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Al Goldstein's 10,000-square-foot Pompano Beach home holds many wonderful things: probably the largest collection of pre-Castro Cuban cigars in the country, a media room lit by the glow of four TVs stacked atop one another and tuned to different channels, a collection of nine-foot-tall decorative robots, an Olympic-size swimming pool...
But nothing tops the blowjob room. To get there you part a curtain of thin plastic strips hanging from a door frame, then climb two steep flights of unfinished plywood stairs to a platform just big enough for the double bed it holds. At the head of the bed is a two-by-four-foot sculpture fashioned from copper tubing. In one corner of the ceiling hangs a plastic, bloodshot eyeball the size of a basketball. Next to that are five large masks dangling vertically on a gold chain. In another corner is a neon "Bates Motel" sign, and directly over the bed is a stuffed duck. The whole place is painted blood red and accented with slashes of yellow that resemble lightning.
"Yeah, it's fucking weird," says Goldstein, a maestro of profanity. "I paid a guy $20,000, he lived here for a week, and this is what he came up with."
It would be a strange place indeed to seek the pleasures of the flesh and stranger still to imagine the master of the house ascending those plywood stairs for any reason. At five feet, nine inches tall and 255 pounds, this self-described "fat Jew pornographer" is about as lithe as a beached manatee.
In his younger, slimmer days, Goldstein bore a striking resemblance to a Ten Commandments-era Charlton Heston -- rugged, tan, and hirsute. But America's dirtiest old man celebrated his 65th birthday January 10 and became eligible for social security ($1451 a month, which he has earmarked for "pot and pussy"). He spends his golden years the same way he's spent much of the last three decades -- eating too much, begging younger women for sex, making sport of himself, and offending anyone he can reach via Screw and his New York public-access cable TV show, Midnight Blue.
It's not shtick. Goldstein's public and private personas are one and the same. But outrage is commonplace these days, so it's hard to make a living peddling shock and offense. Circulation figures for Screw, a joyfully smutty, mostly black-and-white tabloid on newsprint, are off more than 40 percent from their high of 140,000 copies per week in the 1970s. And that means Goldstein isn't earning the kind of money that Larry Flynt of Hustler or Bob Guccione of Penthouse makes, even though he paved the way for both. (Only Hugh Hefner's Playboy predates Screw in the sex-mag business, but it was, and is, tame by comparison.)
With a $300 investment, Goldstein and partner Jim Buckley started Screw in 1968. In the next six years Goldstein was arrested 19 times on obscenity charges (the last time on federal charges in 1974), and his court cases have raised important issues in free speech. He's earned a lot of money, spent much of it on lawyers, and lost even more on bad deals and worse partners.
Goldstein has a couple of surprises left, though. Last week on Saint Martin, an island in the Lesser Antilles, he opened the Rabbit Ranch, the first of what he hopes will be a chain of 10 to 30 bordellos that will flourish wherever prostitution is legal. Goldstein and his partners plan to pump a lot of money into upgrading the facilities and attracting women from around the world. In pimping Goldstein hopes finally to make the big money that has eluded him in publishing.
And in classic Goldstein style, he plans to use a chunk of the proceeds to back his campaign for Broward County sheriff. If Goldstein runs (and though he announced his run to the Sun-Sentinel last month, he now says he's waiting to see how well the Rabbit Ranch does), it will be his second shot at the office. Goldstein campaigned in 1992 against Nick Navarro but pulled out before the election because he was going through a divorce.
With that -- plus the fact that "Snack Daddy" Goldstein is always good for a quote -- in mind, New Times spent a few sunny February afternoons on his beautiful back porch overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, in the shadow of his famous 12-foot-tall extended middle finger, talking about politics, sex, money, and the specter of getting fat and old.
Tell me about your empire.
See people don't understand Screw. I am an underground publisher, I am not a good businessman. How old are you?
You're a punk. You were four years old when Screw started. For me Screw was all about the politics, and the tits and ass were thrown in so people would buy the paper because nobody wanted to hear me rant. Politically, editorially, this is the most honest paper you'll ever see. It abuses everybody, but it also has hooker ads and masturbatory material. How can you go wrong? I also have a TV show that has been on 25 years in New York that's called Midnight Blue. Even though it has tits and ass in it, my favorite part is a segment called "Fuck You." I abuse the Laundromats and watch dealers and politicians that rip me off.