Downfall Of A Legend

Sam Williams
The weight is gone. So too is the money. As for the sex, well, let's just say that Al Goldstein's longtime claim at being "America's greatest pussy-eater" hasn't been put to the test nearly as much as it used to.

The one thing that still remains, however, is the memory. At a time when many in the industry have conveniently forgotten the name and telephone number of the man who put hardcore legal pornography on the map 36 years ago with the inauguration of Screw magazine, Goldstein, 68, refuses to extend his former colleagues and competitors the same courtesy.

"I have two words for the porno industry: Fuck you. No wait, three words: Fuck you, scumbags," says Goldstein. "These people have no gratitude. I legalized this whole business and nobody has offered me a job. Nobody. They turned their back on me."

For anybody who needs a quick recap on how Goldstein went from publishing one of the industry's raunchiest publications to kibitzing with tourists and neighborhood noshers, it all starts, as it so often does in Goldstein's case, with an ugly legal battle.

Back in 2002, Goldstein faced down two harassment convictions. The first, filed by former employee Jennifer Lozinski, earned Goldstein a brief stint on Riker's Island. Goldstein's attorneys wound up beating the conviction on appeal, but the accumulating legal fees, together with Goldstein's mounting health problems, finally forced him to throw in the towel when ex-wife Gina Fishbein Goldstein filed her own harassment lawsuit on charges that Goldstein had published her work telephone number in the pages of Screw.

Selling off two houses and pulling the plug on the magazine, Goldstein threw himself on the mercy of the very legal forces he'd spent so much of his adult life battling.

End result: nine days in jail and three years probation. So far, Goldstein has made it half way through, though his attorney, Charles DeStefano, has hopes of overturning the conviction on grounds that the prosecution prejudiced the jury by labeling Goldstein a "liar" in open court.

"I made so many enemies," says Goldstein, looking back on a career marked by 20 obscenity trials and protracted battles with police, district attorneys, and the New York judicial system. "I've been in analysis almost all my life. One time I said to my shrink, 'Well how come I'm never invited to parties, to literary functions?' And he said, 'You can't piss on the shoes of society and think that they're going to invite you into their living room.'"

According to DeStefano, the terms of Goldstein's probation currently bar him from traveling out of state or taking part in "the men's field." Again, DeStefano thinks there's a good chance to mitigate, if not reverse entirely, such conditions. What rankles Goldstein, however, is the lack of potential job offers to turn down. He singles out a few stalwart friends like Ron Jeremy for lining up job offers on the West Coast. Still, he is even faster to blast those who have stayed largely silent.

Not that Goldstein's karma has been entirely bad. This summer, while visiting the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan with a camera crew documenting his jobless, homeless plight, Goldstein ran into Jack Lebewohl, the deli's owner. Although only acquaintances, Lebewohl and Goldstein shared a significant connection. During the days when Goldstein's weight typically hovered between 300 and 350 lbs., Lebewohl's late older brother, Abe, was a favorite supplier of fatty delicacies.

"Abe and I would diet together, badly," joked Goldstein. "I used to have him cater all my parties at Plato's Retreat. All my weddings, I've had four, and we would come here afterward. So the camera crew's hungry, and I say 'let's go to this deli I know around the corner.' Jack sees me, sees me crying, sees me saying, 'I'm washed up,' and hires me on the spot."

Goldstein Fired
But that didn't last too long. In late October, Goldstein was let go from the Second Avenue Deli.

"I got fired Monday night, after I slept there on Sunday," Goldstein told the New York Post. "I feel terrible. I loved that job. It kept me out of the shelters. Now I have nothing. Last night in the shelter, a homeless guy actually gave me $5. I'm humiliated. Everyone who hated me should be gleeful because my life has become a true horror. Like T.S. Eliot, I'm one of the empty people. I once was Al Goldstein, now I'm a pathetic homeless person."

Goldstein's latest wife, 28-year-old Christine Ava Maharaj, who he married shortly after his 2002 conviction, is a victim of Crohn's disease, an ailment that attacks the digestive system and can lead to chronic wasting. Even if Goldstein were to miraculously win a reprieve, allowing him to ship out to the West Coast and work for a film company or dotcom, he feels an obligation to stay close to home.

"I bring her home containers of matzoh ball soup," he says. "It's about the only thing she can eat at the moment."

Then there's the troubling issue of what Goldstein, an admitted dinosaur in an industry not known for indulging old-timers, would actually hope to achieve in today's Internet-driven media marketplace.

Goldstein says he holds out hope for a writing or editorial position, noting his past article writing stints for the likes of Forbes and The New York Times Magazine. Still, when it comes to launching a new venture, something to replace Screw or its ill-fated online offshoot, he sees little hope for a dramatic comeback.

"The reason that Screw went out of business was the Internet," he says. "There's so much free porn out there. Even though we had, we couldn't compete. I'm not a good businessman. I'm computer illiterate. I must have done everything wrong a businessman can do. Screw went under, really, because you could get all the free porn you wanted, all the hookers you wanted on the Internet. We simply couldn't compete with that anymore."