The other night my wife and I were in Lexington to get our copy of Larry Flynt's new book, Sex Lies, and Politics, signed by the author. It felt almost like a pilgrimage: I am, for good or ill, a writer, and Flynt has done more to defend my right to use any words I care to and the right of publishers to put them on paper than any other American I can name.
He has paid a heavy price for insisting that all words be in a writer's tool box. He hasn't walked since March 1978, when a loon shot Flynt for running a collection of interracial pictures in Hustler magazine.
Later, Flynt went to jail when some would-be censors near Cincinnati got overly worked up about his magazine.
He has paid more money in legal fees than most of us will ever earn to defend himself against lawsuits filed by intellectual midgets like Jerry Falwell, who can't grasp the concept of satire.
In Flynt's newest book, he skewers the current crop of wing-nuts who have nothing but contempt for the First Amendment. Sex, Lies and Politics is a good read; anyone who cares more about political truth than political spin ought to read it.
To get my copy signed required walking into the new Hustler Hollywood store off Winchester Road. The store, owned by Flynt's little brother Jimmy, is the one the Urban county Government wants to shut down.
It's clean and well-lit and, on the night of the book signing, fairly crowded. Nobody was naked though. I've seen more skin walking through the mall on a hot day. Singles and couples were wandering around looking at DVDs, clothing, ashtrays, coffee mugs, T-shirts and yes, sex toys.
At least two people were at the door at all times, carding anyone who looked even vaguely under age. A slew of magazines were for sale, though most of them were a long way from Hustler. Few people know how many different types of magazines Larry Flynt publishes.
More copies of Sex, Lies and Politics were sold than anything else.
It's hard for me to understand what has the city so lathered up over such a well-managed, upscale retail outlet. Someone named Pam Honchell and an organization called A Better Lexington are upset about Hustler Hollywood, but I'd be willing to bet fewer people attend that group's meetings than were in the store to get books signed.
A few newspaper articles have implied that the problem is the store's location, within a mile or so of an Interstate 75 exchange. Nestled in an area overrun by motels, box stores and fast-food outlets, the building is arguably more attractive than the rest of the neighborhood. But there are no schools or churches anywhere near Hustler Hollywood, and I can't imagine that it will be offensive to any of the other businesses there.
If I lived in Lexington, I would be really angry that the city was investing so much time and money in trying to tell Jimmy Flynt that he can't sell T-shirts with dirty words on them, magazines with pictures of naked people, "three-speed sapphire thongs" or any of the other items visible on his shelves when I was there. The city's gonna spend a whole lot on legal fees, and it's going to lose.
The biggest reason it will lose is that Larry Flynt has been fighting censorship and discriminatory city governments since before some of the clerks in his store were born. He has spent a lot of lawyers' fees establishing the right of Americans to read or watch or wear pretty much whatever they like.
He has always won.
And you can bet that all that legal experience and expertise is going to be turned loose to defend his brother. Larry and Jimmy Flynt were, after all, a couple of Eastern Kentucky hillbillies before they were big-time publishers and retailers. Family takes care of family where they -- and I -- come from.
If my mayor and my government wasted citizens' tax dollars on such a foolish quest, such a quixotic defense of outdated puritanism, I'd remember how they flushed all that money down a figurative drain the next time I voted.
Maybe you will, too.