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The Year That Was (Thank Goodness It's Over)

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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 United States did not send troops in 1994. This is due in large part to the peace-making 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.

It was also a good year because 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.

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 . . .

JANUARY

. . . 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.

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. 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.

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 . . .

FEBRUARY

. . . 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. Ames was arrested and the brains at the CIA were once again free to dig up intelligence information vital to our national security.

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 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 . . .

MARCH

. . . 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 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 . . .

APRIL

. . . 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.

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. Oh, sure, there were some difficult financial issues dividing owners and players, but these were expected to be quickly resolved.

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 to the Truman administration. And speaking of the judicial system, in . . .

MAY

. . . 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.

Abroad, the big news concerned the long-awaited English 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 . . .

JUNE

. . . 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. Simpson was arrested and exercised his constitutional right to hire about 14 really expensive lawyers.

Elsewhere in sports, 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.

June also 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 . . .

JULY

... 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 attorney 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.

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 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 . . .

AUGUST

. . . 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.

And speaking of severe medical trauma, in . . .

SEPTEMBER

. . . 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 congresspersons riddled it with poison darts, finally keeled over, crushing hundreds of lobbyists.

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 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.

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 . . .

OCTOBER

. . . 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.

Elsewhere in the sports industry, college basketball player Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson 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, Dog 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.

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.

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. And speaking of hostility, in . . .

NOVEMBER

. . . 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.

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 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 . . .

DECEMBER

. . . an army of victorious Republican congresspersons-elect, led by Newt 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 Newt 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.

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 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.

DAVE BARRY is a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist. His weekly column, "To Wit," appears in Sun Magazine.

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