The King of Porn is watching one of those night-time cable shows in his high-rise condo. A Lenny Bruce T-shirt is stretched over his Buddha belly. Nothing distracts him from the TV.
Al Goldstein _ publisher of the hard-core pornography magazine Screw and candidate in the Broward County sheriff's race _ begins to whimper.
"They are so sweet," Goldstein says, watching two females cavorting on the big-screen Sylvania. "How does she stay on her back?"
A mother sea otter pedals around the waters of a California inlet, while her pup rides happily on her stomach.
Goldstein loves nature shows.
To moralists, feminists and even some politicians, Goldstein is pure evil. Satan with a car phone. His magazine Screw _ so raunchy and explicit it is sold only in adult bookstores in every state but New York _ has made him rich and famous. For the 24 years he's been publishing Screw, he's taunted and teased the First Amendment, pushing the limits of free speech with such stunts as posing J. Edgar Hoover's face in pornographic positions or printing the home phone numbers of his enemies, including the mayor of New York City.
Obscenity charges _ he's been arrested 19 times _ seem to roll off the back of Alvin Goldstein. After a Kansas City jury acquitted him in an obscenity case in 1978, he threw a party for jury members at Plato's Retreat, a sex club in Manhattan.
But in the past few years, Goldstein, 56, found he wanted something more from life than publishing Screw and hosting his late-night New York City cable show, Midnight Blue.
"I was bored out of my mind," he says, sitting in his seventh-floor oceanside condominium, where he lives with his fourth wife, Patty. A hand-rolled Cuban cigar is propped like a tilted missile between two pudgy fingers. "I felt like a hooker turning tricks."
So last year, he decided to enter the race against incumbent Republican Sheriff Nick Navarro in the upcoming November election.
Goldstein detests Navarro, Broward's silver-haired crusader against sin and smut. "He's a hot-headed, arrogant fascist," Goldstein says, in a New York accent as thick as a pastrami on rye.
He vows to fight drugs and violent crime. Morals issues _ one of Navarro's pet areas of prosecution _ would fall low on Goldstein's list of priorities.
"No one gets mugged in a topless club," he says.
Those close to Goldstein think he would make a good sheriff.
"He has a great sense of justice, a great sense of human rights," says his second wife, Mary Phillips, a former professor of sociology at St. John's University in New York. "Now, how I think that would go down in Broward County, I don't know."
The publisher of Screw couldn't have picked a better place for his first political race. Broward County is practically a satellite office for A Current Affair. Just set up a sky-cam over Fort Lauderdale and roll 'em:
Topless doughnut shops. Car detailing shops where women in thong bikinis scrub hubcaps as owners of the cars sit in nearby folding chairs and watch. A sheriff's deputy who pimps for his wife and watches her have sex with paying customers from the bedroom closet. One of the alleged customers is Fort Lauderdale's conservative vice mayor, who abruptly resigns after news reports link him to the woman.
"This place can be a circus," says Goldstein.
When he announced he was running against Navarro, Goldstein appeared on the local news with a six-shooter in each hand and a fake sheriff's badge. "I'm Gary Cooper," he said, looking into the camera, "this is high noon, and Nick's the bad guy."
Navarro responded by facing the cameras and holding the Broward County Sheriff's Office manual in one hand, and a copy of Screw in the other.
"What a moron," says Goldstein.
Goldstein does not act like a man who runs a pornography empire. As he takes a puff on his giant cigar, an ash accidentally falls to the carpet, and he scurries to get the mini-vacuum before his wife returns from shopping.
"Oh, Jesus," he frets.
For the record, the Fred Flintstone of Flesh does not have a waterbed. "Too much of a cliche," he says.
Furthermore, he sleeps under an Amish quilt.
"I'm married for the fourth and last time to a wonderful, loving 30-year-old shiksa from Milwaukee," Goldstein says. "My life is a God d--- Reader's Digest article, for Christ's sake."
Convincing voters to take him seriously is his biggest hurdle.
In his campaign for sheriff, Goldstein portrays himself as a millionaire businessman who doesn't owe favors to anyone. He's not trying to hide his past. What other political candidate would leave a VIP membership card to Diamond Dolls topless nightclub in plain view on a coffee table?
