This is a memorial post, for someone who died a long time ago… our neighbor and family friend Marvin Minsky. I caught my first fish sitting in a rowboat with this guy, and I can tell you that his was a character worth remembering. I was fascinated with him as a child so I thought I’d introduce you to his ghost.
Marvin was a creature of the seventies in the purest form; he was a strange mix of New York ex pat mountain man with a little Saturday Night Fever stirred in to create a short, pudgy white guy with a thinning “Jew-Fro.” He drove a red Ford Pinto with a Lincoln Continental kit on it, AKA a Pintinental, with the vanity plate “SXYMARV.” He dressed accordingly for someone that self confident and dashing. Remember Jack Tripper? Yeah.
Sexy Marv moved next door to us about a year after our folks bought the house in the woods in Boulder Creek, and immediately settled into the roll of wacky neighbor guy in the family sitcom we were apparently filming. Boulder Creek is sort of a hotbed for these types, so occasionally there can be some confusion as to which neighbor is the nutty one. I guess they alternate days or something? Of course there’s also the serious potential of being caught in a wacky sandwich. Anyway, Marv would drop by all the time to borrow a beer or a hammer or whatever handy excuse he needed for human company. This trip became frequent enough he actually took the liberty of cutting out part of our fence and installing a gate. The SXYMARV gate. Because the driveways were steep and walking around is a hassle when it’s late and you’re drunk. Here are some pieces of stories that could probably be their own posts.
The Ladies – Marv stood under five feet tall and had an impressive beer belly, but these supposed shortcomings did little to limit his taste in women or dampen his attempts to woo them. According to our mom, they may have actually coined the term “Sexual Harassment,” and created the first HR department in Santa Cruz just to deal with him. Marvin shot for the moon when it came to the ladies and fell to earth pretty hard most times. But according to everyone, he got back up, dusted off his pants and offered to buy a drink for the next fox to walk by.
Sheds – Marv lived in a small summer cabin on an even smaller lot. With so little room to expand, Marv built a shed, than another shed and was working on a third shed when we left Boulder. Neighbors referred to Marv as “2 Sheds Minsky” I think this was his Indian name. That or “Drives with Pintinental.”
The Pleasure Palace – For a while, Marv had an amazing tree house in his backyard. It was built into the burned out center of a huge redwood tree. He built it for his son, who visited sometimes in the summers, but MILK and I had total access to it thanks to the SXYMARV gate he’d built in our fence. The man had a few flaws, but damn could he whip out some carpentry in a pinch. Just as we were getting really used to being able to play in it, the tree house came down and, in its place, grew “Marvin’s Pleasure Palace,” complete with signage advertising it as such. Braced between three big redwoods was a tree hot tub and wet bar. For some reason, our parents felt that the “Pleasure Palace” was not a good place for their kids. It was a sex trap for unwitting girls or Ewoks.
The Car – Following the Pintinental up Highway 9 one morning dad was startled to see a large amount of smoke emanating from the car. I mean a lot of smoke, something akin to a house on fire. When he pulled into a turn out behind Marv, they found the problem. Marv had changed his own oil but had failed to screw the oil filter all the way on and it had parted company with the engine block, and the engine block had parted ways with the universe. The precious SXYMARV vanity plate was pulled and transferred to a Nissan Pulsar later that week. A brief but touching ceremony on the side of Highway 9 was held by the smoldering Pintinental.
The ledger – Marv an accountant by trade kept careful track of every transaction, both financial and malt based. He was always concerned about his personal balance sheet. If he drank one of your beers he would replace it, if you bought him a drink he made sure he bought one for you. This could be a little irritating as Marv would become obsessed with whether he owed a beer, or there were beers owed to him.
Pot – Marv was…lets say an amateur cultivator of Sensimilla. Being a neighborly sort (with boundary issues) he chose to pursue this hobby in our mother’s garden beds. She was a damn fine gardener, and pretty tolerant, so the pot plants flourished alongside her tomatoes and squash. Then Marv applied for a government job with a tight enough security clearance that it required a home visit from a federal agency to check him out and, apparently, interview the neighbors. He didn’t really think this one through, clearly, as the Feds showed up one day and found my mom in the backyard tending her garden. Fortunately, they were on his side of the fence and didn’t bother to use the SXYMARV gate. Mom tells a great story about standing hip deep in marijuana trying not to lose her shit, talking to a Fed over the fence while her children (whom she was envisioning being taken away in protective custody) played on the yellow jacket infested jungle gym nearby. As soon as the delightful government officials left, she ripped out every one of his plants and buried them in the compost heap. Marv was heartbroken.
Basketball – The guy loved basketball; for a short Jewish guy from NYC, this is not unusual. He had a hoop in his yard set to regulation height. One night, when everyone was hanging out drinking and shooting hoops, dad decided it would be hilarious to pretend to slam dunk a young MiLK. She latched onto the hoop for dear life, refusing to let go, and either she was a three year old Hulk or someone didn’t sink the post in quite right because next thing I knew the entire thing was teetering, then falling down, MiLK and all. It damn near crushed the Pintinental. Absolutely blew my five year old mind. MiLK still can’t go near a basketball court without getting the shakes.
Camping – Marv was along on many of our camping trips in that era. He was not much for the outdoors, especially for someone who lived in the woods, but like trying to date good looking women, he was nothing if not persistent. I have a very vivid memory as a kid while on a camping trip. Marv threw a rock at a rogue squirrel that was trying to raid the food box. About an hour later he was sitting in a folding chair reading a copy of National Lampoon when a enormous pine cone struck him right in the bald spot, sending him into a paroxysm of pain and swearing. In the distance a squirrel chattered. We all felt really bad for him, and checked on his well being once we stopped laughing enough to catch our breath.
The last time Milk and I saw Marv, we knocked on his door with our mom when we were taking a look at our old place (Which was now occupied by people who put up a sign over the gate that read “Fortress America”). He seemed happy to see us; we had lunch with him and he gave me his son’s old baseball glove. He talked a lot about his son, and about trying to visit him soon.
In summary, Marv was a good man who refused to be held back by his limitations…or even recognize them, mostly. He swung above his weight class in most things and in the end he went crazy. Mike the “stone skipper”, who inherited Marv from our dad when we left Boulder, tried to get Marv committed at one point but was unsuccessful. In the end Marv called it quits alone in the desert. Suicide.
Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.” I used to believe that, but these days I root for a comeback. I know too many dead people, and too many people who shouldn’t be.
Marv lives on as a family legend. When we finish the memoir, he’ll get his own chapter. Maybe two.