Dave Barry’s Year In Review What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
It wasn’t such a bad year. Really. Some good things did happen. For example, a whole bunch of Historic Mideast Peace Accords got signed. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it seemed as though every time you turned on the TV news, you saw a group of formerly hostile Mideast leaders historically signing some accord and hugging each other as though they’d just won the playoffs. Granted, the next day there were always fatal riots, but still.
Another good thing about 1994 was that the Earth was not struck by a giant comet chunk, which is fortunate because, the way things were going, it almost certainly would have landed on the White House.
Also I’m pretty sure there were several foreign countries (Belgium comes to mind) to which the U.S. did NOT send troops in 1994. This is due in large part to the peacemaking efforts of Jimmy “I Am NOT Going Away Until I Get A Nobel Peace Prize” Carter, who spent the year jetting all over the globe with a briefcase containing the only known copy of the Clinton administration’s foreign policy. (Jimmy, if you’re reading this, the Clinton administration would like to get it back.)
It was also a good year, spiritually, for us aging baby boomers; after far too many years of being obsessively and selfishly absorbed with our own lives, we are finally starting to reach the point where we become obsessively and selfishly absorbed with our own deaths. This has led to a number of inspirational best-selling books about the afterlife - “Embraced by the Light,” “Saved by the Light,” “Garfield Sees the Light” and “The Susan Powter Post-Mortem Workout.”
And speaking of fitness, 1994 was the year when the Dietary Police decided that there is a type of restaurant cuisine - broiled fish, no tartar sauce, no butter, no salt, no dessert, no wine, no coffee, no sitting in the same ZIP code as a cigarette smoker that we could enjoy without, in most cases, suffering instantaneous cardiac arrest.
Another positive development on the health front, carried over from 1993, was the discovery that, if you are a male, and your private part gets sliced off with a kitchen knife and thrown out a car window somewhere in Virginia, it can be retrieved and surgically reattached in such a way that you can become a celebrity with a film career and a higher Name Recognition Quotient than the secretary of defense.
And speaking of celebrities, how about star O.J. Simpson witness Brian “Kato” Kaelin? Here’s a guy who had a GOOD year in 1994. A few months ago I was watching one of those All-O.J.-All-The-Time TV tabloid news shows with a name like “A Currently Hard Copy Of An Edition,” and they had a long segment on how, since Kato became a witness, his rating has gone WAY up on the Los Angeles Celeb-o-Meter. They even had a picture of him hanging around with Martin Sheen. (Or maybe it was Charlie Sheen. It was definitely a Sheen.) The consensus of the show-business professionals interviewed for this segment was, hey, you always hate to see innocent people get stabbed to death, but by the same token, this thing has been a BIG shot in the arm for Kato’s career.
And these are just a few of the good things that happened in 1994. The only reason why I’m not listing all the other ones is that I can’t think of any. Everything else that comes to mind was bad, starting with …
… when the world was shocked by a story involving, of all activities, women’s figure skating, which heretofore had been considered a genteel sport wherein petite women wearing enough makeup to cover a ranch home sporadically fell on their butts in front of judges from places with names like “Ubzrzezkzdistan.”
But all that changed on that fateful Jan. 6 in Detroit when Nancy Kerrigan, a leading contender for an Olympic gold medal, was struck on the knee by a member of a criminal conspiracy that probably would have succeeded brilliantly except for the fact that everyone involved had the IQ of a dog biscuit. Suspicion quickly focused on amateur video-camera operator Jeff Gillooly and his intermittent wife, skater Tonya Harding, who immediately became such a huge international celebrity that she could not floss her teeth without elbowing Connie Chung in the head.
Of course we now know that Tonya Harding was actually a victim. It was a very big year for victims, notably the alleged Menendez brothers, Erik and Lyle, who both received mistrials in January, thereby teaching us all the heartwarming lesson that no matter what we may have done, there is at least one juror in California who believes it is not our fault. And let us not forget another famous victim, Lorena Bobbitt, who was found not guilty in January of cutting off her husband’s penis, leaving historians to speculate on who actually did it. I am guessing Lee Harvey Oswald.
January also saw some shocking revelations in the Whitewater scandal, which traces its origins back to when Bill and Hillary Clinton made hundreds of thousands of dollars by operating a failed savings and loan that was using some woman named Paula to sell arms to the Contras. Also there is some kind of chicken-processing angle. I frankly do not have all the details on this scandal, but you may rest assured that, with Sen. Al “The Subpoena” D’Amato on the case, it will continue to be a major growth industry in Washington (Official Motto: “We Are So Gridlocked That We Can’t Even Finish This Official Mot”) until long after human civilization has disappeared from the Earth.
