Volume 17 • Issue 16 | SEPTEMBER 10 - 16, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Jack Lebewohl, left, owner of the Second Avenue Deli with one of his newest employees, Al Goldstein, who used to publish Screw and now works for $10 an hour. “I’ve always preferred food to sex,” Goldstein said.

Porn king looks for salvation in famed deli

By Mary Reinholz

Al Goldstein, the once portly clown prince of porn who made a mint publishing outrageous raunch in Screw magazine over more than three decades, said he is now broke, basically homeless was denied permission by his probation officers to relocate to Los Angeles for a job in the X-rated men’s field because of his conviction in New York for verbally harassing one of his four ex-wives.

His title? He is a host at the Second Avenue Deli near 10th St., making $10 an hour for now and claiming that turning people on to the joys of chopped liver, Gefilte fish and brisket of beef is far more pleasurable than selling the more opulent forms of cheesecake.
“I love it because I’ve always preferred food to sex,” said a slimmed down Goldstein, 68, looking somber as a banker in a dark thrift shop jacket during an interview at the iconic kosher eatery where he also works as a salesman for its catering services. “It doesn’t tell me I’m not big enough. It doesn’t take my house and it doesn’t take a testicle. So for me, as I walk by windows of foods, it’s better than being in a topless club. But I have to watch it,” he added, noting he shed 150 pounds via a stomach stapling operation last year and has to fight a “homosexual relationship with Ben and Jerry’s” ice cream.

Goldstein claims that Screw folded last year “because the Internet will give you all the porn you want” and he subsequently lost his Florida mansion in bankruptcy proceedings, driving him to homeless shelters.

He said he walked into the Second Avenue Deli with a hungry camera crew who had filmed him at a homeless shelter on W. 23 St. There he spoke to Jack Lebewohl, who has run the deli for the last nine years, ever since the unsolved 1996 murder of his older brother Abe, who had been a long time crony of Goldstein’s.

“I cried and said my life was over and Jack said, ‘What would my brother do?’ I swear to God it’s true, “Goldstein said. “ And he hired me on the spot. A man is what he does and for a year I didn’t have a job. I felt hollow. I felt doomed. 95 percent of your friends abandon you. Jack is one of the three percent of the people who stayed with me.”

Jack Lebewohl, 56, said he had already read a story in the New York Times about Goldstein’s misfortunes in August when Goldstein suddenly showed up. “I went upstairs and said to my wife, ‘Terry, I want to hire him,’ Lebewohl recalled. “She looked at me and said: ‘’What will people say?’ And I said if my brother was still alive, he would have said, ‘absolutely.’ And that was it. I said no one needs a friend when things are going well.”

According to Lebewohl, the bad boy purveyor of smut is working out “fantastically” in the food trade. “He’s an excellent host. I want him to learn the product and he’s going to learn sales catering. We’re going work out the financial stuff as things evolve. My mother had a saying in Yiddish, which I’ll translate: ‘It’s better to lose on a smart person, than to win with a fool.’ And Al is no fool. He’s intelligent and honest and hard working. What more do you need?”

Lebewohl noted that he first met Goldstein through his brother in the late 1970s after Abe catered a “huge party” at Plato’s Retreat when Goldstein’s celebrated an acquittal in his obscenity trial in Witchita, Kansas.

Goldstein’s fall as the high profile publisher of Screw and host of the now-defunct cable show, “Midnight Blue”, can be traced to his more recent legal problems, beginning with his 2003 conviction in Brooklyn Criminal Court for harassing a former secretary, Jennifer Lozinksky, whom he allegedly threatened on the telephone. Although he now admits his behavior was “inappropriate,” he said his conviction was overturned 3-0 on appeal in New York State Supreme Court.  He was convicted on similar charges for harassing his ex- wife Gina, after he published her telephone number in Screw and encouraged people to call her because, he said, she had turned his Harvard educated lawyer son against him. By pleading guilty, he was able to get three years of probation but the conditions are dire, he claims.

“I don’t have to serve any time but I have to report every other week. and I can’t be in the sex business,” he said. “They check up on me. They’re very judgmental.” Goldstein said he had accepted a job  in Los Angeles with a pornographic “film guy doing sales, but Florida probation said you can’t go. New York said the same thing. They said you can stay in New York, but you can’t work in the men’s field. They would rather I die of starvation. or make French fries at McDonald’s…They’re looking for me to make one false step.”

Jack Ryan, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Probation, said he has found no records indicating Goldstein would be prohibited from working in the sex business. But he also noted that there are limitations on travel and relocation for people on probation.               

Goldstein is now living at the Queens home of his in-laws and his fifth wife, Christine, 28, a “psych major” whom he said he met two years ago. He said she has developed Crohn’s disease and could die from it, noting that he tries to joke about her illness by saying that “when she’s dead, I’ll date her three sisters.” The couple married in January on Goldstein’s  68th birthday. “She really loves me,” he said. “She likes people who are rebellious and iconoclastic.”

But Goldstein has nothing good to say about former flames including a live-in lover in Florida who, he claimed, dumped him over his financial problems. “Women are despicable and vile and I prefer salami any day,” he said. “Suddenly I became ugly and smelly because I was poor. Before I was an Adonis. If women feel they’re sex objects, men are just money objects.”

Despite such slings and arrows for a man who successfully peddled Eros for years its earthiest forms, testing the outermost limits of free speech, Goldstein seems peaceful and somewhat subdued now that he has a job and a supervisor. He claimed the former Mayor Ed Koch Koch came into the deli to celebrate his 80th birthday just before the Republican convention “and Ed told Mike that Al had once put me in the toilet seat” in the pages of Screw magazine, which once featured a ribald enemies’ list.

But Goldstein complains about having to attend weekly classes on Roosevelt Island for “wife beaters” as another term of his probation. “I’m with ten kids in their 20’s who have beaten their girlfriends and I’ve never hit a woman in my life. But my mouth is a weapon.”

He plans to put that weapon to use starting at 7:30 on Sept. 18  as Joe’s Pub which is part of the prestigious Public Theater on Lafayette St. Goldstein  will perform in bawdy “low brow” musical review called “ What I like about Jew,” produced by Ron Tannebaum and Shawn Altman and smacking of the old Borscht Belt, said pub director Bill Began.   “Nothing but the best for Al Goldstein,” deadpanned Bregan. “We love people who tweak our audiences’ expectations a little.”    

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