Son of The Return of theshow

Somehow, theshow has pulled me back in. I blew it off completely last year, after it was resuscitated and switched networks, but I caught some of the auditions this year and enjoyed the less-snarky format. Also, the all-musician judge panel — veterans of the scene with the scars to prove it — has a no-nonsense, but encouraging, edge.

It’s a modest pleasure, with emphasis on “modest,” and I’m also glad to see the show doesn’t have the over-reliance on oldie music that it once did. These contestants are modern artists, even if by near-necessity they skew toward the singer-songwriter model, and there is a depth here that I haven’t always seen in the past. The pageant-kid wing has been tamped down, although it still has a few representatives, and the raw amateurs with some chops but no stage skills are being politely trimmed here in the early stages. 

This is a singing show now, not a cultural juggernaut, and I suspect it may not be around next year if its ratings sink again. But it’s a pleasant way to kill a few hours a week, and there is some real talent here that I’d be glad to see in person. Really, that should be enough.

I have a long history with theshow, formerly The Show. You can find some of my past posts here.

This year’s Saint Somewhere

This year’s Saint Somewhere was St. Croix, the only U.S. Virgin Island that my wife and I had not explored at length before this year. For the last few years, we’ve found a Caribbean island to hang out on near the end of the winter, and St. Croix was a worthy addition to this tradition.

Cane Bay (photo by my wife, Kristi).

The big surprise was the completely uncrowded vibe. That might be in part because we choose to stay in a villa at Cane Bay, away from the island’s two major towns. There were only a few other villas around and we could walk down a hill to the beach and a trio of beach bars/restaurants. These included the fabulous Off the Wall and Spratnet — two immediate nominees for our list of Great Dive Bars of the Caribbean. We liked the area so much that we stayed close a lot of days, and didn’t explore the rest of the island as much as we could/should have.

From a tourism standpoint, St. Croix is pretty obviously still recovering from hurricanes Irma and Maria, the twin-headed monsters that struck in 2017. Irma just swung a glancing blow (unlike the other Virgin Islands to the north) but Maria dug right in, causing truly massive damage and stripping the vegetation. Since then, the island has greened back up but there still is rubble in places, the locals are great/friendly/approachable, the roads are a bit of an adventure but not as much as in St. John, and the place is ready to support tourists again. If you’re looking for a chill Caribbean island with lots of roaming opportunities. St. Croix definitely fits the bill.

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It should be obvious to anyone who’s read my past posts that I’m a fan of structurally questionable Caribbean beach bars. They are really more about the hangout than anything else, although most of them will be happy to get you hammered if you’re after that, but I’m just looking for a relaxed vibe and a bit of rum. Here’s how I’d rank my favorites in the Virgin Islands. The ones with an ‘X’ next to them still have a chunk of rebuilding to do after the 2017 hurricanes, but they’re more or less open:

1. Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar, Jost Van Dyke   X

2. Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant, Jost Van Dyke   X

3. Rhythms at Rainbow Beach, St. Croix

4. The Beach Bar, St. John   X

5. Seddy’s One Love Bar & Grill, Jost Van Dyke   X

6. Off the Wall, St. Croix

7. The Soggy Dollar, Jost Van Dyke

8. Spratnet, St. Croix   X

9. Skinny Legs, St. John

10. Island Time Pub, St. Thomas

Last jobs

My first last job was with CNN. I was 40, I’d just gotten hired as the senior Washington editor in the digital unit, I wanted to work there for the rest of my career and I was gone two years later. I thought the gig would at least last longer, but then AOL bought CNN and tried to run it like AOL, which at the time was on a “We Don’t Create Content” kick. As a result, almost all of my staff was laid off and my job existed only because someone had to maintain the website pages. I managed to get transferred into AOL proper, but I knew that never would last, and I left after another two years.

My second last job was with USA Today. I was in charge of the news section of the website and also ran the breaking news desk with another manager. It was a great job and I loved it. But after five years, parent company Gannett started swinging the layoff knife, and I could see what was coming. They had a reputation for ruthlessness when it came to making their numbers No Matter What. I knew that, eventually, the gears of that machine would grab me and I’d be ground into chunky bits. I got a new job instead.

My third last job was with NPR. Who wouldn’t want to work for NPR? But it was exhausting, day in and day out, to reconcile the enormous talent of some of that organization’s key journalists with their nearly constant and reflexive resistance to change. Eventually I accepted a voluntary buyout just to get on with my life, as did a surprising number of digitally oriented staffers at the same time. (NPR did change, though; it just took a very long time.)

I’m now on my fourth last job, this one with AARP. I’m pretty sure that if this doesn’t work out, I’ll have to rely on gig work until I retire. I really want this to be my last last job in the best way. Things are looking up so far.

