, a pet hog who grew so big so fast that Goldstein was forced to orphan him to a farm near Lake Worth (visit planned soon). A tiny Yorkie named Petey, sporting a heavily bandaged hind leg and a surgical scar on its recently shaved hip (clearly the work of a talented and high-priced veterinarian) runs around the condo. "She's so spoiled," Goldstein says of the dog. "Come here Petey, c'mere baby. My wife spoils her." Passing the blame is quite uncharacteristic of Al Goldstein, and it soon becomes evident that he's lying. If anyone spoils the yappy little canine, it surely is the animal's big daddy.
The seventh-floor condo where Petey and Goldstein hold sway is not ostentatious. The interior was obviously built for comfort - the big-screen TV is topped by a pair of VCRs, several remote control devices are piled on the coffee table, the white couches are soft and plush. A small, fully ornamented Christmas tree stands next to the television set a month and a half after the holiday. There are chess boards in various locations around the apartment. Two rental videos - Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Freshman - lie on an end table; Goldstein says he's eager to watch them so he can return the movies without paying a late fee.
Goldstein's mother had lived in Florida for 30 years, and when she died two years ago, her son, who says he always hated Florida, bought a condo here. "My mother's Florida," he reflects, "was very different. She was at this Century - this old people's home - Village. But then I found I like the ocean, I love the weather, and I've really fallen in love with the place. I'm really happy here."
Four months ago Goldstein bought the unit directly below his and had a steep spiral staircase installed to join the two apartments. While the lower flat is incompletely furnished, it does contain the essentials - a fluffy couch and a TV set, this one a Mitsubishi with an even bigger screen - 70 inches. "If I can't have a big dick," Goldstein quips, "I can at least have a big screen." The view from the small balcony is inspiring: the Atlantic Ocean, boats foaming the open waters, traffic moseying along Route A1A, a clump of trees like an oasis off to the west, and there, peeking above the roof of a neighboring three-story apartment house, gusting due west in the breeze, waves an American flag.
The flag might be the most fitting symbol for a man who utilizes the First Amendment to its full potential. In the early days of Screw, Goldstein was regularly arrested on obscenity charges, which he successfully fought on constitutional grounds. Goldstein says he was arrested nineteen times in the first two years of publishing Screw, but he has not been busted since 1977, the year he was cleared of federal charges. These days he reviews X-rated movies for Penthouse magazine, has appeared in one adult film himself, and evaluates sex clubs and prostitution-related services in his Screw.
But those who would scoff at the notion of America's best-known pornographer and most outspoken journalist displacing Nick Navarro as chief law-enforcement officer of Florida's second most-populated county might be in for the sort of surprise Hartz's Leonard Stern received when he thumbed through the February 11 issue of Screw. About becoming sheriff, Goldstein says he's as serious as doggy death.
"I have a sense of what I'm dealing with," says the potential lawman. "I know Nick has adherents and a lot of people despise him. And so for me, it's a sense of what's necessary - researching, I didn't realize he had a [department] budget of $170 million [annually], and I've got to immerse myself in the issues. The bottom line will be - I'm not a law-enforcement person - it would be, What's my philosophy, who I would hire, and what help I'd get. Obviously my own credentials are wanting. He's supposed to spend 95 percent of his time on media. I was reading - have you read this? - `Why Is This Man Hugging a Pig?' This is all you need to run against him. He's his own worst enemy." The paradox is too obvious: Navarro hugs pigs for the camera, Goldstein hugs Porky because he loves his pig.
The article he refers to, published in the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine in August 1990, goes into great detail about Nick Navarro's astounding nose for newsmaking, his utter devotion to seeking publicity for himself. The story's anecdotal opening treads much closer to Goldstein's habitual territory: in the midst of an interview, the sheriff is called upon to submit to a "surprise" urine test. Glancing at the pee bottle's one-and-a-half-inch opening, Navarro asks, "Do you have one with a bigger mouth?"
