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Contributer's Note

Looks Like
Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and grew up there. When Martone was in high school, it was often commented upon by family, friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers that he looked like Paul McCartney, one of The Beatles, a British rock and roll band that had recently visited America for the first time selling records, playing concerts, and appearing on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show. Soon after that, The Beatles first movie, Hard Day’s Night was released. By that time Martone had let his dark brown hair grow longer like most of the other boys in his school, and the longer hair increased the occasions when he received comments about his uncanny resemblance to the singer/songwriter. He imagined that he could see something around his eyes, the drape of his lids, he supposed, or there was an echo of the angle of McCartney’s chin in Martone’s own. But it was mostly the hair, he supposed, falling straight down his broad forehead to his overly bushy brow that he had only recently begun shaving on the bridge of his nose. Coincidentally, Martone was involved with a short-lived cover band inspired by the success of The Beatles performance in the movie. The new band would lip synch the songs and imitate The Beatles goofy antics, being pursued through the neighborhood by their screaming younger sisters. His bandmates, excited by Martone’s evolving mimicry of one of their role models, urged Martone to take up the electric bass and begin memorizing the lyrics from Meet the Beatles. Oddly, and for reasons too complicated to explain here, Martone preferred to play the part of the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, whose looks nobody then had any idea of, and stay backstage safely out of sight. Over time, Martone’s and McCartney’s shared facial characteristics began to diverge. For one thing Martone gained weight, his cheeks becoming even fuller and rounder than they had been, his neck merging with his chin and jaw line. McCartney’s face, on the other hand, began to sag and the folds under his eyes grew deeper in shadow, the lids more hooded, setting the eyes themselves deeper in their sockets. There came a point when the casual mentions concerning the similarity of their shared appearance ceased all together. People would stare in startled confusion into Martone’s face when he mentioned that once other people thought he looked like Paul McCartney. "I don’t see it," they would say. There was a time, then, as he approached adulthood when Martone, as far as he could ascertain, looked like no one but his parents. His mother always said that if you broke Martone’s face in two, the top half favored his father especially the nose and eyes but that the lips and chin were undoubtedly her contribution. Soon, Martone began to receive more and more comments that would draw a comparison between his appearance and that of an emerging character actor from Chicago named Joe Mantegna whose face, of course, was memorable but whose name unfortunately was not. Mr. Mantegna was, often for Martone’s informants, the guy, you know, the actor in Things Change or House of Games or later the last Godfather. "Joe Mantegna?" Martone would answer once the pattern had become clear. And the resemblance was and is remarkable. Once, Martone, himself, had to look twice at a film still printed in his local newspaper. What, he thought at the time, am I doing in the newspaper? The similarity is most striking from a certain angle and stronger in profile. For some roles Mr. Mantegna will grow a beard, and Martone, whose hair now is best described as salt and pepper, believes that the actor probably colors his. Recently, another name, an actor again, is mentioned when people are moved to compare Martone’s looks to others. Adam Arkin, the son of the actor Alan Arkin who he, Adam, resembles, comes up almost as frequently as Joe Mantegna as someone Martone looks like. Or when someone is searching for Joe Mantegna’s name to tell Martone that he looks like him, he or she will say, you know, it is the actor that looks like the actor who is Alan Arkin’s son. Martone suspects it is the eyes, the shape of the head, the hair where his face and the faces of these actors intersect. At a wedding reception recently, the mother of the bride commented in the receiving line that Martone had George Clooney’s eyes, and, later that night, Martone pondered this new information. It just so happened that One Fine Day starring George Clooney was being shown on television. Martone stared at George Clooney’s eyes as they appeared on the television screen before him, attempting to see the likeness but found, perhaps because he was a bit drunk from the wedding reception, that it was very difficult to look at someone’s eyes or a picture of someone else’s eyes then look at your own eyes in a mirror in order to determine if the two sets of eyes look in any way the same. The eyes on the screen and in the mirror kept moving. Secretly, Martone believes that he looks most like a cartoon character named Fred Flintstone. The particulars all seem to be a match. The thick neck, the shadow of the beard, the dark eyes and hair. Martone realizes that his self-image is probably a distortion, a projection of his own insecurities about his real appearance, but he can’t help himself. And he isn’t too surprised that when, in an unguarded moment, he asks someone he has just met if doesn’t think that he, Martone, isn’t the spitting image of Fred Flintstone, and the acquaintance squints and says, "Yes, I can see that."

Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1955. He taught at Harvard University where he was The Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on Fiction after teaching for seven years at Iowa State University in Ames. Martone noticed the difference between the two schools right away. On the first day of fiction writing class, he asked his new students to introduce themselves including in their introduction details as to their class standing, their academic interests, their preferences in what they read. He also wanted to ask them where they were from. He was curious having just come from Iowa to Cambridge. "Where are you from?" he asked the first student. The student answered that he was from Lowell House. Martone, expecting an answer like Illinois or Indianapolis, didn’t know what to say in response so nodded his head and smiled in a manner he hoped conveyed he did in fact understand and even approved. He asked the same question of the second student who answered without hesitating that she was from Adams House. After several more students answered in the same way, volunteering that they were from this or that house, Martone figured out they were talking about their the dormitories. It also occurred to him that he was meant to understand that knowing the particular house was to also know a great deal about the one who was from there, one’s tastes and preferences. It was a code that took him most of the first semester to begin to decipher, but he did finally figured out which house was preferred by athletes, for instance, or actors and musicians or those students who had a scientific bent. The rest of the first class was a disaster. Martone lectured to a restless and hostile room. He kept going while he tried to figure out what was so wrong. His students in Iowa had responded to his broad-ranging improvisations and his manner of peppering his talks with arcane trivia and personal anecdote. At Harvard, this appeared not to be working. The students sulked in their seats or stared blankly out the window. Suddenly, Martone realized that he was talking. That is to say that the fact he was lecturing was what was wrong with the lecture. He had grown used to the natural shyness and silence of his students in Iowa. At Harvard, his new students were not handicapped in the same way. They could not wait to speak, were more than prepared to do so, and once Martone realized this and allowed the students to speak, the initial discomfort disappeared at once. During the remaining five years of his tenure there, Martone barely uttered a few words each class session. In retrospect, he believes he was adored by his charges, winning teaching prizes each term and receiving excellent assessments in the student evaluations. He lived off Central Square, within walking distance to Harvard Square and 34 Kirkland, his office building at the university. Walking to work, he would pass several stores that specialized in selling used tuxedoes. Martone found it curious the number of such establishments. Formal wear for him had always been acquired from a rental store, the racks and racks of suits somewhere in the back out of sight of the showroom. Mentioning it in class one day, Martone learned from his students about the battle tuxes that were part of their wardrobe— cheap formal party dress that could suffer the excesses of the students’ celebrations, a spontaneous dive into a nearby pool for instance. Martone ended up buying several battle tuxes for himself. To the one commencement he attended, he wore a dinner jacket designed by Bill Blass who was from Martone’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Martone took to dressing in a tux for the first day of his classes. He had inherited a blue paisley tie and cummerbund from his Uncle Wayne, which lent a jaunty and ironic flavor to the get-up. In one of the last first classes, during the introductions where the students shared what houses they were from, a young woman asked him if Sallie Gouverneur was his agent. This surprised Martone as he never talked about his business with his students. How would any of them know who his literary agent was? It turned out that this student had interned for Sallie who was a graduate of Radcliffe herself and this intern had seen and sent out Martone’s stories the previous summer with cover letters she had composed herself. Another student in the same class reported that she too had interned in the summer at The Atlantic Monthly where she received from her fellow student Martone’s manuscripts sent to the magazine to be considered. Martone remained silent as his students talked a while about the business of writing and publishing, trying to recall just which of his stories he had sent to Sallie that summer. The next year Martone took a job teaching in the creative writing program of Syracuse University. He moved from the Boston area heading north with a box of several tuxedoes that he never had the occasion to wear again.


Michael Martone

Martone is the author of Flatness and Other Landscapes. He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2004

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