FLYNT XMAS

Christmas with Larry Flynt

2013-11-17T18:51:00Z 2013-11-20T19:30:09Z Christmas with Larry FlyntBy John Cain nwitimes.com
November 17, 2013 6:51 pm  • 

I had nobody to blame but myself. I had insisted on pursuing a degree in theatre, insisted that I was the one who could make it, and here I was, a year after graduation, desperate for work and wondering how I could get out of ever doing any. The summer before I had landed a job with a born-again Christian summer stock company in the middle of Ohio. I played Jesus in one show and God in another. It was the mid-70s and being born again was sweeping the country, especially central Ohio, a hotbed of test marketing everything from McDonald’s happy meals to fundamentalist religion. I took the job, despite the fact that my only religious experience was having a crush on one of the Young Christians on Campus my junior year. I even went to late-night testimony meetings in somebody's dorm room. I tried to think of them as pajama parties.

It was a lucky break landing a job right out of school, so I took it sight unseen, not realizing that the theatre was in a campground, where we were expected to rough it in cabins built by the earliest Ohioans. To my horror, there were no locks on the doors. To my greater horror, there no doors––that way, I supposed, nobody could do anything behind them. There were windows, but they didn’t open, and while there was running water and electricity, there was certainly no heat or air conditioning. What there was, was every form of insect life imaginable. If you were into plagues of locusts––and what self-righteous zealot isn’t?––this was the right place for you.

My parents came to see me perform in the last show. Even they had to rough it in the shabby motel down the road, the kind of place, as my mother put it, where you had to sleep with your socks on. At least they had brought alcohol. She couldn’t believe I’d survived the summer. Only once in my life had they sent me to camp, and I’d had to be hospitalized.

I knew that a life in the theatre would be hard, especially in the beginning, but this was already too much. By the time that dreadful summer was over, I knew I’d made a huge mistake, that the suffering life of an actor was not for me. I didn’t tell my parents right away that all that money they’d spent on my studying the Stanislavsky method of acting for four years had been a waste. I thought it would be more merciful if it should dawn on them slowly over time. Maybe when I was 50 I’d tell them I’d changed my mind and wanted to pursue something else.

It took about a year for the nightmare that was the Born Again Christian Playhouse to fade, during which I sat around worrying, procrastinating, failing to get on with my life. That winter I moved to Los Angeles, where it would at least appear that I was trying to become an actor. Then one morning back home, my father died at the breakfast table of a sudden heart attack. I was called home, and, before you knew it, it was already the next summer. In August of 1977, still unemployed, I headed back to central Ohio to live in the same town just north of Columbus, where I had been blissfully happy for four years of college. Maybe I thought I could recapture that happiness – or start all over again with another major. I took up residence at Votaw Manor, where I had lived my senior year.

The Votaws were country folk. Henry, now retired, had been the janitor in the college library. Martha was a short, stocky woman, as round as she was tall, who sat on the living room sofa all day with her arms folded across her chest, happily condemning her friends and neighbors. She simply glowed when she was being malicious. Her name for me was Piss Ant.

Nobody could remember exactly when my friends and I had christened the place Votaw Manor, but the name had stuck, and it pleased the lord and lady of the manor very much. It was an ordinary white frame house, built in the 1800’s, the kind of house you see all over Ohio. Inside, the floors sloped down to one side, and the stairs creaked loudly. My room was at the top.

It was from the phone in the upstairs landing of Votaw Manor that I called in response to a “Help Wanted” ad that I’d seen in the Columbus newspaper. “Magazine Publisher Seeks Public Relations Assistant” the listing read, and I figured that was something I could do. Acting is believing, we were taught in school, and this was a role I believed I could play. It was the day that Elvis died. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign.

If they had said Larry Flynt Publications when they answered the phone that day, I swear I didn’t hear them. But then I didn’t know who Larry Flynt was. It’s not like I read his magazine. The only copy of it I’d ever seen was at the Born Again Christian Playhouse, when somebody, another actor who wasn’t so very born again, passed around a magazine with pictures of Jackie O sunbathing in the nude. I had seen many pictures of the former First Lady in all her beautiful clothes and had enjoyed those infinitely more, particularly the ones where she’s wearing the chartreuse silk evening dress designed by Oleg Cassini for the November 13, 1961, Pablo Casals concert at the White House.

