I was surprised at how equally divided the crowd was between genders, though I guess I shouldn’t have been. If Al exploited women at Screw, and he undoubtedly did, he hired them, too. (Screw’s first three managing editors were female.) Nor did the crowd look particularly raunchy. Rough-trade artsy is how I would describe it. Fun is how I would also describe it. Although Al was tight with porn studs Jamie Gillis and Harry Reems, and even tighter with porn peddlers Bob Guccione and Larry Flynt, he could hang with the egghead set, too. Gay Talese interviewed Al for a full three months when researching his opus on coitus, Thy Neighbor’s Wife. According to Al in I, Goldstein, Talese coveted—and then some—Al’s wife at the time, a sexy blond free-loving stewardess named Mary, which Al didn’t mind, possessiveness not being one of his hang-ups, man. And Philip Roth studied Al like Al was an insect—a cockroach, if you want to get specific—under a microscope, hanging out at the Screw offices for several days and then accompanying Al to Plato’s Retreat, the famed swingers club, at which Roth took notes rather than his pants off. (Al would turn up in The Anatomy Lesson as Nathan Zuckerman’s alter ego, the loud-mouthed editor of a skin rag called Lickety Split.) I scanned the crowd for the dapper Talese, the scowling Roth, but saw neither.
Not that the crowd was without its luminaries. Editor Judith Regan was there. Regan’s imprint, ReganBooks, was responsible not only for Jenna Jameson’s blockbuster How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, but Toni Bentley’s best-selling panegyric to sodomy, The Surrender, as well. ReganBooks has since bit the dust. I overheard Regan telling a man who asked what she’d been up to lately that she’d done a guest spot on Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker. Writer and frequent Howard Stern collaborator, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, hiply turned out in a Mephistopheles beard and a shirt with the words BAD SEED written across the front, was also there. So was Herald Price Fahringer, the celebrated First Amendment lawyer, looking as fancy as his name sounds, in a wheelchair and dark suit, a freshly laundered handkerchief peeping out of his breast pocket, a full head of snowy white hair. (Al himself was a passionate defender of the right to free speech and expression. Between 1968 and 1970, he was arrested 19 times on obscenity charges.) So was photographer, Terry Richardson, and sexpert, Veronica Vera. So was magician, Penn Jillette, Al’s fairy godmensch, shelling out for Al’s rent until the stroke forced Al to transition to a nursing home. At least Jillette was there virtually. He sent a video from the West Coast, as did Ron Jeremy. Even the long-suffering Gena showed up. Jordan, too: trim, neatly dressed, hair worn close to his scalp, wire-rim glasses, mouth clenched and serious, and yet with a face so eerily like Al’s—the son an anal-retentive version of the oral-compulsive father.
People took turns standing at the front of the room to speak about Al, a painting of a pig giving it to a goose—or was it a duck?—doggy style serving as the backdrop. The most common note struck was somewhere between exasperation and affection. Many of the speeches were moving, nearly all were funny. Wistful, too. There was a sense that it wasn’t just a man being said goodbye to, but an era: the good old bad old days of down and dirty ’70s New York, when Times Square was the stomping ground of furtive types in trench coats with sallow complexions and itches in forever need of scratching, not herds of robustly smiling families from foreign countries with American Girl Place shopping bags and tickets to The Lion King.
It was the tribute given by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, however, that best captured the je ne sais quoi of the deceased. None of it can be quoted here, unfortunately, Slate being a family-friendly magazine. All I’ll say is that Midnight Blue may have disappeared from the airwaves 11 years ago, but the final “Fuck You” segment wasn’t delivered until last week. It was worth the wait.