I’ve been writing (poorly, some would argue) for pay (way too little, I would argue) since about 1996, during which I have shamelessly pursued every little bit of swag, bling and/or complimentary product and service I could attach my greedy velcro fingers to.

To date I have managed to score exactly two expenses-paid trips to cover bass tournaments (both taken well over 10 years ago) and – way back when they first came out –  a sample pack of Terminator spinnerbaits.

And if you want to know how successful I’ve become as a bling-collecting outdoors writer since then, consider this: Earlier this year I wrapped one of those by-now tattered Terminators around a submerged log. Rather than simply snapping the line and tying on a new one from my well-stocked bag full of complimentary tackle, I went wading because A. my tackle box is neither well-stocked nor complimentary, and B. A five-dollar spinnerbait is still a five-dollar spinnerbait even if it’s older than my first child.

The point is, writing – of any kind –  is a hard, lonely gig. You pay your dues by toiling in obscurity and poverty for years, patiently perfecting your craft and hoping that somewhere, someone will recognize your hard work and give you a shot. Because when you’re a nobody in this business nothing is given: you earn it.

At least that’s what I used to believe. Now I realize, of course, that I was a naive dumbass.

_Joe the Plumber to become war correspondent

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Joe The Plumber is putting down his wrenches and picking up a reporter’s notebook. The Ohio man who became a household name during the presidential campaign says he is heading to Israel as a war correspondent for the conservative Web site Samuel J. Wurzelbacher (WUR’-zuhl-bah-kur) says he’ll spend 10 days covering the fighting. He tells WNWO-TV in Toledo that he wants to let Israel’s “‘Average Joes’ share their story.” Wurzelbacher gained attention during the final weeks of the campaign when he asked Barack Obama about his tax plan. He later joined Republican John McCain on the campaign trail. At one stop, he agreed with a McCain supporter who asked if he believed a vote for Obama was a vote for the death of Israel.

That’s right, Joe the Plumber is now Joe the Journalist, and he’s getting a break that literally thousands of real journalists would gladly give half a reproductive organ for. Now I’m not bagging on Joe: he may be the next Ernie Pyle for all I know, but maybe he should get his feet wet by covering a city commission meeting or two before he heads into a war zone. It’s ridiculous, it’s a blatant publicity stunt and it’s patently unfair to ink-stained wretches everywhere, but gimmickry is what modern America thrives on and Joe will probably end up parlaying this fraud into a regular column for Time or Newsweek and his own cable talk show.

I’m just worried that Joe also likes to hunt and fish. He’s the shizzle right now now and provided he makes it back from Israel alive the editors of a certain outdoors magazine may want to capitalize on that fame by sending him on one of those plum destination assignments I’ve been fruitlessly begging and pleading for. Joe the Plumber flyfishes Patagonia. Joe the Plumber bags a record kudu on safari. Joe the Plumber shoots grouse over the Queen’s dogs in England. Joe the Plumber gets three thousand words in the feature well every month to write whatever he wants while Chad the Blogger makes news by drowning while attempting to recover his last freebie spinnerbait…