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.
Both sound like soapboxes for Al Goldstein.
They are. People buy it. But how many people got a blowjob from Linda Lovelace? I don't know if you know who Linda is.... Just a minute, I'll show you. [Goldstein waddles into his house and returns with several copies of Screw.] There she is blowing me. [Goldstein beams, then turns the page.] Here I attack the hypocrisy of Rudy Giuliani [for being a "fascist, censorship-loving scumbag"]. But I have been writing the same editorial for 33 years. The people who want me in handcuffs are the same lowlifes who have secret sex lives.... For me, if there is a recurring theme, it is that the emperor has no clothes. We live in a sick, polluted society in the freest country in the world. I just got an assignment from Penthouse. I am going to write about my favorite city in the whole world, Amsterdam, because you can do anything there as long as you don't scare the tourists.
Ah yes, Amsterdam. Famous for drugs. You took up smoking pot late in life?
At age 61. I had an assignment to cover the High Times marijuana festival in Amsterdam. And I smoked marijuana. You know I am an old Jew, I'm a nervous person, I don't sleep well. I have this condition called sleep apnea, and I need a breathing machine. But if I have a joint, it makes me peaceful and happy. So why is it in America you go to jail for this? So I have been smoking for four years much to the chagrin of my son [27-year-old Jordan]. I have four marriages and one son, who is the most conservative kid in the world. He's in law school now. He calls me "his father the dope addict." He is in his third year of combined M.B.A./law school.
Screw seems to have lost its edge.
Screw has been around too long. After 32 years what was unique is gone. The hooker ads are in the back of the Sun-Sentinel. [A passing boater stops in front of the giant finger, laughs, and shoots Goldstein a middle-finger salute, to which Al responds in kind.] I have been stagnant. I think to myself, OK, Al, you are 65. You've been doing this half your life.... So I realize -- and this came through watching Biography because I'm a TV junkie -- I realize that Colonel Sanders had a chicken store. And at age 65 they put a freeway through his store, and he had to close. At 65. But he said, "I have something. I have my 11 secret ingredients," and he started franchising. I thought, What do I have? I'm no genius. I have a name in the sex world. It's a negative if I want to date a girl, because, if I really like her, she will think I'm a pig. But in the sex world, there's Flynt, Guccione, Hefner, and Goldstein.... So I said, nobody is really taking a corporate approach to prostitution. You go to Kentucky Fried Chicken not for a good meal but for uniformity. Maybe I can be a brand name. I am planning to open up a chain of bordellos anyplace prostitution is legal. My place will have high-grade prostitutes, and everyone will be over 18. The girls will be checked medically. I am going to raise the prices from $40 to between $150 and $5000. There'll be wine served and a cigar room. I will guarantee if you don't have a good time, you don't have to pay. No one has ever done that.
Is this going to make you rich? Richer?
Yes. Richer. After four marriages and a couple of embezzlements -- I trusted people who beat me -- I'm not as rich as I look. I'm not as rich as I live. My best marriage was 13 years to my son's mother.... It becomes a business. They say marriage is the death of blowjobs and omelets.
Are you still making payments to ex-wives?
No, no. But it cost me. Like my third wife, my son's mom, got $3 million. And it was necessary because I wanted joint custody of my son. And maybe it was extortion, maybe not. But she's a schoolteacher, and the judge didn't look favorably at the publisher of Screw. You know there isn't that much money in the business. I made mistakes. The last marriage cost $1 million. The woman got $100,000; her lawyers got $900,000, because they all smell deep pockets. And that is why I love Florida. I can homestead my house. No one can take my house. In New York I live pathetically. I live in one room. One room. I like to have enough money to live the way I want. For 20 years I had a townhouse in New York next to Bill Cosby; it was a beautiful home. And I had to unload it because I was going through the fourth divorce. I would like to live like a normal person. I mean this is luxury, where I live now. When I get to my house in New York, you got to walk around my luggage. One room is 500 square feet. Holland I don't pay much, I pay $700 a month.
You were a mainstream journalist before starting Screw, right?
