I cannot recount the amount of times I’ve mistyped the title of this column as “Nomavile.” What is my subconscious trying to tell me with that elusive letter “l?” That my entire career rests in the hands of copy editors? Or that a darker premise lays beneath the plumy label? Perhaps it was the postcard. Some months back an unsigned postcard arrived on my desk, which chided me for using a satirical term other than “Slo-noma” to describe the town. Though I was nearly stupefied by the novelty of this anonymous wit (more “uh” than “awe”), I’m hooked on Nomaville.
I first heard the term at a party when a strange woman whispered it in my ear with the same intonation as that cop at the end of my favorite Polanski flick: “Forget it, Jake – it’s Chinatown.” On her breath the word was imbued with a unique breed of wine country weary – ennui in a major key – so alluring that I immediately set upon moving here. Someone else once parsed “Nomaville” as very bad French for “not my town.” I can assure you, the sentiment is not mine, despite the occasionally mislaid letter.
Sometimes characters are omitted intentionally. I once owned a typewriter whose designer did away with the numeral one with the thought that a typist could use the lower-case “l” instead (why anyone would ration typewriter keys is beyond me). Born squarely in the age of the personal computer and a touch-typist since the age of eight, I had purchased the typewriter at a flea market to burnish a sentimental notion I had about being “writerly.” I was in my early twenties, insufferably artsy and never intended to use the typewriter; however, the entire design of apartment revolved around it, as if it were a shrine to the great god Smith-Corona. I’d lay sacrifices before its holiness – half-bottles of wine, hand-rolled cigarettes, a tattered copy of Keroauc’s “Subterraneans,” crescent-shaped from living in my coat pocket. Then later, when the typewriter wasn’t looking, I’d sneak the booty back and shiver on the fire escape while enjoying my haul. The typewriter undoubtedly knew of my duplicity, which is likely why it refused to type an address on an envelope after I’d jammed up my computer printer.
The letter, as I remember, was a query to the typewriter’s manufacturer regarding the “Silent Secretarial” and its missing number. Perhaps the great-and-all-powerful Smith-Corona knew of my intentions and didn’t want me to know the truth. Or, maybe, it didn’t want to know the truth itself. What I do know is that the typewriter eventually disappeared in some move or other, though at least two keys, my initials, seem to have revisited me in the form of cufflinks recently purchased by the Contessa. The letters must have been wrenched like gold teeth from the old machine and I wear them like some primitive talisman to ward off the spirit of writer’s block (a charm that seems to be failing at present).
Mercifully, I’ve never had to manhandle manuscripts from a manual typewriter while on the job, though I’ve pushed a million words or more through computer keyboards since going legit at 24 (prior to that I published a satire tabloid until I sold its Internet domain name a year after the dot-com bubble had burst, which lost me a critical zero or two on the purchase price). Since then, I’ve gone through countless beige boxes and have retired at least three laptops to a shelf in my office like so many technological trophies. Thus far, their keys remain intact, but surely not for long.