The present sheriff seems to think he waves a large staff. "I wish my dick was five inches longer," says Goldstein. "I always envied John Holmes.... I always wanted women to be awed by my size." (Despite repeated requests, the usually publicity-hungry Sheriff Navarro declined to comment about his penis or anything else for this article. "He's not doing anything political right now," a spokesman explains.)
But like Sheriff Nick, Goldstein craves attention. His greatest regret about the failed prosecution of the 2 Live Crew - he attended the trial - was that the rap group snagged all the media's time. "I kept attacking Nick [in Screw and other forums] because busting 2 Live Crew seemed absurd," Goldstein explains. "Then I went to the trial every day, and I not only saw a stupid arrest in terms of, why bother philosophically, but I saw it ineptly handled. If you're going to do a bust, do it well. There were so many inappropriate things Nick did - he had his people using a microcassette recorder left in a shirt pocket, the tape was so muffled the jury laughed. He became a laughingstock, and, I must say, Broward County became the laughingstock of the nation."
It was the 2 Live trial that sparked Goldstein's campaign to unseat Navarro in 1992. "That's when it coalesced in my mind," he recalls, "that not only is this man dangerous politically, but that he's also dangerous as a policeman. If you're going to be a Nazi, be a good Nazi. Whatever we say about Hitler, he was efficient in the execution of Jews. If Nick were executing Jews, I think only six would have died and six million would have walked out alive. So I said, `Get off your ass, Al. Don't just write editorials attacking him, see if you can do something. I already have the time, I have the inclination, I'm going to use my own money. Unlike Nick, I'm not going to be knocking on people's doors for money and then owe favors. I really do believe I'll win." Goldstein has had campaign T-shirts manufactured, and he's renting advertising space on the outfield wall of Pompano Beach Municipal Stadium, where the minor-league Miracle baseball team plays.
Alvin Goldstein grew up in Brooklyn, where his obesity, stuttering, and a tendency to wet his bed made him a target for neighborhood street bullies. His father was a meek grade-school dropout who worked as a photojournalist, his mother was a Russian immigrant, and Goldstein was, he says, "a typical Jew." At age sixteen, with the help of his Uncle George, who made the arrangements, and a Fourex condom, which provided protection, Goldstein, who already masturbated regularly, lost his virginity to a prostitute. The next year he dropped out of school and joined the army's Signal Corps. He spent two years taking photographs, including one off-duty assignment that had him preserve for posterity depictions of his sergeant receiving oral sex from a prostitute. That first explicitly sexual photograph was the start of something big.
In the winter of 1958, Goldstein used the GI Bill to enter Pace University in downtown New York City and soon took a job with his father as an apprentice photographer. He also added another extracurricular activity - the one-time shy boy and stutterer became captain of the college's debate team.
Suddenly successful and now able to seduce women by dating them rather than hiring them, Goldstein, almost predictably, rebelled. He argued with his professors, grew a beard and adopted other beatnik accouterments, wrote campus-paper editorials denouncing school policies, and set aside his textbooks in favor of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and especially Henry Miller.
During the Christmas holidays of 1960, the island nation of Cuba, freshly revolutionized by Fidel Castro, was on the verge of breaking diplomatic relations with the United States, and Al Goldstein was in Havana, working as a photographer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. "I was very politically left," he recalls. "I'm not saying I was communistic, but I just hated United Fruit, and I felt that Fidel should be given an opportunity and that Eisenhower was a piece of shit."
With full credentials and four cameras, Goldstein began capturing images of the new left - shots of the female militia marching through the calles, close-ups of anti-American billboards, depictions of military installations. "And this is the contradiction of life versus a symbol," he remembers. "Six hours after I'm in Cuba, I'm arrested and thrown in jail for five days. That's why I have such a problem with the right and the left. I don't trust true believers. They scare me. It was shocking to be imprisoned by a leader who I supported so much. That's when I realized how complicated politics is."
