"I'm the Fred Flintstone of flesh," Goldstein says while walking the streets of Manhattan. "Name anybody else that's half as crazy as I am."
It isn't until you catch Goldstein in an unguarded moment — whether limping his way up the Staten Island Ferry terminal wearing dirty hospital scrubs and the 1,000-yard stare of a man on his way to the gallows, or shimmying past mounds of dirty clothing, sex toys and trash to recover photos of his once-beloved Florida home — that you realize the recent tales of homelessness and despair are no joke.
"Next month is the one-year anniversary of losing it," Goldstein says, running an arthritic finger over a montage of photos, each depicting a different, sun-drenched angle of the Pompano Beach, Fla. house he sold to pay the mounting legal debts stemming from his twin harassment suits and his latest divorce.
"Just looking at it breaks my heart."
In the background, a big-screen television blares Court TV. The air reeks of stale food, cigar smoke and general old-man mustiness. The apartment is a gift from magician and friend Penn Gillette of Penn & Teller, who fronted Goldstein the rent after reading a February news account that the aging porn purveyor was reduced to sleeping in a homeless shelter. Despite Gillette's generosity, the apartment has quickly devolved into a physical representation of Goldstein's life: dirty, crowded and chaotic.
"I'm a little embarrassed to show this to you," Goldstein says, traversing a pile of clothing to reach a vertically stacked collection of bound Screw Magazine issues dating back to the first September 1968 issue. "But what the heck. It forces me to get back here."
A few days earlier, at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts, Goldstein summarized the latest chapter in what already appears to be an over-written life story.
In that chapter, Goldstein, who for years had used his weekly New York cable-access show Midnight Blue to publicly flip off his enemies, gave a final finger to the adult entertainment industry he helped build by taking a job as a host and salesperson at the 2nd Ave. Deli in Manhattan. But that passage ended abruptly when deli owner Jack Lebewohl found Goldstein using his restaurant as a crash pad.
"I didn't have any place to sleep," Goldstein says. "Jack [Lebewohl] didn't like it and fired me."
Considering the mensch-like spirit in which Lebewohl hired him, Goldstein refuses to trash his friend and former employer. "He was right to do it," he says.
Goldstein is less charitable, however, to his most recent employer, the adult video-on-demand company XonDemand. The wrinkled business card Goldstein pulls out of an overstuffed day planner lists him as XonDemand's National Marketing Director, but Goldstein says his primary role was to generate buzz, plugging the company in his semi-annual appearances on the Howard Stern and Don Imus radio shows and putting XonDemand President Frank Ryan in contact with longtime colleagues and friends such as AVN's Paul Fishbein and Larry Flynt. Goldstein says the promised salary never came through. After two months of work, payment stopped altogether.
"They wouldn't even pay for a car to the airport," he says of one trip. "I'd have to take the ferry to Manhattan, the train to Penn Station and another train to the airport. When you add it all up, you're talking hours."
Asked for a rebuttal, Ryan offers a succinct on-the-record refusal. "Mr. Goldstein is entitled to his opinion," he told XBiz.
Nowhere To Turn
Goldstein, a man who only months ago dismissed the entire adult industry as ungrateful "scumbags," admits he has nowhere else to turn at this point in his life. After the deli job, he briefly worked for a bagel shop but soon learned he didn't have the stamina for delivery. The experience drove home the futility of banking on anything other than his long-term notoriety.
"I have to work in the industry I made," he says. "But it has to be a decent job. No commissions. No startups. I paid my dues. Al Goldstein is a brand name that can be valuable to some company out there. I have to believe that."
For the moment, Goldstein's adult industry activity boils down to "Al Goldstein's G Spot," an infrequently updated blog on Booble. He's also shopping an autobiography proposal, which he hopes to co-write with former Screw editor Joshua Alan Friedman. A quick glance at the proposal offers enough fodder for an entire HBO season: obscenity arrests, settled and unsettled Mafia contracts, divorces and copious amounts of cunnilingus. So far, the book has found no takers at Goldstein's asking price of $250,000.
"If I auction it off, it's a second act for Al Goldstein. If not, it's oblivion."
Goldstein admits to thinking about the oblivion part often. Like Spalding Gray, the writer who jumped off the very same ferry Goldstein must now take to visit his favorite adult DVD retailer in Manhattan, he has the site and scenario — a jump in front of the moving A train — planned out. During the conversation, the topic turns to Hunter S. Thompson, a comrade in the late-1960s who took his own life earlier this year.
"Hunter was amazing," Goldstein says, eyes lighting up momentarily. "If I ever get to write my book, one story I'm going to put in there will be the time Hunter and I were hanging out at the O'Farrell Theater in San Francisco. He was on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine managing a group sex show, and I was performing in it, fucking six girls onstage. He was feeding me so much cocaine, I thought it was seven girls, so I saved my load for the seventh girl who wasn't there. Only a Jew fucks six women and doesn't pop a load."
The punch line delivered, Goldstein's eyes sag. To hear more, he says in so many words, somebody has to pay. Whether that somebody is a nosy reporter, a midtown book editor, an ex-wife or an adult industry executive willing to put a diabetic old-timer and his current ailing 29-year-old wife on the company medical plan, all depend on the vagaries of the marketplace. In the meantime, Goldstein says, the jokes are wearing out.
"I'm sorry I'm not a bundle of laughs, but my life has turned into Dante's Inferno," he says. "Three things keep me from killing myself: First, I've lost too much weight and I look too good. Second, I want to live long enough to take revenge on my son, and third, I've got my wife.
"Her love keeps me from throwing myself in front of the train."