Jim Goad calls. He's in New York and wants to get together. I'm having a terrible week, and three, four nights in a row I screw things up. When we finally meet for lunch, I half-expect him to want to beat me. I mean, I'm bigger than he is, but he's got the rep. And the rap sheet.
Instead, he's extremely polite about the whole thing, a model of gentlemanly forbearance. A couple of things occur to me.
(1) Jim Goad knows a thing or two about terrible weeks.
(2) Jim Goad may in fact be the bad man his wife, his girlfriend, the State of Oregon and numerous others said he is, but he's also a man of principle. You may disagree with his ethics, they may even repulse you, but you can't deny that he's thought them through, can articulate them with unusual clarity, tries to live by them more faithfully than you live by yours and if you debated him on them he'd probably kick your ass.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
Ugliness is God.
Jim Goad is easily the most notorious character ever to emerge from zine publishing. The four annual issues of ANSWER Me! he and his wife Debbie produced 1991-'94 remain legendary benchmarks of angry, ugly, outrageous self-publishing. (You can see samples on his website, jimgoad.com.) Apparently advocating rape, violence against women and suicide, among other hot topics, ANSWER Me! took terms like "misanthropic" and "misogynist"–not to mention "goad"–to whole new levels of meaning. Goad's first book, The Redneck Manifesto–published in 1997 by, surprisingly, Simon & Schuster–was an extended rant about the "scapegoating" of white trash that had him branded a racist to boot.
Yet Goad's most outrageous act, so far, had nothing to do with print. In 1998 he got into a vicious fight with the girl he was fucking while his wife lay dying of cancer. The girl pressed charges. She and Goad's wife bonded, the wife claiming that he'd been beating her for years. Faced with two angry women and over 25 years behind bars, Goad copped a plea for a three-year sentence. He served 2.5 and got out last year.
His new book, with the lovely title Shit Magnet: One Man's Miraculous Ability to Absorb the World's Guilt (Feral House, 319 pages, $16.95), tells the story of his life in extremely painful detail. It was written behind bars.
Even after months on the outside, Goad, who just turned 41, still has the look of the recently released felon. He's jailhouse pale and prison-gym built, lean, with guarded eyes in a narrow face. His hair is 50s redneck, as is his blue jeans-and-wifebeater attire.
That wifebeater, of course, is a visual pun. There's something mildly, not at all off-puttingly, theatrical about Goad's entire affect. Like a lot of people with a rep, he dresses for it. I sense this is Jim Goad playing Jim Goad. I'm not at all startled to hear that as a young man in Philadelphia he wanted to come to NYU to study acting under Stella Adler.
It didn't work out. "My parents decided they didn't want their son to be a fag," he says with a tight, bitter grin. (According to the early chapters of Shit Magnet, his parents didn't want their son, period. Goad believes it's part of why he's so fucked up.)
As it turns out, Goad is playing Goad, more or less, while he's in New York: He's acting in a low-budget film, The Suzy Evans Story, playing a bad-lieutenant sort of detective who starts out protecting the battered Suzy and ends up...battering her.
"Yeah, I know," he shrugs when I give him a look. "Typecasting."
I grew cynical when belching slabs of female swineflesh insisted that I was the pig.
Shit Magnet is a relentlessly sad, ugly, hateful, raging, repellent, violent and brutally candid memoir-manifesto. It's as hard to put down as it is to read. Think Celine, or Klaus Kinski's rabid autobiography. Mostly it's about Goad working out a rationale not only for his own violence, but for a generally violent world.
He believes his own disposition toward violence began literally in the womb, when his drunken father punched his pregnant mom in the hopes of inducing her to abort. He relates a bleak and freakish childhood in Philadelphia, where he was always the smart, big-headed weirdo kid, a loner, a misanthrope from very early on. Shrinks described him as an adult's brain in a child's body; once, in his sleep, he actually seemed possessed and spoke with a woman's voice. School was torturous boredom at the hands of the nuns; his early sexual experiences were dalliances with other boys based on their reading of porn. Eventually, after getting beaten often enough–by his dad, by bullies–he learned to use his fists and fight back. He describes numerous fights in the book: some he won, some he got his ass kicked; some with guys, some with women.
He met Debbie at a Johnny Thunders concert in New York. She was 32, he was 24. He was a tormented Catholic boy from Philly, she was a morose Brooklyn Jew. She wore a button that said I HATE PEOPLE. "A girl who thinks like me," he thought. He writes:
Love is for the needy.
And we were both very needy.
Misery loves company.
And we were both intensely miserable.
Hardly anyone liked us.
But we liked each other...
So it became us...and "them."
Jimmy, Debbie...and the world.
Our motto was "share the bitterness."
