I’d rather be a writer than a Geat
By Ron Scopelliti
I always have a hard time thinking of myself as a professional writer. It just never struck me as something people really made a living doing, and it was never something I thought I could do. As a kid in school, when people told me I should be a writer, I could never take it seriously. It was like when you tell somebody, “Hey – you should run for office,” because they’ve made an insightful comment on government, or when you see someone expertly carve a ham and say, “you should be a surgeon.”
What kind of a profession is writing for a reasonably sane person? It’s not the most secure or lucrative choice I could have made. There’s uncertainty, deadlines, criticism, carpal tunnel syndrome…
But there are clearly worse things I could be doing. This came to mind when I was doing some research on Rudolf Haffenreffer, the former president of Narragansett Brewery and founder of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.
It turns out that in addition to his other pursuits, Haffenreffer once formed a corporation to buy the Mount Hope Bridge. And this is when I really decided being a writer wasn’t such a bad idea. Owning a brewery and founding a museum are okay, but I’d never want to be a bridge owner.
It seems like it would be a constant source of anxiety, what with the potential liability of cars driving off it, ships sailing into it, and people jumping from it, with or without bungee cords. There’s also the danger of troll infestation, but that part might actually be kinda cool.
And what about the maintenance? I have a hard time mowing my lawn on a regular basis. How would I ever keep up with painting and paving the Mount Hope Bridge? And when I finally got fed up and decided to sell the thing, who’s going to see a Craig’s List or Ebay listing for a bridge and take it seriously?
It got me thinking that, in addition to not wanting to be a bridge owner, there are a lot of other things I wouldn’t want to be.
For instance, I’d never want to be a game show host. All that screaming and jumping the contestants do would drive me nuts. I also wouldn’t want to be a game show contestant, except for maybe Jeopardy, which doesn’t seem to require any screaming, jumping up and down, or dressing in “Let’s Make a Deal” costumes.
While we’re on the subject of costumes, I wouldn’t want to be the person who shows up on the Gillette Stadium Jumbotron wearing a pair of oversized novelty sunglasses. Unless, of course, there was something particularly cool and distinctive about the glasses. Like if, instead of a Patriots logo, they had a quote from Beowulf on them. In original Old English with a healthy dose of kenning and alliteration.
And despite my admiration for the epic poem, I wouldn’t want to be Beowulf. It seems like people put a lot of pressure on him. It was always, “Beowulf – slay Grendel! Slay Grendel’s mother! Slay this dragon!” Nobody ever seemed to just invite Beowulf over for coffee. He was like that one friend who owns a pickup truck and always gets called to help people move. Except when Beowulf got hit up for a favor, it tended to involve limbs being ripped off and people being eaten alive or roasted.
I also wouldn’t want to be the Lone Ranger, even though he was one of my heroes when I was a kid. While there are many cool things about being the Lone Ranger, what with the pursuit of justice and the lightning-fast horse, the big downside is the pants.
They looked okay on a black-and-white TV screen, but in real life, is there anyone other than a retired used-car salesman living in Sarasota who wears powder-blue pants? If the show ran for long enough, I have the feeling the Lone Ranger would have augmented those pants with shiny white loafers and a matching belt worn at ribcage level. He would have traded in his cowboy hat for a South of the Border baseball cap with scrambled eggs on the brim. The image got me thinking that, given the dilemma of choosing between the two, I’d rather be Beowulf than the Lone Ranger.
I’d also rather be Beowulf than Paul Simon. While it might seem like a random observation, I’m referring to Simon’s song “El Condor Pasa,” where he sings about how he’d “rather be a sparrow than a snail,” and he’d “rather be a hammer than a nail.” Because of the song’s structure, he’s pretty much boxed himself into being a two-syllable noun whenever presented with a one-syllable alternative. If he actually chose to be snail instead of a sparrow, it would completely screw up the rhythm.
If I went by this standard, and was given the choice between being a buzzard or a bear, I’d be stuck poking my baldhead into decaying week-old caribou instead of eating fresh salmon out of a stream.
That structure would also force me to reverse my Beowulf vs. Lone Ranger decision because the only lyric I can think of that would fit and rhyme is, “I’d rather be a ranger than a Geat.”
So I guess I’ll stick to being a writer. While it’s not as lucrative as being Paul Simon, or as exciting as being Beowulf, there’s no screaming, no slaying, no Florida-retirement-village pants, no bridge-owner anxieties, and no apologizing for “The Capeman”. Although if I were forced to choose between being Paul Simon and being Art Garfunkel…