In the 1994 Super Bowl, the plucky never-say-die Buffalo Bills once again represented the American Football Conference, and once again they performed superbly until they made the tactical error of leaving their hotel, at which point they were once again tromped by the Dallas Cowboys 437-6. But we should not blame the Bills: They were victims. And speaking of sports, in …
… the attention of the world turned to the Winter Olympics in Norway, where the gold medal in the women’s figure-skating event - which had been endlessly hyped as a contest between Kerrigan and Harding - was won, in a stunning upset, by unheralded newcomer Michael Jordan.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency was demonstrating, once again, why it is known far and wide as “the Central Intelligence Agency.” This was the situation: (a) The CIA knew that somebody was leaking sensitive intelligence information to the Russians; (b) An unstable alcoholic CIA employee named Aldrich Ames, who had access to sensitive intelligence information, was in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials; (c) Ames, who made less than $70,000 a year, was suddenly spending large amounts of cash, including $500,000 for a house. Top CIA brains pondered these mysterious clues for several years, until finally, in February, the answer hit them: Ames was an Amway distributor.
No, seriously, they figured out that Ames was spying for the Russians, a secret that he had been able to conceal via the clever ruse of not standing up on his desk at CIA headquarters and screaming “I’M SPYING FOR THE RUSSIANS, YOU CRETINS!”
Anyway, Ames was arrested and the brains at the CIA were once again free to dig up intelligence information vital to our national security. They’re working on a tip (Don’t tell anyone!) that Nikita Khrushchev might be ill.
Speaking of arresting people, February was the month when the U.S. Congress established that 1994 would go down in history as The Year Of Elected Officials Talking Tough About Crime Even If They Personally Happen To Be Under Indictment. Members of Congress risked physical injury in their frenzied rush to introduce ever-tougher new anti-crime measures, including “Three Strikes And You’re Out,” “Two Strikes And We Poke Out Your Eyeball,” “One Strike And We Put You In A Small Cell With A Large Veteran Offender Known Only As ‘The Ram,”’ etc.
And speaking of legislation, in …
… the big news was the Clintons’ decision - incredibly foolish, in retrospect - to declassify their Top Secret National Health Care Plan, which had been doing really well in the polls until people found out what was in it. The plan immediately became the year’s hottest political issue, with the battle lines drawn as follows:
MAJOR PLAYERS OPPOSED TO THE CLINTON PLAN - The medical profession, the legal profession, the insurance companies, the drug companies, big business, small business, medium business, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
MAJOR PLAYERS IN FAVOR OF THE CLINTON PLAN - The Clintons. (Although Bill had some reservations.)
In other health news, the federal government announced that it would seek to ban cigarette smoking within the solar system, a move that met with vehement opposition from the cigarette manufacturers, who continued to deny that there is any scientific evidence that they, in fact, manufacture cigarettes.
In foreign affairs, world concern focused on the fact that North Korea might be on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, thereby joining the exclusive International A-Bomb Club that currently is limited to the United States, Britain, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, Zrzkzistan, Urzkzkrstan, Stanstanistan, Burundi, Wales, Vermont, the Dallas Cowboys and Bill Gates. President Clinton, determined to deal with the North Koreans at the highest level, immediately summoned Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the Oval Office to see if he knew Jimmy Carter’s phone number.
This was quickly followed by another foreign-policy crisis in …
… when there was a big uproar over the decision by a Singapore court - widely supported by a U.S. public fed up with criminals getting off on technicalities - to take a stout cane and whack the naked buttocks of Oliver North.
No, tragically, Singapore decided to cane somebody else, leaving North free to campaign, on a platform of victimhood, for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia held by Chuck “Party Time” Robb, thus paving the way for a race that would lead to the first election in American history to feature barf bags in the voting booths.
April also saw the return of the professional baseball season, the rebirth of the timeless, quintessentially American pastime, an ever-changing yet ever-constant drama of mind and body and heart played out by gallant young warriors racing gracefully across emerald fields festooned with thousands of twinkling gobs of spit. Oh, sure, there were some difficult issues dividing owners and players, but these were expected to be quickly resolved, thanks to the decision to hold contract talks under the soothing influence of professional mediator Carlos the Jackal.
