A Date with Al GoldsteinAfter my wife and I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I made a concerted effort to try new things and more importantly, I tried to change the things in my life that bothered me. I guess I finally realized that complaining wasn’t really going to change anything. I also learned that making changes to effect meaningful growth is good, changing everything just to see what happens is bad.
It all began with a chance encounter with the Learning Annex, which is a national company that sponsors lectures and classes on all kinds of subjects. They can teach you how to use Photoshop, how to tango, or even how to write a best-selling novel in two days using only a book of matches and a jar of fire ants. They have magazine boxes all over major cities touting their classes and since the catalog is free, people often read it while waiting for a bus or doing laundry. I was doing laundry by myself one afternoon and I picked it up because James Van Praagh was on the cover and I find him fascinating. If you know who he is, you may already be wondering why a skeptical cynic like me would even give this guy a second of my time. If you don’t know who he is, let me tell you. James Van Praagh says that he is a medium. In more practical terms, he is like the character Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense and he saw dead people before Haley Joel Osment was born. He was doing it before John Edward and now he does a terrible TV show called Beyond with James Van Praagh. In 2000, when I saw this Learning Annex catalog, he was still relatively unknown outside the lunatic fringe.
The first time that I ever saw him was many years ago, on a TV newsmagazine, where a cynical reporter interviewed James in an attempt to expose him as a fraud. I love shows like that, especially when the subject squirms and looks guilty as hell. James didn’t look or sound guilty at all, in fact, he seemed like such a sweet, sincere guy that I wanted to know more about him. The reporter made repeated attempts to trip him up or make him look like a scam artist but James always maintained his cool. For me, the moment that made all the difference was when the reporter frowned and asked James how much he charges for a private session. James smiled and said that he does a lot of work for free, but when he sees people in his home he charges a flat fee. The reporter did the mandatory, “How shocking!” look at the camera and then James said something like, “No one ever asks a singer why they get paid to sing, or a dancer why they get paid to dance. This is what I am good it, this is where my talents are and I have devoted my life to it.” It was like he was saying that he was doing it for the money, but not just for the money, he also doing it because it was one of the few things he was good at, something I can easily relate to.
I don’t believe in God, reincarnation or ghosts. Not even a little. Every time I see a psychic, healer or possessed person, I think it can all be explained as hoaxes or some kind of mental illness. But James Van Praagh is spooky because not only is he well known and respected by scientists and the police, he also doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a fraud. He also comes across as what gay guys call a “hairy bear,” which is an overweight and hairy gay guy. I don’t know if he’s gay, but he seems like it. Let’s just say he’s gentle and leave it at that.
Over the course of the next few years, I saw him on TV a number of times and it struck me that there are only two possible logical explanations for what he does. The first explanation is that he’s a big fucking fraud and he’s doing what they call “cold reading” where he throws out lots of vague and general info and when he gets a hit from the person he is reading, he reads their body language to make up the rest of what he’s saying. This is a good theory, but when I saw him on TV, the things he was saying were not vague or general. He would say, “The person coming through to me says that he’s your son, his name is Matthew and he says he accidentally died of a drug overdose on a beach four years ago.”
At this point, the person being read will either shit themselves or begin to cry. The second possible explanation is that the people he is reading are in on it and either agree with everything Van Praagh says or act like they do. I think this theory can be discounted for one obvious reason: If Van Praagh was a complete fraud and the people he reads are in on it, at some point one of the thousands of people he has read would have come forward to say that they were in on it. As far as I know, this has never happened. The last variation on this second possible explanation is the most cynical of all, and that is that Van Praagh, or agents working for him, use hidden microphones, pre-interviews, hidden cameras and other tricks to get just enough information to make a reasonable reading.
The only other explanation that makes any sense to me is not logical at all: What he’s saying is true and that when your body dies, your consciousness lives on and remains connected to the people you love. This goes against everything I’ve said and believed since I was thrown out of Hebrew school. When I am confronted with something of this nature, I often find that the simplest explanation is the most likely. So I am left thinking he’s either a fraud or a medium. I want to believe both, but I don’t think both can be true. Since I have no evidence that he’s a fraud, I’m left hoping he’s real and that I’ll never be separated from my wife, even after death. If I’m wrong, retarded and gullible, at least I can kid myself that if I should die before my wife, I can still see her and be with her and I know it’s a great comfort to her to think that we’ll always be together.
The way that I explain it to myself is by using a metaphor and logic. Whatever it is that makes me who and what I am is manifested right now in my physical body. If I was sealed in an airtight barrel and dumped into the ocean, every single thing that makes me who I am would still be there, but after a few minutes of suffocation, I would die and my body would no longer be who I am. I think of that thing that makes me who I am as some kind of energy, maybe you want to call it a soul or a life force. I know from my study of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just transformed from one form to another.
The metaphor I use is a glass of water. The water is what makes me who I am, the glass is my body that contains it. You can smash the glass and the water will spill all over the place, but it won’t be destroyed. You can leave the glass out and eventually all the water will evaporate, but it’s still not destroyed. You can heat the glass and the water until there’s nothing left in the glass, but the water molecules will still exist. They may be in a form that we can’t see or measure, but the water molecules still exist in a real way.