After dropping out of college in his junior year because he had trouble passing math courses, Goldstein worked as an insurance agent, achieving significant sales at Mutual of New York before the bottom fell out. He manned the dime-pitching booth at the New York World's Fair in 1964, sold rugs and encyclopedias, donated blood regularly, and became a cab driver (he still keeps his hack license current, "something to fall back on").
In 1966 Goldstein was hired by a subsidiary of the Bendix Corporation to sabotage a change of unions by employees. He accomplished his mission - a five-vote margin among 400 workers decided against a new union. But two years later, in 1968, he wrote a story for the New York Free Press that exposed the Bendix affair. The paper's editors, who paid Goldstein $100 for the piece, thought the article, headlined "I Was an Industrial Spy for the Bendix Corporation," would be explosive. It wasn't. The paper received not a single letter or phone call about the expose.
Nonetheless Goldstein, who was driving a cab at the time, had tasted the pleasures of ink and newsprint. He grew friendly with Jim Buckley, a typesetter and assistant editor at the Free Press, and together the two started up a tabloid that would specialize in explicit sex, which Goldstein saw as an untapped market. In the summer of 1968, Buckley and Goldstein pitched in $150 apiece, and that November Screw was born. The debut issue, twelve pages thin, featured on its cover a woman wearing a bikini and suggestively holding a large salami. By the tenth issue, the newspaper had doubled in size and increased its circulation (author Gay Talese put its circulation at the time at 100,000, but Screw's distribution is neither audited nor monitored). The first of many arrests occurred on May 30, 1969, when cops busted the publication's top editors after the release of an issue that featured a photograph of then-mayor John Lindsay flaunting "his" giant penis. Police also arrested any sidewalk vendor brave enough to sell Screw, including some who were blind. Eventually Screw would be praised by authors Talese and Gore Vidal as America's most honest newspaper. Talese, in fact, devoted a large section of his mid-Seventies best seller, Thy Neighbor's Wife, to a biography of Goldstein and the history of Screw.
After seven prosperous years marred only by those pesky obscenity busts, Buckley wanted out of Screw. "He was tired of getting arrested," Goldstein recalls. Buckley's return on his initial investment indicates Screw's success: Goldstein paid him $500,000 for his half.
Today Screw is still overseen by Goldstein, but the tabloid is produced by a crack staff of underlings. Goldstein says he keeps a hand in the words that go on the cover; above each week's full-color illustration is a small box for a type logo: "Bah! Humjob!" (for Christmas, natch), "Damn, That's Good Porn!" and "More Poon Per Pound" are examples. Longer teases are stripped across the top: "Deadly Sex Gifts for Sickos," "Jailhouse Cock," "Hitler: Shmuck or Stud?" and "Mid-East Muff: Blowjobs in the Sand" have appeared
Typically 72 pages thick, and priced at $2.25 (it cost 35 cents back in 1968), Screw mixes unabashedly sexual articles with movie-ad satires, reviews of books and other media, and advertisements for prostitutes and phone-sex lines. Throughout, the publication is illustrated by photographs of people engaged in the three activities often used to define obscenity: erection, penetration, and ejaculation. You won't find any of that in Playboy or Penthouse. Along with the pornography are dozens of witty bits: articles carry bylines such as Warren Pietz, Benjamin Waugh (for the Ben-wa masturbation device), and the ever-popular John Milton; headlines are generally clever - "Satin Worship" over a story about sheer lingerie, "On the Rags" for a piece about sensationalist tabloids from the past, "Dragnut" for a report covering the trial of 2 Live Crew, which began, "Ladies and genitals, a word from our Leerless Feeder, Al Goldstein...." Goldstein bon mots are placed in the staff box on page three, a la Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman: "I wish I had a dollar for every nickel I have," "I went from fabulous to fat in 21 days," and "I'm an eats-seeking missile."
