Afternoon Delight

Every weekday from 3 to 7 p.m., KLAT's Carlos Martinez loves to talk about sex. Many in his Spanish-speaking audience adore him. But not everyone's happy with what he has to say.

Or they ponder the virgin who said her gringo boyfriend showed his "love" for her by abruptly exposing himself. Martinez explained to the mystified girl that her boyfriend didn't respect her, and then warned her that North American men are like that -- cold and calculating.

In addition to gossip, Martinez's show has also been the subject of complaints, denunciations and legal threats opposing everything from its raunchy humor to the legitimacy of its advice. At least one activist, Martinez says, gathered names on a petition that denounced his vulgarity to the FCC (the petition went nowhere). Yet judging from the calls his show receives, the people Martinez has the greatest effect on are among Houston's most silent. They are the recent immigrants, particularly women, the ones who don't speak English and hardly ever leave their apartments. They are the shy illegals who came from villages in Michoacan and Monterrey to work the night shift cleaning offices. The women with whom no one's ever discussed even the idea of sexuality, much less their own sexuality.

And they're surprised to find that when Martinez finally does this, instead of humiliating them, he makes them laugh.

In the modest transmitting cubicle on the Northwest Loop where Martinez spends most afternoons, Thursdays are special.

"The Thursday theme's a bit controversial," Martinez, a well-proportioned, diminutive man of about five feet five inches, explains. He's dressed in what could be called sensuous casual, a meticulous assemblage of rich, subtle fabrics in black, teal and soft leather. There's nothing aggressive about Martinez, yet nothing fey either. His thick, salt-and-pepper hair is cut neatly, though not conservatively; his fingernails are unostentatiously buffed to a dull glow. His voice, also sensuous casual, is lulling, expressive, slightly nasal, but with a bass note that makes it almost mesmerizing. As if to accent the perfect balance of inner comfort manifested in both his attire and attitude, Martinez spends his four on-air hours in a singularly uncomfortable pose: poised on the edge of a backless, armless stool, feet barely grazing the floor.

"Thursday," Martinez says just before airtime, "is our tribute to 'Manuelita.' " And he smiles. With that, Martinez's assistant, a young man in his twenties who expressionlessly monitors each day's show from a seat at the control panel, clicks on a song. It's a raucous ode to a damsel called Manuelita; but in Spanish, "manuelita" is also a way to say "little hand." Thursday's theme is one of Martinez's favorite topics: masturbation.

The phones start to ring. One of Martinez's first petitioners today calls herself Letty -- a pseudonym, and a device that Martinez has to constantly request, remind about and sometimes impose on callers. Left to themselves, they'd often as not just tell him their real names.

"Hola, Carlitos!" Letty says eagerly.
"Letty, what can I do for you?"
Letty, it seems, is a widow. She's excruciatingly lonely. Every morning, she tells Martinez, she wakes up depressed and in pain for lack of sex.

"Of course you do," Martinez says soothingly. But, he assures her, her misery is just a sign that she's got a naturally strong, vital constitution. "Your ovaries must be swollen," Martinez coos. "What you have is a sexual pressure that you have to release or you'll do yourself harm."

"Sí?"
"Tell me, Letty," Martinez says kindly. "You haven't heard of autosatisfaccion?"

Letty sounds flustered. No, she says, she hasn't heard of it. Well, maybe E the thing is, she's not interested, she confesses. It's just not the same as real sex.

The gauntlet's been thrown now: Martinez starts gently quizzing Letty for details about her sex life since she's been widowed. Actually, she tells him, she's been widowed three times.

"Letty!" Martinez yelps comically. "Letty, you didn't finish them all off with your appetites, did you?" Letty laughs with a bravado she didn't have a few moments earlier. Martinez than asks Letty about the last man she slept with; it was months ago, she says, unhappily, just someone she met.

"How would you rate him?" Martinez asks. It's one of his most frequent questions. "On a scale of one to ten."

"Ten."
"Ten? How long did you spend caressing?"
"Three hours."
"Three hours? He caressed you for three hours?"
"No. He was lying there accepting caresses from me."

"How can you give this guy a ten?" Martinez wails, gesticulating in the silent studio with his gold-and-diamond ringed hand. "Letty, how can you give him a ten when he's really a zero?"

Martinez loves asking this question.
Woman after woman will call him complaining about painful sex, fear of sex, apathy about sex, and each one will tell Martinez that as a lover, her spouse rates a nine or ten. Martinez then probes a little deeper, and when he hears what he knows he will -- about men who don't kiss, men who prize seduction but not lovemaking -- he denounces them as zeros, then gently repeats his mantra. Women are not furniture, Martinez says. You are sexual beings whose needs must be respected.

That's just what he tells Letty. On the other end of the line she laughs shyly. Martinez elaborates, telling her she's being used by pickups who don't know her or care about her. Better, he says, to try autosatisfaccion.

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