I brought home the Learning Annex catalog and showed it to my wife. She was shocked that I believed any of this stuff and thought it was pretty stupid. James Van Praagh was going to be doing seminars for a few days in San Francisco and I had to see him for myself. I wanted to see if I could tell if he was full of shit, if the audience was in on it, if the place was rigged with microphones and if there were going to be any major blunders that would make it obvious that he was a fraud. I didn’t say it out loud or even think it, but in the back of my head I hoped that James would hear from my father, who died when I was fifteen. I hoped that my dad would say something to me, through James, that only me and my dad knew. I would have settled for hearing from my friend Greg Rail (see “Greg Rail Is My Friend” in NegCap #3) or my grandfather Knute.
My wife agreed to go to the seminar with me, so we ordered tickets and went. It was held in a huge hall downtown and we thought it was going to be a few dozen New Age knuckleheads and hippies, some regular people and cynics like me. I was wrong. There were hundreds and hundreds of people lined up outside an hour before they even opened the doors. Most of the people looked pretty normal, though I did detect the stench of patchouli oil and see a few too many crystal necklaces.
James came out and did about an hour on his life story, including his reluctance to believe what was happening to his work with the police. I thought it was pretty interesting, but I could tell the audience was getting antsy for him to do readings. Before Crossing Over, the only place anyone could get a reading was in a private session or at one of these events. I am sure that John Edward got a TV show because someone came to one of his live events and was so amazed that they had to give him a show.
When James started to do the readings it was just like the ones you see on TV. He would start talking about a dead person and then describe very specific circumstances surrounding their death. The person he was reading would recognize the information and stand up. Seeing it live is a different experience and I can tell you that James was right on the money with obscure info more than 90% of the time. He elicited gasps, tears and laughter in equal measure and I think everyone was duly impressed. I didn’t get a reading but it didn’t bother me. When I left the auditorium, I felt really peaceful and at the time I couldn’t figure out why. Now that I am writing about it, I think it’s because all the people that did get readings really needed to get one last communication, even if it was fake, to help heal. Being around that healing and sincere joy had a positive effect on me. I don’t know if my dad can see me, read this zine or hear my thoughts at all, but I like to think he’s happy for me, proud of what I’ve become and in a place where he can feel my love.
In 2002, they made a movie about James Van Praagh starring Ted Danson called Living with the Dead. My wife and I watched it thinking it would be a shitty made-for-TV movie, but it was actually spooky and a little moving. The special effects were cheesy, but the story is based on Van Praagh’s life and was both compelling and convincing. The story was basically about how personal loss forced James to confront his own fears and deal with life on his own. As he realizes that the dead are trying to communicate with him, he does everything he can to deny it, ignore it and shut it off. When a dead little boy persists in haunting him, he goes to the police, which sparks an investigation. It turns out that the information James got from the boy was accurate and that he had been murdered along with a few other young boys. It takes a few clichéd turns along the way but I know from my own research that the police have often used Van Praagh to gather evidence in unsolved cases and even they cannot explain how James gets his information. My feeling is that if he was just a cynic after the money, he wouldn’t bother with the police, he would use his “ability” to rip off suckers for cash. I think a fraud would be too scared of being exposed to get involved with the police because they’re trained to be skeptical. At least that’s how I would feel if I were pretending to speak to the dead.
A few weeks after the seminar I came home from work and I could tell my wife had a secret. She was planning to surprise me but couldn’t contain herself anymore. In an envelope were three tickets to a new Learning Annex event called, “How to Drive Your Lover Wild in Bed.” At first I thought it was insulting because all of my clients say I’m the best fuck $1,000 can buy, but then I saw who was doing the seminar: Al Goldstein.
Since I’ve lived in New York City for most of my adult life, I’ve become intimately familiar with Al Goldstein, even using him in a trivia question in NegCap #2. I know that this zine will travel to places that I will never go so I want to tell you a little about Al so you have some background. Al is a notorious pornographer and calls himself the “editor” of a very sleazy newspaper in NYC called Screw Magazine. It is ironic that a newspaper is called a magazine, but it is even more ironic that Al is called an editor since his only notable attribute is his boundless appetite. In Screw, the pictures are horrible, the writing is worse and it’s printed on newsprint, which I am morally opposed to under any circumstances. The only things I really like in Screw are the ad parodies because he just takes regular ads and makes the words dirty, or he adds a penis and calls it a joke. For example, they did a parody of the Tomb Raider movie ad called “Womb Raider” where they added a picture of Al with his tongue out in front of Angelina Jolie so it looked like he was eating her out.
Al is also the host and creator of the longest running public access show in history, Midnight Blue. The show follows a very simple format: Al rants about the people who have ripped him off, done him wrong or tried to do something to hurt him and then he wheezes, “FUCK YOU!” and prints their home address and phone number; he interviews porn stars about how they like to have their pussies eaten and how long they have been in “the business” before he tries to guilt them into fucking him; he begs his viewers to hook him up with very specific. high-end electronic equipment at wholesale prices; he has dozens of different ads for various phone sex lines and escort services—in essence, he acts as the world’s only televised pimp; and finally, there are various ad parodies. The show is always poorly shot, disorganized and hilarious yet I think it’s one of the best public access shows around because it’s so incredibly consistent. He has been sued, arrested, harassed, mocked and he’s even been parodied on Saturday Night Live by Danny DeVito. But every week he sits in front of his beaten American flag, wheezing through a tracheotomy tube in his throat, wearing an ostrich-leather vest and chomping on a wet cigar while his massive gut obscures his entire lower half from his vision. In his “Fuck You” segments, he is the king of the world and will spend five minutes screaming and cursing at the CEO of a major airline because they wouldn’t bump him up to first class before finally flipping off the camera and giving out the CEO’s private phone number.