I was an army press photographer. I went to Pakistan with Jackie Kennedy as a press photographer. I was in Russia in 1959 photographing some governors. After that I was a photographer for International News Photos. I got arrested in 1960, eight years before Screw, for photographing Raul Castro in Cuba. When International News Photos went out of business, I tried different things and then in 1968 I realized, I am 32 years old. I am obsessed with sex. I always want to get laid, and I am not very good with women. I never picked up a woman in my life, but am I a freak? Am I different than other men? If I am like other men, why is there no newspaper for me? There was Reader's Digest with its cloak of "love and oral sex is a perversion." There was Playboy with airbrushed pubic hair. Penthouse wasn't out yet. Hustler wasn't out yet. I thought there must be other people like me. Am I a freak? I started Screw with $150 in 1968, and my partner Jim Buckley put in $150. I bought him out a few years later for over $1 million. When I started Screw, there was no pornography industry. There were nudie films. If people your age wanted to see tits and ass, they'd go to a nudie film with people playing volleyball or a foreign film.
Who are your heroes?
I interviewed Henry Miller. I was influenced by him, and I guess you'd say he was my hero. I met him in Big Sur, and he said, "You know I don't like Screw very much. It's just a big joke." God, was I crushed. It was the worst interview I ever did, because he was my idol, and he dismissed me. He was the only hero I had. I don't have heroes. I would have liked to have met Sartre. I read Being and Nothingness.
It sounds like you had literary aspirations.
I wanted to be a writer. I entered a writing contest, and I won second prize at Pace University [New York, later graduating with a degree in English].... I think where I am different than most people in my business is that I am multidimensional. Remember, I didn't start until I was 32. I had already sold life insurance; I was a press photographer. I'm not like these other schmucks. Larry Flynt is a redneck. I'm a Jew. I believe in analysis.
Are you jealous that other pornographers have made more money than you?
I feel envy, sure. I tell my shrink about that all the time. I feel envy that Larry Flynt had a movie [The People vs. Larry Flynt] and I didn't. The shrink would look at my face and say, "Yeah, but you got the whole package. Flynt has two bullets in his body." So I have to work very hard at saying I have had a good life. I have had four homes. I have traveled. Plus I have no secrets. Nobody can blackmail me. But I am hated.
Tell me about your obscenity arrests and legal battles.
Playboy interviewed me in March 1973, and I talked about "Fuck this and fuck them," and that made me national. And then six months later, I was indicted, a 12-count federal indictment. I had said J. Edgar Hoover was a fag. It's easy now, but I said he was a fag when he was running the FBI.... Anyway, the federal government went venue shopping. They knew in New York they couldn't convict me, so where do they pick for the trial? Wichita, Kansas, based on three subscribers, two of whom were postal inspectors. So they drag me to Wichita, that means I got to live there for months, I got to pay to get my witnesses there. The first trial lasted about a month, four or five weeks. I was found guilty. The judge was going to give me a 12- to 16-year sentence. My son was four years old. I was married. But there was government misconduct.... On the day of sentencing, the judge, who hated my guts but was at least a good judge, threw out the conviction, and I got a retrial. It moved from Wichita to Kansas City, Missouri, which is a little more civilized. This whole thing ran three years, cost me millions, and in the second trial, I was acquitted. The thing that saved me is that Nixon and his attorney general [John Mitchell] were forced from office. There was a new justice department, it wasn't their fight, they didn't care.... I haven't been arrested since I won in Kansas. After I beat the federal indictment, the locals wouldn't go after me.
Do you think censorship is an issue anymore?
Not really. When you think of it, the adult industry has won.... There is so much money in the porn business that even morons and retards can make money. There is a line of videos now where the women get spit on and slapped. It offends me. I wouldn't make it illegal, because I'm a libertarian. But I have First Amendment rights to say it is vile and disgusting, and I frankly hope under the new attorney general these assholes are marched off to jail. I'll testify against them.
How are you different from the porn producers who degrade women in their films?