And speaking of money, a Los Angeles jury awarded victim Rodney King $3.8 million, finally bringing an end to a legal saga that involved an estimated 29 trials dating back to the Truman administration. Los Angelenos were at last able to put high-profile media-circus court cases behind them and once again focus their full energies on fulfilling their primary purpose in life: commuting. And speaking of the judicial system, in …
… a vacancy opened up on the Supreme Court when a janitor noticed that one of the justices - possibly one of the ones named “Harlan” - had apparently been retired or dead for several months. In selecting a replacement, President Clinton followed his usual decisive strategy, spending several months accepting and then rejecting every possible candidate including, at one point, Socks, before finally deciding - in a move that continued the trend toward an all-dweeb court - to nominate Stephen Breyer, who as far as anybody can tell is also David Souter.
Elsewhere in the nation’s capital, Congress, after years of stalling, finally got around to clearing the way for informal discussions that might lead to possible formal talks that could potentially produce some kind of tentative agreements on a theoretical course of action that could initiate the process required to eventually produce a very preliminary effort to at least get Congress to consider some kind of real campaign reform, but not before the polar ice cap reaches at least Atlanta. In a related development, powerful Illinois congressman Dan Rostenkowski was indicted on 17 counts of looking like the result of a runaway genetic experiment involving a beanbag chair and a toad.
Abroad, the big news concerned the long-awaited Channel Tunnel, which was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II, who departed from England in a special train, traveled for less than an hour, and arrived - in a triumph of British-French engineering - in another part of England. But for sheer transportation drama, it would be impossible to top the moment in …
… when a white Ford Bronco containing O.J. Simpson fled on the Los Angeles freeways in a riveting real-life drama that was watched by an estimated 75 million TV viewers, making it the highest-ranked sports-celebrity freeway chase in that particular time slot, easily beating a maroon Chevrolet Blazer containing Mickey Mantle, a Mayflower moving van containing George Foreman and a U-Haul trailer containing the late Knute Rockne. Simpson was arrested and exercised his constitutional right to hire about 14 really expensive lawyers, who immediately revealed that he was a victim and embarked on a strategy of avoiding pre-trial publicity by appearing at least once per day on every TV show in the nation including “Jeopardy.”
Elsewhere in sports, in June the World Cup came to the United States for the first time ever and produced hundreds of exciting games with scores of 1-1 and sometimes even 2-2, culminating in a gripping championship game between Italy and Brazil that remained 0-0 for the better part of July and was finally decided when the Italian team’s visas expired.
Speaking of expiring, June was the month that the epidemic of Deadly Flesh-Eating Bacteria swept the nation, claiming an estimated three victims, which works out to one victim for every 17,894,398 times the Deadly Flesh-Eating Bacteria were featured on the TV news.
In foreign affairs, President Clinton, confounding critics who claimed that he had no foreign policy, came up with 14 separate policies regarding Haiti alone. But nobody was paying much attention to international events because it was getting to be …
… and all eyes were focused on the top-rated O.J. Simpson Hearing Show, where, in what observers believed was a critical blow to the defense, forensic experts testified that a DNA analysis had proved conclusively that lead defense weasel Robert Shapiro was putting black shoe polish on his hair.
There was also intense speculation regarding the contents of a Mystery Envelope, which was believed to contain evidence that could prove vital to the outcome of the Simpson murder case; unfortunately the envelope fell into the hands of the U.S. Postal Service and was never seen again. The Postal Service was also having big trouble in Chicago, where a huge percentage of the mail was being delivered late - in some cases decades late. A concerned Postmaster General Marvin Runyon vowed to go to Chicago with a team of postal officials “just as soon as we figure out where Chicago is.”
Speaking of lost, the entire nation got caught up in the saga of a cat named Tabitha who got loose inside a Tower Air passenger plane and could not be found for two weeks. The good news was that Tabitha finally turned up; the bad news was that she turned up in the form of an in-flight meal purported to be chicken.
In international affairs, the Clinton administration, responding to escalating crises in Haiti, Cuba, North Korea, Rwanda and Bosnia, installed a Random Foreign Policy Generator, which performed admirably once technicians ironed out a few glitches that caused it to repeatedly call for air strikes against Fort Worth, Texas.