Goldstein attributes Screw's longevity to something more philosophical than puns and buns. "I think if anything, unlike [Playboy's Hugh] Hefner and [Penthouse's Bob] Guccione, I think readers like me because they've identified with me. I'm not better than my reader, I'm as confused and bewildered and befuddled as he is. I really see myself as everyman." Screw does indeed present an editorial product that touches - and fondles and gropes - a nerve in anyone who wasn't born celibate. It attempts to cater to every sexual tendency except pedophilia, violence, and bestiality. "In the same way that Geraldo and Oprah get weirder and weirder subjects, people get a little desensitized," Goldstein says. "I think a lot of people are bored with sex and they're looking for kinkier and kinkier stuff. And in no way are we talking about the two things which I'm against: child pornography and rape I'm absolutely appalled by. But as long as it's consensual, let people play it out. I know a lot of people who go to S&M clubs - wonderful, you wanna hang from the ceiling upside down, do it. There's nothing wrong with fun. That's my fantasy with Nick Navarro - handcuff him, tie him upside down, hang him from one of his tent-city jails. Probably love it. Probably give me a couple hundred dollars."
Not everyone is as multidimensional as Al Goldstein, whose acceptance in more mainstream circles is intriguing given his rebel-without-a-pause gusto for shocking people to their senses. He's had his work published in Playboy and Penthouse (not to mention the New York Times, Film Comment, and Harper's), appeared on Geraldo, and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sexuality. His carefully favorable PR bio (instead of dropping out of Pace, for example, it says he "completed his education" there) describes Goldstein as "a writer, a photographer, a gadget buff, a film aficionado, a family man."
In 1970 Terry Southern, in his novel Blue Movie, envisioned the future of adult movies. Two decades ago skin flicks were relegated to the deep, deep underground - most were poorly crafted, one-camera, 8-mm stag films shown at crude parties and in urban red-light districts. In Southern's book, the world's top film director, Boris Adrian, who has won the Best Picture Oscar two years running, is inspired by these silent, black-and-white movies. He wonders what would happen if a sex film were made on a three-million-dollar budget, with real actors and actresses, proper lighting, and multiple camera angles. Another character, a producer, says to the great director: "Jesus fucking Christ, B.! Here you are with everything in the world going for you, and you worrying about making some dumb broad hooker look good in a dirty movie! Whatta you, nuts?!?"
Almost immediately after its publication, Southern's prophecy was fulfilled by Deep Throat (filmed in Miami during 1970), which captured the nation's attention, did boffo box-office, and made Linda Lovelace something more than a household name when it appeared in 1972. A slew of blue movies shot on 35-mm stock followed in Deep Throat's wake, and for the first time porno reached beyond the raincoat crowd. Based solely on the publicity generated when law-enforcement officials cracked down on theaters bold enough to show it, couples and other curious mainstreamers went in droves to see Lovelace's X-rated antics.
Though at first Linda Lovelace basked in the media spotlight, in her autobiography, Ordeal, she denounced pornography and her performance. In the book, she claims she was beaten, raped, and forced to act in the movie by her husband/manager, adding that she assuaged her traumatic suffering with heavy doses of the painkiller Percodan.
"There was a time," Goldstein recalls, "in 1971, '72, '73, when the films really got much better. They were shooting 35-mm, Gerry Damiano [who directed Deep Throat as well as the highly regarded The Devil in Miss Jones, which Goldstein chooses as an all-time favorite] was making some really good movies. Sure he had Bergman pretensions...." Goldstein has cited many of the films from porn's Seventies heyday in the "X-rated Video" review column he writes for Penthouse. About The Opening of Misty Beethoven, he opined in 1985 that "this consummate piece of adult entertainment had `classic' written all over it when it was released as a film, back in 1976...." Of 1974's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, he offered this: "These last two [actresses] turned in a state-of-the-tart lesbian scene. And when Barbara Bourbon is asked to deep-throat Marc Stevens, she performs so well she'd qualify as a sword-swallower for Ringling Brothers. Pamela Mann proves that although nations fade and empires crumble, a good blowjob is timeless."
