In these times of international tension, real news professionals disregard their personal safety and head for the world's trouble spots. Thus it was that recently I traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where I faced the very real danger that, as a journalist in the field, many of my expenses would be tax-deductible.
The Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean, which gets its name from the Indian words "Cari," meaning "body of water," and "bbean," meaning "that makes you really glad your computer has a spell checker." The Virgin Islands were discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who wisely elected to remain on the ship during the discovery process so as to avoid being turned into Purina Shark Chow by the people who already lived there.
Before sailing briskly away, Columbus named the islands "the Virgins" because he thought they looked like reclining women, which tells you how long he had been on a non-coeducational ship.
Although the islands were originally claimed by Spain, over the years they belonged to Holland, France, England, Denmark, Poland, Wales, Nigeria and the New York Yankees farm organization, before they were finally purchased by the U.S. government for $25 million. That is, coincidentally, the exact amount that I spent down there on drinks with names like "Drambuie Kablooey."
This is pretty much how everybody passes the time in the Virgin Islands. You lie in the sun, listening to the soothing sounds of the wind and the surf and the pre-cancerous lesions forming on your skin. The only remotely alarming thing I saw during my visit occurred at a small outdoor bar at a place called Sapphire Beach, where a wedding reception was going on, and the bride's bouquet was partially eaten by (I am not making this up) an iguana.
There are iguanas everywhere, roughly the size of squirrels, except that instead of being cute and furry, they look like cranky midget dinosaurs. They stand around all day, glaring and thinking, "If this were 25 million years ago, I would eat the whole BRIDE."
There is also plenty of marine life in the Virgin Islands, although due to poor planning it is located underwater. To see it, you put on rental snorkel equipment and paddle around over a coral reef, which looks like rock but is actually billions of tiny critters called "polyps" forming a living organism that eats, grows, and, when it feels frisky, messes around with another reef to produce a new little reeflet.
The underwater scenery is spectacular, and as I floated above it in the warm, clear water, I could not help but wonder: How many zillion other tourists have rented this particular snorkel mask? What was their level of nasal hygiene?
And so I paddled back to the beach, where my son, clearly thinking inheritance, talked me into windsurfing. This involves standing on a surfboard with a sail attached to it, and then, by shifting your weight and pointing the sail in a certain direction relative to the wind, falling into the water like a sack of gravel. I estimate that I got up on the surfboard, and immediately fell back off, 50 times, in the process of traveling forward a total of 11 feet.
I was the source of much entertainment for the people on the beach. Even the reef was emitting billions of tiny but hearty polyp chuckles, which would be a good name for a rock band.
After I staggered back to the beach, a real windsurfer appeared, looking like a Greek god, but with a better body. He was zipping effortlessly across the waves, muscles rippling, and my wife was watching him, and I said, "I bet that guy couldn't handle the pressure of producing a weekly newspaper column! Right? Honey? Right? Hello?"
So I decided to engage in a manly activity that I happen to be quite good at: building a sandcastle. Not for me, of course. It was for my daughter. The problem is that she, being 2, soon became bored and wandered off, leaving me to work alone, with my little blue pail and my little yellow shovel. I don't want to boast, but I made a very manly castle. I'm sure that Pectorals, out puffing around on his little board, was intimidated, although he pretended not to notice. But my wife was clearly impressed, because later on she accompanied me to our room for an intimate -- and sometimes, frankly, wild -- evening of trying to get the sand out of our daughter's hair.
And that, in a nutshell, is the situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In my journalistic opinion, it's perfectly safe to travel there, as long as you take certain commonsense precautions, such as iguana-proofing your bouquet. Also, if you mess up my castle, you're dead.