Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Knuckle Up

I have to say that one of the best parts about my job is that I get to talk to new people almost everyday. I think that's the same for any sports writer.

St. Thomas is a small island -- 13 square miles -- so there is not a bounty of sports to dig into everyday. I know this, people. Every time I tell someone what I do and where, that's the next thing out of their mouth. "So do they even have sports down there?"

Why, yes. They sure do.

Every so often, I make my way down to the Paul M. Pearson Gardens Learning Center (a very long name for a dark, dirty dungeon where boxers learn to crush their opponents). It's located right in the middle of a tough neighborhood. Last month, someone was shot inside a nearby apartment, stumbled onto the outdoor basketball court and died -- I checked the next day for blood splatter.

But when I complete the journey down there, successfully park without drawing too many stares and make it into the gym, the red carpet is rolled out for "that newspaper guy with the beard."

Most of them know me by name. The ones that don't just haven't been interviewed yet.

So I've been following these three local guys who went pro last year. Each of them are still undefeated at the moment. Two of the three are brothers and the third is their cousin.

Confused yet? Let me try harder.

Their coach is the brothers' father, also known as Julian "The Hawk" Jackson, a three-time boxing world champion. Great guy.

Jackson's stepson is this young fellow...

His name is Clayton (perfect first name for a boxer) Laurent. He's the USVI super heavyweight and if everything goes to plan, he will compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.

When I was interviewing a female boxer making her amateur debut last Saturday, Clayton, who was still warming up for his bout, grabbed my digital recorder and took over.

He started to ask her sarcastic questions about her fight and the best part was she started to answer them. I thought I was going to have to give him a byline credit at the end of the story.

To read that story, which was published in Monday's edition, click here.

Another funny thing is that he wears two different colored socks pulled up to his bulky knee caps when he fights. Yeah, he's that kind of person.

When I made fun of his fresh new haircut -- Clayton had styled in three straight lines on the side of his head like what M.C. Hammer used to do -- he had a quick response.

"I'm trying to bring it back, man. That's all."

He's funny, humble and very likable. And a damn good boxer. He floored his opponent from Puerto Rico twice in the second round Saturday and the PR coach threw in the towel.

Better yet, a friend of mine who works at The Saint, the only "night club" on the island, said she saw a bunch of boxers in the club later that night celebrating.

"Oh yeah, one of them was wearing a whole bunch of medals around his neck," she told me. "He was huge!"

I knew right away who she was talking about. Only Clayton would take everyone's medals, put them around his neck and enter the club on a Saturday night.

Now the day I get to roll with those guys into the club -- that would be an experience. I only wish I was that cool.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hooter's redux

You tweeted about me so I'm going to blog about you, Carlos!

Woke up Wednesday morning to a text message from the friendly Mexican.

Carlos: "Where you want to meet?"
Patriotic American: "Shipwreck?"
Carlos: "I would say Hooter's so we can watch both games."
PA: "Are they even open now?"
Carlos: "For sure. I was there yesterday."

My good friend, Stephen, did not answer my immediate invitation call. Probably because he was hung over from last night's bender at Hooter's.

The night before, I was thinking about sleeping with the American flag wrapped around me but the girlfriend vetoed and after a second thought, it would have been disrespectful to Old Glory. So I hung her with pride and it was the first thing I saw when I woke up.

It was the final game for the U.S. in group play of the World Cup and we had to beat Algeria. I'll give you 2 dollars if you can point out where Algeria is located on a map. Africa? The Middle East? Fort Lauderdale?

I didn't shower. I didn't even brush my teeth. If the Mexican contingent on St. Thomas was going to gather at Hooter's for a soccer battle then I felt smelly America should be represented, too.

I walked into the bar at 9 a.m. to an interesting sight. Someone had draped an American flag banner across the entire bar and there were American party hats scattered across the tables. Were we supposed to wear these things? None of this was mentioned in Stephen's day-time Hooter's story. That sonsofbitch lied to me.

I sat down and looked around. Carlos was right. It was a great place to catch a game. The bar was wallpapered with flat-screen TVs and they were running a $2 beer special on Bud and Bud Light.

"Why, because those are supposed to be American beers or something?" I asked the bartender.

"I don't know," she said. "Maybe just because we ordered too many and they're backed up in the walk-in cooler."