In interplanetary affairs, giant comet chunks smashed into Jupiter, forcing the administration to temporarily postpone plans to send troops there. And speaking of outer space, in …
… Michael Jackson confirmed that he had married Lisa Marie Presley in a private ceremony attended only by members of the immediate family and hundreds of elves. Elsewhere on the pop music scene, the “Age of Aquarius” was reborn on the 25th anniversary of Woodstock as tens of thousands of high-spirited television news crews gathered in upstate New York to broadcast pictures of millions of tons of mud that had been trucked in by promoters at great expense especially for this historic event.
But all was not peaches and light in August, for this was also the month when the baseball players and owners, all of whom were raking in millions of dollars, after countless hours of racking their brains in an effort to figure out what would be the stupidest possible thing they could do, decided to halt the season. Sports fans, suddenly finding themselves freed of the responsibility of thinking about pitching rotations, began reading books, going to museums and paying attention to their loved ones.
I’m kidding, of course. They just started thinking about football a few weeks early.
Speaking of millions of dollars, in August a jury in Albuquerque, N.M., awarded $2.9 million to a woman who sued McDonald’s after she spilled a cup of hot coffee in her lap and - get ready for a totally unforeseeable development - burned herself. Legal experts were at a loss to explain why the jury, while it was at it, did not also award at least SOMETHING to the Menendez brothers.
And speaking of severe medical trauma, in …
… the Clinton Health Care Plan, a huge, confused water buffalo of an idea that had spent the summer stumbling around the jungle of Capitol Hill while fierce pygmy congresspersons riddled it with poison darts shot from blowguns made out of rolled-up press releases, finally keeled over, crushing hundreds of lobbyists. This was a very difficult time for the Clintons, who could not feel safe even in their own residence, as the White House - in a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of American presidents - was struck by a small plane piloted by an angry, deranged semicoherent individual later identified as Newt Gingrich.
But there was also some good news for the administration: In Haiti, Jimmy Carter, continuing to rack up frequent-negotiator points, was able to work out a deal with evil murdering raping dictator Raoul Cedras, under which the United States got total responsibility for Haiti for approximately the next 700 years, while Cedras - boy, did we show HIM got paid to leave the country and take up residence at the “Papa Doc” Ex-Haitian-Dictator Luxury Retirement Community And Country Club.
In entertainment news, casting began for the part of jury in the O.J. Simpson Trial Show, featuring Lance Ito as The Stern But Fair Judge Who Helps Keep Pretrial Publicity To A Minimum By Regularly Making Big News. Ito created a nationwide panic in September when he threatened to ban TV cameras from the courtroom, but fortunately he changed his mind when lawyers for both the prosecution and defense argued that such an action could cause irreparable harm to the career of “Kato” Kaelin. And speaking of tragedies, in …
… the opening of the National Hockey League regular season was delayed when players and owners, after months of intense talks mediated by Jimmy Carter, realized that the NHL regular season is a complete waste of time anyway. This action had virtually no effect on attendance in Canada, where sellout crowds showed up at rinks to cheer enthusiastically (“Eh! Eh!”) for the ice-resurfacing machines.
Elsewhere in the sports industry, basketball player Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, having successfully reached his junior year of college, graciously permitted himself to be drafted by the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks and announced that he wished to be paid $100 million. After lengthy negotiations conducted, it goes without saying, by Jimmy Carter, Dog generously agreed to reduce his price to only $68 million, in return for a contract clause stating that he does not have to actually play basketball except when he needs to film his sneaker commercials.
Also in October, social scientists released the surprising results of a nationwide sex survey showing that the average American married couple has sex 3.7 times per month, although they achieve mutual orgasmic climax only .2 times per month, because the other 3.5 times they are interrupted by a child pounding frantically on the door to announce, at 11:30 p.m., that he or she has a major school project due the following morning.
In other science news, the authors of a book called “The Bell Curve” created a storm of controversy with their claim to have scientific proof that human intelligence is inversely proportional to the individual human’s level of interest in line dancing. Elsewhere in the publishing industry, the pope immediately claimed the No. 1 spot on the best-seller list when he came out with his enormously popular new book, “Crossing the Threshold of the Bridges of Madison County.”
In politics, as the midterm congressional elections drew near, candidates for both parties educated the voters via informative, issue-oriented TV commercials featuring photographs that made the opposing candidate look like Jeff Goldblum in the later stages of the movie “The Fly,” with a sneering announcer asking suggestive questions such as, “Why won’t (NAME OF OPPONENT) tell the truth about the Kennedy Assassination?”
