In June of 2000 I went to see Penn & Teller on stage at the Beacon Theater in New York. Being a big Penn & Teller fan, I bought tickets as soon as I could and got a really good seat for the show. When I was there, I was impressed that I was one row in front of Al Goldstein, editor of SCREW magazine and one of the people in my mind who embodied New York City better than anyone else.
Goldstein was dressed in cutoff jean shorts, hiking boots, and a red, white and blue sequined jacket. He had gorgeous woman on his arm that looked to be a 20-year-old porn star.
Years later I made a flier for the punk band I play in that featured Al with his middle finger extended, which was how he was often photographed. I emailed him a copy of the flier and he emailed me back saying it was wonderful. That made my day.
Goldstein was one of New York City’s great public personalities, one of the outspoken people who come to represent New York and its spirit. Much in the same way Ed Koch came to represent New York among the celebrated and in polite society, Al Goldstein represented the city’s gritty edge and its always sarcastic and sometimes obscene sense of humor. He was an overweight, cigar-chomping loudmouth who ranted against New York’s many annoyances as vehemently as he skewered the Philistines from both the left and the right. At the same time he never lost his sense of humor about himself.
We recently lost Al Goldstein. He died on Dec. 19 in a hospital and probably not under a pile of naked women like he would have preferred.
Growing up in New York, I would often see Goldstein on talk shows and news segments when he was often called upon to defend pornography. When I moved back to New York I was happy I could see his show Midnight Blue on cable access television. Al Goldstein was a ubiquitous advocate of enjoying sex for its own sake and being unashamed of it. He was overbearing and bombastic, but his case just made plain sense and went like this: Wanting to have sex is a very natural thing that has kept the human race going for millions of years, why be ashamed of it or think it is bad? I’m a man, why shouldn’t I enjoy looking at pictures of naked women? Pictures of vaginas in my magazine aren’t bad because vaginas aren’t bad. Fuck you if you don’t like it.
Do you enjoy looking at tits in magazines or on the Internet? Thank Al Goldstein. He had been fighting for the right to publish his magazine before it was cool. Those days are mostly behind us in America. Except for rare cases that continue to be egregious and terrifying for free speech, porn is everywhere now and the government can’t stop it. But our access to porn today is because of the efforts made by Goldstein decades ago, often at great personal risk. It’s hard to believe in these days of celebrated promiscuity that people could actually be threatened with jail for publishing naked pictures in magazines. Goldstein was one of the first to do battle for those freedoms and he did it years before more celebrated personalities like Larry Flynt.
Lawsuits and bad business decisions left him homeless and destitute. Penn Jillette, recognizing the debt Americans owe to Goldstein, often helped him financially. Later in life he did express regret for some of his excesses. He was estranged from some of his family. He admitted to his faults and realized his mistakes, but never wavered from the blunt personality that made him essential.
Al Goldstein embodied New York City not because he published pornography, but because he fought for his right to do it and lived a life that was bold and unapologetic.
The endless salvos in the American cultural war normally give me a headache and are usually beneath the dignity of comment. But the latest jeremiad against a Fox News host about the race of Santa Claus was informative.
Megyn Kelly, on her program The Kelly File, remarked that Santa Claus is white. (She mentioned that Jesus Christ was white too, and while I’d love to discuss the colorful variations among the 12 tribes of Israel, I’ll instead point out that white people handed over the name Jesus to the Latinos a while ago.)
Kelly was of course buried in a brouhaha of accusations of racism and “look what she said” type coverage, but if you actually watch the damn video, her piece is actually discussing an article on Slate that advocates doing without a white Santa, or a human Santa entirely, and replace him with a penguin in the name of helping nonwhite children love Christmas. Slate’s cultural blogger Aisha Harris recounts her childhood angst at the ubiquity of peckerwood Santa Clauses and thinks that a penguin Santa is a win-win for everyone.
When I was a kid growing up in Yonkers, my brother and I were sent to an afterschool center on weekday afternoons in nearby Eastchester. The kids at the daycare center were mostly white, but sometimes our center would get together with a nearby black organization called CAP (Community Action Program). We would take trips with them and every year we went to their Christmas party.
