It was a momentous year, a year of events that will echo in the annals of history the way a dropped plate of calamari echoes in an Italian restaurant with a tile floor. Decades from now, our grandchildren will come to us and say, “Tell us, Grandpa or Grandma as the case may be, what it was like to be alive in the year that Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Britney Spears and Katie whatshername all had babies, although not necessarily in those combinations.” And we will smile wisely and emit a streamer of drool, because we will be very old and unable to hear them.
And that will be a good thing, because there are many things about 2006 that we will not want to remember. This was the year in which the members of the U.S. Congress, who do not bother to read the actual bills they pass, spent weeks poring over instant messages sent by a pervert. This was the year in which the vice president of the United States shot a lawyer, which turned out to be totally legal in Texas.
This was the year in which — as clearly foretold in the Bible as a sign of the Apocalypse — Howie Mandel got a hit TV show.
Also, there were many pesky problems left over from 2005 that refused to go away in 2006, including Iraq, immigration, high gas prices, terrorism, global warming, avian flu, Iran, North Korea and Paris Hilton. Future generations are going to look back at this era and ask us how we could have allowed Paris Hilton to happen, and we are not going to have a good answer.
Did anything good happen in 2006? Let me think. No. But before we move on to 2007, let’s take a moment to reflect back on the historic events, real and imaginary, of this historic year, starting with …
… a month that dawns with petty partisan bickering in Washington, D.C., a place where many people view petty partisan bickering as honest, productive work, like making furniture. The immediate cause of the bickering is the Republican ethics scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, both of whom you can tell, just by looking at them, are guilty of something. The Democrats charge that the Republicans have created a Culture of Corruption and should be thrown out of office so the Democrats can return to power and run the scandal-free style of government for which they are so famous. The Republicans respond that the Democrats are soft on terrorism soft on terrorism soft on terrorism softonterrorism. Both sides issue press releases far into the night.
The other big focus of the bickering is the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. As always, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings provide high-quality TV entertainment as the nation tunes in to see if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy will be able to successfully remember the nominee’s name.
The subsequent exchange of press releases is so intense that several government photocopiers burst into flames.
In the Middle East, Palestinian voters elect the militant Hamas party, which assumes control of government functions such as street repair, which Hamas decides to handle by firing rockets at potholes. Canada also holds elections, which are won by some Canadian, we assume.
In economic news, the big story is the retirement of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who, after 19 years as the person most responsible for guiding the American economy, steps down, taking with him the thanks of a grateful nation and a suitcase containing $11 billion. But the financial news is not so good in …
… when President Bush, delivering what is billed as a “major address on energy policy,” reveals that the nation has an “addiction” to “foreign oil,” which comes from “foreign countries” located “outside of the United States,” which are getting this oil from “under the ground.” To combat this problem, the president proposes the development of “new technology” in the form of “inventions” such as “a Lincoln Navigator that gets 827 miles per gallon,” although he allows that this could take “time.”
Speaking of guys who avoid the limelight: Vice President Dick Cheney, attempting to bring down a quail with a shotgun, shoots attorney Harry Whittington. Local authorities rule the shooting an accident, noting that if the vice president was going to intentionally shoot somebody, it would be Nancy Pelosi. The quail is eventually tracked down and vaporized by an F-16.
Internationally, the big news comes from Denmark, center of a mounting furor over some cartoons, published the previous year in a Danish newspaper, which depict a prophet whom, in the interest of not offending anybody, we will refer to as Fohammed. This upsets several million of the prophet’s followers, who request a formal apology from the newspaper, greater sensitivity to their religious beliefs and, where necessary, beheadings. Eventually everybody realizes that the whole darned thing was just a silly misunderstanding. That is all we are going to say about this.
In sports, Super Bowl XVXXLMCMII takes place in Detroit, and by all accounts it’s a big success for the Motor City, with huge crowds thronging to both of the restaurants.
But the big sporting event is the Winter Olympics, a glorious quadrennial celebration of world-class virtuoso athletic accomplishment in sports nobody has ever heard of. Surprise winners include Latvia in the 500-kilometer Modified Nordic Combined; the Republic of Irvingkahnistan in the 2,300-meter Slavic Personified; and U.S. skier Bode Miller in Most Nike Commercials Featuring A Competitor Who, In the Actual Competitions, Mainly Falls Down.
Speaking of falling, in …
… the real-estate boom appears to be over, as the government reports that, so far in 2006, only one U.S. homeowner managed to sell his house, and he had to offer, as an incentive to the buyer, his wife. But the employment numbers remain strong, thanks to strong growth in the sector of people trying to get you to refinance your mortgage for, like, the sixth time.
In the Academy Awards, the overwhelming favorite for best picture is “Brokeback Mountain,” the story of two men who discover, while spending many isolated weeks together in the mountains, that they enjoy exchanging instant messages with Mark Foley. But in a stunning upset, the Oscar for best picture instead goes to “Crash,” a documentary about Bode Miller.