About Helias

I was pasted firmly in the hump of the bell curve in high school. I had about an average number of friends and a modest personal profile, did fine but not super-fantastic in grades, played some sports early on but wasn’t good enough for Varsity Anything, got involved in a few extracurriculars but not a ton of them, and so on. I passed through, I learned a lot, and I don’t think I left any footprints.

But every year, I donate a decent chunk of money to that high school — Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, Mo. — in hopes of one day paying back everything they gave me. I’ve been successful for a long time in a really tough profession, and I think it is my high school that deserves much of the credit.

When you tell people you went to a Catholic high school, they start to draft a certain profile: Affluent kids, somewhat protected from life’s harsher realities, whose parents have used their money to buy an education upgrade and get God in the mix, too. But that wasn’t really what life was like at Helias.

First of all, almost all of the area Catholic kids (and there were a lot of them where I grew up) went to my high school. It was surprisingly affordable — and if families couldn’t swing the costs, the school would find a way to make things work. That meant that the school looked a lot more like the area’s overall population than a lot of Catholic schools can claim. We had rich and poor kids, townies and lots of farm kids, tough kids and pushovers, jocks and geeks. It wasn’t perfect — minorities were nonexistent and of course, there was no religious diversity — but it wasn’t some hyper-sheltered private school, either.

I was sick of Catholic school when I started at Helias, but I chose to attend because all of my friends were going there. I felt suffocated and had become confrontational with the nails-tough nuns at my grade school, and I almost got tossed from there a couple of times in my last two years. I assumed Helias would be more of the same.

It wasn’t. The nuns, Christian brothers and lay teachers brought a love of learning with them that I had not seen from many of my grade school nuns, some of whom got to keep their teaching jobs by divine right. There was the moral instruction you would expect from a Catholic school, but it was more of a lead-by-example form of teaching, instead of the beat-you-over-the-head stuff I had gotten in grade school. I loved it. And along with a genuinely terrific liberal arts education, I was taught so many practical skills.

Take Coach Jeffries, to pick just one of many teachers who filled this practical role. He was the wrestling coach at a school that took that sport very seriously, but he also was a history teacher who loved his subject.

To make sure we picked up what he was laying down, he started his classes every year by teaching his students how to take notes. His method — basically a way of writing an outline on the fly — has saved my bacon as a journalist more times than I can count and probably was the greatest factor in keeping my college GPA respectable.

I doubt Coach Jeffries ever thought his note-taking method would turn up in a reporter’s notebook, or that it would be used as the foundation for hundreds (if not thousands) of news stories, or that it would help end the careers of shady congressmen or record the thoughts of presidents, but there you go.

Helias deepened my love of music and literature. It helped me to become a critical, not just skeptical, thinker. It taught me the lasting value of real friendship. It shaped my personal ethics and morals in ways that have stuck, even after I drifted away from Catholicism. 

College was valuable — I learned and honed my journalism chops there, and got a few important life lessons along the way — but Helias was transformative. Going in, I was a smart-assed kid heading in the wrong direction. Coming out, I had been shaped into an adult with a decent head on his shoulders. I owe Helias everything, and that’s a debt I plan to keep paying off.

A scare

When you get older, your chances of getting a cancer scare go up. My first one was in 2012, when I got my first colonoscopy. They found a polyp, but it was tiny and it turned out not to be cancerous, so that basically just got me a return scoping in five years instead of 10 (Colonoscopy No. 2, so to speak, turned out to be boring except for a little squabble with the insurance company).

This time: “So, a biopsy, huh?” I said to the urologist. My second PSA test had just come back, and it ran hot, so the tiny hope I had that the first test was a one-off or just straight-up inaccurate was dashed.

And so, next week, I’m getting my prostate biopsied. I’m not very freaked out about it: PSAs are a crude screen (there is no reliable screening procedure for prostate cancer), the two digital exams I’ve already undergone have turned up nothing unusual/interesting, and in 75 percent of *all* cases, no cancer is found after a biopsy. Given that, and a lack of family history of prostate cancer, I’d have to think the odds are pretty high I’m merely going to have an unpleasant afternoon (trust me: Don’t look up “prostate biopsy” if you’re squeamish) instead of something worse. But the only way to find out for sure is to do the biopsy.

Given all of the other data (and the often slow-moving nature of prostate cancer), even if anything turns up, it should be highly treatable — if I decide to treat it at all for now. I’m actually way more concerned at this point about the potential side effects of prostate cancer treatment than I am about the danger of the cancer itself (don’t look up the side effects either, Squeamish Person). But this should make for an…um, eventful start to 2019.

Update 1/11: The biopsy came back negative. Happy goddamn New Year!

Also, if you’re curious, the procedure itself is…well, it ain’t a spa treatment, but it is very tolerable, and the part where they actually get tissue samples was painless for me. It also doesn’t take long (maybe 10 minutes). I wouldn’t go out of my way to get another one but I wouldn’t be particularly bothered if I had to, either.