The Goads were together for over a decade, a self-contained unit of misfits, making very few friends. They fled New York when Goad beat up their Brighton Beach landlord for, he says, calling Debbie "stupid." Assault charges were later dropped, but they still moved across the country, to L.A.–where, not surprisingly, they felt even more out of place. He writes:
Los Angeles, where nothing is real and everything is deadly.
Hollywood, where there are no Hollywood endings.
Debbie and I moved here from New York to mellow out.
What were we thinking?
It was in L.A. that they began to work on ANSWER Me!, earning undying fandom and/or envy in the zine world, and much outrage elsewhere. Completely antisocial, often revoltingly vicious, ANSWER Me! had repercussions far beyond its peak circulation of 13,000. Goad reveled in upsetting the politically correct, especially on issues of race and feminism. All it took was an essay like "Let's Hear It for Violence Toward Women!," which began:
"Women are only good for fucking and beating. When you get tired of fucking them, there's only one thing left to do.
"After you fuck them, they start talking. That's when you beat them. They all talk too much, especially when you don't want to hear it.
"And what do they talk about? Violence toward women. But they fail to realize that their whining is what provokes most of the violence..."
Copies of ANSWER Me! were banned or seized by customs officials in several countries. The final "Rape Issue"–one long, vehemently antifeminist rant (Goad calls it their "malevolent Meisterwerk") that argued rape is a natural, not a political, act–made national news and raised an enormous, often hilarious and usually idiotic maelstrom of protest; as Goad writes, "People swiftly reacted as if an acutely unholy event had occurred." Bookstore owners rejected and, in at least one case, actually burned copies of the issue. As ultimate (if possibly apocryphal) proof of its triumph, Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez, a Goad prison pen-pal, supposedly remarked, "Don't you think that issue went a little too far?" In the state of Washington, bookstore owners who'd displayed the issue were prosecuted on a pornography charge and acquitted on a technicality.
The Goads made the news again when a crazed gunman took 29 shots at the White House with an assault rifle, and it was claimed that he'd been influenced at least in part by ANSWER Me! And again in '96, when a young British trio with neo-Nazi leanings killed themselves, and the third ("Suicide") issue of ANSWER Me! was cited as a possible inspiration. It's said that Kurt Cobain also read that issue a few months before he offed himself. It contained a photo of a man who'd blown his head off in a manner suspiciously similar to what Cobain would do to himself.
With all that press, even if it was almost uniformly bad, it was perhaps inevitable that Goad would score a commercial book contract. But Simon & Schuster seemed mortified by his Redneck Manifesto–which argued that poor whites should be just as proud of their heritage as poor blacks–as soon as it appeared and began to be called a "racist" or "white supremacist" tract. A classically Goadian disclaimer–"I'm no fan of white supremacy–everyone knows the Jews and chinks are superior"–didn't help. The publisher arranged exactly one public reading for the author. Though a cause celebre in certain circles, the book barely dented the mainstream mediascape.
And then Goad got himself arrested.
Are you ready for this one? I hit you because I cared too much.
Misery only loves company for so long. Goad claims that over time Debbie drove him to violent rage with her depression, her constant complaining and her lack of intelligence. Addressing her in the book, he writes:
You were as dumb as a lobotomized garden slug... Your stubborn imbecility frustrated me to the point of madness. I couldn't treat you as an equal, and I resented treating you like an inferior. After a while, I felt as if I was taking care of a retarded child...You were possibly the dumbest adult with whom I've willingly spent more than five minutes.
And you were definitely the most miserable.
The first time he hit her, he slapped her. Later, he would punch her, blackening both her eyes.
I cried about that one. It tore me up to see what I'd done to the woman I said I loved. The coily-haired li'l Hebe-girl whom I'd promised never to hurt.
But a few weeks later I shoved you while in the bathroom and you fell against a towel rack, bruising your ribs.
I don't even remember why I did it...
There were other violent outbursts, forever marking him as a wife-beater. Debbie would later claim the abuse became daily, which he has always strenuously denied.
I ask him: "Is Jim Goad a wife-beater? And if not, what's the difference between Jim Goad and a wife-beater?" Prompting this exchange:
JG: "Okay, define beating."
JS: "Did Jim Goad regularly beat on his wife?"
JG: "Define beating. The dictionary defines beating as repeated striking."
JS: "There you go."
JG: "Never did that with my wife. Hit her maybe 10 to a dozen times over 10 to a dozen years, and would gladly trade being hit as many times as I hit her with being slogged with her neuroses. And you could hook me up to a lie detector test and see if that's true. I know what it's like to be hit–big fucking deal. A lot worse ways to suffer than being hit."
These weren't beatings in the sense that I never hit you repeatedly during the same incident. It was just one desperate lunge each time. None of it was premeditated. It was always quick and instinctual.
And I hate myself for doing it.
And I hate what you did that led up to it.
