Among the most outrageous of our contemporary American outlaws, and among the funniest, is Al Goldstein, the co-founder and lightning rod for the infamous, gleefully tasteless semi-underground sex tabloid _Screw_, which he describes as "the most notorious, uproarious, and influential pornographic newspaper in the world". Through his publication (and through his cable television show "Midnight Blue") Goldstein chronicled any sort of sexual story, and maintained a forum for his famous editorials which were the prose equivalent of a raised middle finger to politicians, religious leaders, feminists, and to any lawyer, restaurateur, movie producer, or airline who happened to irritate him. ("Irritate him"? That's not the phrase Goldstein would use.) He became a multimillionaire, and a celebrity, and it was a wild ride through the 34 years of publishing his magazine. He descended, however, back to rags from riches as the lawsuits and divorces took their toll. He has now written (with Josh Alan Friedman) the autobiography _I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life_ (Thunder's Mouth Press), a foul-mouthed, absurd, ribald, and thoroughly entertaining account of an influential life that may truly be called unique.
Goldstein had trouble with girls when he was growing up: "My façade of amorality and detached sex has always been a cover for being afraid of being hurt. So what else is new. _Screw_ was such an antiromantic publication as compensation for that." He became a photojournalist like his father, and was working on a free press paper in New York when he met the straitlaced Catholic who would co-found _Screw_. The first issue came out in 1968, and by the time of Goldstein's first arrest, it was outselling _Time_ and _Playboy_ on Manhattan newsstands. He enjoyed the thrill of being arrested and disturbing the status quo of the state. "Acceptance of _Screw_ would be the kiss of death." He had a good time, and there are plenty of funny stories here. When the Polish Pope visited New York, _Screw_ reported that he was making a tour of public bathrooms. The Polish pressmen who printed the magazine walked out, but "I'm prepared for printer walkouts at all times, and the plant brings in an alternate crew of Puerto Ricans. Or Italians or Slavs or whichever ethnic group is not too offended to handle that week's subject matter."
Goldstein's fall was precipitous, landing him in homeless shelters and at the prison at Riker's Island, which sounds straight out of the third world. "I've burned bridges. I have regrets," he says, and chief among these is losing contact with his son, who having been put through Harvard Law School with the aid of the pornographer's millions, has nothing now to do with his father. Goldstein mentions, with little trace of bitterness, one celebrity or pal after another that severed all connection with him once the money was gone. He also mentions with gratitude the friends who gave him money, or the restaurateurs who gave him free meals ("But I had to go early to make the homeless shelter by eight to sign for my bed"), or magician Penn Jillette who pays the rent for his Staten Island apartment. He is unrepentant, but he is disgusted by porn films of today, which he says are meaningless, with no tension, surprise, or human characterization. "Is this to be my legacy?" he asks, "I never dreamed I'd ever say such a thing, but is there no taste?" He had, however, previously written, "Each weekly issue of _Screw_ is one more strike against the world. If I ever lose it all, I'll merely shrug, amazed to have even gotten so far." He might think of his book as yet another such strike. Crude, buoyant, angry, and funny, it is possibly as authentic as any autobiography can be.