It was a rational thought but it also simmered my patriotic aspirations. I couldn't let this bartender dull my fire. So I did what every jackass does at a bar during a sports event.

"C'mon, boys! Let's do it!" I yelled for no particular reason while clapping.

No one reciprocated. The game hadn't even started yet.

Just then, Carlos walked in and grabbed a seat next to me. He ordered a bucket of beer -- remember, it's 9 a.m. -- and then we got started.

It was 90 and half minutes of tense, nerve-racking soccer. I couldn't eat. I could barely contain my frustrated profanity. Some yahoo behind me brought his entire family to the bar to watch the game. Check that, he brought his two young sons to Hooter's to learn the value of a decent American meal.

Those 3-Mile Island wings are killer. Carlos put back a dozen. In keeping with my America theme, I ordered a burger of course, 86 the french fries.

"Do you guys have any soup?" I asked the bartender.

She thought I was joking, laughed and scampered off to flirt with another patron.

After the U.S. victory, Carlos urged me to stay and watch the 2:30 p.m. game. It would determine who the Yanks would play in the next round. I had already planned to write a column about the American soccer bliss so...

"I guess it would be professional research," I said before Carlos high-fived me and ordered shots.

I left the bar at halftime of the second game and drove to work. I blasted the Rolling Stones the whole way and bobbed my head like only a stupid white boy could.

At a traffic light near my office, a St. Thomian (not sure if that is even a word) sat on a nearby bench and picked up the Mick Jagger tune. Now I have no idea if he even followed soccer or could figure out what had put this rowdy American into such a frenzy, but he started to bob his head too and then the light turned green.

I think it was the longest grin a human being has ever had while walking into an office.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The V.I. Hooter's Experience

Over the last few weeks, I've been hanging out with a new friend, Stephen. We work similar hours on island -- I'm a late-night sports writer and he told me his job is so top-secret that I needed security clearance just to buy him a beer.

Anyway, the kid is hilarious. He reminds me of The Pheonix, a fellow thru-hiker I met last summer while hiking the Appalachain Trail.

We've exchanged a few stories about living on St. Thomas while leaning against the bar at Sib's, another local establishment that attracts only the most elite drinkers.

Well, old Stephen was suffering from the Monday blues last week and decided he needed to get out of the office before he went postal.

After a quick drive, he arrived at Hooter's, which has only one beer on tap and serves All-U-Can-Eat wings (after 4 p.m.) on Mondays for 10 bucks.

The restaurant is strategically located across the street from Yacht Haven Grande, where all the big cruise ships dock for the day. For some odd reason, however, the restaurant never seems crowded ... even on Wing Night.

I've walked in there once or twice with my girlfriend (for protection) and aside from the boisterous "WELCOME TO HOOTER'S!" cheer you get from the bored waitresses, all you hear during the meal is crickets in the distance.

Now on this somber Monday, Stephen walked in, gave a quick glimpse at the talent and plopped his butt on a bar stool near the corner of a somewhat empty bar. The plan was to drink Miller Lite draft and eat hot wings until his head cleared. Or until he felt like going back to work. Whichever happened first.

To his surprise, the bartender was actually good looking. Check that, she was a blond bombshell and Stephen couldn't help but stare (he showed me pictures of her on his iPhone). In recent years, that was quite a rarity at Hooter's so he felt the day was about to turn.

After three beers and three plates of 3-Mile Island wings, the bar became steady as other locals jumped on the Wing Night special. The last horn blew from the last cruise boat so the rest of the island could take a collective sigh of relief.

Before Stephen knew it, he was yucking it up with the other bar folks. The same bar folks that said hello or nodded to every single server before sitting down. Like they owned the joint. The worst part, the bombshell said hello to each of them, too.

The dreaded regulars ... at a Hooter's?

Stephen started to sweat. What had he become, he asked himself. Did he want to be like the rest of the people around him? The type of person that would go to a Hooter's in the middle of a Monday afternoon for flat beer, over-rated wings and girls in orange short shorts flirting with patrons?

Stephen immediately stopped talking to the other schmucks, quickly paid his bill and burst out the door toward his car. The mundane Monday had turned into a nightmare.

The only thing he could think of now was to get back to work and pretend like his Hooter's trip never happened. He smoked a cigarette before he entered the office to disguise the booze on his breath and sat patiently at his desk. Was the mission worth it? Did he accomplish what he set out to do?