His condo is cluttered with high-tech gadgets, one of his obsessions, besides food and sex. On every nightstand, on every coffee table, is a remote control. TVs are everywhere. The condo is stuffed with big, brightly colored furniture. A comical looking Yorkshire terrier named Petey runs from room to room.
Goldstein is a pack rat. There are stacks of things everywhere. He subscribes to 176 magazines. He buys things in bulk. He orders 500 cases of his favorite peach diet soda, which is available only in California. His closets are stuffed with clothes he has never worn. He recently bought 20 pairs of $70 shoes he doesn't even like. They were on sale for $20 a pair.
One closet contains thousands of cigars, neatly stacked and hand-rolled by his friend Ernesto, whom Goldstein is counting on to help him with the Cuban vote.
The kitchen is cluttered with bags of flavored coffee. "I want to get that ultimate cup of coffee," he says, sheepishly.
Somewhere out there, a support group is waiting for Goldstein. He has an insatiable lust for indulgence and pleasure. "I love garlic!" he'll exclaim. "I love watches!" "I love going to Hefner's house for movie night!" "I love Spago!" "I love coffee!"
"I've never been for liquor," he explains. "I've never been for drugs. But at night, I dream about all the 7-Elevens and the little freezers full of Haagen-Dazs."
Goldstein can have just about anything he dreams of. He has the oceanside condo in Pompano Beach, an apartment in the Upper East Side of New York (Bill Cosby lives in his building), and an apartment in Los Angeles. He owns a shiny red Porsche. But he realizes that every ounce of his fame and fortune derive from Screw, a sophomoric, sleazy tabloid that is a triple-XXX version of Mad magazine. Penetration is standard fare. Movies are reviewed with a rating of one, two, three or four erect penises. Stories on the phenomenon of genital piercing are accompanied by up-close photos.
Goldstein selects an annual "D---head of the Year." Last year's recipient was radical feminist Andrea Dworkin. "Crime: being Andrea Dworkin. Punishment: being Andrea Dworkin."
Goldstein has a weekly column, "Screw You," which he uses to rant and rave about whatever is bothering him at the moment. Other than the column and overseeing the business side of Screw, which has a staff of 41, Goldstein says he has little to do with the magazine.
"I don't even read it anymore," he says.
If he's ever feeling down, there's one place guaranteed to lift his spirits instantly _ the Times Square area of New York City, where peep shows, strip clubs and pornographic entertainment abound. "I go there and I'm God," he says. "The people who would mug you are my fans."
A couple of years ago, Goldstein decided he wanted out of New York, and he bought a pair of condos in Pompano Beach, one on top of the other, and he connected them with a spiral staircase. He liked the deep-sea fishing possibilities and relaxed pace of Pompano, a few miles north of Fort Lauderdale. "But I didn't want to be an old Jew retired in Florida," he says.
In October 1990, Bob Guccione Jr., publisher of Spin magazine and son of the publisher of Penthouse, asked Goldstein to cover the 2 Live Crew obscenity trial in Broward County for Spin. The rap group was charged by Navarro's deputies with violating obscenity laws during a concert performance. The trial sparked a national debate about the definition of obscenity. It also rattled Goldstein's cage.
"Hearing the audacity of Nick Navarro's prosecution of a musical group so shocked me," Goldstein says. "To write an editorial would be denouncing the obvious. The thought of doing something overt _ not hiding behind the safety of the typewriter _ was appealing."
So he decided to enter politics.
"Frankly, it's a step down from pornography," Goldstein says.
Palm trees sway in the late Saturday afternoon breeze. The early-bird special crowd storms into this Pompano Beach diner like a herd of buffalo. In between bites of a hamburger, Goldstein reminisces _ quite loudly _ about the time Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace performed a special favor for him. The retirees sitting at the table next to Goldstein stop stirring their decaf, but he talks freely and without distraction.
"I tried S
M once," he says, "but who can untie the knots?"
A waitress appears for the dessert order. Goldstein eyes the revolving pie case. "Look at that," he says. "Better than a topless bar."
Stranded on an island and given the choice of his personal dreamboat Meg Ryan or a chocolate eclair, Goldstein would be hard-pressed to choose. He'd probably negotiate a deal so that Meg Ryan could feed him a chocolate eclair. He hates turning his back on anything pleasurable.
Few characters in modern America _ Hugh Hefner being an exception _ have been so publicly linked with the search for pleasure.