In other entertainment news, a book by two San Francisco Chronicle writers revives suspicions about possible steroid use by San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, alleging, with extensive documentation, that as recently as 10 years ago, Bonds was a woman.
In foreign news, Israeli voters give a parliamentary majority to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, because his name can be rearranged to spell “hot eel drum.” Meanwhile in Paris, thousands of demonstrators take to the streets and shut down the city to demonstrate the fact that, hey, it’s Paris. In the Middle East, tension mounts in response to mounting tension. We don’t know specifically what is happening in Africa, but we know it is bad.
Speaking of things we know are bad, in …
… Tom DeLay decides not to seek re-election to Congress, making the announcement via audiotape from a cave somewhere in Pakistan. Republican leaders express relief over DeLay’s decision and issue a statement pledging that there will be “no more Republican scandals, unless somebody finds out about Mark Foley.”
Meanwhile in the Middle East, tension mounts still higher when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that Iran has successfully produced enriched uranium, although he claims that his nation plans to use it only for peaceful purposes, “such as cooking.” In Iraq, there is good news and bad news for the Bush administration: The good news is that rival Iraqi leaders have finally agreed on a new prime minister. The bad news is that it is Nancy Pelosi.
Domestically, the national debate over illegal immigration heats up as thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of major U.S. cities, thus causing a total shutdown of Paris.
But the big story is the price of gasoline, which continues its relentless climb toward an unprecedented $3 a gallon. Responding quickly, Congress, in a rare display of decisive bipartisan action, takes a recess, with both sides promising to resume bickering the instant they get back.
Speaking of your tax dollars at work, in …
… the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a budget of more than $3 billion, predicts
that the 2006 hurricane season will be worse than usual. This item will seem funnier later in the year. In related news, the voters of New Orleans re-elect Ray Nagin as mayor, proving that Hurricane Katrina killed far more brain cells than previously believed.
On the terrorism front, the Bush administration comes under heavy criticism following press reports that the National Security Agency has been collecting telephone records of millions of Americans. Responding to the outcry, President Bush assures the nation that “the government is not collecting personal information on any individual citizen,” adding, “Warren H. Glompett of Boston, call your wife back immediately, because your dog has eaten your entire Viagra supply.”
In Houston, former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling are convicted of fraud by a federal jury, which apparently is not persuaded by the defense’s claim that Skilling and Lay could not have been responsible for the collapse of the $100 billion corporation because they were, quote, “both getting haircuts.”
TRUE FACT: After the verdict, Lay says, “We believe that God in fact is in control.”
ANOTHER TRUE FACT: Less than two months later, Lay will die of heart failure.
In sports, Barbaro, the popular racehorse who won the Kentucky Derby, breaks his leg in the Preakness after a freak collision with Bode Miller.
Barbaro is forced to retire, although his agent does not rule out future appearances on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Meanwhile the hottest show on TV is the much-hyped finale of “American Idol,” which is won by crooner Taylor Hicks, who narrowly edges out Nancy Pelosi.
Speaking of competition, in …
… the big sports story is the start of the World Cup tournament, with U.S. fans hopeful that our players have finally caught up with the rest of the world in soccer. The American team arrives in Italy brimming with confidence, only to be informed that the tournament is being held in Germany. Undaunted, the team boards a train for Geneva, with the coach promising, “We will score many touchdowns.”
In politics, the debate over Iraq continues to heat up, with President Bush insisting that “we must stay the course, whatever it may or may not be,” while the Democrats claim that they would bring the troops home “immediately,” or “in about six months,” or “maybe not for a long time,” depending on which particular Democrat is speaking and what time of day it is.
On the legal front, the Supreme Court rules that the Bush administration cannot try suspected terrorists in ad hoc military tribunals, after the court learns that the administration is interpreting “ad hoc” to mean “under water.”
On a happier note, the United States marks the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System — an engineering marvel consisting of 47,000 miles of high-speed roads connecting 157,000 Waffle Houses. A formal ceremony is planned, but has to be canceled when Dad refuses to stop.
Speaking of speeding while high, in …
… the Tour de France bicycle race is once again tainted by suspicions of doping when the winner, American Floyd Landis, is clocked ascending the Alps at more than 200 miles per hour. Landis denies that he uses illegal drugs, attributing his performance to, quote, “gears.”
But the month’s big story occurs in the Middle East, where violence flares along the Israel-Lebanon border in response to the fact that, because of terrible planning, the two countries are located right next to each other. In another troubling international development, rogue state North Korea test-fires seven ballistic missiles, including two believed to be potentially capable of reaching U.S. soil. World tension goes back down when the missiles, upon reaching an altitude of 200 feet, explode and spell “HAPPY BIRTHDAY.” American military analysts caution that these missiles “could easily be modified to spell something more threatening.”
In other rocket news, the troubled U.S. space program suffers yet another setback when the launch of the shuttle Discovery is delayed for several days by Transportation Security Administration screeners, who insist that the astronauts remove their shoes before they go through the metal detector.
