A few days ago, I started reading Giancarlo Granda’s book, Off the Deep End: Jerry and Becki Falwell and the Collapse of an Evangelical Dynasty. For those who don’t know, Giancarlo Granda was the infamous “pool boy” who had a rather kinky affair with Becki Falwell, while Jerry Falwell, Jr. sat by and watched. The affair, which began in 2012, was in the news during the height of the pandemic. People were buzzing about how this powerful couple, supposedly evangelical Christians leading a very famous Baptist university in Virginia, were drinking, partying, and having wild sex with a young guy from Miami.
I’m nowhere near finished reading the book now, but I don’t think it’ll take too long to get through it. It started off kind of slow, but then jumped into high gear. Just this morning over breakfast, I got a couple of chapters further into the sordid saga. I read aloud to Bill and we talked about Granda’s story, as well as his excuses.
As I read about how the Falwells lured the handsome 20 year old man (circa 2012) into their world, I feel a strange mixture of disgust, shock, amazement, and basic empathy for Granda. He admits early on that he was fascinated with business and the idea of making a lot of money. He was a good looking, ambitious, and somewhat naive guy, looking to break in with the high rollers of Miami, and he took steps to make that idea come to fruition. That’s why he was working as a “pool boy” at the Fontainebleau, a luxury hotel in Miami, where rich and famous people hang out to relax and make business deals.
Granda didn’t know much at all about the Falwells when he was approached by Becki, an attractive brunette with brown eyes who was, at that time, in her late 40s. He just knew that anyone staying at the Fontainebleau had lots of money… enough to rent a daybed for $150, run up four or five figure restaurant and bar tabs and tip accordingly. Becki was fit and attractive, and Granda was a young man in his sexual prime. So when she invited him to meet her at a Days Inn, he agreed– even though she added that her husband wanted to watch them together.
I suppose he figured this was a one in a lifetime opportunity, one of life’s little adventures that can only come up for the young and daring. Maybe it would lead to a lucrative business deal. Like a lot of young folks who work in hospitality, Granda was focused on making money and connections. I’m sure the prospect of having sex with an older woman also appealed to him, even if Granda wasn’t too keen on the idea of her 50 year old husband watching them and jerking off in the shadows.
According to Granda, Becki quickly attached herself to him… and in a weird way, so did her husband. The two did all they could to stroke Granda’s ego, to get him to continue having the affair. Later, they invited Granda into their business dealings, and were it not for the inevitable implosion of the relationship, he might be a high ranking executive at Liberty University today. But there was a big scandal, which caused Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his wife to fall very publicly from grace.
As I was reading Granda’s book this morning, I remembered the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which happened in the late 1990s. Lewinsky, for those who don’t know, was an ambitious White House intern from California. She wasn’t exactly an innocent, blushing virgin when she encountered then President Bill Clinton. In 2ooo, Lewinsky was a guest on Larry King Live, and she admitted that when she was barely out of high school, she had an affair with a 40 year old married man. So, although she was a very young woman when she served as an unpaid White House intern in the 1990s, Monica had some experience. And she knew damned well Bill Clinton was, and still is, a married man when she engaged in oral sex with him in the Oval Office.
Still… I will concede that it was probably difficult for her to consider not giving Clinton what he wanted. It’s not like she didn’t have prior experience. She had big dreams and lofty goals, and Clinton was the President of the United States! I’m sure, in her mind, blowing the Commander in Chief might lead to good things for her future. Talk about landing a big fish! In that way, she and Giancarlo had something in common, I guess.
Of course, Monica in the wake of her scandal with Bill Clinton, wound up being the butt of jokes for years. People had no respect for her, and she was relentlessly slut shamed and lambasted for her inappropriate relations with Bill Clinton. By contrast, I don’t remember a lot of people being quite as harsh regarding the Clintons.
Sure, many Republicans were deriding Bill Clinton for being immoral and unfaithful. Curiously, a lot of those same people have few issues with Donald Trump’s disgusting philandering behaviors. But, I didn’t hear a lot of people hurling shame at Clinton for accepting sexual favors from a woman young enough to be his daughter. That attitude certainly didn’t come from people who voted for him. I remember a lot of them saying that Clinton’s sex life was irrelevant, as they ridiculed Lewinsky for sullying their hero’s reputation.
Eventually the whole Clinton/Lewinsky sex scandal thing… blew over (see what I did there?). We don’t talk that much about Monica Lewinsky now. She’s 50 years old and living in California. But Giancarlo Granda brought up her name in his book, and I couldn’t help but kind of nod… as I’d thought of her, too, as he related his story about how he got trapped in an extremely inappropriate sexual relationship with the wife of the now former president of a huge evangelical university in my home state of Virginia.
But then I thought about the situation some more. I determined that Granda’s situation with the Falwells actually wasn’t that much like Lewinsky’s with the Clintons. First of all, Granda didn’t really know much about the Falwells when he ran into them at his job in Miami. Monica Lewinsky, by contrast, certainly knew who Bill Clinton was. He was the very obviously married President of the United States.