As a stuttering, shy boy from Brooklyn who flunked the fifth grade, Goldstein would frequently get beaten up by the neighborhood bullies. In the interest of defending the underdogs and social losers, he joined the American Civil Liberties Union at age 15.
In Thy Neighbor's Wife, a non-fiction account of the American sexual revolution in the 1960s, author Gay Talese wrote in great detail about Goldstein's loss of virginity to a prostitute his uncle had procured for him at age 16. Goldstein wore his Bar Mitzvah suit for the occasion.
After the encounter, Goldstein began reading dirty comic books and banned Henry Miller novels. He dropped out of high school and joined the Signal Corps, where for the next two years he worked as a photographer.
In 1958, Goldstein entered New York's Pace College on the G.I. Bill. He began reviewing drama productions for the school paper but was fired after he panned a certain large-breasted actress who was also a faculty member's daughter. "I said the show was a big bust," says Goldstein, with a mischievous smile.
Besides going to school, Goldstein took a job as an apprentice photographer with his father, a photographer at International News Photos. He rode the midnight shift with legendary news columnist Walter Winchell, who became one of Goldstein's heroes. Winchell always had a bimbo on his arm in the lobby of the St. Moritz, says Goldstein.
In the spring of 1961, Goldstein left Pace College to become a full-time free-lance photographer. His marriage to a woman he met at Pace ended after two years, and Goldstein worked a series of low-paying jobs. He was so broke once he sold his blood to a blood bank.
In 1967, while driving a cab to make ends meet, he met Mary Phillips, a Pan Am stewardess whose beauty and Southern charm overwhelmed Goldstein. They married in 1968, the year Goldstein and a friend both kicked in $175 and began publishing an underground sex tabloid called Screw.
The front page of one of the early issues of Screw featured a bikini-clad brunette stroking a large kosher salami. By the fourth issue, Screw's circulation had reached 100,000 a week.
"I always wanted to publish a newspaper that dealt with sex the way I did, which was raunchy," Goldstein told New York magazine. "Not romanticized, not idealized, but very clearly sex as that four-letter word."
The first police raid on Screw editorial offices was in 1969 after Goldstein printed a doctored-up photo of New York's Mayor John Lindsay displaying a large penis. Screw's top editors were charged with obscenity and held briefly in the city jail. Goldstein would be arrested 16 times in the next two years.
Following Lindsay's orders, police also rounded up news vendors who sold Screw.
"Once I was stuck in jail with seven blind news dealers," says Goldstein. "All night long, I heard their canes clicking against the cement floor."
Even with all its legal troubles, Screw never missed an issue. Goldstein continued rating New York massage parlors and mail-order sex gadgets as if he were a discerning housewife testing laundry softeners.
In 1970, Gore Vidal hailed it as the only newspaper in America that properly serviced its readers.
The women's liberation movement did not look kindly on pornographic material such as Screw. Goldstein did not look kindly on the movement, and invented weekly games in Screw such as "Pin the P---- on the Feminist."
Ironically, Goldstein's wife, Mary Phillips, was an editor of a National Organization for Women newsletter, called Broadside.
The marriage ended in 1971. "His personality was taking over," says Phillips. "He always had an entourage. I needed to get out from under the enormous burden of Al Goldstein."
Goldstein says Phillips was the best wife he ever had. "When the marriage ended, she didn't want anything," he says.
In 1972, Goldstein met Gina Fishbein, a schoolteacher, and they married in a Chinese nightclub. They had a son, Jordan, but ended up divorcing in 1986.
Wanting to branch out from Screw, Goldstein started Midnight Blue, a late-night, public access cable show he describes as a "naked 60 Minutes." Available only in the New York City area, the show once featured a 400-pound stripper, a double-jointed contortionist named Dr. Infinity and a red-haired, leather-clad dominatrix who flogged a middle-aged Englishman attired in a skimpy maid's costume.
Over the years, Goldstein has emerged from the fringe as a clear voice in the murky politics of pornography and censorship.
He has served on a panel sponsored by Harper's magazine to debate pornography. Goldstein accused his fellow panelists, including feminist authors Susan Brownmiller and Erica Jong, of being "uptight intellectuals" who thought anything fun was wrong.