"I thought there would be a breakthrough," Goldstein says today. "I was wrong. I thought the Hollywood films would have the porno scene. The Postman Always Rings Twice, when Jack Nicholson was shtupping the girl in the kitchen, Jessica Lange - why stop? Don't stop. Go all the way, show it. Don't make that the replacement for the story, but why pull away? I didn't want to see like the old days, when they'd show a train going into the tunnel or water lapping at the beach. But the feminism started moving in, and the Jerry Falwell influences."
As the Seventies ended, videocassette players entered the marketplace, and upstanding people, couples, just about everyone who had a video-rental outlet in their neighborhood began to avail themselves of the new technology. Porn moviemakers, who saw the possibilities, began transferring blue movies to tape and selling and renting them. In 1980, one-half the home-video rental/sales business consisted of X-rated releases. By the middle of the decade, 100 to 150 new porn-video titles were being issued each month - about 1700 were released in 1985, as opposed to 400 in 1983, the same year the American public bought some 5.5 million VCRs. In 1985, Jack Valenti, speaking as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told the Cincinnati Post, "It is now much more appropriate for Americans to watch hard-core pornography in their own homes."
But while yuppies celebrated the new wave in adult entertainment, Goldstein regularly bemoaned it in his Penthouse column. He still sees the Eighties revolution as damaging. "[Modern pornography] is very feeble, the product is terrible," he says. "Now the films are, for the most part, shot on video. The girls, instead of being actresses, are now paid for sex scenes. And the [movies] I look at (and I try not to, but have to because of Penthouse) really very rarely have human components. I do think pornography is detached and unconnected, and that's okay, too. It's a fantasy, and there's nothing wrong with that. No one wants a James Bond movie to be Dostoevski. It's a roller coaster, it's a game, it's a distraction. But pornography as a distraction has gone backward. It saddens me, but the people who make the films have little pride, and the people who finance them have no pride. And I guess I'm over on the sidelines saying, `Have integrity, be willing to be busted, use your name.' And I'm probably being passed by as an old fuck. X films are really cruddy. They're like kung fu movies. Within their own limits, that's as good as they're going to be. It's like Police Academy 17."
Video's effect on the artistic merits of X-rated filmmaking notwithstanding, the porn boom set the moralists afire. As Goldstein knew back in 1969, the true threat to disseminators of explicit material comes not from those who wear badges but from those who would force their morality on others. In October of 1984, Goldstein, along with porn stars Veronica Vera and Seka, appeared before Congress to offer their argument. The two actresses addressed Linda Lovelace's infamous recantations, saying they'd never seen anyone forced or even coerced into appearing in a porno movie. Hence the doers needed no legislative protection, thanks. Goldstein countered the second argument for censorship, i.e., dirty movies make rapists of otherwise nonviolent men. "Pictures do not trigger rape," he told the nation's lawmakers flatly.
The latest revolution in the adult- entertainment arena has nothing to do with dirty pictures - these days phone-sex lines are the new wave in pseudo-sex. (Toll lines with the 900 prefix, which include but aren't limited to sex lines, are expected to generate three billion dollars in revenue this year nationwide.) Goldstein was on top of this trend - his own sex-phone operations provide most of the advertising in his magazine and on his TV show. "I make a lot of money there," Goldstein says, resting his Diet Pepsi on the coffee table. "Phone lines are amazing. It shows that people love fantasy. Most of the people who work for us at the phone lines are not that attractive. They're sort of fat, ugly women, but they have sexy voices. Guys believe in fantasy. I think women believe in love and men believe in sexual fantasy, which will sound sexist, but I do believe it. So somebody can have safe sex by calling a Gloria Leonard line or Seka line, they get their rocks off, there's no risk of AIDS, and if a guy is married, he's not really cheating. And I just think sex is a buffet table. In the same way I don't want to be precluded from having dessert, I think, Let people have whatever choices they want. I'm happy to be sort of like the McDonald's of sex. I'm offering fast sex for people who want it. Hopefully we taste better than a Big Mac."