My appointment was set for a Friday afternoon, a day that was as hot as hell. The sun blazed overhead. Mercifully, the drive downtown was not a long one. According to the directions they’d given on the phone, the place was located on Gay Street – a shame really, I thought later, because it was just one over from Broad.

There was no sign outside, just a street number. I walked into the lobby. It was so dark, I had trouble seeing. The furniture was black. The carpet was black. The walls were black. In fact the whole place was black, except for just one thing – a huge Technicolor photograph of a nude woman, possibly twelve feet high, hanging across the room under a spotlight. She appeared to be in a yoga position, because she was lying on her back with her legs flipped over her head so that her knees were both touching either ear. She seemed to be looking directly at me and smiling, upside down.

And the main thing I noticed was that she took pride in displaying a part of her anatomy that I couldn’t remember ever seeing on a Barbie doll, not even the bendable kind. Somehow, it reminded me of the Georgia O’Keefe paintings I’d seen earlier that summer, only this was less botanical––and more gynecological.

Desperate to avoid her penetrating gaze, I made a dash for the only place in the room I didn’t have to see it, which was the sofa directly under it. Despite the fact that they kept the temperature in here like a freezer, beads of sweat were popping out all over my face. Rivers of it were running down my back. No matter how much I tried to remain cool, calm and collected, I probably looked like a clammy albino.

As I waited for the woman who was to interview me, wondering if she would have clothes on, I picked up a magazine from the coffee table and started fanning myself, only to realize that it was the same magazine I’d seen the summer before with the pictures of Jackie. They were all different issues of that magazine. What was this place, I wondered anxiously, fanning myself instead with what little there was of my resume.

Why didn’t I just get up and leave? Well, for one thing, I couldn’t. I was practically glued to my Naugahyde seat. But mainly, there was my mother, who, despite the fact that she was mourning the loss of my father, said she was going to kill me if I didn’t get a job––any job I remember she specified––and soon. Not wanting to cause her any more stress, I waited.

The woman who finally came introduced herself as Jeanette O’Brien. I peeled myself off the sofa and rose to shake her hand. She was a pretty, older woman––at least thirty––and you could tell right away that she was all business. Assuming an air of authority, she led me down a long corridor, up some stairs and then over into another whole building, where, she said, the company’s corporate offices were located. The first building, she said, was where the creative side of things happened.

In college, creative had meant sitting in a fetal position and trying to remember how it felt when your pet turtle died, then trying to use those same feelings while reciting one of Hamlet’s soliloquies. That was just one of the ridiculous exercises they had us do in acting class. Was it, I wondered, about to come in handy now?

“How do you mean creative?” I asked.

“It’s where the Hustler staff is located,” she said.

“Hustler?” I said, realizing that my worst fears were about to be confirmed.

“Well, yes. Larry wouldn’t be starting this new magazine if it wasn’t for Hustler.” She laughed. I laughed. We both laughed. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

By now we had arrived at her office, a shabby little space, with fake wood paneling, dusty Venetian blinds and a shag carpet that had seen better days. The walls were bare without a single picture, which, at that point, was just fine with me. Jeanette offered me a seat and settled down behind her desk, lighting up a Virginia Slim. Her ashtray overflowed with cigarette butts, and ashes were scattered everywhere.

She was new to the company herself, she said, just in from New York the week before. “Larry brought me in to launch his new magazine.”

I wasn’t trying to look stupid, but I just had to ask. “Excuse me,” I said, “but who’s Larry?”

She looked at me as if I were from another planet and kept on looking until, finally, she cracked up. I laughed, too, because at least she didn’t seem quite so scary anymore.

“Oh that was a good one,” she said, taking a huge drag on her Virginia Slim. “You’re subtle––I like that.”

Being subtle, I smiled politely. She said that if she hired me, I’d be assisting her with all aspects of PR for the launch of the new magazine.

“It’s going to be called OHIO,” she said, “and it’ll be just like New York Magazine, only this will focus on lifestyles throughout the whole state of Ohio.”

Not quite sure if this was her idea of a joke, I played it safe by maintaining my expression of paralysis and waited for more. “I need somebody to help me get this thing off the ground,” she said.

As Jeanette read the writing samples she’d asked me to bring, I started thinking about places like Sandusky and Chillicothe, wondering what kind of lifestyles they had that anybody anywhere else would want to read about. But, so far, at least, she hadn’t mentioned pornography, not a word about the presentation of women in lewd and demeaning poses. This could work out, I thought.