In NYC, Al is a minor celebrity and he’s been on many talk shows to either defend pornography or brag about how many times he has been arrested. He’s been on Howard Stern to evaluate women, he’s been on panel discussions and he once debated Pat Buchanan on the topic of masturbation. When Al runs the clips on Midnight Blue, he intercuts Buchanan’s responses with footage of Hitler shouting in German, which is always creepy. He’s a self-described fat, diabetic old Jew who can’t get it up.
I really don’t know what story he told the people at the Learning Annex, but he is about the least-qualified sex instructor in the world. He has been married a few times and each wife took him to the cleaners financially. His rants against them could fill a thousand DVDs, and if I had a nickel for every time he called one of them a cunt on his show, I would have enough money to spend a solid month on one of the phone sex lines on his show, 976-PEEE (where the extra “E” is for extra pee!). If he knew anything about how to please a woman, he would be fucking a woman, not giving a seminar. I had no idea what he was going to do but the seminar was supposed to run for three hours. My wife had also gotten a third ticket for our best friend, Natasha. At the time, Natasha was very shy about sex but she can talk a good game and thought it would be a fun thing to do.
Unlike James Van Praagh, Al was booked into a tiny conference room that had seven or eight rows of chairs. We sat in the back, and when Al showed up sucking on an unlit cigar and schlepping a big bag of props, we thought we were in for some rip-roarin’ Carrot Top-style prop comedy.
Al sat at his provided table and began passing out free copies of Screw as well as a one-shot called The Starr Report. He used Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton’s heads on porn stars to recreate the testimony from Ken Starr’s report. It was completely sick and perverted but I wish I’d thought of it first. In the audience of about 40 people were a lot of creepy single guys and girls, a couple of very outgoing black girls and me, my wife and Natasha in the back row. Al started his presentation by telling us that he doesn’t know anything about pleasing a lover because he’s terrible in bed. He said that if it weren’t for Viagra he would be having no sex at all. He said he had a Japanese dominatrix girlfriend in New York who would beat him but not fuck him, so he was technically available to sleep with anyone in the audience. He turned to one of the black girls and said, “Black girls don’t like to suck cock, right? They don’t mind getting their pussies eaten but they won’t suck cock.” The girl would’ve blushed but instead said that she “liked oral sex.”
An older woman walked into the room and asked if this was where the seminar was being held. Al sat up and said that it was. She politely asked, “Which seminar?” Al replied, “How to Eat Pussy and Suck Cock.” The woman looked absolutely mortified, turned right around and walked straight out. Across the hall was a different Learning Annex seminar about knitting.
Al moved to another woman and asked her how she liked to have her pussy eaten. Then he said that in his apartment in Los Angeles he has the bottom half of a duck mounted on the ceiling of his bedroom so that women have something to look at while he eats them out. The only thing Al likes to eat more than pussy is any kind of food ever made. When he broke out some dildos to pass around, the mood lightened up and all of the “students” started laughing and interacting with each other. He took a video out of his briefcase because he said that he needed to take a break from talking. I can’t imagine being so fat that you have to take a break from talking, but whatever.com. He put the tape in, hit play and nothing happened. He flipped the channels. He hit some buttons on the VCR. Nothing worked. He said to all of us, “I’m sorry, but Jews are terrible at working electronic equipment.” I said, “I’m a Jew and I can fix that easily.” He said, “Come up here and do it then, you fuckin’ faggot.”
I went to the front of the room, rewound the tape to the beginning, hit the input select on the front on the TV and suddenly we had a video of Al doing a porno with his best friend, porn star Ron Jeremy. Al looked relieved and began telling us how he had invested some money in a brothel and liked being a pimp. Al’s clip reel included one of his own original videos, a two-part series called “How to Eat Pussy” and “How to Get Your Cock Sucked.” Both videos featured Ron demonstrating the sex acts and giving instructions while Al sat on the bed, looking at them like a lecherous walrus. Then the clip reel ran through Al’s appearances on TV shows, including a clip of him on Ronald Reagan Jr.’s short-lived talk show. When people started to murmur with boredom, he stopped the tape, turned the lights back on and returned to his presentation.
He took out a new kind of vibrator called the Tongue that wiggles instead of vibrating, but he couldn’t get the thing to work. He immediately called me up to make it work, which is the story of my entire life, I swear. I reversed the batteries and suddenly it worked again. When I returned to my seat, he decided it was time for a little audience participation. He wanted to know what my boyfriend was like and how many guys I could fuck in one day. I told him I was married and then my wife started ducking down.
“What’s your wife’s name?”
“Mrs. Saitz,” I said. Then he turned to my wife and asked her, “Why did you marry a faggot?” She said that I wasn’t gay and that I was a good husband. Then Al noticed Natasha. “Who is your friend?”
“That’s Natasha, she’s our best friend.”
“How do you like to have your pussy eaten, Natasha?” Al wanted to know. “Do you like it slow or do you like it when a guy is really aggressive?”
Natasha turned bright pink and said, “I don’t know.” Al wouldn’t let up. He hounded her about her sex life and was shocked when she said she didn’t have a boyfriend. Then he went on to tell all of us what he would like to do to Natasha if he was her boyfriend. After a while he realized he wasn’t getting the response he wanted and returned to his presentation. For the rest of his “lecture,” whenever he was describing some sex act, an ex-lover, a porn star or a weird position, he would find some way to reference me as a gay participant or Natasha as his willing lover. By the end of his presentation everyone was laughing and having a good time. Natasha had brought a camera with her and wanted a picture of Al to remember the evening. She didn’t want to ask him herself because she was afraid that he was going to cop a feel.