Even while fearlessly treading the jagged edge of the First Amendment, Goldstein is willing to admit some people find some things distasteful, and such an admission doesn't necessarily show them to be morally lacking. Even he has his likes and dislikes. "I've seen gay films," he says. "A lot of them are a turn-on for me. But I hate the fist-fucking scene - I've seen 'em take it to the elbow. I don't want to be peed on, I don't want to pee on you, I don't want be shit on...you know. There are some things I find so gross. You have every right to not like certain things. Because I'm always fighting fat, I don't like fat women. How can you deny your humanity? Fat for me is an issue of self-hate. I wouldn't fuck myself at this weight."
Between the lurid ads for the Seka line, 970-SCREW, and others, Goldstein's cable show, Midnight Blue, features guest interviews, commercial spoofs, strippers, and legitimate film clips courtesy of Hollywood - Madonna's "Justify My Love" video, a love scene from Wild Orchid, and anything else from the mainstream that steams the screen. Airing twice a week in Manhattan, the TV show stops short of explicit sexual activities, and, in fact, reaches its most controversial moments during Goldstein's "Fuck You" segment, in which he berates - and seemingly libels - anyone who has crossed him.
Not long ago Goldstein served his own lawyers, and the cable station that airs his program, with a "Fuck You." Someone from the ACLU, after a 1975 obscenity bust, had said that Goldstein gives freedom of speech a bad name. "Which is probably true," says Goldstein. "But tough, that's exactly what it's all about. They're representing me in a case against Manhattan Cable. One of the clearest pillars of law is that precensorship is not permitted. People like myself are allowed to put out what we want to and then suffer the consequences. For sixteen years I've had to presubmit Midnight Blue to Manhattan Cable. It took the American Civil Liberties Union up until two years ago [to take action]. They're still dragging their heels - there won't be a hearing until May. It's offensive to me to have to presubmit my show." So in no uncertain terms, Goldstein went on the air and told his own lawyer, his two ACLU attorneys, and Manhattan Cable: "Fuck you." (An ACLU spokesman in Washington, D.C., comments, "I don't know much about that case, but he has the right to tell his own counsel to have intercourse with himself. We've always objected to prescreening in principle. We've also very frequently defended his publication. We're not in the business of commenting on moral or aesthetic values. If there is a willing seller and a willing buyer, then it's constitutionally protected.")
Manning the Midnight Blue camera, according to the title credits, is Patty Goldstein, Al's fourth wife, a thin and wholesomely attractive 30-year-old who looks younger. "We've been married a year and a half," Goldstein says. "I alternate. I had a Jewish wife, a shiksa, a Jewish wife, I'm in the shiksa stage now. Patty's Irish, but I'm working on her." His wife is also a Catholic who attends church services weekly; Goldstein is an atheist. "We shouldn't lose compassion for those people who, frankly, are very weak and want to believe that when you die, you go to heaven," he says seriously. "When my mom died, it was very painful, and I wondered if it would change me - would I go from hard-core atheism to believing in heaven? Well, I'm still a hard-core atheist. But fairy tales - if you want it, you can have it."
Goldstein's third wife, Gena, bore him a son, Jordan, now seventeen. Like father, Goldstein says, the son is a bit of a rebel. "I planned all this sex-positive stuff," he admits, recalling his first father-son, birds-and-bees chat. "He was so uninterested in discussing it with his father. He was totally embarrassed. I said, `Jordan, I really do know a lot about this, if there's anything you ever want to ask me.' He's never asked me or his mother one word about sex. He's sex-positive in that he's against censorship. He's sort of a shy kid; I leave him alone. Whatever he'll be, he'll be. Ironically his rebellion has been a strange road he travels. Rather than stealing hubcaps or doing drugs, he's become health conscious. He's a body builder, so that's the ultimate rebellion, he eats what's good for him. He looks at me, and I guess he's so humiliated by my weight that he's gone into this sane eating. He's a good kid, a bright kid, and I like the fact that he's a liberal."
