Let's start with the good news: Under the current laws of physics, there is no possible way that 1996 can be repeated. This is important, because it means we won't have to go through the Madonna pregnancy again. Nor will we ever again have to watch wealthy twits desperately bid insane amounts of money for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' old stuff.
But above all, we will not have to repeat the 1996 presidential race, which was so lame that it could have been promoted by Don King.
Going into the year, you'd have thought it would be a close contest. Granted, the Democrats had an excellent campaigner in Bill Clinton, who can speak for days without inhaling and who is capable of sincerely holding, sometimes for minutes on end, exactly the same views as whatever group he is standing in front of at the moment (put Bill in front of a group of trees, and given enough time he will engage in photosynthesis). But Clinton also has distinct weaknesses, the main one being that virtually everything he gets involved with, including the White House Easter Egg Roll, seems to result in indictments.
So the Republicans were presented with an excellent opportunity, and they handled it with a level of tactical sophistication normally found only in pie fights. They nominated Bob Dole, who speaks with the eloquence and intellectual coherence of a Magic Eight Ball ("OUTLOOK HAZY -- TRY AGAIN").
So the voters, faced with this choice, wisely tuned out of the election and focused their attention on more relevant issues, such as what hors d'oeuvres were served at John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wedding reception. Even the news media gave up on the '96 campaign around mid-September and started hyping the expected matchup for the year 2000. You know things are bad when the media are looking forward to a campaign involving Al Gore and Jack Kemp.
Fortunately, the economy is doing fine, thanks mainly to the O. J. Simpson industry. Nobody can count the number of lawyers who are employed full time defending, prosecuting or providing expert TV commentary on O. J., who is also the subject of three out of every four new books published. If, God forbid, there ever comes a day when O. J. is no longer in court, we had better have a plan to arrest him again immediately for something.
And speaking of consumers, two major trends accelerated in 1996:
1. Americans became even more obsessed with eliminating fat from their diets.
2. Americans got fatter.
If these trends continue, by the year 2015 most Americans will be huge immobile blobs who will have to be fed their Snackwell cookies intravenously. But that is far in the future; you don't need to think about it now. Now is the time to sit back in a room devoid of sharp objects and reflect upon the eventful year we've just been through.
The year began on an ominous note when hostile alien beings from the Planet Gazoom put into action their sinister plan to take over the Earth. This involved beaming a powerful, precisely aimed ray across millions of light years, into the brain of Mrs. Wanda L. Klongwinkle, who at the time was sipping a Brandy Alexander with some friends in a bar in Elizabeth, N.J. Seized by a force that she did not understand but was compelled to obey, Mrs. Klongwinkle rose to her feet and, without any conscious thought, stuck out her left arm then her right arm
"Wanda," her friends asked, "What are you doing?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"Teach us how!" her friends said, leaping to their feet.
From across the galaxy, the evil Gazoomians watched this scene on their video screen and exchanged high-17 tentacle slaps.
"They're falling for it!" said their leader. "Soon, the entire planet will be infected with with What do we call that thing again?"
"The Macarena," his assistant replied.
Speaking of alien beings: In January Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson broke up, reportedly because of a legal squabble over who would have custody of their larvae. Meanwhile, in the Iowa caucus campaign, Steve Forbes captured the attention of voters and the media by talking about the flat tax for three consecutive weeks without blinking.
In Washington, the federal budget crisis continued. With the government essentially shut down, it became necessary to furlough all "non-essential" workers; this effort required the formation of an Emergency Task Force To Determine Which Workers Are Non-Essential, which within weeks had become a permanent federal agency with a staff of 278,000 and a budget of $13.7 billion.
In the ongoing permanent Whitewater scandal, Hillary Clinton told a grand jury that she did not recall ever having lived in any place named "Arkansas."
Legendary defense attorney F. Lee Bailey was sent to jail when, following a tumultuous hearing in a Florida courtroom, the judge found out what the "F" stands for.
In politics, the potential weakness of Bob Dole as a Republican presidential candidate was graphically revealed when, after barely winning in Iowa, he was soundly defeated in the New Hampshire primary by Boris Yeltsin.
On the government front, Congress passed, and the president signed, the Telecommunications Act, which totally revolutionized the telephone industry by making it legal, for the first time in history, to call people up and ask them if their refrigerator is running.
In sports, Wayne Gretzky, having run out of hockey teams, joined the Boston Celtics.
The Earth was treated to a spectacular celestial show as the newly discovered Comet Hyakutake appeared in the night sky, so bright that you didn't even need binoculars to see the Nike logo.
On the political front, President Clinton announced that, having raised taxes in his first term, he wanted to cut taxes in his second term. In Republican primary action, Steve Forbes, down to his last $783 million, dropped out of the race, as did somebody named "Lamar Alexander." Bob Dole was defeated in the Indiana primary by the Goatsucker.