As the event broke up a few people approached Al to talk to him. He seemed like he was very happy to be the center of attention and for the first time he seemed to calm down. There was a skanky older woman there who said she’d worked as Hugh Hefner’s assistant many years ago and had some stories to share with Al. Near as anyone could tell, Al had no interest in anything but her vagina. When he saw that we were still around, he invited us to come sit next to him at his table. I said that we wanted to get a picture with him and I gave the camera to the skank while my wife, Natasha and I sat on Al’s lap for a picture. As soon as the flash went off, Al started getting a little grabby and we all jumped off his lap.
There were a few other people still hanging around while we chatted with Al, and for some reason, just seeing Al talk about New York made my wife and I feel more homesick than we had before. Al continued his sexual harassment of Natasha while my wife and I tried to cock-block. Al told us that he had an apartment in Amsterdam and that we could use it any time we wanted. He had discovered weed again in his 60s and loved it. He even told me that he used his Social Security checks from the government to pay the rent on the apartment, which was so wonderful and delicious that it made me want to do the same thing when I’m old: Make the government finance my foreign drug den. At the time, San Francisco had just passed a proposition allowing people with cancer or AIDS to get pot without getting arrested. There were clubs where, with a doctor’s note, you could walk in and buy different kinds of weed. Al really wanted to do it and wanted me to help him. Since he was already admitting that he was a fat, impotent diabetic, I figured it would be easy for him to get a doctor’s note. He gave me his business card and then gave us his whole schedule.
He has a huge house in Pompano, Florida where he has run for sheriff a few times and lost. The house is thousands of square feet, packed full of high-end audio and video equipment. In the yard is a huge sculpture of a hand flipping the bird to all of his neighbors. He has a small studio apartment in New York, a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles and his place in Amsterdam. He said in Amsterdam he always leaves a big bag of weed in the fridge and all of his guests were welcome to have as much as they wanted.
The skank started to come on to Al a little, so he suggested that we all go out to eat together. By then it was after 11pm and we all had to work the next day, so we decided to go home, but Al said he really wanted me to call him. He needed some help configuring his satellite system and wanted to get some medicinal marijuana. He told Natasha that he was going to eat her pussy and then fuck her in the near future and she looked like she was going to puke.
I did some research over the next few weeks and I saw a few ads from doctors who would evaluate patients to see if they could qualify for prescription pot. It was a transparent ruse because the ads made it seem like insomnia and boredom were medical maladies that required medicinal maryjane. I called Al’s office in New York, left a message telling him what I’d found and I even left the numbers of a few of the doctors. I figured I’d never hear from him again but he called the next day. He left a message on my machine calling me a faggot and assuring me that he would soon be having sex with my wife and then he’d move on to Natasha. Then he said he was glad he had met us. If you want to hear the message for yourself, please turn your speakers up and click here. I didn’t bleep out his number because he no longer lives there.
I called him back and we spoke for at least an hour. He was fascinated to hear about how a faggot like me was able to get a successful woman like my wife and keep her happy with my tiny penis. At least that’s how he was interpreting the story. He told me that he had an ad manager who had ripped him off for a ridiculous amount of money and that he was miserable and on the verge of bankruptcy. Like many other alternative newspapers, Screw runs ads for whores, but unlike the New York Press, they don’t put bars over the slits and nips and they have a lot more transsexuals in Screw. According to Al, the trannies came down to the office regularly with new ads, new pictures and new female names. They paid his art director in cash for their ads and the art director had allegedly been pocketing the money for years. Al flipped out, fired the guy, filed criminal charges against him and then spent many issues of Screw portraying his former employee as a gay hustler with a thirst for cock.
I honestly felt bad for Al because he barely knew me but he was spilling his guts like he had no other friends. I later realized that he complains about everything all the time, so it wasn’t about me at all, he did it to anyone who would listen, whether that was his viewers on the show, his paying “students” at a seminar or the drive-through clown at Jack-in-the-Box. We talked all the time over the next few weeks and he said that he wanted to hang out with me, My wife and especially Natasha. Usually every call involved him telling me that I needed to help him to fuck Natasha because she would listen to me. There was absolutely no way Natasha was ever going to even kiss Al Goldstein (I put a transcript of my wife and Natasha having a frank sexual discussion of Al Goldstein on the web version of this story) but Al was one of those guys whose sexual strategy was to wear women down until they agreed to have sex with them. He was working on me instead of Natasha, so his pleas pretty much fell on deaf ears. I would occasionally tell Natasha that he still wanted to date her and she would laugh and say, “What a pig!”
I continued to talk to Al on the phone at least once a week. He had hired a new assistant named Jennifer, though he never said what had happened to the last assistant. He told me that he was sending Jennifer down to his house in Florida to take care of some of his business and check on his house. He also wanted me to help her set up his satellite receiver and a Replay. I was starting to feel a little used, but I liked talking to Al, and in a weird way I felt bad for him. He just seemed like such a sad old glutton, filling up his stomach because he couldn’t fill his heart. He was also hilarious and a guy I’d been watching on TV since I was 20 in my first apartment in Manhattan. So I helped Jennifer when she was down in Florida and we had a long talk about what a weirdo Al was. She seemed like a really sweet girl.