Then he got a text message. It was from me.

"Hey bud, let's do wing night at Hooter's tonight. Don't be a bastard. Meet me there at 7 p.m."

He texted back: "OK. Sounds good. I haven't been there in a while."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Marathon Man

I guess I should have posted this earlier in the month but it just came across my mind. Funny how that works.

So I made a little trip to sunny San Diego the first week of June to visit friends, drink brewery ale, eat Mexican food and oh yeah ... I did a little running.

Yeah, so I ran a marathon. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?

Before I left for my trip, my editor found out about my marathon mission. She asked me to write a Before and After column for publication and I didn't know what to think at first.

Then we decided to publish a picture of this physical specimen running down a local beach bare-chested and full of life.

"So you want to sell some newspapers, huh?"

Shameless self-promotion here ... if you want to read all about my running exploits (and provide our web site with some unique page views) click on the links below.

I personally like the first column better.



A few days later, I got an email from an old friend in Annapolis, Md. who gave me some positive feedback from my marathon antics. He told me that reading the column inspired him to sign up for a marathon himself and he quoted some of my words in the email.

It was one of the best professional compliments I've ever received. Thanks, buddy and good luck. Remember to put band-aids on those nipples.

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup fever

The greatest sporting event in the world is going on as we speak and I was supposed to be in attendance. Four years ago, my brother and I traveled to Germany for a freakout that was the 2006 World Cup and it was one of the best trips of my life.

About a year ago, I was starting to make a push for South Africa but this fine newspaper in the U.S. Virgin Islands contacted me and the rest is history. Now, I live in paradise and get to watch the soccer on TV at local bars. It's the middle of winter down there anyway so it all worked out.

My favorite WC picture so far... (it's Diego Maradona)

Last week, I was venting in the office after the U.S.-England game and was running my mouth a little bit. "Bloody bastard" this and "Bad teeth" that. You know, the basic trash-talking.

One of our news reporters, Aldeth, just sat and listened to me with a slight grin on her face. Little did I know that the nice, young intern she just brought into the office is from England. They sat, listened and waited for my ignorant rant to subside. After I was done and trying to catch my breath, Aldeth told me the intern was British and I immediately blushed.

"Shouldn't you guys be happy with the tie?" the intern asked me.

"I was happy with the War of 1812," I said.

Fast forward a couple days. My parents are in town and we've been watching a lot of soccer together. Look at my pops represent Old Glory in the Caribbean.

I took them to a breakfast place this morning to ensure prime-time seats at the bar for the U.S.-Slovenia game.

Of course, we're there 5 minutes before they meet a group of soccer fans from New Jersey, their home state. We combined our powers to exhaust the novice bartenders. It was a great game and a fine atmosphere to take in the action.

When the U.S. scored their third goal (I don't give a shit what that stupid referee said) I jumped for joy and my beer went flying. The folks from Jersey didn't mind.

Watching the England-Algeria game right now. If our favorite French implants can shock the Brits, two things will occur:

1. I'll have more fire to throw back at that news intern.
2. The U.S. team will be in good position to advance.

I love soccer.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

LIP Blog gaining readers?

Dear Diary,

Why is my Paradise blog getting more and more popular? I didn't mean for all these people to read about my inter-thoughts. Now, it appears, I've created a monster.

At first, I set this thing up so my homies back in the hood could catch up on my Caribbean antics. The family chimed in from time to time, which was expected. But now, I'm writing for an audience and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

If you think for a second that the blog will cease, than you obviously don't know me well. I still wear T-shirts that were purchased in the early 1990's, I always over-stay a welcome and I rarely agree when the bartender yells, "Last Call!"

I'm not sure if that made any sense.

Here's the skinny: several very prominent people in my life have recently approached me about the blog and what was documented within it. This scares me ... Well, not really. Shit. Just forget I mentioned it.

It sort of goes back to the question: Why blog at all?

Who am I representing? What are the ramifications and how does one blogger make everyone happy?

I know the answer to the last question. The only person I bring joy to is MYSELF. Yeah, that's right. I'll admit it. I got into the blogging game purely because of the perks. The pension plan is pretty sweet, too.

So I'm going to keep on keeping on. You know what I'm saying?