At every CAP Christmas party Santa Claus appeared and gave out presents, and at CAP, Santa was black. Not only was their Santa black, but he was someone that worked there that the black kids all knew. They laughed hilariously at the black Santa, in part because it was someone they knew and also because it was so obviously NOT Santa Claus.
Like Aisha Harris mentions in her piece on Slate, a non-white Santa doesn’t look quite right, even to a sympathetic non-white audience. It’s an obviously pandering variation awkwardly hammered into place. And children, ever suspicious of adult manipulation into their world, resent such obvious engineering. Harris was right to take umbrage at the black Santa. Even though the adults in her life were doing it for her perceived benefit, it was too much adult interference and that just ain’t right.
Us white kids resented the black Santa, not because we were racist or hated blacks but because we were treated to a needless maiming of a cultural icon that was supposed to be race-neutral.
And this fear of a white Santa is a very telling sign on the part of the multicultural left that’s calling for the head of Megyn Kelly on a charger. Wanting to get rid of white Santa is a tacit acknowledgement of the failure and hopelessness of multiculturalism itself.
If you buy into the belief of Santa Claus and believe that he’s a kindly, saintly man who loves good children, then he certainly loves all the good children of the world and brings them all gifts. That nonwhite children are automatically aggrieved at the sight of a white Santa Claus means that the hopes of fostering an integrated, diverse society is hopeless. If all the races should be equally valued and accepted by everyone, then the traditional white Santa is for everyone too.
If my kids have to stand for a black President, why can’t black kids accept gifts from a white Santa Claus? If multiculturalism is for real, then it’s not a one-way street. If non-white children can’t accept a benevolent white saint who gives them presents out of love, then there’s not much racial harmony in America’s future.
Santa Claus, like many other holiday trappings, developed from European traditions that were adapted to Christianity as it spread westward from the Middle East. Saint Nicholas, the Catholic patron saint of children and sailors and generally agreed to as the basis of Santa Claus, was Greek. If white people invented Santa Claus, then it makes sense he’d be white.
And so even assuming that Kelly was being racially assertive, what makes wanting Santa to look like you wrong? If Aisha Harris’ Christmas penguin catches on, so be it. I’ll be one of the last white fathers telling his kids about the real white Santa Claus.
There are several great Christmas traditions that I refuse to surrender despite being a jaded, cynical atheist. I still give gifts to family and friends, I still buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it, and still I watch Bad Santa every year.
If you have not seen it, do so; you won’t be sorry. The 2003 movie stars Billy Bob Thorton as a thief who works as a department store Santa in order to gain easier access to the safe. You could argue that the movie is dated on that count—the most successful retail thieves these days do their work from laptops and the prevalence of credit and debit cards means store safes don’t hold as much cash as they used to—but that’s a minor point that will not detract from the movie.
Thorton is genius as the hard-drinking, serial-fornicating, foul-mouthed career criminal. The cast also includes John Ritter (RIP), Bernie Mac (RIP), Lauren Graham, Tony Cox and Ajay Naidu of Office Space fame as a “Hindustani Troublemaker.”
Bad Santa manages to both piss on the fraudulent cheer that comprises so much of what passes for holiday spirit while still offering a tale of redemption. His sneering delivery and drunken slurs give the holiday season the violent kick in the groin it rightfully deserves. He exudes contempt for the pampered children and jabbering housewives that expect him to be at their beck and call. He’s a champion to anyone who has ever had to work at a department store at Christmas time (I have; it sucks). He is a hardened predator among easy prey, a prisoner to his criminal profession, but willing to commit to violent street justice without hesitation to help his bullied host.
Cinema has given us no better Christmas hero than Billy Bob Thorton’s Willie.
Willie represents our great unbridled American spirit, unashamed to fornicate with strangers in department store changing rooms and tell shoppers to shove their holiday cheer right up their plus-sized asses.
I saw Bad Santa in the theater reluctantly the year it came out. The TV commercials didn’t make it look very good and I didn’t need another silly holiday comedy. But the movie won me over before the opening credits were through. I was blown away by the excellence of the film. It is at the same time incredibly depraved and inspiring. No other movie better captured the dual hatred and love we often feel towards the holidays.