When she was through, she said there was another person she’d already interviewed who was really more qualified than I was, a girl who had graduated from Ohio State in journalism. Anybody would have been more qualified than I was, I thought.

“But maybe,” she said, “I could get Larry to let me hire you both. There’s certainly enough work for two.”

How would I feel, she asked, about sharing an office with somebody? It was polite of her to ask, but honestly, how was I supposed to know? My only office experience had been going to the dentist twice a year. I had no objection whatsoever, I said, not being that much of a fool. She offered a salary, which sounded extravagant to me, and benefits, too, whatever that was. I just thought it would be a benefit if I got a paycheck. Whoever this Larry was, I didn’t care what kind of magazines he published. I accepted the offer. I had a job! I couldn’t wait to tell my mother.

That evening there was great jubilation at Votaw Manor. Pizza was ordered, pepperoni with double cheese, and I called home. “It’s called OHIO Magazine,” I said proudly, “a lifestyle magazine for the whole state, with features on places like Cleveland, and Toledo and Sandusky!”

There was a slight pause on the other end. “How interesting,” my mother said. “I wondered what kind of magazine could be published in Columbus, Ohio.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” I chirped. Afterwards, there was considerable silence as we spooned into the homemade icecream. I had told Henry and Martha all about the woman in the picture on the wall, and now, Martha was boring holes through me with a gimlet eye. Unable to restrain herself, she announced that she knew who I was gonna work for. Unlike Henry, Martha could read, not to mention the fact that she was just a country girl at heart. The big salary I was boasting about didn't grow on trees, she said, it was porn money. She’d read all about that Larry Flynt in the papers and said he’d done time in jail for the dirty pictures he showed of naked women.

It wasn’t that she was accusing me exactly––Martha was far from being a God-fearing woman––but she was giving me a scare. “Do you think I shouldn’t take it?” I asked, feeling like I might get locked up myself.

“Hell no!” she said. “And pass up all that money?”

“And benefits, too,” I added.

Apparently, any moral qualms about working for the likes of Mr. Flynt didn't stop a lot of people from showing up every day, myself included. I learned that there was no small number of us there, filling the two buildings that comprised the Flynt Publishing empire on Gay Street, one block over from Broad. Except for the people on the creative side, who looked a lot like the characters on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” my co-workers dressed just like all the other people going to work every day downtown. The only difference was that the place where we worked didn’t have a name out front, the corporate equivalent of a brown paper wrapper.

The person I shared an office with, the journalism major from Ohio State, was a mousy girl who slouched. She had the improbable name of Shawnee. Her parents had met at a rodeo in Oklahoma. My mother couldn’t wait for me to find out if she had a sister Sioux. I had plenty of opportunity to ask, because, despite Jeanette’s claim that there was more than enough work to go around for the both of us, there wasn’t. For the first couple of weeks, Shawnee and I spent most of our time, sitting in our wigwam, waiting for something exciting to happen.

And one day, out in the hall, something did. Returning to the office after lunch, I passed a beautiful woman with jet-black hair, whose smile struck me as somehow familiar. Jeanette said it was because I saw her every time I came in or out of the building. She was the upside down naked woman with her legs flipped over her head, only right side up and with clothes on. She was heading down the hall and going directly through the set of smoked glass doors that led to Larry Flynt’s office, where I had never been.

“She’s his wife,” Jeanette said. “Althea. She was a stripper in one of his clubs. Now she’s his CEO.”

I couldn’t believe my ears and was beginning to doubt my bowels. I didn’t even know what a CEO was. All I heard was “his wife.” His wife? What will Martha say about this, I wondered – Martha, who despite her initial response to my working for a pornographer, was having no trouble cashing my weekly rent checks.

My first actual exposure to Mr. Flynt himself didn’t come until about a month later, when we were told that the next day, instead of going to the office, we were to report to the Bexley Movie Theatre at 9 a.m. It was an odd and slightly menacing place to go at that hour, I thought. Larry and Althea lived in Bexley, an affluent suburb of Columbus, in a mansion with a heart-shaped tub. It was directly across the street from the Columbus School for Girls and not far from the Governor’s Mansion.

I really sweated it out, wondering what in God’s name, we were going to have to do there, wondering what kind of illicit acts we were going to have to watch and/or perform.

“What should I wear?” I fretted that morning, standing in front of my closet. Martha could see how worried I was when I came down and cooked up a hearty batch of hominy grits to give me strength. As I drove to Bexley, I had visions of myself being suspended from the ceiling in a black leather harness and swatted back and forth like a piñata in an X-rated movie. “How can I get out of this?” I asked myself. Was it too late to call in sick? Would anybody miss me if I didn’t go? Would there be popcorn?

