By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
Such frivolity is short-lived. Within minutes, Marvin is beating the Clinton-and-Lewinsky drum again, and after repeatedly urging listeners to phone in to volunteer their definition of marriage (an institution he says Clinton and Colorado governor Roy Romer have both trashed), an elderly-sounding gentleman finally does his bidding. Rather than expressing outrage at the behavior of Clinton and Romer, however, the caller offers an everybody-does-it argument that he augments by mentioning a decade-old rumor that ex-president George Bush had a mistress.
Marvin, who until this moment has been on his best behavior, changes from an articulate moralist to Ralph Kramden about to send Alice to the moon. Marvin has recently gone down two pants sizes (the reason is stress, he says), but he's still a formidable slab of humanity, especially when enraged. "What's her name?" he barks, his naturally loud voice rising in volume. "You don't know, do you? Well, when it comes to Bill Clinton's mistresses, I know some names. Does Gennifer Flowers ring a bell, oldster? Huh?"
The caller attempts to respond, but he doesn't get much of a chance. Within seconds, Marvin, his eyes dancing, his cheeks reddening, his eyes bulging, his unruly beard flapping, disconnects the line even as he continues to spew his wrath: "Yeah, go collect your Social Security check. Get off the phone, you stupid brain stem."
"Brain stem": It's Marvin's trademark insult, and he's hung it on callers of every conceivable age, color, creed and political persuasion. But this particular storm passes as quickly as it materialized. He returns to the institution-of-marriage motif a few more times, but when it yields diminishing returns, he lightens up, praising the day's segue music (mostly provided by Britisher Edwyn Collins), gushing over KMGH-TV/Channel 7 sportscaster Janib Abreu (when she calls the station, Marvin devotes twenty minutes to her greatness), and comically imitating evangelists Ernest Angley and Benny Hinn endeavoring to heal the deaf. When producer Shannon Scott announces that he's receiving criticism from deaf listeners, Marvin asks, "What do you mean we're getting complaints from deaf listeners? How can they complain when they can't hear what I'm saying?"
During a batch of pre-recorded commercials, Scott tells Marvin that the previous objection was a joke; the caller had offered a politically incorrect impression of a hearing-impaired person, then broken into guffaws. Marvin's round face, which had previously seemed so threatening, glows with delight. "Somebody gets what I'm doing," he says. "Somebody gets it."
Give me an hour a day," Marvin often tells his audience, and he insists that he means this literally. "You've got to listen to me over a prolonged period of time to understand what I'm trying to do. There are people involved in the show, like Steve Alexander and Shannon Scott, who are an integral part of it, and I have other ongoing things, too. And I don't do only one kind of thing. Everybody talks about how I hang up on everybody and call them brain stems, but they never talk about when I raised $6,000 for Skinner Middle School so that the kids there could go to camp, or how Shannon and I saved a dog's life by talking the woman who owned it out of putting it to sleep. My show's like a novel: You have the main plot and then you have subplots--and the subplots change all the time. If you come into it in the middle, you might not understand what's going on."
Such a comparison comes naturally to Marvin, who has serious writerly aspirations. Pieces penned by him have appeared in numerous small political magazines and on computer discs put out by a now-defunct company, Chicago's Spectrum Press, and he's in the midst of seeking a publisher for what he refers to as "an experimental crime novel" --experimental because it has no punctuation. He seems to seek out the edge, then boldly leap over it. "I've always had a fascination with petty criminals, thieves, death and violence," he acknowledges, and Second Skin, a collection of poetry issued by Spectrum in 1996, backs him up. Dedicated to "Charles Starkweather, Joseph McCarthy, Joseph Stalin, and all other small-time punks waiting in the dark," the volume presents stanzas dripping with resentment, gore and guilt. Typical is "Until Sunup":
Thoughts of punching you in the face my fist balled up
my tongue dancing touching and tasting your blood
nibbling at your lower lip ruby red and swollen
salt from your tears of misunderstanding
brought on by something coiled tight and hot
inside me yelling to me to act it out right now
instead I listen to the calm in your voice
grab you and hold you safe again
For Marvin, emotions like these can be traced to his youth, which he discusses in terms that reflect years of psychotherapy. He was born in Los Angeles, he says, but for the most part grew up in conservative Orange County, California, where he relocated when he was four or five; he's bad with dates. The move was precipitated by the divorce of his mother, who later was employed by an upscale chain of fashion stores, and his father, Stuart Cohen, a talent agent whose clients included actors Valerie Harper, John Savage, Martin Sheen and Sally Kellerman. Marvin claims to have only one memory left of Cohen: "I remember that he came to the house once over the holidays and looked uncomfortable. After that, I never saw him again." He learned of his father's death in 1975 via a phone call from Harper, who offered to fly him to California from Texas, where he was living at the time, to attend the funeral--"but I couldn't go. I was too mad."