By Chris Lane
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"It's something to do when there's nothing you can do," Buster says.
In fact, popular books on sexuality are one of the main fonts of Martinez's wisdom. Although he has held many jobs since he immigrated from Reynosa 25 years ago, Martinez is the first to admit that all his training about sexuality has been informal -- originally learned from firsthand experience, then later by compulsive study of every sexology tome he could find written in Spanish.
Waiting in his cubicle before the show begins, Martinez suddenly disappears for a minute to gather his reference books. When he returns, he's respectfully cradling a stack of heavily perused volumes. There's a dense medical text by Krupp, Schroeder, Tierney and McGee titled Current Medical Prognosis and Treatment. There's also Life, Love and Sex, a set of three Spanish sex encyclopedias that look to be the equivalent of a Time-Life series. Kinsey, Kegel, Masters and Johnson, and other establishment authors, Martinez says, fill his library shelves at home.
So widely read is he, he claims, that he's just about exhausted the entire literature on sexology. That's why today he reads psychology, parapsychology and spiritual texts. Everything he tells people, Martinez insists, is documented somewhere. And when he's in doubt, he'll consult doctors. If he's wrong? Well, says Martinez, he'll just correct himself on the next show.
That's not enough for some critics. "People consider it entertainment," says one colleague in Hispanic radio, who asked not to be identified. "The audience he's targeting are Hispanics who are not assimilated or educated ... in my opinion, he is giving medical advice without the expertise to back it up. I think it's gross misrepresentation. I'm sorry he hasn't been called to the mat on it. I don't know if the FCC doesn't understand [Spanish], or hasn't been following his show closely enough."
"I know it's generating numbers for the station," she adds with exasperation. "As long as he does that, the station's happy."
That very day, the radio professional says, she heard Martinez mouthing off on a topic he couldn't possibly know about. "He's telling some woman that if her vagina isn't lubricated she's got some kind of hormone imbalance," she says. "How can he say that? I feel sorry for the people who buy into that." Like other critics, the radio professional also takes a dim view of Martinez's penchant for recommending natural and herbal remedies on his program. Since Martinez owns two herbal healing shops as a side business, she complains, "It's like his show is one big advertisement."
Other Hispanic leaders, though, especially those in grassroots education, have a more positive take on Martinez's offerings. For one thing, they note, he educates listeners on AIDS and, in knotty cases, recommends counseling and second opinions. He also advises women in abusive marriages to get help or to leave, a radical idea for traditional Latino culture. Francisco Lopez of the Central American refugee group CARECEN also points out that he's never heard Martinez claim to be accredited; instead, Martinez simply says what the symptoms sound like to him.
"In our community, it's a taboo to talk openly about sex," Lopez says. "I think he offers a very important source of information, and breaks that taboo. He uses the concepts of popular Mexican humor so that people listen, and then they learn."
Truth is, rather than knowing no limits, Martinez derives his success from the exact opposite: an exquisite and intimate knowledge of what boundaries are all about. He consistently dances over frontiers his audience desperately wants someone to cross. And just as shrewdly, he tends to recognize the boundaries that keep him legal. Perhaps most deftly of all, Martinez also intuits which transgressions are so over-the-top that it's unlikely anyone will take time to challenge them. It's a delicate art that has proved uniquely successful in radio -- but much less so elsewhere. Take television, for example.
One Latino Houstonian (who, yes, asked not to be identified) remembers with a mixture of laughter and embarrassment Martinez's ill-fated attempt at a TV show in 1992. "Carlos was insisting that human semen is the best thing for a woman's complexion, the oldest line in the book," the man says. "Then he started going to all the ladies in the front row of his audience, asking if they didn't agree. Of course every last one of them looked mortified and pretended they didn't know what he was talking about.
"He might have gotten away with it on the radio, but on TV, it was totally gross. You just can't do that same kind of humor on television."
When confronted with this story, Martinez momentarily loses some of his buoyant good humor. Though he smiles at the naughtiness of the tale, he looks more than a tad irked that someone has questioned his facts. Then he rallies. "It's true, you know," he says. "There are statistics. In Hollywood, 90 percent of the actresses buy face cream made with human sperm. It was reported some time ago, in an article I think by UPI.
"The [women] don't contract young men for this, of course," Martinez adds matter-of-factly. "They go to sperm banks."