In legal news, a California jury finally convicted the Menendez brothers of murdering their parents. O. J. Simpson vowed that he would not rest until he tracked down the real killers.
In other entertainment news, television industry executives agreed to develop a system for rating TV shows for sex and violence, so that young people will not have to waste valuable time channel-surfing.
In sports news, a Honus Wagner baseball card sold for $451,000. It immediately went on strike.
Federal investigators zeroed in on an isolated cabin in Montana after eccentric hermit Ted Kaczynski, in a rare slip-up, filled out a Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes form, and in the space marked "occupation," wrote "Unabomber."
Bob Dole, concerned about his disorganized and lackluster campaign, replaced several key advisers with Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
In one of the year's most moving and poignant stories, members of the international social, arts and business elite gathered for several days and -- in a moving tribute to the passing of one of America's most beloved and respected women -- bid as much as $20,000 for individual strands of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' used dental floss.
New York City, seeking to improve its image with out-of-town visitors, gave a crash course in courtesy to its cabdrivers, who were taught the finer points of etiquette, including this admonition: Do not say to departing passengers: "Go (bleep) yourself." Instead, say: "Have a nice day (bleeping) yourself."
In Enterprise, Ala., police called a military bomb squad to investigate a suspicious package in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The bomb squad blew up the package, which turned out to contain a dead armadillo.
Bob Dole quit the U.S. Senate and underwent surgery to remove his tie.
In sports, Michael Johnson won the Kentucky Derby.
In government action, federal safety authorities, having finally completed the important work of badgering the auto manufacturers into providing air bags, began the important work of warning the public about the dangers of air bags.
The Federal Aviation Administration, reacting boldly and decisively to a rash of airline disasters, announced that it was banning all commercial flights from flying directly over FAA headquarters.
The armed standoff between federal agents and a group of Montana people calling themselves "Freemen" finally came to a peaceful end when the Freemen surrendered after the agents threatened to set up powerful loudspeakers and play "The Macarena."
Meanwhile, in ongoing scandal action, it was discovered that White House employees had obtained FBI files of prominent Republicans who were clearly not being considered for federal jobs. President Clinton said this was caused by a "bureaucratic snafu" and vowed to find out who was in charge of the White House and give that person a real talking-to.
Bob Dole, trying out a daring new campaign tactic, used several sentences containing both subjects and verbs.
Abroad, Israeli voters elected a new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, but probably not because the letters in his name can be rearranged to spell "Junta By Inane He-Man."
In sports, the trend toward selling "naming rights" to sports facilities reached a new milestone when Boston's historic Fenway Park was legally renamed The Dr. Stanley A. Ferbisher Male Impotency And Implant Clinic Stadium.
The big story was the International Olympic Games and Advertising Vehicle. In a stirring moment, gutsy 19-pound U.S. gymnast Kerri Strug, courageously competing on a fractured ankle, raced down the vaulting runway, launched herself off the springboard, and -- while still in midair -- signed with an agent. She had a book-and-TV-movie deal before she hit the ground.
But the news from the Olympics was not all positive. There was a tragic bombing, although fortunately the FBI and the news media, through speedy and decisive action, were able to identify and pounce upon security guard Richard Jewell. This strategy was not a 100 percent total success, in the sense that there apparently never was any actual evidence that Jewell had anything to do with the bombing.
In politics, President Clinton, continuing to sincerely agree with everybody about everything, signed a major welfare-reform act and immediately vowed to get it repealed. The president also told a Whitewater grand jury, in two hours of videotaped testimony, that although he might possibly vaguely recall meeting a "Hillary Clinton" on several occasions, he could not remember having any specific conversations with any such person.
Bob Dole, getting ready to kick his campaign into high gear, bought a new bottle of Old Spice.
In England, the troubled marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana finally ended with a divorce settlement under which Diana will get 20 million pounds, a lifetime subscription to Vogue and the right to appear on the cover of People magazine for the next 200 years. Charles gets to keep Wales, Scotland, the fondue set and a stuffed bear called "Wookins."
Between appearances at the GOP's San Diego convention by Colin Powell, Richard Simmons, Mother Teresa, Betty Crocker, Lassie, Barbie, Bambi, Santa Claus and the late Lucille Ball, Bob Dole announced that his running mate would be Jack Kemp, the theory apparently being that Dole could clarify his campaign message by joining forces with somebody he didn't agree with or even like.
Meanwhile, the Democratic convention in Chicago was highlighted by a powerful speech by President Clinton, in which he pledged to "build a bridge to Indonesia and collect large cash contributions." Unfortunately, on the day of Clinton's nomination, the news media reported that top adviser Dick Morris had been repeatedly polling a prostitute; a saddened Clinton had no choice but to fire Morris and replace him with Hugh Grant.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed tough new anti-tobacco regulations under which R. J. Reynolds could continue to feature Joe Camel in its ads, but he would have to be spayed.