Because I don't do that. For me it is fucking, eating pussy, getting your dick sucked, gay, straight; sex is fun. There are feminists who claim I exploit women, but my argument -- and I have had 33 years of practice -- is that I glorify women. Spitting on women is, to me, unpleasant. Aesthetically it upsets me. I have several girlfriends, including a Japanese dominatrix in New York who gets paid by guys to humiliate and debase them, use them as toilets. It's not my sexual activity, but since it's consensual, it's OK.
Do you consider yourself a misogynist?
No. I don't hate women. I love them. And by the way, try that word with a lot of people in my business; they won't know what the fuck you're talking about. No, I need women. I need women's approval.... I'm always looking for girlfriends. I like dating. My sex drive has dropped to a large degree, but I like women. They're important to me. Anyway, you asked how am I different. I think what I do at Screw is really a MAD comics for sex. We make fun of sex. Every guy I meet wants to be a porno actor, every married guy has this fantasy of seeing two women eating each other. Well, men are pathetic. Are you married? [I nod yes.] You are a walking cock. I am, too. I am a little older, so my cock is a little shriveled. I ask my diet doctor, "How come my cock has shrunk and my feet have gotten bigger?" and he says that's what happens. But vive la différence. Women are looking for context; men are visually stimulated. Screw is a genre of entertainment.
Why do you want to run for sheriff?
The guy, [incumbent Ken] Jenne, actually sent his deputies into a swingers' club. In this city there's enough danger on the street. Do you think I am going to bust someone for smoking a joint? If you do no harm, I'm going to leave you alone. I really believe I can win. I am a great debater. My campaign slogan will be "citizen sheriff." I will put my resources into making the street safe.
OK, if hookers are walking on the street, get them off the street, you know? But let's quit harassing people for eccentricities of their individuality. Once every couple months, people will look at my [12-foot-tall finger on the Intracoastal] and say that's obscene. I say this is obscene. [He flips the bird to no one in particular.] Fuck you. Don't look at my finger. I'm not into imposing my values on other people, but let me live my life.
How much are you willing to spend?
A million dollars. It will buy a lot of ads. I'm not going to anyone for money, because I don't want to owe anyone a favor. Financing is nonsense. I will get a lot of free publicity, I will take ads, and I will challenge Jenne to debate me. He's a retard. This is one way of rehabilitating Florida for the debacle of this whole voting thing. I am going to bring respectability to this community after the humiliation of this election by being sheriff. And I am serious about this. I will win.
You lost in 1992.
I pulled out at the end because I didn't have the money. I spent $100,000. Peanuts. Now I have the money from the bordello. I will focus on making the streets safe. I will hire great deputies. I will get the best personnel and have a sane policy. And because I really love Florida. It sounds stupid, but I love this stupid state with its early-bird dinners and its weather. And the humidity is good for my cigars.
You mentioned your son earlier. Is he ashamed of you?
He worked as a district attorney for two years in the summers. When I called I would say, "Tell him Doctor Goldstein called," because this is the same district attorney that arrested me. I mean, what a dilemma. He's proud of how tough I am, and I've changed the law. He studied my obscenity cases and my libel cases. He knows how tough I am. His mother was overly protective, and I would say, "Oh, fall out of the tree, it's OK." So he's in the middle. But it is so important that he struggles to create his own identity rather than be overwhelmed by who I am.... He has no interest in Screw. His sexuality is monogamous and loving. I think he was sexually inactive until very late in life. He is the only person in New York who has never seen Midnight Blue.
Why are you so angry?
There's so much to be angry about, because people are ripped off, the election went to the wrong person, the good guys usually lose, society sucks, eight-year-old children are dying on cancer wards. By being angry I know I'm alive. My father was so passive. My father said "sir" to elevator operators. I am my father's revenge. But I also have such a joy with life. Eating pussy, having my cock sucked, going to Sharper Image. I'm getting this Sony dog that we are going to program to fuck fruit on Midnight Blue. There is so much to enjoy in life. To be angry is to be alive. I'm an angry Jew. I love it. Anger is better than love. I think it is more pure.... No bullets hit me, I have been in business for going on 33 years, I'm still here, and in this fucking house! I fucked all the people who handcuffed me and arrested me. Fuck them all. Larry Flynt has a movie, but he never had an original thought. He stole my editor, my lawyer, and the Screw concept in 1973. I'm an innovator, an original. I'm filled with rage and hate, but I'm loved in the streets in New York.
