It was two years ago this week that I began on this odyssey called Nomaville. One hundred columns later, I’m happily back where I started, as I am every week – gazing into a blank screen, but somehow confident that, come press time, words will have appeared. And most of them will make sense.
In March 2006, I was poached by the Sonoma Valley Sun’s then-features editor, who had spied my byline in other local publications in the months following my repatriation to the county. I was nursing wounds after my protracted tenure in Los Angeles and was grateful for the diversion. The column was launched with the pithy cover tease “Daedalus Howell flies to the Sun,” which was quite apt both mythologically and professionally (I’d join the staff of this venerable institution a mere six months later). It was a schtick I knew well, having been a small-town newspaperman in Petaluma. There, a decade ago, I performed a function similar to my gig at Three House MultiMedia, but without the film, radio, TV and magazine endeavors – which is to say, I wrote a weekly column. When existential malaise finally overtook me (and I had secured my first script gig), I tendered my resignation through the column to the awesome chagrin of my editors. Cheeky, I know, and certainly not representative of the professional acumen I would later strive to develop (like rising before noon and not running up the company bar bill). The gaping hole I thought I’d be leaving in the paper, if not newsroom culture itself, of course, only appeared in my bank statements. Now, I only use my superpowers for good.
The three most common questions I am asked by readers are, “How do you say your name?” (I reply “Howell”), “Is that your real name?” (yes, but my shrink still refuses to bill my parents) and “Are your columns true?” (there’s a lot of vino in my veritas, so let’s talk in the morning). The three most common questions I ask my readers are, “How does my hair look?” (somehow the subject invariably changes to “hats”), “Did you catch the cryptogram in my last column?” (a reply: “Yes, but you spelled ‘stasi’ with a ‘z’”) and “Where’s the wine?” (frequently countered by “And you were invited by whom?”). The only question features editor Marty Olmstead asks me is “Why?” Before I burst into tears I can usually squeak out a wan “B-b-because?” pronounced with a hint of the vibrato from my trembling soul-patch.
Here are the facts: a standard issue Nomaville column averages 600 words a pop, so a hundred of them equals 60,000 words – the average girth of a trade paperback literary fiction title. After knocking this math around the office for a while (I’m terrible with numbers so I’m prone to showing off even the simplest of calculations when correct), it occurred to me that the average length of a word in English is 5.1 letters, which, when set in the nine-point LinoLetter Roman font of this paper, is about a quarter inch when printed. That’s about 15,000 inches or 1,250 feet of Nomaville – a quarter mile, a mere half stroll around the Plaza. So much for my local literary legacy. Give me another two years and I’ll get around the other half of the Plaza. In the meantime, in the spirit of shameless self-promotion (a phrase I believe George Webber has attempted to trademark), I’m duty-bound to warn the unsuspecting public that there has been chatter of a collected volume of these columns in the works – so stay tuned and thanks, as always, for your indulgence.