In sports, the Olympics ended with all 10,000 athletes, in a display of international fellowship, joining together for a mass signing of a Nike contract.
In science news, the astronomy community was rocked by the announcement that a rock believed to have originated on Mars contained tiny traces of a material that, according to sophisticated tests, was genetically identical to Ross Perot, who also decided to run for president once again, under the slogan: "This Time, He'll Take His Medication."
Saddam Hussein, sensing popular support was waning, ordered his troops to attack the Kurds, leaving Bill Clinton, as leader of Saddam's arch-enemy nation, with no choice but to order missile attacks against Iraq, which of course caused Saddam's popularity to skyrocket and also, as a bonus, made Clinton look presidential during his re-election campaign. So it was really a "win-win" situation, unless of course you happened to be a Kurd. Or Bob Dole. Nevertheless, a revitalized Dole woke up and vowed to "have some oatmeal."
In sports, baseball player Roberto Alomar was suspended for five games after spitting on an umpire. He appealed, and the suspension was postponed. O. J. Simpson vowed that he would not rest until he tracked down the real spitter.
On the social front, a 6-year-old South Carolina boy innocently kissed a schoolmate and, following a wave of national publicity, was elected to Bob Packwood's old Senate seat.
The most important social event in world history took place when mega-hunk John F. Kennedy Jr., after having publicly dated an estimated 23,000 beautiful tall blond thin women, finally selected, as his wife, a beautiful tall blond thin woman, named "Mrs. Mega-Hunk John F. Kennedy Jr."
On a happy note, U.S. astronaut Shannon Lucid, who had been stranded in space aboard the Mir because of mechanical problems with the space shuttle, was finally able to hitch a ride back to Earth on a wayward Atlanta Olympics bus.
The Clinton administration angrily denied charges that noncitizens were buying access to the federal government through large cash contributions to the Democratic Party. "That's ridiculous," snapped official White House spokesperson Vopulaji Olymetrioudamba Harshpretyoun IV, speaking through a translator.
Bob Dole, campaigning in Montreal, came out against Daylight Saving Time.
In sports, the New York Yankees won the World Series thanks to the stellar performance of Most Valuable Player Jeff Maier, age 12.
Meanwhile, in the most important social event in world history since the marriage of mega-hunk John F. Kennedy Jr., Madonna had her baby. Unfortunately, this blessed event was marred by the obnoxious behavior of the pushy press. Madonna felt that she was entitled to privacy, which makes tons of sense seeing as how she has spent most of her adult life running around largely naked screaming "I'M A STAR!!! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!"
As the presidential race came down to the wire, Bob Dole, in another shrewd tactic, campaigned without sleep for 96 straight hours, at the end of which he was promising to "protect America from all these giant flying snakes with the face of Howard Cosell."
Despite this compelling effort, the estimated 873 Americans who were still willing to vote decided to go with Bill Clinton, who declared that his re-election was "a victory not just for me personally, but for all the people of America who might be in a situation where they could benefit from a pardon if they just keep their mouths shut a little longer, if you catch my drift."
Dole, in a gracious concession speech, promised to support the president and "visit him in jail."
In sports, the boxing world was stunned by one of the most shocking upsets in weeks when Mike Tyson, going into a championship bout as an overwhelming favorite, was knocked out in the 11th round by Kerri Strug.
Michael Jackson, having fulfilled all his other major fantasies, such as owning an amusement park and a monkey, decided to become a parent. The biological details were not made public, but Jackson, in a statement to the press, said he was "very excited" about the forthcoming blessed event, as was the mother-to-be, Dennis Rodman.
Bill Clinton, preparing for his second term in office, announced his new Cabinet lineup, which included John Huang as secretary of the newly created Department of Indonesian Affairs and Robert Shapiro as Secretary of Defense.
In sports news, the baseball owners and players (joint motto: "We will destroy this sport") finally, after years of turmoil and disruption, reached an agreement under which 1) everybody involved will make at least $13.3 million per year no matter what; 2) hot dogs will cost $18.50 plus an incentive bonus payment of $3.75 for mustard; and 3) the two sides will meet again next year and "do something inconceivably stupid."
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns, who last year moved to Baltimore and started calling themselves, for no comprehensible reason, "The Ravens," announced that they are now going to move to Montpelier, Vt., and call themselves "The Fighting Throw Rugs."
So 1996, despite its unhappy moments, ended on a positive note. And as we look to the future, we have every reason to be optimistic, except for the fact that as a nation we're getting old really fast and the entire vast government social-support network is going to financially collapse and there is virtually no chance that anybody now in office is going to do anything meaningful about it.
But this is not the time to think about that. This is the time to for you to raise your champagne glass, toast the new year, and then put your champagne glass back down again, because alcohol is bad for you.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald.
Pub Date: 12/31/96