And then Debbie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And Goad started cheating on her with an ANSWER Me! groupie, Anne Ryan. Ryan put out her own misanthropic zines and handed out personal business cards describing herself as a "Psychotic Neo-Nazi Bitch With a Whip." She turned out to be a lot worse than that for Goad. Shit Magnet narrates–from Goad's point of view, of course–an intense, psycho affair in minute, painful, degraded detail. "Sweet Dracula girl," he calls her. "Fifteen years younger than me and a thousand times more fucked-up."
Goad admits that he hit Ryan first, but claims that as their relationship deteriorated they took to beating each other up pretty regularly. They fought in public, were arrested and released. When she wouldn't stop fighting and started threatening to kill him, he took out a restraining order against her. He says she continued to cling and "stalk" him anyway. They had their last, savage fight in his car in the hills outside Portland, where he left her by the road.
Because he'd had her in his car, Goad faced tough kidnapping as well as assault charges, potentially topping out at over 25 years. After 7.5 months of pretrial incarceration, during which Ryan and the dying Debbie formed their bond and virtually all the media portrayed Goad as the blackest of woman-beating blackguards, he copped his plea. (Ryan would later do a couple of months on an unrelated assault charge of her own.)
Goad has never expressed a scintilla of remorse. Asked if he's sorry for beating Ryan, he tells me, "Absolutely not. I enjoyed it."
Now I know why women have a hole between their legs. That's where they hide all their problems.
But a guy isn't supposed to hit a woman, I say. "The guy's not supposed to hit a woman," he counters, "but it's okay for a guy to hit a weaker guy. I mean, it has nothing to do with physical weakness. Woman are 'sacred' [in this society]. This idea that they're second-class citizens is bullshit. They live longer, they don't go to jail for the same crimes, they don't have to go to war. It's bullshit. They get better bathrooms. Anybody who says women are second-class citizens should go into a male and female public bathroom, and come out and tell me with a straight face that women are second-class citizens."
Yeah, but you're still not supposed to hit a woman.
This belief has "nothing to do with Strength v. Weakness," Goad writes, "and everything to do with Man v. Woman."
If I had assaulted, say, an eight-foot-tall Negro gentleman as many times as Anne attacked me, and the Negro gent finally hauls off and pulverizes me, everyone would think I deserved it, even though the eight-foot Negro is stronger relative to me than I am compared to Anne.
If I had broken the nose of a man smaller and weaker than Anne, would anyone think I deserved life in prison?
Well, it could be said that a gentleman hits neither a woman nor a smaller guy.
"H.L. Mencken said a gentleman is a man who never hits a woman without provocation," Goad replies.
He utterly rejects any argument that men are more prone to physical violence than women.
"Every study of family violence that's ever been done has seen it neck and neck–or women committing more violence than males," he argues. "Does the justice system reflect that? Women do as much damage with a frying pan in their hand, or a knife or a blunt instrument, as any man." The lopsided law "has nothing to do with relative physical strength, and everything to do with female sanctity, and male scumminess, or males being subhuman compared to females, and guys get blamed for it."
He puts it succinctly in Shit Magnet:
When Lorena Bobbitt sliced off her husband's bratwurst, comedians joked about it for a year.
Imagine the laughter if he'd mutilated her vagina.
"I'll hit anyone who's seriously threatening my life," he tells me, "and that's what happened, and that's what sent me to prison."
You can't get elected these days without promising to smash criminals' testicles under a pile-driver.
You faggot cowards.
After the county jail, Goad spent a year in a minimum security prison, a kind of dorm he shared with 400 other inmates. He was later sent to a maximum security facility for fighting with another inmate. There it was two guys in a cell 5.5 by 7.5 feet, with bunks less wide than the table in the diner where he and I sat having lunch. It was small enough that he could easily stretch and touch all four walls.
"I found the minimum security prison a lot worse than the maximum," he says. In his tiny cell in the maximum security prison, "at least there was some, some semblance of privacy," as opposed to the open dorm living. "Dostoyevsky said the worst thing about prison was forced communal existence. I mean I hate going out, I hate socializing. So when you're forced to cohabitate with a thousand other guys constantly... That was the worst part, just having to constantly brush up against these imbeciles." In Shit Magnet he describes his fellow inmates as "Shockingly illiterate. One slow-lidded, drooling troglodyte after the next. Men whose mental energy couldn't power a wristwatch. Ugly, stupid, belching, conscienceless, unfeeling, driven-by-instinct, worthless turd dumplings whose only purpose in life is to remind us that forced sterilization maybe wasn't such a bad idea."
