MY SIDE OF THE STREET: Sixteen years of columns rack up the words

In a recent email exchange with Press Editor-Publisher Jack Durham, the subject turned to how many columns I’ve written for the paper. I missed the first issue, but wrote a guest opinion for the second. He liked my writing and asked me to do a column.

MYSIDEOFSTREETThis is the 868th issue of the McKinleyville Press. There was one week he held my column because of lack of space, so this is my 866th column. At approximately 800 words each, that adds up to 692,800 or so words.

That even impresses me. It’s more than “War and Peace,” which has been pegged at between 561,093 and 587,287, depending on the translation. The only other novel in the Top 10 for length which is familiar to most Americans is “Atlas Shrugged,” at 565,223 according to the the publisher, or 645,000 according to The New York Times.

I figure it’s easier to write that many words in 800-word segments, and easier on my readers as well. And while I have favorite interests which come up regularly, most of my columns are self contained, and on a variety of subjects. I call it being a columnist without portfolio.

I don’t just write for a newspaper, I read lots of others, and many of my columns are sparked by stories in other papers. Because I work nights and sleep days, I’d be unable to research my topics using old technology; the internet makes it all possible. Typically, I read or hear something that sticks in my mind.

If I think my readers would be interested, I start considering what form the column might take. Sometimes I talk to others about it, but I nearly always look up more details online. Then I let it percolate in my mind.

Perhaps a third of potential columns never go any farther. Either I lose interest, or there doesn’t seem to be enough to write about. Other times a better idea comes along and the weaker one is discarded.

I also got to thinking about the actual number 692,800. A news account of the election in the Falkland Islands noted that about 1,650 of the residents there voted to remain a political unit of the United Kingdom. There are only 2,563 residents in total.

Trinidad has just filled a vacant seat on the city council. That’s never an easy task, because with 367 residents as of the 2010 census, there aren’t many possibilities. By the time you subtract those too young or too infirm to serve, those who have already served and those with no interest, the pool isn’t very big.

North Dakota is the state with a population closest to 692,800; as of July 1, 2012, there were an estimated 699,628. Alaska, our largest state by area, has 663,267.26 square miles. The average population of a United States congressional district in 2010 was 709,760.

If I’d made $1 per word – which I didn’t – I’d be richer than most people, even after taxes. When I Googled the number, all kinds of things popped up: HTML color codes, computer bugs, and catalog numbers for everything from kiddy back packs to lawn mower parts, DVDs and trading cards.  At the current exchange rate, $692,800 equals 522,137 euros, 4,245,787 Chinese yuan or a mind-boggling 65,067,025 Japanese yen.

According to campaignmoney.com, Vincent J. Ryan of Boston made political contributions totaling $692,800 in the 2012 cycle. Ryan is the founder and chairman of Schooner Capital. He made reported political contributions of $387,100 in 2010.

There’s a four bedroom, four bathroom house on more than 10 acres in Delaplane, VA, listed for sale for $692,800. It includes an indoor pool bigger than my living room. In downtown Bellevue, WA, there’s a two bedroom, two bath condo for sale at that price. It might seem as if that’s not much space for the money, but the building is up-market all the way.

“Homeowners’ catered lifestyle includes: doorman, valet parking, chauffeur service, concierge, owners’ lounge with plasma TV, billiards, catering kitchen with formal dinning (sic) area, fitness room, and spa. Luxury interiors include: granite, hardwoods, structured media cabinets and fiber directly to the home.” I could learn to live with amenities like that.

A news story last week trumpeted a new estimate that the earth is 80 million years older than previously thought. I’m less than 70 percent of the way to one million words after almost 17 years, so I’m not going to ever get to the 80 million mark. But think how much I’d collect in Social Security benefits if I did!

(Elizabeth Alves finds it hard to wrap her mind around a modest Tokyo lunch costing 1000 yen. Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Press or to mysidestreet@gmail.com)