Never one for punctuality, especially when imminent degradation is involved, I got there just in time before Larry’s bodyguards shut the doors. I found Shawnee cowering in the back row near one of the exits. As the lights dimmed and the curtains began to open, I just held my breath and wondered how long it would take before Shawnee would have to make a run for the bathroom.

The movie we were shown had not been shot in Larry and Althea’s bathroom. It was “Harlan County,” the documentary about Kentucky coal-miners I’d just heard about on NPR. It showed how hard the miners worked, struggling to make ends meet, how they lived in shacks along the sides of mountains with barely enough food for their families. It showed how breathing the coal dust down in the mines would make them sick and die.

Unfortunately, Shawnee missed most of the film, lying on the floor, sick in the ladies room. Now, feeling much better, she was skulking back into the theatre, wanting to find out what had happened. Just as she was, the lights came back up, and there, way down in the first row, Larry Flynt himself rose up out of his seat and began to address us.

It was like a scene out of Citizen Kane. This mysterious man who had remained unseen all these weeks was suddenly standing right there, bigger than life, with the glow from the movie screen lighting him from behind. He started off by explaining that Harlan County was where he was from, that he and his brother Jimmy, whom I’d seen around the office, had been born and raised there. As he warmed to his theme, telling us how he and his family had been poor, just like the people in the movie, it wasn’t long before he was actually railing at us for thinking that we were so special, sitting there in our fancy clothes that he had paid for.

“I could fire you all,” he boomed at one point, “this minute. It’s my business and my money. I’m the one in charge and don’t forget it.”

We sat there frozen. Nobody knew what this was really about or where it was going. There was a silence that seemed to go on forever. And then he spoke again more calmly. He talked about hucksters and charlatans, people who hustle other people by trying to get them to believe things that aren’t true. People like religious evangelists. He said that if we ever heard that he’d been converted to some kind of religion by one of these crackpots––and now his voice was growing more strident again––we shouldn’t believe it. He said that we’d better know that he was not the one who would be converted, that he was the one who would do the converting.

Not knowing what it meant, we started applauding wildly, partly because we wanted our paychecks to keep coming, partly because we admired this self-made man from the hills of Kentucky, partly because there was a strain of heart-felt truth in his message.

I didn’t know much about his history, about the way he had clashed with the moral majority, who had tried to shut down his clubs and get his magazine off the newsstands. I just thought this was maybe what bosses do, and when it was over, he suddenly disappeared. We, however, were asked to stay for a second documentary, this one about Marjoe Courtner, the evangelist who traveled from one revival meeting to another, supposedly healing people of their illnesses. The movie showed how he’d get them to speak in tongues and fall into fits of religious ecstasy, but, in the end, it was all a big act.

So it came as no small shock, driving to work the following Thursday, to hear Paul Harvey report that the President's sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, was a house guest at the Columbus, Ohio, home of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. It came as no small shock to hear that the President’s sister had apparently saved Mr. Flynt and converted him to Christianity.

At the office, all hell was breaking loose. Calls were coming in from across the country, and it fell on Jeanette, the only one of us ever to have handled the media, to serve as company spokesperson. We were taking calls from the AP, the New York Times, all the major television networks, all wanting to know if this was this some kind of hoax.

The next morning, Henry and Martha and I sat with our eyes glued to the kitchen TV, chewing intently our hominy grits, as Jeanette was interviewed on the Today Show with Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley. Martha said she didn’t believe a word of it, but she and Henry were both as happy as pigs in mud.

Larry took on a beatific glow as he strode through the building. One morning, Jeanette warned us that he was going to visit us to thank us for the job we’d done handling the press. I still had never met the man, so when he appeared in our doorway, filling it entirely, I couldn’t believe how huge he was. He asked me what I did there, a question I’d been asking myself for several weeks. I blurted out something about working for Jeanette, which was apparently not the answer he wanted.

“You don’t work for Jeanette,” he roared, “or anybody else around here. You work for me!”

“I live to grovel,” I responded, suddenly remembering a line from a play I’d been in in college. It got a laugh that concluded the visit and sent him chuckling out of the room.