When he called a few weeks later, he told me that he had fired Jennifer and that she was a “stupid JAP cunt.” I thought it was probably to her benefit that she get fired, because I can only imagine what dealing with his mood swings must be like, especially as an employee.
I told Al that we were going to be going down to Los Angeles to visit my sister and that Natasha was coming with us to visit her family. He said he’d love to come out and meet us and offered to let us stay in his apartment. I thought it was a little weird and said we would be fine at my sister’s place. He said that his DirecTV wasn’t working properly and he didn’t know how to fix it. At the time I had satellite TV and had added the ability to fix them to my experience points for my next adventure. I said I’d take a look at his system and see what I could do, hoping it was a loose wire or reversed cables.
A few weeks later we were hanging out in my sister’s apartment waiting to hear from Al. He called me on my cell and invited us over to his apartment and then out to dinner. I asked if my sister and her husband could come as well and he said that would be even better. My brother-in-law, Jorge, is like most other men in that he is a consumer of porn. He couldn’t believe he was going to meet Al Goldstein in person and was bugging out after he got the nod from Al. We drove over to Al’s apartment building and when we got there it looked the building from Melrose Place if it was infested with termites and the elderly.
Natasha had come down to LA with us but was nervous about going to Al’s place. We all volunteered to cock-block so she was encouraged enough to come with us to his apartment. I introduced Al to my sister and brother-in-law and he was clearly in a good mood. He gave us a brief tour of his little home and even showed us the bottom half of the duck mounted on the ceiling of his bedroom that women could stare at while he ate them out.
His apartment was smaller than I expected and his kitchen was piled high with food and magazines. He had all kinds of tchotchkes like you wouldn’t believe: a life-size statue of the creature from Predator, glazed and framed articles about Al from newspapers and magazines, and waist-high towers of Al’s TV appearances on VHS tapes. As much as I might goof on Al, there was a time in my life when my home had the stench of old smoke (though mine was pot, Al’s was cigars), was filled with VHS tapes and there was a full-size inflatable Godzilla standing in the corner, so sue me. He said his friend Joey was going to be coming by with his girlfriend and we said that would be fine.
Al told me to fix his fucking satellite, so I waded through the mess of wires and got down to fixing other people’s problems. I think he had gotten a hacked card from some shady guy and the satellite people had fried it. I told him to call the satellite company and request a new card or ask the guy who got him the first card for a new one. He was disappointed but then told me to set up and configure a cordless phone. My wife calls this problem, “The Curse of Competence,” meaning that if you’re good at anything, people will ask you do everything and tell you it’s because you’re better at it. A demand becomes a compliment, in theory, but to me it’s just annoying. I’ve taught myself how to do everything, from juggling and magic tricks to graphic design and computer networking and it was always because I didn’t want to rely on anyone else to get things done. There’s a very good reason that there’s only one name on the masthead—I can do everything in here all by myself. I do need plenty of feedback, criticism and cash, like any other zine publisher, but I’ll take what I can get.
I got the phone working, programmed a bunch of people into Al’s cell phone and then decided it was enough. When Joey showed up with his girlfriend I was surprised because from what I understood, Joey Buttafuoco was still married. We didn’t need to be introduced—I was born and raised on Long Island and not only is Amy Fisher my age, my friend Jennifer Naiburg’s dad was her lawyer. We were all expecting Joey to be a total schbag (my shorthand for a douchebag, FYI) guido but he was actually a very funny and nice guy. Not that I would fuck him—he was still legally married, oh, and there’s that whole penis thing, too. His girlfriend (mistress?) was also very nice and we all sat around Al’s disgusting living room getting to know each other.
The whole thing took on a surreal quality and Jorge kept looking around like he couldn’t believe his own eyes. I am one of those people who always wants to enhance intense experiences by taking drugs, so I asked Al if it was OK if I smoked some pot in his apartment. Of course it was OK, he was the one who had a place in Amsterdam and wanted me to help him score some medical marijuana. I packed a bowl and let Jorge go first so I could take a picture of him. I did a puff, puff, pass and offered some to my sister, but she said she was driving. I know that weed makes Natasha paranoid, so I knew better than to offer. I offered some to Al, Joey and his girlfriend but they were already enjoying cigars.
My sister is the bravest and boldest person I’ve ever known and she has always voluntarily done things I’m too timid to do, like complain to a waitress or return something to a store. My sister has no qualms about telling people what she wants so I was not surprised when she took out her camera and told Al and Joey that she wanted some pictures. I was too shy to ask, but as soon as she started taking pictures, the whole thing turned into a Kodak moment, as my pictures clearly illustrate. When she was done with the pictures, she began grilling Joey on his history and telling him all about how we grew up on Long Island. He seemed to like us and everyone got along very well.
When we finished the bowl, Al was hungry and we discussed where we should go. Whenever I am in a city that has a Cheesecake Factory, that’s always my first choice. I don’t even eat cheesecake, but the food, service and smophere at Cheesecake are always excellent, especially the one in Beverly Hills. Whenever I think I have a good idea, seven hundred other people have already had that same idea and I end up on line behind them, wishing them dead. By the time we got there we had met up with a few of Al’s other friends and getting a huge table at Cheesecake was going to be at least an hour wait.
