Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and grew up there on the city's north side in a new development called North Highlands. The subdivision's appellation was more or less accurate. Upon the relative flat river bottomland on which the city grew, its northern edge did encompass a slight rise in elevation, a matter of a couple of dozen feet. This was enough of a difference to make North Highlands attractive to the builders of the city's television stations who situated their studios and broadcast towers in that neighborhood. Fort Wayne was the last metropolitan market in the county to join the television networks, constructing the affiliates of NBC, CBS, and ABC late in 1959. Martone remembers being taken as a child out State Boulevard to the field where WKJG, the NBC property, was mounting its tower. The building of the first and tallest of the towers attracted huge crowds of people who watched for hours as the tubular lattice pieces were raised up and bolted into place. As Fort Wayne's citizens had nothing to watch yet on their new televisions, they went out to watch from a nearby but safe distance, the progress toward the day staying home would be interesting. Martone was present and remembers the famous stunt the high ironworkers pulled on the gawkers below. He saw what appeared to be a body tumble from the top of the almost completed tower and plummet dramatically to the ground. The crowd was in shock and pressed toward the site of the accident only to discover the disfigured remains of a mannequin being mourned by a mocking ground crew. When the station at last went on the air it broadcast film of the diving body several times a day to fill the slots reserved for commercials not yet sold. Martone watched the body, a fuzzy shadow, cartwheel through the white sky. It looked as if the tumbling body made attempt after attempt to grab a rung on the tower paralleling its line of decent. People were filmed running to the point of impact. These were the first images he saw televised. Martone grew up in the shadows of the blinking towers, their guy wires arriving from above to be anchored into huge blocks of concrete parked in his neighbors' back yards. Martone made his first appearance on TV a few years later. Having entered and won a contest one autumn, writing an essay extolling the virtues of apples (Johnny Appleseed is buried in Fort Wayne), Martone appeared with the winners from other age groups on a locally produced show airing near Halloween. It was then he discovered the technical methods used to tell stories on television. He was filmed with the other children trick-or-treating at a house near the station. Pretend you are trick-or-treating, they were told by Wayne Rothkeb, the show's host and the station's farm reporter. The lady, who opened the door, invited them all inside where they had cookies. Later, when Martone watched himself on TV, he saw the group approaching the house, and when they disappeared through the door, they appeared again in a kitchen and living room built inside the studio. Martone had been filmed there a few days before the trick-or-treating he remembered. He read his essay, listened to the other children read their essays, and then they all bobbed for apples beneath blazing studio lights. He had wondered why they were told to wear costumes there, and now he understood. On the show the studio was the inside of the house they were going into even though the inside of the house they did go into was very different. It had been very dark and no one read his or her essays there. Growing up near the television towers meant that Martone often took part in their productions mainly as a member of the studio audiences of the children's after school cartoon shows. There was a Bozo franchise he went to several times and the clown looked so different in color. Engineer John of the Engineer John Show came into your home each afternoon piloting a big steam locomotive, hauling a cargo of old Looney Tunes and toys. Engineer John was John Seymour, an actual engineer at the station who had been pressed into service when they needed someone to introduce the cartoons. One whole year, Martone collected bottle caps from Pepsi bottles for a television show. The caps were to be the currency used in an on air auction another station produced. Hundreds of children crowded into the studio with their bags of bottle caps to bid on merchandise provided by area merchants. The local bottler sponsored the show, making the scavenging of their bottle caps a lucrative incentive to the marketing of their bottles. Martone felt fortunate that his grandfather was a loyal consumer of the product, drinking the cola with a few salted peanuts dropped in the bottom of the bottle. The filling station where he worked had a dispensing machine as well and Martone retrieved the caps from it. In the end Martone had barely enough caps to even make an opening bid. Other children came to the studio wheeling garbage cans and cardboard dish barrels filled with the caps. Martone sat there silent, picking the cork lining out of the cap with his fingernail, while the bidding bounced around the studio. And a few months later, Martone was in the studio audience of another children's show showing cartoons. He got to sit behind a cardboard cutout of a character on the show, Quick Draw McGraw. Other kids also sat behind cardboard cutouts of Quick Draw McGraw. All were given school bells to ring when they recognized the character the host, a man dressed as Quick Draw McGraw, was drawing. To Martone it looked like a duck. So he rang the bell and guessed it was Donald Duck. It wasn't Donald Duck so he rang again and asked if it was Daffy Duck. The host continued to draw. It wasn't Daffy Duck either. The host continued to draw something that looked like a duck. Martone could not think of any other duck characters except the relatives of Donald Duck so he tried all of them. Huey, Dewey, Louie, etc. Martone rang the school bell for each, and every time he was told he was incorrect. In the end the character the host was drawing was Pogo. A duck, Martone thought, he had never seen before. Martone was very disappointed he hadn't guessed correctly but that was also the show where he saw the first Yogi Bear cartoon ever broadcast. He watched it on the television in the television studio. Martone has been on television many times since those times in his childhood. When he is in Fort Wayne he sometimes talks a few minutes with Dick Florea who does a public service spot at noon. Martone tells Mr. Florea about his current book, they are always set in Fort Wayne. And now when he talks with his mother by phone she often says, "You were on TV again." She has seen her son on the public access channel, a tape of a reading he did at the Fort Wayne campus of Indiana University/Purdue University. Martone has found they run the tape often. He likes thinking that his tiny televised image is so constantly projected into the homes of his hometown. He also likes to think about those various broadcast images of himself, here ringing a bell or here bobbing for apples, radiating outward from the planet since pretty near the inception of such radiation, a kind of immortality, he guesses. Martone remembers the lights of that evening on the campus and the lights of the other times he has been in front of a camera and how the lights that made it possible for him to be seen also made it impossible to see.
Michael Martone is a really good writer who lives in Alabama.