Seeing the movie many years later, I was struck by how incorrectly they captured him at this period in his life. First of all, he didn’t look anything like Woody Harrelson. Secondly, he wasn’t dressed like some yahoo in a polyester leisure suit with bell-bottoms, a shirt open down to his navel and gold chains covering his chest. He was dressed in a beautiful dark pinstriped business suit. His brother Jimmy dressed that way, too. They both looked like captains of industry. It just happened to be the porn industry.

As calm and composed as he appeared to us, we heard there were fistfights breaking out in his conference room down the hall. Larry was insisting on doing the unthinkable, blending religion and porn. He began running explicit photospreads showing scenes that the Bible had only implied. If Adam had known Eve, if Samson had known Delilah, if Sodom had known Gomorra, he wanted his readers to know how well. Many of them, loyal since the days of the newsletter he created to promote his strip clubs in Cincinnati, didn’t take to the new format so well. As a form of protest, one of them nominated him for the “Asshole of the Month,” a regular feature in Hustler, and he happily allowed himself to be so named.

Others were less forgiving, though you didn’t know who hated Larry more––the readers who thought he’d screwed up his magazine or the fundamentalist Christians who thought he was a blasphemer. More than once there were bomb threats and we had to be evacuated from the building. It was announced that, after the first of the year, the creative side would move out to L.A., where kooks were more commonplace than in central Ohio and pornography could thrive in a more favorable climate.

But we weren’t really bothered by any of that. As the holiday season approached, there was excitement among our ranks about the company Christmas party. For me, it wasn’t exactly excitement I felt in the pit of my stomach but dread. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to socialize with my co-workers. It was just that I found myself having the same foreboding about this event as I had our summons to the Bexley Movie Theatre. Who knew what they’d make us do under the mistletoe?

Luckily, I was spared from having to find out first hand when I mentioned to Jeanette, just in passing, that I had tickets to see “The Nutcracker” for that very same night. “But it’s okay,” I said, “I’ll just give them to a friend.”

Jeanette thought that was a shame and asked if I’d asked anybody to go with me. Since I didn’t really own tickets in the first place, I answered honestly that I hadn’t. Although unmarried, Jeanette had come to Columbus with a baby, the result of a love affair with a much older married man, someone “well known in the industry,” as she liked to say. When Jeanette moved from New York to Columbus, she brought along a younger friend to take care of the baby while she was at work.

Jeanette thought it would be just fine if I skipped the Christmas party and took Shelley, her nanny, with me to see “The Nutcracker” instead.

“She never gets out,” Jeanette said, taking a drag on a Virginia Slim, “and I know she loves ballet. In New York, she goes all the time.”

I don’t know what I expected Shelley to look like––maybe a slightly smaller version of Jeanette, puffing on Virginia Slims and being assertive in the same way––but she wasn’t. Where Jeanette was worldly in an “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” sort of way, Shelley was cosmopolitan in a refined lady-like way. They made an interesting combination. I thought Shelley looked positively elegant that night, especially for somebody her age, which couldn’t have been more than twenty.

The ballet was downtown at the Ohio Theatre, a beautiful Beaux Arts building, just across from the statehouse. Because of its proximity and catchy theme, I had chosen to start the evening at a trendy new restaurant called the Waterworks. It occupied a building that had once served Columbus in that capacity. The theme had to do with bath tubs and plumbing, and why I thought it an appropriate choice had as much to do with the decade as my age. In my defense, it was a very popular place, and if she thought it repulsive, Shelley was too polite to say so.

We had a pleasant time getting acquainted over dinner, but the longer we were together, the more I wondered how she and Jeanette could ever have become friends. So I asked her how they had met.

“Through the industry,” Shelley said.

“Really?” I responded, thinking her far too young ever to have worked with Jeanette.

“She’s a friend of my uncle,” she said. “He’s a publisher.”

“Oh, and what does he publish?” I asked, continuing the conversation.

“Penthouse,” she said. “My uncle is Bob Guccione.”

All sound now stopped. It was like a dream, and this being the Waterworks, I guess it was a wet one––one in which I had been hopelessly miscast. Fortunately, I had just taken an overly large bite of food, and this bought me some time as I attempted to digest her revelation.

My evening of surprises continued at the theatre, where, after an enjoyable first act, the curtain had no sooner risen on the second, when a madman started screaming obscenities from somewhere in the top balcony. It went on forever, as if nobody were brave enough to stop him. I knew I wasn’t. But where were the ushers? Where was security? It just went on and on. Children both on stage and off were crying hysterically. It was a scary scene, even for grownups. Eventually, though you couldn’t see it, you could tell that somebody finally was leading him away. The far less exciting ballet ground on to its inevitable happy end, and we raced home, anxious to tell Jeanette about our experience.