Al and Joey both tried to use their negligible fame to secure a table in a more timely fashion but in LA getting a big table requires at least B-list fame plus looks. Being a fat pornographer or a fat adulterer with a murderous mistress may get you preferential treatment at Chili’s in the Valley, but not Cheesecake in Beverly Hills. Joey knew a little Italian place that was within walking distance and we all agreed that Joey must have the guido equivalent of gaydar: He can sniff out a loaf of garlic bread from a few blocks away.
The Italian place was deserted and the staff immediately threw together a bunch of tables so we could all sit together. We were introduced to an ex-girlfriend of Al’s, some doctor that Al knew and then the skank from the Learning Annex in San Francisco showed up. Apparently Al had flown her down because she was easy, but not on the eyes. The skank’s arrival didn’t even slow down Al’s relentless assault on Natasha’s defenses, but my wife and I cock-blocked pretty well throughout the meal.
Dinner was very good, not as good as Cheesecake, but Joey was happy that he’d picked a good place. Joey shocked us all by paying for dinner, which was very generous considering he’d met us only a few hours earlier and the fact that Al was the one who had invited us. Maybe Joey was used to being treated poorly or being prejudged by people, but that’s not what any of us are about. My friend Andrea had sent me a bouquet of lollipops from a Japanese fertility festival that were shaped like sex organs and I had brought them with me to LA to give to Al because I thought he would appreciate them. He immediately put them between his teeth and insisted that I take a picture, so I did as was I was told.
Al ordered a big dessert for himself because he is the land equivalent of a seacow. Manatee. Whatever.com. After it was all over, Al invited us back to his place, but we were all a little overwhelmed by the whole thing and would need at least an hour to discuss the evening’s events. Al said he wanted to take us all out for a date on Sunday. He had tried for years to join the Friars Club but they always kept him out. Some connection had gotten him into the LA branch and their rules of reciprocal membership got him into the Friars in NYC. As part of his membership requirements, he had to dine tin the restaurant at least four times a year, and since sleep is the longest break Al gets between meals, he wakes up famished. He wanted to do brunch and said his pal Ronny might be able to join us. We said that would be great, thanked Joey for buying us dinner and went home.
On Saturday, my sister took me and my wife to the Hustler store in LA to gawk. We were all very shocked to discover that our new friend Al Goldstein had left his handprints and tongue print in the cement right outside the door, like it was a porn walk of fame. My wife and I decided to flip off his mark and we had my sister take the picture. We didn’t buy anything but we had a great time shopping.
The next morning we got a call from Al, who said that his friend Ronny and the skank from San Francisco would be joining us. He gave us directions to the Friars Club and we met him outside. Not that it’s really relevant, but I want to say that LA is so fucking empty, phony and shitty that I don’t know how anyone lives there. They are very friendly and old-school at the Friars and the place reminded me of the 21 Club here in NYC, which has had the same customs and traditions as it did in olden times. We took an elevator up to the banquet area and saw that it wasn’t very crowded. They seated us at a huge table on one side of the room and after we got seats, we went to the buffet.
Al asked one of the waiters to remove one of the turkey’s legs at the “carve your own dead thing” bar. The guy was happy to fire up the knife and amputate the leg for Al. A few minutes later, porn star Ron Jeremy joined us at the table. Luckily, he was on the other side of the table so shaking hands was out of the question. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and dirty sweats and looked like he hadn’t showered in at least a day. I had to assume that somewhere in his body hair a massive batch of baby batter was crusting up and flaking off.
The food was more attractive to Al than we were so Ron had to introduce himself. It wasn’t really necessary because the minute that any of us heard that he might meet us, we were all debating the pros and cons of a Ron Jeremy encounter. My wife and my sister had a morbid curiosity about Ron and I remember one of them clearly saying that they wanted to see his penis in person. Jorge and I have seen some of Ron’s more underground work and realize that he’s a disgusting and foul little man who is notable for what I would consider a birth defect and the singular talent of being able to ejaculate on command. I saw this one porno where he was fucking this fat girl’s ass in a dirty motel room in Van Nuys and he was wiping shit off his dick with a towel on each outbound stroke. I am quite sure that he cashed a check as payment for his participation in that “incident” and that is just so fucking wrong!
I wanted to dislike Ron but he was too nice. He was trying out a new act he was working on—lame but well-delivered one-liners. He said he was going to be doing live comedy at Studio 54 in NYC and Al was going to be his opening act. His material was hit or miss, but we tried to humor him as best we could. He and Al accused each other of being gay and then admitted that they had fucked a few times, but it was such a gross image that it must have been a joke. Ron asked about us and we told him that we were all from NY, except for my wife, who is from the LA area. He told us that he used to be a special ed. teacher in Queens before he got into porn. Then he said they were going to be making a documentary about him and it was going to be at all the film festivals. It was more of a segue into his recent resume, which included cameos in a few rock videos and in a porn film that Al financed (and appears in) that had a big budget, like $10,000 or something insane like that.
I left the table to go wander around the Friars Club and see who else was there. Al said all kinds of comedy celebs go there but I didn’t see anything but a bunch of cranky old Jews eating brunch. I took some pictures of past Friars but I barely recognized any of them. It was like stepping into some alternate universe. By the time I got back to the table everyone was sick from overeating. Well, Al and Ron were sick, mostly. I had a total of three pancakes and some strawberries. I’m no chazzer, how dare you, sir!
My sister busted out her camera and demanded that other people take pictures of her with everyone. Then we all posed for various pictures and promised to keep in touch like the phony LA assholes we were hanging around with.
