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Flatbush Flashback

Bernie on Beaver Street

Bernhard Goetz stands before the microphone, contemplating a copy of Beaver Street. Photo © Robert Rosen.
In analyzing the events of Bloomsday on Beaver Street, it's best, I think, to begin with the elephant in the room--the room being the upstairs bar of the Killarney Rose and the elephant being Bernhard H. Goetz. I suppose it's possible that some people reading this or even some people who were at the event don’t know who Goetz is.

Allow me to recap: On December 22, 1984, a time when crime in New York City seemed to be spiraling out of control, Bernhard Goetz, a self-employed electronics engineer who lived in Greenwich Village and had recently been mugged, boarded a downtown No. 2 train at 14th Street. Four black teenagers accosted him, demanding money. Goetz pulled out an unlicensed .38-caliber revolver and shot them, wounding all of them and crippling one. As one of the teenagers was lying on the floor, Goetz is reported to have said, “You seem to be all right, here’s another,” and shot at him again, apparently missing. He then fled the train and went on the lam for eight days before turning himself into police in New Hampshire.

Some people saw Goetz as a folk hero, a real life Paul Kersey, the Charles Bronson character in Death Wish, while others, believing that the teenagers were panhandlers, not muggers, saw him as violently insane and racist. (Years later, one of the assailants would admit that they did intend to mug Goetz because he looked like “easy bait.”)

The media labeled Goetz “The Subway Vigilante.”

On June 16, 1987, Bloomsday, a jury acquitted Goetz of attempted murder and first-degree assault, but convicted him of third degree criminal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to one year in jail, one year of psychiatric treatment, five years of probation, 200 hours community service, and fined $5,000.

The events transformed Goetz into an enduring celebrity, one who paparazzi still photograph when they spot him on the street. In 2001, he ran for mayor of New York.

And Goetz, it so happens, is a good friend of one of my former coworkers, Joyce Snyder, who plays a significant role in Beaver Street. (I call her “Pam Katz” in the book.) Snyder, a devotee of John Waters-style bad taste, has written and produced four classic porno films, Public Affairs, and Raw Talent I-III.

In Raw Talent III, she pays tribute to Goetz with a scene that’s, arguably, the epitome (or nadir) of bad taste. The Goetz character, played by Jerry Butler, is accosted on the subway by four black women. He takes out his penis and masturbates on them, and then says to one, “You look like you could use another,” and ejaculates again.

“Bernie wants to read,” Snyder told me before the event. “Is that okay?”

“Sounds insane,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

The plan was for Goetz to read a passage from Chapter 9, “Divas with Beavers,” where Snyder/Katz meets with the publisher, Chip Goodman, as they go over the mechanical boards for X-Rated Cinema magazine. It’s an edgy scene involving sexual harassment, photos of enormous penises, and incest. “Bernie,” Snyder told me, was going to practice the reading.

Well, if you were there, then you know that “Bernie” didn’t read from the book. He stood before the microphone, Beaver Street in hand, and launched into a disjointed monologue about how he didn’t want to read because it was about “office politics,” and he only wanted to talk about the book because, he said, “That’s what makes sense to me.”

“Just read the book, Bernie!” Snyder cried out.

Goetz ignored her, and rambled on for a few minutes before leaving the stage to a smattering of polite applause.

Goetz, however, believes he electrified the audience, and this may, at least in part, be true. I, for one, was stunned. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to press the button on my camera.
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