I am a writer.

I am a writer because I am paid a bit of money I desperately need, and I’m better at it than I was as a hotel clerk, shirt salesman and railroad fireman. But I don’t think I look like a writer.

I grew up in the movies. I knew what a pirate looks like, a cop, a president. OK, sometimes we get our hearts broken.

So what does a writer look like? Firefighters and cops, plumbers and telephone lineman all look like what they do. They have costumes that tell us who they are. They have guns and hoses, tool boxes and cute helmets they wear up there on the poles.

Writers? A writer passing you in the street could be a dentist, a lawyer, a burglar waiting for it to get dark, except those guys make more money. (Not the burglars; the dentists.)

Some years ago while I was mulling over the same idea, I worked with some reporters, both in Los Angeles and here in Maine.

You probably don’t know any reporters. They’re not flashy, just precise, because they don’t have the luxury of making up exciting stories.

Reporters are kind of invisible. You could pass one in the street without knowing. They don’t have costumes like heroes, no capes, masks or special effect gifts.

If you disagree, you probably got your ideas about reporters, as I did, from the movies.

Movies have probably distorted your ideas of everything: love, marriage, children, politics — surely politics — and absolutely reporters.

If you’re old like me, you grew up on newspaper movies that keep popping up on late night television like “The Front Page” or “It Happened One Night.” Maybe, if you’re lucky, you saw “All the President’s Men,” about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, of The Washington Post; or “Spotlight,” about the heroes on The Boston Globe, which brought you closer to the real thing.

If you’re really lucky, you’ve met reporters like this paper’s Amy Calder, Doug Harlow or Madeline St. Amour, to name a few.

But probably you more often saw stereotypes on Turner Classic Movies with hard-hitting tough guys (no women) puffing away on unfiltered cigarettes and cigars, taking hits from small bottles in their roll-top desks. Usually at the end of the movie, they emerged as heroes and “got the girl.”

You saw Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon playing reporters. They were handsome, lucky in love, glib, witty and well-dressed. I know; I played young reporters on television, and I was all of the above.

My New York had reporters like Jimmy Breslin who wrote for the tabloids, Pete Hamill, Russell Baker and the great Art Buchwald.

At one time I got the idea I wanted to be a reporter like them. I quickly saw that it was going to be too much work.

Luckily, fate and a French girl dragged me to Maine to become a newspaper writer, not a reporter — nothing that tough — just a humorist.

Eventually, I got to be the writer I wanted to be, and I’m happy.

Watching reporters like Amy Calder or Kate McCormick work exhausts me.

So I didn’t get to be the full-out polemicist I wanted to be when I was a radical youth. I have an easy job. I just make you laugh.

Somewhere in the middle of the 2016 political campaign, I rewrote the list of my old heroes to add the host of brilliant men and women like The Washington Post’s Bob Costa and Ana Marie Cox, and Politico’s Tara Palmeri.

I was stunned by the sudden explosion of New Age reporters like Katy Tur, Josh Barro and Kasie Hunt. Where do they find these young zealots? Where did they come from?

Of course I know. They come boiling out of that matrix that gives us a tradition of excellence, from that hallowed profession of journalism that keeps spewing out better and greater seeds.

Right now in the marble halls of Washington and right here in Maine, incredibly young men and women find themselves standing, arms linked, a bulwark against this attempted breakdown of society. A free press. It’s a daily scene that chokes me up.

There’s a line in Alan J. Pakula’s “All The President’s Men” where editor Ben Bradlee tells reporters Woodward and Bernstein, “Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country.”

Let those words sink in. Taste them.

Why didn’t I grow up to be one of them, to be a reporter? Well, I wrote this, didn’t I? So I guess this is what a writer looks like.

J.P. Devine is a writer from Waterville.

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