Meanwhile, President Clinton, riding a wave of popularity not seen since the 1972 McGovern-Eagleton juggernaut, set out on an ambitious cross-country campaign trip to boost the chances of Democratic candidates, who responded by fleeing into the forest and hiding in the underbrush until the president gave up and went off in search of somebody else to boost. (The only Democratic candidate whom the president actually succeeded in campaigning with was Ted Kennedy, who was unable to flee into the forest because he couldn’t fit between the trees.)
And things did not improve much for the president when he returned to Washington, as the White House was struck by bullets fired by an angry, deranged semicoherent individual later identified as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-Hell. In other military action, the U.S. sent 30,000 troops to Kuwait as a stern reminder to Saddam Hussein that anytime he wants to, he can yank our chain. And speaking of hostility, in …
… tens of millions of American voters, inspired by the intellectual give-and-take of the fall campaign, stayed home. But some of them went to the polls, where they gave the Republicans an extremely historic victory that left the GOP in control of the House, the Senate, the Cabinet and the first two floors of the White House. The voters were apparently attracted by the Republicans’ “Contract With America,” which was written by Newt Gingrich, and which contains the following provisions:
1. Money-wasting government programs will be eliminated, except of course for those programs that waste money on YOU.
2. Everybody has to stop making fun of the way white guys dance.
3. Newt gets to change his name to “Thor.”
Angry voters in a number of states also voted overwhelmingly to impose term limits on members of Congress, apparently because there was no way to vote for putting them directly in jail.
Everybody was pretty happy to see the election come to an end except for Californians, who suddenly lost their state’s largest industry, namely, the producing of campaign commercials for mega-twit Michael Huffington, who had spent $28 million trying to get himself elected to the U.S. Senate, apparently not realizing that for about half that price he could have simply purchased North Dakota outright.
Californians also approved a referendum aimed at halting illegal immigration, although they’ll probably change their minds once they realize that this means they’ll have to raise their own children.
Speaking of children, in November Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley were rumored to be having marital problems, despite the tireless mediation efforts of Jimmy Carter. In a related and widely hailed development, United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Boutros Boutros announced that U.N. peacekeeping troops would use “massive force” to prevent any attempt at reconciliation between victims Roseanne and Tom Arnold.
Speaking of Family Values, in …
… an army of victorious Republican congresspersons-elect, led by “Thor” Gingrich, gathered in Washington and vowed that their highest legislative priority would be to enact a constitutional amendment that would permit voluntary prayer on commuter airplanes. This proposal received the definite tentative endorsement of President For Now Clinton, who invited Thor and Bob Dole to please, if they got a chance, come visit his new office in a suite of refrigerator cartons on the White House lawn.
In other government action, The Committee For Driving Customers Away From The U.S. Postal Service, having spent the past three years trying to come up with a price for first-class stamps that would be even less convenient than 29 cents, announced that, as of Feb. 1, the price will be 32.7 Norwegian kroner, not including delivery.
Meanwhile Congress, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, passed GATT (an acronym for “NAFTA”), a long-overdue reform of international trade under which the people responsible for importing the Power Rangers into the United States will be hunted down like dogs and shot. In a related development, executives of several major toy-store chains announced that this holiday season they would not sell realistic-looking toy guns.
“Kids won’t buy them,” stated the executives. “From now on we’re going with guns that really shoot.”
In another heartwarming holiday-season story, the Formerly Rev. Jim Bakker was finally released from prison after serving five years for being a victim, and we should all get down on our knees and voluntarily pray that Jim will get back together with his talented former wife Tammy Faye and get on television again, because they had by far THE most entertaining show in the history of broadcasting, narrowly edging out the Senate Judiciary Committee’s classic Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill pubic-hair episode.
In international affairs, Miami was the scene of the Summit of the Americas - a historic and unprecedented high-level gathering in which 34 Western Hemisphere heads of state met behind closed doors to discuss possible ways to get safely back to the airport.
On the science front, a group of medical researchers announced that human obesity is caused by a gene that is transmitted by french fries. This was just one more piece of bad news for Bill Clinton, already stung by reports that a majority of leaders in his own party would prefer to see the 1996 Democratic nomination go to Vice President Al Gore. Or, for that matter, Tipper.
Yes, there are many exciting developments for us to look forward to as we roll along the Los Angeles freeway of time in the white Ford Bronco of our lives. But this is not a time to dwell on the future; this is a time to relax, forget about your cares and have yourself a …
HAPPY NEW YEAR … and if you don’t, you should definitely sue.