At 7 p.m., three hours and several diet root beers after the conversation began, Goldstein announces he's tired. The night before we met, he had flown in from New York, where he'd spent the day taping 14 "Fuck You" segments for Midnight Blue. "So get the fuck out of here," he says.
Two days later I'm back on Goldstein's front doorstep, above which in hand-lettered script are the words "El amor abre todas las puertas" ("Love opens all doors," in Spanish.) As I ring the bell, a man in an old Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulls into Goldstein's driveway and joins me on the stoop. Al answers the door shirtless, in striped boxer shorts, and sporting a pendant of a nude woman on thick gold chain around his neck. He ushers both of us to the back porch, then disappears with the Monte Carlo driver inside the house. It only looked like a drug deal, Goldstein explains to me later. The man is a cigar maker who went out of business, and he's delivering 100 boxes of Orient Express Cigars, which retailed for $250 a box. Goldstein bought them in bulk for the fire-sale price of $30 per box. He paid cash.
And that gets us talking money.
What are you worth these days?
I used to be worth about $15 million. I may have a negative worth now. I have things to sell. I am selling my land in Bimini. I'm selling my wine collection; it's worth $200,000. I'm doing that to meet bills until the prostitution kicks off. I live much flashier than I am. As a writer I'm getting paid from Penthouse. I have a monthly column. I'm not rolling in dough. My value is my name and my company.
You're counting on the Rabbit Ranch for financial salvation. How does it work? How do you get into a business like this?
The opportunity just presented itself with people I met in Saint Martin. They showed me their offices in a hotel in Saint Martin, which has prostitution. It turns out they're bookies, and they have a big operation there because it's legal. They said, "Why don't we use your name or Screw's name for the prostitution?" I said sure. I get 15 percent for licensing my name. I'm not really a pimp; I'm not booking the girls. I know a little bit about prostitution only because I have been a john all my life. I have always paid for girls, either in marriage, for working girls, or for girlfriends. That's the way things are. Men pay.... The partners who are financing the thing, there's a guy named Jimmie, Italian guy, I don't know his last name. [It's Fusco, I learn in a later conversation with Jimmie.] There's his wife, his daughter, who is 22, and her boyfriend. We will have people greeting all the cruise ships giving out cards.... And the idea of being involved with prostitution, I would rather do that than be selling cigarettes. It's a legal business, and I'm excited about it.
If it doesn't work, there's always social security to fall back on.
I think my first check comes any day now. But you know, I love my life. And I love the fact that people think it is far more exciting than it is. I haven't gotten laid in two weeks. Why would I put an ad in New York magazine looking for a girlfriend? Because it's lonely here. I was going nuts last night. I'm here in this big house. So I went out to eat in a bar. If you don't meet a girl at work, it's very hard, I think, because women have a different agenda. And I have strikes against me. I'm 65; I'm fat. I'm a pornographer/ pimp, so I will scare off any "nice girls." And I used to date the porno girls and the dancers. They are so narcissistic. They make me look modest. I mean they are beautiful, great bodies, but they are stupid. So in my senior years, I am looking around.
Are you content with your life?
I would like more money so I get the nervousness off me. I would like to own the house. I owe a million dollars. [According to Broward County tax rolls, Goldstein's house is assessed at $752,000.] I would like to not have a mortgage on my head. I love being Al Goldstein, because I feel I never sold out. I get the new issue of Screw, and I'm proud as shit about it.
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And you're still offensive. I liked the story in the February 12, 2001, issue about your resurrection as a pimp and ascension into Heaven as the second son of God.
Yeah. I'm a good writer. I'm not appreciated. I think Vanity Fair should profile me. My shrink said, "You can't piss on the shoes of society and expect them to welcome you into their living rooms." That is my dilemma. I want to be beloved, I want to be invited to all the nice parties, and I keep giving everyone the finger.
Are you going to die a bitter, lonely old man?
Probably. I hope in my whorehouse, with 50 women thinking about taking the jewelry off my arm.