The forced cheerfulness, the clueless do-gooder religious bleating, the consumerist fervor and the crowded conditions of our roads, trains and stores make all thinking men want to shit on the holidays with fiendish enthusiasm. Yet the undercurrent of holiday cheer is appealing. It is the end of the year harvest festival of the Roman Saturnalia, though colored by the pasted-on veneer of Christian myth. The silver lining to Christmas is that it promotes traditions that help strengthen the family, and it gets you gifts.
It’s for this reason that the next Christmas season I began a tradition of having a holiday party with watching Bad Santa the centerpiece of the event. This past weekend was no different, though many of my friends have now seen the move so many times that they didn’t pay as much attention to the movie, but it never fails to entertain.
If you’re going to watch a special movie for the holidays, there are many to choose from. Watch Bad Santa. It’s a holiday tradition you will want to continue.
New York City has no legal places to hunt and it’s a good thing that we can’t start shooting geese in Central Park or pigeons in Prospect Park. Although one could probably bag a nice wild turkey in Inwood Hill Park if you’re patient enough, it would be a bad idea to take your shotgun on the A train.
But there are plenty of opportunities for city folk to get into hunting. I’m originally from the Big Apple, have been back in the five boroughs 15 years and I’m hooked on hunting for good now. There is fine hunting land upstate, on Long Island and in New Jersey and Connecticut.
Hunting is good for the environment and will get you fresh, free-range meat. I only became interested in hunting over the last few years. I would be hypocrite if I was willing to eat meat and wasn’t willing to go get it. If you’re willing to eat it, you should be willing to kill it.
But the first step to start hunting is to take a free hunter safety class, which you can do throughout New York City. I took both my gun hunting and bow hunting safety courses at different places in Queens.
There are gun ranges in every borough of New York City, so if you can get a gun permit (which takes some doing—New York City’s gun laws are unconstitutionally strict and permit costs can run higher than buying a firearm), you can practice close to home if you live in the Big Apple. But you can also borrow a gun or a bow from a friend who lives outside the city. I go to a friend’s place in Connecticut, which is near a state forest.
Hunting means you have to be alone in the woods with your cell phone off. You have to be very quiet and observe everything carefully. You will see notice things you haven’t noticed before and wouldn’t notice if you were hiking, camping or fishing. It requires mega amounts of patience, of sitting or standing very still for hours at a time in hopes of seeing a deer.
I went two years of hunting without getting anything and coming heartbreakingly close to taking deer. That was hours every day for several days in a row, getting lost and coming out of the woods empty handed but still loving it.
My first year, I was in a perfect position on an elevated ridge when two large deer walked by. When you first see deer that you have a chance to get, your adrenaline soars and your heart pounds furiously and you can hardly get the animal in your sites. I had a great shot on one of the deer and I was following them along. At the last second I stepped on a twig and the two deer bolted, their fluffy white asses taunting me as they ran away.
The next year, I again had a great spot when three deer walked almost directly in front of me. When I moved ever so slightly to get a good shot on one, they spotted me. One of them screamed (deer can scream and sound like the Muppet Beaker) and my chance was lost again. I didn’t see another deer the rest of that season, and got lost in the woods, three times. It was still fun.
And this year I made plans well in advance and was in the woods on the first day of the season. I was in a good position and I saw a deer only about a half hour into legal hunting. I shot at it twice, convinced I got a kill shot, but had only lightly grazed the beast. Hours later, after a fruitless search for a dead deer that wasn’t, I was confident that my day was over and was content to laze and doze on my old ridge from my first year.
Later on, early in the afternoon, at time when deer are not usually active, two more came to me. I managed to get off a solid shot on a small button buck. It went down quickly and I gave it extra time to die. I saw where he fell and waited 15 minutes. I found it, feeling proud and sad at the same time.
My good friend Steve, who got me into hunting, helped me greatly and without his help I would have come home empty handed again. He was hunting nearby and came to help and take my photo with the deer. He showed me some of the finer points of field dressing and soon I was ready to go.
The deer looked small, but didn’t feel very small while I was dragging it out of the woods. In a few days I’ll return to Connecticut and collect a hefty box of delicious venison from a butcher. Our freezer will be full for at least the first part of the winter. And I can’t wait to go back next year.