He has written several commentaries for the New York Times. He once wrote a piece condemning HBO and Cinemax for airing violent movies ("gore-nography," as he calls it) during prime time when children are most likely to tune in.
Goldstein has recently tried to make Midnight Blue less of a kink-fest and more of a talk show with substance. His latest interview subjects have included cult author Quentin Crisp and Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff.
"I really do exist," Goldstein says. "I won't be interviewing a bimbo whose claim to fame is fellatio."
Still, the essence of Goldstein is Screw.
Each week, his mug is plastered all over its pages, usually with one of his silo-sized stogies in his mouth, or poised near a gaggle of naked women advertising the VIP phone sex line for $50 a call: "all girls hand-picked by Al Goldstein. Very different and intense."
"Men are walking erections," says Goldstein, who admits the women who answer his VIP lines are the same ones who answer the el-cheapo phone lines.
As a bachelor a few years ago, Goldstein was engaged to a corporate lawyer he describes as "so predatory sharks at the zoo would jump out of the water." He broke off the relationship to spend time with Patty Flaherty, a fair-skinned, 27-year-old clerk at FAO Schwarz toy store who had written Goldstein a letter after she saw him on Midnight Blue. They lived together for 18 months before marrying in 1989 in the Barbizon Plaza in New York City.
"Therapy has broadened her," says Goldstein, who still wishes Patty would watch CNN more. "I love her decency."
Patty, tall and thin, spends much of her time rolling her eyes and saying things like, "Al, get over yourself," when Goldstein starts spouting such theories as why topless clubs are not exploitive to women.
"No one's being exploited there but the guys putting the $20 bills in the G-strings," he says. "They are the schmucks."
Being married to Goldstein _ who is always in motion and usually spilling _ is no picnic. "I'm a typical type A," he says. "I'm exciting to date, impossible to live with. I'm charismatic, but exhausting."
They spend half the month in Pompano Beach, and the rest of the time in New York or Los Angeles or traveling. When the campaign heats up, Goldstein says he expects to spend all his time stumping for votes in Broward County. "For credibility, I'll wear a blazer," he says.
So far, no group has publicly endorsed his candidacy.
Goldstein is quick to point out he hasn't done any "media" yet.
He wants his friend, Al Lewis, who played Grandpa on The Munsters, to do personal appearances for him. "I want him to play to the condo people," says Goldstein, who also hopes to recruit such pals as Buck Henry and Lynn Redgrave to help his election.
He wants to bring in his friend Bess Myerson as a campaign adviser.
"I'd love Bess in a commercial saying, "Wouldn't it be fun to have an honest candidate?'
" (Myerson is the former Miss America and New York City politico who was acquitted in a 1988 federal fraud case.)
By March, Broward County cable TV subscribers will able to see Goldstein's new show, Al Goldstein's Broward Confidential, a talk show that will mimic Midnight Blue, but without the sex and nudity. "It's to humanize me," says Goldstein.
To earn a spot on the ballot as an Independent candidate in the September primary, Goldstein needs 15,000 valid signatures, which is 3 percent of the registered voters in Broward County.
Sheriff Navarro has ignored Goldstein's request for a public debate, so Goldstein says he'll hold debates with an empty chair.
"His Spanish machismo is going to be touched," says Goldstein.
A few months ago, when Goldstein announced his candidacy and publicly taunted Navarro, the sheriff appeared on local news and called the publisher a "total clown, but a dangerous clown."
Through a Broward County Sheriff's Office spokesman, Navarro refused to answer any questions about Goldstein.
But the Fred Flintstone of Flesh is hard to ignore. A few weeks ago, Goldstein, his wife, Patty, and Petey the Yorkshire Terrier whisked into Navarro's offices. Goldstein wanted to present the sheriff a framed page from a recent issue of Screw, in which Navarro's face was superimposed on the body of Clarabelle the clown.
In the reception area of the glistening, new sheriff's headquarters, the Goldstein entourage appeared like a carnival pulling into town. There was Petey, excited and dancing on the counter tops. Goldstein, wearing one of his wild ties that his publicist keeps telling him to tone down, was handing out expensive Cuban cigars. "When I take over in January, we'll have lots of fun," Goldstein told the pool of clerical assistants.
Navarro never came out of his office. "I spent 26 bucks on that frame," says Goldstein.
But it wasn't a completely wasted trip. "Now I know where it is, I can get to work," he says.