I was at a party, and the hostess introduced me to another gentleman: “And this is Mr. Kent, who is an expert on dung beetles.”
I was momentarily flustered but managed to recover my composure enough to shake hands and say something. “Oh!…So you know all about dung beetles, eh?”
“Sure do!” he replied.
“Oh!…Well!…That’s wonderful!…So, if I should ever need help with dung beetles, you’re just the man to see, then!”
“That’s right!” he said jovially.
“Gee!…That’s swell!” And I excused myself to search for ice.
Now, I want you to understand that this fellow looked completely normal. He was well-groomed, healthy-looking, and wore very nice clothes. He certainly showed no evidence of starvation or poverty. So the question that dogged me for weeks was this: how exactly does a dung beetle expert make a living?
I have never seen a help wanted ad for someone who knows about dung beetles. Neither have I ever seen an ad by a dung beetle expert soliciting customers. Come to think of it, I’m quite sure I’ve never seen a dung beetle. I didn’t think there were any in this country. Nevertheless, this chap Kent was making a living somehow.
I’ve given this matter a lot of thought, because there has to be an explanation. Now, on the matter of no help wanted ads, I think I’ve got it. A dung beetle expert must be self-employed. No firm is going to hire one. And as for advertising for customers (or should they be called “clients”?), why, it just isn’t done, you see. It all happens by word of mouth. You have to know people, like my hostess at the party. I mean, if you are really first-rate at your craft, your reputation precedes you. It’s the same with root canal specialists or prostitutes. The only difference is that a dung beetle specialist would probably have a large geographical area all to himself, so he wouldn’t have to worry about competition driving his prices down.
So far, so good. But how much can someone in this line of work really make? Can he make enough to support a family at a respectable standard of living? I find that hard to believe. But let’s suppose he is all on his own and doesn’t live too luxuriously. That makes it easier.
So there is Mr. Kent, or someone like him, sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring. More likely, he has an answering machine so he can be out and about, which he has to do in order to stay on top of the dung beetles. To be a true expert, he would have to be able to study them at all times and in various places, otherwise his knowledge might become obsolete. Very good. So now and then he must get a call from a customer. Maybe it’s an individual, or a company, or some government agency. They are having some difficulty with dung beetles, so they call Mr. Kent, and he goes out to wherever the problem is, he sees what’s what, and he tells them exactly what to do, or he does it himself.
Now, how much does he charge? And does he charge by the hour, or is there a flat fee? Does he send a bill? Does he accept credit cards? If this is the sort of gentleman’s profession I imagine it to be, I’m sure he sends a bill and receives a cheque. What are his services worth? A hundred dollars? Five hundred? A thousand? Well, if I were a dung beetle expert, I don’t think I would venture out on a call for less than, say, two hundred. For something really serious or complicated, I might charge five hundred, depending (on various factors). Above that, I don’t think many people are going to be willing to pay for help with dung beetles. They might prefer to suffer indefinitely. And, of course, you want to stay reasonably affordable for poorer folks, because they are just as likely to have problems with dung beetles as the rich, if not more so.
So let’s assume Mr. Kent is going to collect somewhere between $200 and $500 for an average call. That’s still not a lot to live on, because how many calls is he going to get in a month? I’m going to guess maybe two or three, if only because a greater frequency of dung beetle problems would have eventually come to the attention of the mass media by now, and I would have read something about it, but I haven’t. But even at two or three calls a month, one would scarcely be able to survive in a modern city.
The only answer I can think of is that a fellow in Mr. Kent’s profession has to have another source of income to supplement his dung beetle business. But here is where it gets problematic. You couldn’t have a salaried job or run a shop or do anything else that had fixed hours because, as I explained before, a fellow would have to be able to go out and study the dung beetles at all hours of the day or night in order to have a scientifically accurate and up-to-date knowledge of their habits. And, of course, you’d have to make house calls at any hour. It just wouldn’t do to tell a customer, “I get off work at the plant at five and can come around in the evening.”
So where does that leave the dung beetle expert? Clearly, he’s got to have a money-making sideline that doesn’t involve any specific hours or specific place. There’s a real poser for you! But I think I have the answer. The one sideline that meets these requirements is writing poetry! You can do it anytime, anywhere.
Of course, if a fellow can’t write poetry, he might as well give up all thought of going into the dung beetle business, because he’ll never be able to make a living. So we must assume that our expert does know how to write poetry. (And Mr. Kent certainly looked to me like the sort of chap who could write a good poem if he put his mind to it.) But is there enough money in poetry?
Being a writer myself, I can claim to know a thing or two about poetry, although I have never actually been paid any money for a poem. But then, I’ve written very few poems, so never mind. Now, there are a few magazines out there that do pay money for poems — maybe not much, but something. Of course, getting a poem published is not so easy, believe me. Most poems sent to magazines are actually rejected! But if our Mr. Kent writes a lot of them, the probabilities become more favorable, you see. Those little cheques will add up. And then there are also such things as prizes and awards, which are worth more, and perhaps our Mr. Kent manages to snag one or two a year.
Of course, one could certainly not make a living just by writing poetry. And one could certainly not make a living just by being a dung beetle expert either. But I am fairly sure, now that I have thought it all out, that by combining the two trades — and assuming one knows how to economize — a fellow could probably get by.
Copyright@ 2008, by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org