Professional lies in eye of beholder

Posted May 14, 2010, at 8:21 p.m.

To show just how quickly time can pass one by if one does not work at keeping up, a newspaper story last week about Bangor being a stop for something called the Gumball 3000 — an international road rally for the idle rich and their expensive automobiles — referred to one of the participants as a “professional skateboarder.’’

Then, this past Tuesday a wire story out of Phoenix reporting on the abandonment of challenges to Arizona’s new law targeting illegal immigration quoted a “professional petition circulator’’ as confirming that the effort had been halted.

Like many readers, I have known my share of professionals over the years. Professional students who can’t quite bring themselves to give up the college scene. Professional complainers who are happiest when grousing about some social injustice, real or imagined. Professional patriots who never met the flag they couldn’t haul out and wave at the drop of a Founding Father’s name. Professional Monday morning quarterbacks and professional fence-straddlers in abundance, as seen on the nightly news out of Washington.

But professional skateboarder and professional petition circulator? Isn’t that quite like having someone list his occupation as professional flagpole sitter? Or professional beer drinker? Not that we should be too terribly surprised to find that both lines of work do, in fact, exist in some jurisdictions.

On the other hand, I suppose if people are willing to pay good money to watch some dude wearing his hat sideways and his trousers at half-mast while negotiating a skateboard obstacle course — ideally emerging with all body parts intact — this might legitimize his claim to be a “professional.’’ To each his own. Still, for some inexplicable reason I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around the concept of a “professional petition circulator.’’

One of the several definitions the dictionary offers for “professional’’ is a person who is “engaged in one of the learned professions.’’ No offense to skateboarders and petition circulators, but that category would not seem to be a good fit for them. Instead, my Merriam-Webster reference volume might lump them with the breed of professionals who “participate for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs,’’ as in golf and other such trivial pursuits.

In the case of petition circulators, the unpaid amateur sometimes makes less of a hash of things than does the paid professional. Witness the prominent gubernatorial wanna-be who dropped out of Maine’s June primary election campaign a while back after circulators — including some who were said to be paid — were alleged to have cut ethical corners in their zeal to gather the requisite number of signatures on the man’s nominating petitions.

Sitting atop any list of pseudo-professionals who aggravate mightily would have to be the professional hat wearer, male version. This is the guy whose hat never leaves his head, be he dining in a restaurant, half asleep in a high school geometry class, or taking communion in church. But having long ago beaten that particular horse to death, I probably ought not to venture there again this morning except to point out that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai appears to be One Of Them. Were the man and his famous hat ever to become accidentally separated, the resulting fallout would be at least the newsworthy equivalent of man bites dog, I should think.

Meanwhile, when last we heard of the jet-setting Gumball 3000 road rally outfit, it was headed south to Boston, the day after the initial story in the morning newspaper about the crowd arriving from Stockholm.The Associated Press filed a brief follow-up story reporting that Massachusetts State Police had ticketed 11 of the rally participants.

“Some were going over 90 mph. One driver was cited for taking photos while driving and another for excessive horn blowing,’’ the story reported. The AP didn’t name names, but if I were to guess who the intellectual taking pictures while driving was, my money would be on the professional skateboarder. He’d also likely have been one of those doing 90 mph at the time, not that that would necessarily have made him stand out in the crowd.

We are, after all, talking Massachusetts here.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.com.

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