While the Falwells are also married, Becki invited Granda to engage in sexual acts with her with her husband’s cooperation and express encouragement. Indeed, Jerry Falwell, Jr. actually watched the two of them doing their business. Hillary, on the other hand, didn’t consent to Monica’s affair with Bill Clinton.
Secondly, the relationship Monica Lewinsky had with Bill Clinton was relatively short lived. There were nine encounters between November 1995 and March 1997, none of which involved sexual intercourse. Granda writes that he never had intercourse with Becki Falwell, but there was everything else, and the relationship didn’t end when the sex part was over. Granda was involved in the Falwell’s business dealings, and continued an emotional relationship with them.
And finally… while I don’t condone rich, powerful people taking advantage of others who are much younger and ambitious, there is a difference between how men and women are viewed in these situations. I know a lot of people are trying to work toward gender equality in the United States, but the truth is, there’s still a powerful force trying to keep women down. A woman who has an affair with a married man is still often considered a homewrecking whore. A man who has an affair with a “cougar” is often considered a lucky guy. And a lot of people, looking at what Granda got out of the deal, would say that he was lucky. This was a young, handsome, healthy, ambitious man who was looking for a way into the rich and fabulous lifestyle. He found a way through the Falwells… and all he had to do was stroke Becki Falwell’s ego and keep her entertained.
Lest anyone misunderstand me– I’m not saying I think Granda is lucky, because I don’t. I’m saying other people– those who are a lot more cynical than I am– would say he was. I do think the Falwells took advantage of Granda and even victimized him on some level, but in fairness to the Falwells, Granda was an adult at age 20. He knew Becki Falwell was a guest at the hotel where he was working. He knew she was married. Like a lot of people, he let his desire for money, power, and sexual gratification override his common sense. Yes, he was young and naive, and the Falwells were rich and powerful, but he had to know that on some level, what he was doing was wrong, and could potentially to lead to disaster. The Falwells actually brought Granda into their family and treated him like a son– which is, in its own way, especially gross. If he was like a son to them, that would make Becki like his “mom”. Eew.
Monica Lewinsky certainly wasn’t innocent in her situation, either. But she got a hell of a lot more flak for what she did than Granda ever could. The only reason people are talking about Granda today is because he wrote a bombshell book. It’s not even a super popular book, from what I can tell. People were making trashy Monica Lewinsky jokes years after her affair with the former POTUS was revealed. When she resurfaced a few years ago to give a TED Talk, the jokes and criticisms began anew. While her notoriety helped her in some ways, it also significantly hindered her, particularly when she wanted to be hired for certain jobs in communications and marketing.
I don’t know what leads some people to have sexual relationships with people much older than they are. Monica was 18 years old when she got involved with the 40 year old man. What did they have in common? My guess is that she was looking for someone mature who could provide emotional and financial security of some kind. While it was legal for her to be with a man that age, my guess is that the guy manipulated her. Later, when she had a chance to do sexual favors for Clinton, it probably didn’t seem that wrong or inappropriate to her. Again, it wasn’t like she didn’t have any prior experience.
Granda writes that he was manipulated, groomed, and victimized, too. But he freely admits that his motivation was making money and getting an inroad into the high level real estate business world. In both cases, I think the young people involved were left with significant regrets. Granda claims he was “used”, but I would submit that he used the Falwells, too. He saw them as a ticket to financial success in the business world, even though they were a married couple and in charge of a huge Christian university.
I hope to be reviewing Granda’s book soon. I just wanted to write about this theme while it was fresh in my head. Granda does bring up Lewinsky and compares his situation to hers. There are some similarities, but I think the lingering effects of Monica’s case were much more serious in the long run. She’s a woman who got involved with one of the most recognizable and respected people on the planet. Clinton never made her part of his family, or brought her into the family business. When it was over between them, she was branded a homewrecker, while Clinton’s reputation wasn’t damaged that much at all. In fact, check out this sympathetic song…
Granda is a man who didn’t even really know much about the Falwells before he fell into their trap. My guess is that even before this scandal happened, Jerry Falwell, Jr. had far fewer admirers than either Bill or Hillary Clinton still have. And some of us– myself included– had never even heard of Becki Falwell before this situation came to light. But this story is just a reminder that a lot of people in high places are probably folks you wouldn’t actually want to know… because so many of them got to where they are by doing yucky, hypocritical, immoral things.
The Bible even tells us this…
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
I’m not a particularly religious person myself, and clearly neither are the Falwells. But they sure had no problem using the God fearing to fly the Liberty University corporate jet to get to the Fontainebleau, where they met “poor”, “hapless” Giancarlo, looking for a ticket to get to where they were. It makes me glad I decided to go to a “godless” public university, where I had the complete freedom to do as I chose, and my tuition dollars didn’t go toward satisfying the former university president’s exotic and bizarre sexual desires. Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s conduct sure doesn’t seem like very Christlike behavior to me.