A few months ago, Scott Hollifield called me from his cell phone frantically pleading with me to write his August column while he was away on vacation.
“Matt”, he said, “I can’t possibly be expected to write two articles in one week. You are my biggest fan and one of my most trusted friends; you have to bail me out.”
And even though I would never abandon a friend in his time of need I was still perplexed. I have never met Scott Hollifield nor read any of his articles so I seemed an unlikely choice to cover his journalistic responsibilities while he was away. After perusing a number of Scott’s columns (that’s right, two is a number), I learned that his preferred material ranged from dog snot to Sasquatch and I realized that I might actually be an adequate replacement.
Not wanting my recruitment to appear totally without merit, I suggested to Scott that he hold a “contest” so that hundreds of others could submit their writings thus making the inevitable selection of my article a legitimate victory. Scott astutely pointed out that this joke would have been more effective last year during the First Annual Write Scott Hollifield’s Column Contest. Undaunted by semantics, I agreed to participate in his clever ruse to allow uncompensated amateurs to perform his professional duties while he was paid to lie on the beach counting the stacks of cash that rural newspaper editors undoubtedly earn.
With no obvious literary skill and even less knowledge of dog snot and Sasquatch, I wondered what would happen if other professions engaged in similar “contests” that allowed untrained lay people to perform a job while a skilled professional went on vacation. Certainly some jobs lend themselves more to the contest format than others. I would gladly offer to fill in for a physics professor during her sabbatical even though the most basic introduction to Einstein’s theory of relativity makes my eye twitch like I am having a bad allergic reaction. Of course, I am sure that, like Scott’s contest, the rules of being a physics professor for a semester would include a handy list of topics and buzzwords that could be scattered throughout a lecture to give the appearance of actual knowledge.
“Okay class, let’s get started. Last night’s reading assignment clearly disproves the Newtonian notion of absolute space and time while concurrently violating the thermodynamics of Kepler’s String theory.”
“I don’t think any of those are real words, professor.”
“Are you calling Copernicus a liar?”
“I don’t think so. Where did you say you studied physics, professor?”
“I’ll give you an A if you never return to class.”
“I’ll see you at graduation, professor.”
While it is frightening to think that if you could just pronounce duodenum without giggling you might be allowed to fill in for a medical doctor, I can see these contests offering a brutal reality check for all those people who ever said, “I could do that guy’s job with my eyes closed.” Those people are patently wrong. Except for professional umpires and that kid that got an apple shot off his head almost all jobs require you to have your eyes open.
Later, of course, Scott confided in me that he only scheduled a vacation this year because he is suffering from intense writer’s block. There are simply no more stories tucked away in his prolific brain. No more tales of renegade monkeys to enlighten and entertain his readers. Afraid that his complete reliance on an unpaid amateur had compromised his journalistic credibility and professional future, Scott inquired as to whether I could offer any sage advice on a new career.
“I want to say one word to you”, I told him. “Just one word.”
”Are you listening?”
”Yes, I am”, he replied.
I could see the entrepreneurial wheels turning in his head. The path to financial security had been laid out before him.
“That Ann Bancroft. Wasn’t she in a prison movie?” he asked.
Crisis averted. Professional journalism had triumphed. Scott Hollifield’s column would live to see another day.