My wife and I moved back to New York in 2001 and Al insisted that we come to his office and take a tour. My wife and I went to his office and we invited mi amigo Pedro because he loves having a good time doing shit like this and he had never met Al.
The secretary was just as old as Al had told me but she was much sweeter. You would never guess that she works at Screw Magazine, but they answer the phones by saying, “Milky Way Productions” so it doesn’t sound so sick. The term “magazine” is ironic because in my work experience, I know that publishers refer to both magazines and newspapers as “books,” and say that ads are supposed to be “front of book.” The irony is that Negative Capability is a true and authentic zine that is often derisively called a magazine and Screw, which is a dirty newspaper, proudly calls itself a magazine. It makes no fucking sense. If you ask me, Screw is just a bad newsprint zine with lots of pictures of hairy pussy.
When we met up with Al he was wearing his disgusting ostrich leather vest—I swear a whole flock of ostriches died for this orange monstrosity. He showed us his office and it was just as disgusting as his apartment. Everything smelled like an old cigar store and when Al lit a cigar it was obvious why. His office had piles of crap everywhere and the walls were adorned with glazed magazine articles about Al.
When Al showed us the tiny room where he films his rants I was shocked. I asked Al if I could borrow his glasses so I could get a picture with me doing the classic Al statement—flipping the bird sideways. I sat in his famous chair, in front of his dirty American flag, wearing his glasses and I did my best impression of Al, “If anyone can get me the Bang & Olufson multi-CD changer at cost, please call Lenny in the back office. And Mayor Giuliani, for closing down some of the best peep shows in Times Square, FUCK YOU!”
When I started work on this issue, I couldn’t find the picture anywhere. I’d had a hard drive fail completely and couldn’t afford the data recovery. Besides, I wasn’t even sure it was on there because I hadn’t remembered ever seeing the actual picture. I checked all my CDs of old digital pictures and couldn’t find it. I found my wife’s very old 35mm camera but the battery was dead and there was a roll still in it. I bought a battery, rewound the roll, took to it CVS and an hour later I had three pictures with my nephew from two years ago.
I had given up on finding it when I was cleaning my desk and found my old APS camera that my wife had given me as a gift. I had taken every picture for the zine with that camera, but once I got a digital camera I just stopped using the APS. I got a new battery again, went back to CVS and this time there were three pictures, including one great shot of me impersonating Al Goldstein. You’ll find it near the end of this story and I really hope it was worth all my fucking effort.
During our tour of Al’s office, he introduced us to his staff. The editor was an older guy who dressed like a mid-life crisis Harley dude—you know the type. Al passed us off on his editor and went back to his office to smoke. He seemed like he was really depressed but none of us knew what to say. It looked like everyone in his office was ruled by his mood swings but they all had nice things to say about him. I don’t remember his editor’s name but he used a fake name in the masthead like many other phony assholes like Bunnigrrrl and Ninjalicious. He told us that he was the person that wrote most of Al’s editorials, which struck me as bizarre because the editorials read exactly like my wife’s Maxi-Rant™. He just spews venom at every two-bit asshole that pisses him off and it all sounds so much like Al that I wasn’t sure if I should believe the editor. Thinking about it now, I realize that my wife’s rants have never been written by her, either. She just starts yelling shit and I race to find a pen to write it down. Usually when I start writing, she is surprised because she doesn’t think she’s being funny at all, she’s just pissed off. I wonder if Al’s editor just listens to him bitch and then turns that into an editorial in the same way that I do with my wife.
Screw had a tiny staff and the few other people in the office worked exclusively on his TV show. I would imagine that the show generated a decent amount of money because each hour is literally half public-access-quality lowbrow bullshit and half ads for phone sex and actual whores. Pimping may be a lot of things, but you rarely see a pimp on food stamps, that’s all I’m saying. I met his art director and felt bad that they had such shitty computers to work with, but I realize now that I’ve almost always had the shittiest computers at work despite the fact that the faster the computer is, the faster I can rotate pictures in Photoshop and move boxes around in QuarkXPress.
I got to check out their video-editing equipment and see stacks of pornos that had been submitted for review. I immediately thought I should start reviewing porn and video games for Negative Capability and began drafting a pitch letter in my head. The editor pointed to a metal bookcase that was literally full of porno movies. He told us that we could take whatever we wanted. My wife was there but she understands that semen is poison and it must be released or I will suffer needlessly. I must have taken fifteen tapes but I had some very special requests. Midnight Blue sells a very sleazy compilation video that features Rob Lowe and a friend having sex with underage girls, the girls from the Go Go’s (when they were cute, mind you) completely drunk, talking very explicitly, and very hazy footage that they repeatedly imply is Chuck Berry peeing on white women and engaging in various sex acts. I had to see that tape but I would never pay $50 for it, not even to review it. I don’t want my money used to encourage sleazebags to sell their dirty tapes to Al. They also gave me a copy of the porno movie that Al produced, financed and stars in. Yes, I watched it. Al doesn’t have sex in it, but Ron Jeremy does while Al looks on with jealousy. Al is just like a fatter Rodney Dangerfield—he gets no respect at all. Ron gets the pussy and Al gets to pay for it.