Goldstein's own liberalism becomes clear when he addresses matters that will fall under his aegis when he's elected sheriff of Broward County. "I have an issue that I think will be very controversial," he says. "I really have a great problem with drugs being an area of crime. I really would favor legalizing drugs because so much manpower is spent on this. I took drugs in the Sixties, I don't do drugs now, I haven't done them in years. My drug now is Haagen-Dazs double chocolate chip. In the same way nobody closes down Haagen-Dazs, if someone wants to do drugs, let 'em."
The wanna-be sheriff argues that drug-related crimes stem from the need to acquire money to purchase the drugs. "I want real criminals put away," says Goldstein. "Leave the hookers alone, the pornographers alone. The people who want to do crack and other stuff, let 'em do it. If they kill themselves, that's their decision. I'm concerned about consequences. If you're drunk and driving, I want you to lose your license permanently because you're hurting people. This probably won't play very well with the old people and the condo people, but I want to point out to them that they'll be safer because they're not going to be mugged by someone who needs money for drugs.
"My son thinks I'm wrong, that I give a message that drugs are okay. I think my son is wrong. I think I give a message that one takes responsibility for his or her choices. Knowing my son, he'll probably campaign for Nick."
Goldstein says his favorite enterprise was a newsletter called Gadget, which folded three years ago after losing money since its inception.
(Ramrod, a gay-oriented spin-off of Screw, folded a few weeks ago; Goldstein's also published newsletters with the functionally descriptive titles Cigar and Death.) Gadget covered the world of high-tech toys for adults - an obsession Goldstein says dates back to his childhood, when he wanted to be the first kid on the block to own a Captain Midnight Decoding Ring. He initiated Gadget in 1975 to justify his purchases of a Hovercraft, millions of dollars worth of audio-visual gear, even a robot.
Many years ago, Goldstein's electronic lifestyle was profiled by Technology Illustrated magazine. The article listed his numerous gadgets, and quoted Goldstein revealing again his tendency toward envy. "Hugh Hefner has sixteen full video arcades in his game room. His satellite dish is twice as big as mine. Talk about penis envy? I have satellite envy. Mine's only a ten-foot dish."
These days Goldstein finds other reasons to envy Hefner. "I saw a T-shirt in L.A. that said `I want to be Hugh Hefner for a day,'" he says. "I don't think anyone wants to be Al Goldstein for a day. You have to go to my analyst, you have to be carrying an extra 100 pounds, you have to have Jewish guilt."
He doesn't want to be Hefner for a day, but Goldstein would like to be a movie star. Years ago he played himself in a movie called Thrilled to Death, he joined the actors' union, and he says he longs for another role. "Yeah, but no one calls," he says, polishing off his Diet Pepsi. "Susan Seidelman had me audition twice for movies. I was supposed to play a lawyer in Cookie. She said she was typecasting me, the lawyer was right out of Al Goldstein's Midnight Blue editorials. I was basically to play me, and I couldn't even play me. I froze. But that's my fantasy, my dream - to be a fat Tom Cruise."
To prove himself more sincere and honest than his fellow sex-based publishers, Goldstein also once appeared in an X-rated movie, It Happened in Hollywood. "I got a blowjob on-camera," he recalls. "I didn't want to be a hypocrite. Hefner wouldn't do it, Guccione wouldn't do it. The girl who gave me the blowjob, I asked her if she'd have lunch with me. She said, `No, because that would be intimate.' The blowjob was business. That's the difference between pornography and real life.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.