More tomorrow. XOXO.



P.S. Roy, I'm sorry I called you a "deadbeat landlord." You are a fantastic, resourceful landlord. Please do not raise the rent or paint the house pink. That would suck. And it would also make for a hilarious blog post.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pepto-Bismol and kayaks

I wish I had photos to show you.

Woke up Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend with a text message waiting for me.

"Conditions look OK, meet at 2 p.m. at the Eco-Tour dock."

Sounds innocent enough, I thought. The message was from my friend, Bill, who takes people out on kayak tours around the island. He does that to fund his sailing endeavors as he frequents the local saloons at night. He also lives on a boat, which I think is pretty cool.

Anyway, I met Bill the second week I was here. I was driving back to the East End (where my boss lives -- she let us stay at her house until we found our own digs) and I saw three guys hitch-hiking on the side of the road. Still fresh from my Appalachian Trail hiking days, I picked them up.

It was Bill and two buddies of his. One guy was from Australia. They were so happy for the ride, and I guess I seemed normal enough, so they invited me out for the night and it was the first time I ever went to Duffy's, an infamous bar in Red Hook located inside a parking lot. Good times.

Now back to my freaking story.

It was pretty cloudy out and the wind was picking up but Bill is the expert. Brianna and I grabbed up some towels, I packed my make-shirt snorkel and we headed for the dock.

Bill and his roommate, I mean boat mate (or is it first mate?), and two other friends were already there loading up the kayaks. The plan was to kayak out to the middle of nowhere and do a little surface diving. Sounds innocent enough, right?

Once we left the calm waters near the dock, the swells started to pick up. They must have been about 5 feet tall on the way out. Brianna was in front of our two-man kayak and was getting frustrated with my paddle timing. It's hard bringing up the rear sometimes.

After about 30 minutes of crazy kayaking -- we capsized only once -- we connected to a buoy and got in the water. Bill and his first mate, Zack, were crazy. I didn't have fins but I tried my best to catch up with them. I just sat at the surface with my snorkel, where waves were crashing down, and watched these two dive 30 feet down, swim through a coral reef tunnel and emerge again.

"How the hell did you do that?" I asked before taking in a mouthful of salt water.

"We do this shit everyday," Bill said. "Give it a try!"

With two experts in my midst, I figured it was worth an attempt. I started my dive and forgot to plug my nose. I wasn't 10 feet deep before the pressure was too much and pulled a 180 for the surface again.

I have to start hanging out with these guys more often, I thought.

When we got back to the kayaks, the swells really started to pummel us. Zack confirmed my suspicion that it had gotten much worse since we tied up the kayaks almost an hour ago.

Now exhausted and with a belly full of salt water, I was back on the kayak and prepared for the my return trip with waves literally crashing down on us. It was not a pretty sight.

I immediately started to get sea sick and my body was starting to shut down. I felt like jumping off the kayak and swimming to shore because the motion in the ocean was breaking me.

After every three paddles, I had to take a breather. Bill said I was grimacing. I had no fuel. I felt like passing out.

Then the waves really started to hit us and our kayak flipped over three times. Yes, THREE TIMES! In a matter of five minutes. It was embarrassing.

After the third fall, the trained experts knew it was time to transition from kayak adventure to kayak rescue. Bill and Zack came back, tied a rope to their vessel and started to tow us in.

(A news editor just looked over my shoulder and asked me which blogger I was reading. I lied and said my friend who lives in Malaysia. Where the hell did I get that from? Little do they know I regularly post to my own blog from my office. Still not sure I can let them in on this so for now, this little project is just our little secret. OK?)

When Bill and Zack were towing us in, I slumped back and closed my eyes. I've been sea sick in big boats before but nothing like this. It was like paddle or die. I wish I could of just snapped my finger and be on land again. That would have been sweet.

As soon as we got back into comfortable waters, my strength immediately came back, the color in my face returned and I was happy. Happy that I did not die.

When I am going to learn? I get sea sick. I can't help it, yet, I constantly defy that fact every chance I get.

"And you always talk about going on a cruise," Brianna said to me back at the dock.

I just want to order a Porterhouse steak at 3 a.m. and see if they bring it up to my room. That may be the sole reason I want to take a cruise. That, and gambling.

Who doesn't like to mix blackjack with some Pepto-Bismol?