When my arms were completely overloaded with videos, the tour ended and we said our good-byes. A few weeks later I heard him on the Howard Stern Show saying that he’d been arrested again, this time for harassing his ex-assistant Jennifer. He says that he called her home and left messages threatening to, “Take you down with me,” and calling her a cunt. After a few of these messages, she filed charges and he was arrested. He tried to make it about the 1st Amendment but I’m pretty sure that the framers of the Constitution were not intending to protect Al’s right to call women that he doesn’t like “fucking cunts” on their answering machines. I don’t know that it’s a crime because it would seem to me that she should get a restraining order against him and if he calls again, then he’s violated the order and should go to jail. But he was arrested for aggravated harassment and booked for the 12th or 13th time. He was proud of his arrest but this time it wasn’t for Screw, obscenity or anything that had even a glimmer of respectability.
I called Al after I heard about his arrest but he didn’t call me back. I followed the trial and read that he was removed from the courtroom on several occasions for acting up. He published the phone numbers and addresses of the D.A. and the judge in Screw while calling them scumbags. A local tabloid said Al had made racist remarks about the Asian judge and was dragged out of court screaming that he was a fat diabetic Jew and they were the Gestapo. Since I had first met Al, he had put me on the comp. subscription list so I read all about the trial in every issue of Screw. When Al started putting the judge’s head on gay porn actors in three-ways with the D.A., I was sure that he was going to be convicted.
I kept calling Al to hear his side of the story because I just had to hear him justify the shit he was doing but he never returned any of my calls. I left messages with his latest assistant, at his LA place, on his cell and at his house in Florida, but after a while I just gave up. He was convicted and was given a short sentence but naturally Al appealed because he really needs the attention. He has the money, he has the free time and he has a huge hole in his soul that he fills with food, women and attention and no matter how much he gets, he is always going to be starved for more.
As a special bonus, here are two separate but related stories. The first is an exploration of pornography or as Bill Hicks called it, "Poe-Naw-Grah-Fee." The other piece is called, "The first zine mash-up," because it was mashes up three different stories from this zine into one piece.
Me and my brother-in-law pose for a picture with Ron Jeremy and my zine (always promoting!).
Web Bonus Info:6 Aug 2003—In an interview, Al Goldstein confides: “We’re having money problems [at the recently renamed Al Goldstein’s Screw]. The men’s field sucks. Sales are off 70%... After 34 years of being outrageous, we're fighting for survival... [as Jøsh says repeatedly] The Village Voice took away all my hooker ads.” [In an interesting twist, the Village Voice's hooker ads were taken over by Craigslist, so then even the newspapers couldn’t rely on hookers to make a living. Then, Craigslist stopped carrying hooker ads so I don't know where to find hookers online anymore.]
22 Oct 2003—Al Goldstein apologizes in court for harassing former employee Jennifer Lozinski. Begging for mercy, Goldstein tells the judge: “I’m homeless. I’m selling my house. I’m going to be in a homeless shelter... I’m nearly 68 years old. This is not right. I served nine days at Rikers and seven days in a nut house.”
1 October 2004—Al Goldstein announces that he has had gastric bypass surgery and has lost a lot of weight. He is now married for the fifth time and is working on a new career in stand-up comedy. Until he’s a successful stand-up, he is working as the greeter at the 2nd Avenue Deli in Manhattan for $10 an hour, according to a recent article in amNY, a free local paper.
9 November 2004—Al Goldstein is fired from his job at the 2nd Avenue Deli after the owner finds him sleeping on the premises. Al is apologetic but is unable to keep his job. He ends up at a homeless shelter in Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. He calls the gossip rags to tell them that he is now homeless. I sent my zine and a letter to the gossip editor asking if he knows how to get in touch with Al and he never replies. Dick! I sent a copy to Ron Jeremy hoping he can help track Al.
It also looks like he is now missing important teeth. Man, how the mighty have fallen. If you still need more of Al, search for the documentary about him which is called Screwed.
15 July 2005—I read in a newspaper that Al Goldstein got a job as a rep for some company that sells porn online, or on demand, it wasn’t clear. The article was basically saying that Al was now being rescued by the world of porn. Good game, Al.
10 May 2005—I found a guy online named Josh Alan Friedman who is a friend of Al’s. He had written a nice piece about Al’s place in the history of porn that I thought was very good. I got in touch with him and sent him this story. He liked the story a lot and asked if I could send him the zine to forward to Al, so I did. When Al has read the story, I am hoping he will respond to me and anything he wants to comment on I will be happy to publish. There are always at least 2 sides to every story and I am still curious to hear Al’s version of events, no matter how insane they may be.
2008—Al Goldstein starts a shitty blog where just goes on and on about how the world has wronged him. Should've saved your pennies, Al. Check it out for yourself by clicking here. He also makes a run for President. Well, he didn't really make a run, he just announced himself as a candidate on YouTube. Well, he didn't really announce it, some porn company recorded him and put in on YouTube because Al is not good with computers, to put it mildly. Midnight Blue (his long-running public access show) gets the DVD treatment.
2009 - Al continues posting political rants for YouTube, entering therapy, taking his meds and living a more subdued life in Rockaway. Feel free to enjoy a video of Al, in all of his deflated wisdom and glory by searching for him on YouTube. Somehow he is even more disturbing as a skinny man.
2011 - Al has his own web site/blog and writes about porn (and generally kvetches about his life) at algoldstein.com.
2013 - Al Goldstein dies, his domain lapses and I stopped writing about him. The end.
Let's end with Al’s vicious takedown of Donald Trump. Almost everyone I have ever known in New York has always hated Trump.