Volume 74, Number 20 | September 15 - 21 , 2004

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Jack Lebewohl, left, owner of the 2nd Avenue Deli, with one of his newest employees, Al Goldstein, who used to publish Screw magazine and now works for $10 an hour. “I’ve always preferred food to sex,” Goldstein said.

Ex-porn king trades sex for salami at 2nd Ave. Deli

By Mary Reinholz

Al Goldstein, the once portly clown prince of porn who made a mint publishing outrageous raunch in Screw magazine for over more than three decades, said he is now broke, basically homeless and attending classes with “wife beaters” after being convicted of verbally harassing one of his four ex-wives. But Goldstein seems grateful for a new job he landed late last month in the East Village.

His title? He is a host at the 2nd 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 decadent forms of cheesecake. His duties include greeting customers and showing them to their tables.

“I love it because I’ve always preferred food to sex,” said a slimmed-down Goldstein, 68, looking as somber as a banker in a dark thrift-shop suit 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, forcing him into the streets. He said he walked into the 2nd 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 longtime crony of Goldstein’s.

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.”

“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. Ninety-five percent of your friends abandon you. Jack is one of the three percent of the people who stayed with me.”

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 celebrated an acquittal in his obscenity trial in Witchita, Kan.

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 2002 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 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 verbal harassment conviction in New York. He can’t work in the adult industry in New York, either.

“They said you can stay in New York, but you can’t work in the men’s field,” he said. “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 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 in 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 claims that former Mayor Ed Koch was friendly to him when Koch came into the deli just before the Republican convention “and he told Jack that ‘Al had once put my head in the toilet bowl’ ” in the pages of Screw magazine, which once featured a ribald enemies’ list.

But Goldstein complains about having to attend weekly wellness classes on Roosevelt Island for people who batter women as another term of his probation. “I’m with 10 kids in their 20s 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 p.m. on Sept. 18 at Joe’s Pub, which is part of the prestigious Public Theater on Lafayette St. Goldstein will perform in a bawdy “low brow” musical review called “What I Like About Jew,” produced by Ron Tannebaum and Sean Altman and smacking of the old Borscht Belt, said pub director Bill Began. “Nothing but the best for Al Goldstein,” deadpanned Bill Bregan. “We love people who tweak our audience’s expectations a little.”

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