Still, Goad says that contrary to the Oz image of constant violence and sexual aggression, being in prison is "like a monastery. At least in Oregon, and Oregon may be an exception, but you don't have the gang rape and the gang culture and the air of hostility. Everyone really is miserable enough without having to create more trauma. Everyone wants to be left alone. It's the most respectful place I've ever been in my life. People apologize when they bump into you. Never happens out here." He found the holding pens at the county jail "a lot more stressful" than real prison. In the county lockup, "those people are being dragged off the streets all dope-sick and they don't know if they're getting out, if they're ever getting out. In prison people know how long they're there, and everyone who was a junkie is cleaned up at that point. People are cleaner and in better shape than they are in jail."
In Oregon, unlike some states, inmates are allowed to receive a variety of reading materials, but still it's "really difficult to get anything controversial. So the big irony was that I wasn't able to receive any of my own writing because it might have a bad influence on me."
Goad says that black inmates preferred to be around the openly racist white ones, because at least they knew where they were coming from. "One black inmate after the next told me that the only whites they respected were the Nazis. Initially I was totally shocked seeing these guys with White on one triceps and Pride on the other sitting at tables playing cards with the blackest of the black inmates. But the truth is, in prison non-racists don't get respect from anybody. They're considered nerds or weaklings. It's considered a virtue to have esteem for your heritage in prison. I mean, you have so very little else in there, you focus on those sort of tribal identities."
Indisputable proof of life's worthlessness is that it always ends.
Since his release last year Goad's been back in Portland, where he got a job that, compared to past escapades, sounds almost staid: He edits and writes for Exotic, which he describes as "a free guide to the Northwest sex industry–you know, escort girls and strip clubs." Not a bad spot for a con. He's got a new young girlfriend and knows that in general he needs to stay out of fights and out of trouble.
"What do girls think of you now?" I ask him. "Jim Goad, the famous woman-beater?"
"Well, it hasn't detracted from my appeal," he replies. "Numerically, I've had more girls since I got out than I had in my entire life before."
"But you can't be winning a lot of ladyfriends with your opinions."
"You'd be surprised," he counters. "So many of them find it refreshing that a guy's not ashamed to be a fucking guy. I stayed with some friends the first couple of days after I got out. We went to some little hipster restaurant/bar, and all the men looked so severely fucking emasculated, just slump-shouldered–the women seemed dominant and in control. I just remember being disgusted.
"Power always fills a vacuum. It's understandable that there'd be so many lesbians and dominant women with these mealymouthed, self-hating, anti-male guys. Of course that's not gonna be appealing. I don't mince words. A lot of people find that incredibly refreshing, and–it's a gay word–but 'liberating' almost. 'Somebody's finally saying what I've been too terrified to say.' Why are they terrified to say it? Because you get demonized like Jim Goad got."
"In the end," I ask him, "what did Debbie think of you?"
"I think Debbie thought I was evil," he replies. "She thought that Anton LaVey, GG Allin and El Duce were her guardian angels in heaven, and that I was going to hell. I wish I could view the world that simplistically. In the end, how did I view her? As a fucked-up, sad person."
"And what if somebody says to you, 'Jim Goad, you got all this stuff in here about your terrible childhood, your horrible dad, your horrible mom, am I supposed to take that as an excuse for your being a woman-hating fuckhead now?'"
"What I say is, why do I need to give an excuse to anybody? I guess I just wrote a whole book justifying myself, but it was to myself. It's like I said at the end, 'You all need my forgiveness.' I think I was imprinted with some pretty wacky, heavy, hairy, violent situations when I was young, and even when I was prenatal–it definitely had an effect. Excuse? No. All I've ever said is things are complicated. The idea of this is good, this is bad, you cut it right down the middle here–that's retarded. It is a big mess, but people can't handle a big mess. I guess we have simple minds, we can't handle the utter horrifying complexity of everything, the fact that there aren't clear-cut good guys and bad guys. People suffer overload from that. It's all a big cesspool. The tide flushes this way and that way, you squeeze the balloon on this end and it pops out that end. I think early experiences had an effect on who I grew up to be and why I'm insanely driven and insanely defensive of myself and my actions, 'cause I think I've put a lot of thought into what I believe and who I am and the biggest lament of my professional life is for all the shit people talk about me, I've never had one fucking shit-talker ever agree to a public debate, ever, or anything fucking near it. It's like, if I'm so stupid, if I'm so easily dismissed, if my ideas are so laughable, why don't you just make a mockery of me in public? It's like foxhole syndrome, they'll take a shot and then hide."
For someone who says he rejects all moral systems, Goad has worked out for himself some very well-articulated ethics. They're not everybody's ethics, but he's got them.
"You know," he says, "rare is the true sociopath. People laugh about honor among thieves. But the convict code to me is an incredibly moral thing. Why are rats and snitches hated in prison? 'Cause every one of them is guilty of something. They're trying to get out of whatever they're charged with by pinning it on someone else. And to me, that's the ultimate act of immorality."