But our story paled in comparison to hers. The party had been eventful, too. Larry had taken the stage once again, making yet another surprise announcement. This time, apparently filled with the holiday spirit, he said that everybody was going to be getting big raises.

“And that’s not all,” Jeanette said, lighting up a Virginia Slim. “You’re getting a thousand dollar bonus for Christmas. Everybody is.”

I was speechless. At this point, it was hard to decide which was the real highlight of the evening. But certainly, getting a thousand-dollar Christmas bonus for doing practically no work at all was right up there.

I couldn’t wait to call my mother the next day and tell her about the generosity of my wonderful employer, the exact identity of whom I had not yet revealed to her in its entirety. That is to say––at all. So, when I told her, I was a little discomforted by the silence on her end of the line.

“Isn’t it great?” I said, prompting her.

“I’m just trying to figure out,” she finally said, “how somebody who’s publishing a magazine about Ohio – not that it isn’t a very nice state – can afford to be so generous, especially when it’s not even out yet.”

Now the silence was on my end.

“Well,” I said, “he has more than one magazine.”

“Oh. Well that might explain it,” came her maternal reply. “What else does he publish?”

Again, silence on my end of the line, while I mustered up the courage to tell her.

“Hustler,” I said at last. “My boss is Larry Flynt.”

She didn’t speak now for quite a while, but I could hear her cracking open a tray of ice cubes and pouring herself a drink. I hoped it was a strong one.

Maybe she was thinking about how long it had taken me to find a job, about my failure to pursue a career in theatre, about my playing with Barbie dolls when I was a boy. Because, when she finally did speak, what she said was, “Well, that’s nice dear. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

I couldn’t believe it! Not only did I have the world’s greatest boss, but I also had a kind and understanding mother. As we rang off, she was moving on to her second cocktail and closed with a last request. “When you talk to your grandmother, for God’s sake don’t tell her who you work for.”

Christmas came and went, and, at first, we didn’t get our raises or our bonuses. A few of Larry’s top executives had thought better of his generosity and refused to pay them. When he found out, he blew his stack and fired every one of them. He wasn’t going back on his word. My salary, which had been more than adequate in my estimation, actually doubled. I got back pay and the thousand dollar bonus. Maybe he was crazy, but I loved this man.

Apparently, not everybody did. One day in February, as he was coming out of a Georgia courthouse on one of his obscenity trials, Larry was shot by an unknown assailant. Shawnee and I were at lunch when it happened, and when we got back to the office, it was just like the day he’d announced his religious conversion. Only this time it was no joke. This time he was quite possibly dead.

“I love you both,” Jeanette said to us with tears in her eyes, “but please, stay the hell out of my way.” Once again it was up to her to respond to the world press, and she did so, lighting up one Virginia Slim after another.

People were standing outside their offices crying, holding each other for comfort. Never one to have a grip on her emotions anyway, Shawnee broke down sobbing, contrary to the fact that she had never stopped being terrified of the man.

Less than twelve months had passed since my father’s death, so I no longer had to imagine how this was supposed to feel. But as we waited for word on Larry’s condition, I realized that this wasn’t quite the same. Maybe he had just given me a thousand dollars, but all I felt was numb.

In the end, Larry didn’t die of course––he was left paralyzed from the waist down. In the weeks after the shooting, as he lay in a hospital bed suffering, his business suffered, too. His advisers had been right about the weakness of his finances. It had been a nice idea, wanting to compensate his employees at the highest level possible––unlike the owners of the Kentucky coal mines––but it wasn’t wise. Unhappy with the bizarre mixture of religion and porn, his readers had been turning to alternate––no doubt less challenging––forms of entertainment. Over the past several months, they’d been canceling their subscriptions, while sales at the newsstands had plummeted. Recession came knocking on the door at Larry Flynt Publications. In fact, it knocked the door right down.

Shawnee got the axe first, shortly after the shooting, despite her degree in journalism and a highly successful beauty makeover that had pleased her boyfriend very much. I lasted another couple of months, up until the premier issue of OHIO Magazine finally hit the newsstands in May. As I left the building that last night, I stopped to bid Althea a fond farewell. In spite of everything that had happened, she was still hanging there smiling at me upside down. No longer afraid of her, I just smiled right back.

© 2001 by John Cain

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In This Issue