Tales of Bessman: The Al Goldstein Memorial

Al's memorabilia
Al’s memorabilia

I know Al Goldstein would have loved that I had to leave early from an event for contemporary Christian/country artist and American Idol finalist Danny Gokey to go to his memorial at the Museum of Sex–but I wasn’t sure that Gokey would have appreciated the irony, so I didn’t tell him.

I got to the museum in time to hang outside with the motorcycle club “honor guard,” then went inside for a loose hang with Al’s long-suffering and ever-loyal staffers at Screw (I used to regularly attend staff meetings) and Midnight Blue (I appeared with Tammy Faye Starlite to the show): his secretary Tere Gerber, Screw editor Chip Maloney and art director Kevin Hein, and Midnight Blue producer Lenny Aaron.

There were some 175 people there in all, mostly men, as Judith Regan observed, and including old friends John Holmstrom, founder/publisher of Punk, and Kinky Friedman’s Village Irregulars Mike McGovern and Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who was the night’s emcee.

It was fun seeing Judith: I met her several years ago, now, when she published the brilliant Toni Bentley’s anal sex memoir The Surrender—in which I was thanked, though my name was misspelled. She just started up a new publishing house, Regan Arts, and it made perfect sense that she would love Al, having herself become so notoriously successful and groundbreaking in her world.

Controversial photographer Terry Richardson was there, too.

Penn Jillette, who quietly paid for Al’s apartment in the three years prior to his final hospitalizations, couldn’t make it. But he wept openly in a video tribute as he spoke of how inspired he had been by the complete honesty of a man whom—with profound respect and affection—he described as an all-encompassing “asshole.” And invoking Al’s most famous two-word dismissal (one that he used twice on me on Midnight Blue), he movingly concluded, “For being dead, Al Goldstein…FUCK YOU!”

Also missing in action but present by video was Ron Jeremy, “the Manatee of Porn,” as Al used to call him. He reminisced on their long and close friendship, and also saluted Al for his honesty and his continual fight for the little guy against the corporations.

But Al’s “spiritual leader and rabbi,” Gilbert Gottfried, was in the house, and brought it down with a eulogy to rival his climactic monologue in Penn’s movie The Aristocrats.

“Fuck you, you fat, ugly piece of shit!” Gilbert shrieked, already warm to the subject.

“I hope you’re in hell sucking the cocks of the entire Third Reich! I hope for eternity [that] Hitler is fucking you in the asshole! That the only oral sex you get in hell is sucking off Goebbels and Josef Mengele! That your fat, tiny dick is smaller than the average clit!”

This was all in a room displaying, among other things, Keith Haring’s Bad Boys paintings, a female urinal and the centerpiece Fuck Bike #001. There was also a table of Al memorabilia—including a Screw paper cube that I used to have and a Midnight Blue watch that I still do–and a table of Al t-shirts for sale to help cover expenses, including six boxes of cheeseburgers, each holding 100.

Al’s endless litigation was remembered almost nostalgically by Herald Price Fahringer, his renowned defense attorney, who said that for Al’s sentencing in 2002 for his conviction of harassing a former secretary, he instructed Al to wear a conservative suit and tie. Instead, Al arrived in and black-and-white prison uniform and bellowed to the court, “Jail means nothing to me, because freedom means so much to me.”

He was promptly sentenced to 60 days, and even after he posted $25,000 bail, he was jailed in Rikers Island for six days because of “paperwork.”

But Fahringer, who is now confined to a wheelchair, also cited Al’s great kindness and generosity, as well as his indefatigable fight for his cherished First Amendment rights, and as a subtext, its guarantee of Al’s much-exercised freedom to criticize the government.

Then Fahringer attorney Erica Dubno testified how, just out of college, she was sent to Rikers to spring Al at 5:30 a.m.—a public bus being the only transportation available. The bus pulled up, and there she was, with a man dressed as a convict. Thrilled, the bus driver exclaimed, “Al Goldstein!”—which is how it always was whenever I went out with Al, who, by the way, ultimately won his appeal based on prosecutorial misconduct.

“Whenever I see injustice,” said Dubno, recalling the freed Al’s predictable gesture toward Rikers, “I see Al’s middle finger rising high.”

Al’s last lawyer, Charles DeStefano, was the final speaker.

“He made me grow a part of my anatomy that I didn’t think grew past puberty!” he said, remembering how he called “Grandpa” Al Lewis as a character witness at a trial for which Al faxed to the judge a caricature of the judge and district attorney engaging in anal sex.

“He was filled with honesty to a fault, maybe, but that was their tough luck because it was an honesty that comes from the heart.”

Ratso, by the way, deserves so much credit for all he did for Al in his final years. And he rightly recognized all that circus performer Viveca Gardiner did for Al, acting, as Ratso put it, sort of as a cross between Florence Nightingale and Annie Sprinkle.

And it must be noted that Al’s ex-wife Gena and son Jordan were there, both having endured persecution far beyond the pale—though neither, after all this time and the perpetrator’s demise, seemed any the worse for it, and were both most pleasant.

It was only fitting that as I walked past a gentlemen’s club on 8th Avenue on my way home, that I was handed a complimentary ticket.

“No thanks,” I said. “Not tonight.”

Al Goldstein shirts
Al Goldstein shirts