Outer space remains in the news in …
… when the International Astronomical Union rules that Pluto will no longer be classified as a major planet, on
the grounds that it is “less than half the size of James Gandolfini.” A top U.S. law firm immediately files a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Pluto, as well as “anybody else who has been hurt by this ruling, or has ever experienced neck pain.”
In sports, a French medical laboratory burns to the ground following the catastrophic explosion of Floyd Landis’ urine sample.
Fidel Castro is rumored to be seriously ill following publication of photographs showing worms crawling out of his eye sockets. Cuban authorities insist that the aging leader is merely recovering from surgery, and that for the time being government operations are in the capable hands of Nancy Pelosi.
Meanwhile, commercial air travel turns into a total nightmare. No, wait, it was already a total nightmare. But it turns into an even worse total nightmare after Britain uncovers a terrorist plot targeting international flights, which results in a whole new set of security rules, including a total ban on all gels and liquids, including spit, urine, heavy perspirers and lactating women. After days of chaos at the airports, the TSA issues a new directive stating that “passengers may carry small quantities of liquids on board, but only if they are inside clear, one-quart, sealable plastic bags.” This leads to still more chaos, as many TSA employees interpret this to mean that the passengers must be inside the bags. Eventually the TSA issues a clarification stating that “if necessary, the bags can have air holes.”
In crime news, a man in Thailand claims that he had something to do with the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. It quickly becomes clear that the man is an unstable creep whose story is totally unbelievable, so the cable-TV shows drop it.
Ha ha! Just kidding! The cable-TV shows go into days of round-the-clock All-JonBenet-All-The-Time Wallow Mode. Battalions of legal experts are brought in, some of them so excited at the opportunity to revisit the JonBenet tragedy that additional janitors have to be brought into the studios to mop up puddles of expert weewee.
On the weather front, the until-now quiet hurricane season erupts in fearsome fury in the form of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which hurricane experts, using scientific computer models, predict could become a major storm and inflict devastation upon Texas, or possibly Florida, or Connecticut. A state of near-panic sets in as millions of coastal residents jam gas stations, hardware stores and supermarkets, while many schools and businesses close. Tension mounts for days, until finally Ernesto slams into Florida with all the fury of a diseased fruit fly. Life slowly returns to normal for everyone except the ever-vigilant hurricane experts, who immediately begin scanning their scientific computer simulations for the next potentially deadly threat.
And speaking of deadly, in …
… Steve Irwin, filming an underwater episode of his TV show “The Crocodile Hunter,” is fatally wounded when — in what biologists describe as a freak accident — he collides with Bode Miller. Meanwhile, Americans — already on edge because of concern over terrorism, avian flu, AIDS, nuclear escalation and global warming — find themselves facing a deadly new menace: killer spinach. The lethal vegetable is removed from supermarket shelves by police SWAT teams; many units of innocent produce are harmed. Paris shuts down completely.
Speaking of vegetables, the U.S. Congress is rocked by yet another scandal with the publication of e-mails and instant messages sent to male pages by Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, in which he explicitly discusses acts of a sheepherding nature. As the scandal expands, House Republican leaders issue a statement claiming that they “are not aware of any so-called Congressman Mark Foley of Florida.” Democrats cite Foley as another example of Republican corruption, declaring that they would never, ever, under any circumstances tolerate such behavior, unless it involved a consenting page.
In other political developments, The New York Times prints a leaked top-secret government report expressing doubts about the war in Iraq. The Bush administration holds a secret meeting to prepare a response, but within hours, the Times prints leaked details of the meeting, including who went to the bathroom, and why.
As the debate over Iraq heats up, President Bush pledges to “keep on continuing to stay the present course while at the same time not doing anything different.” Democratic leaders declare that they have a “bold new plan” for Iraq, which they will reveal just as soon as The New York Times leaks it to them.
Rumors about Fidel Castro’s health continue to swirl following publication of a photograph showing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shaking Castro’s hand. The rest of Castro’s body is nowhere to be seen.
Speaking of the Communist Menace, in …
… North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, which is especially troubling because the ground in question is located in Wyoming. This goes virtually unnoticed in Washington, where everybody continues to be obsessed with the growing body of instant messages generated by Mark Foley, who, despite his busy schedule as a lawmaker, apparently found time to attempt to become sheepherding buddies with pretty much every young male in North America.
In other political developments, Sen. Barack Obama, looking back on a career in the U.S. Senate that spans nearly 20 months, allows as how he might be ready to move on to the presidency. Obamamania sweeps the nation as millions of voters find themselves deeply impressed by Obama’s views, and the fact that he was on “Oprah.” In a gracious gesture from a potential 2008 rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton sends Obama a good-luck card, which is stapled to the head of a horse.
Opponents of illegal Mexican immigration cheer when Congress authorizes the construction of a 700-mile fence. Their cheers quickly fade when they learn that, because of wording inserted at the last minute by senators Robert Byrd and Ted Stevens, 650 miles of the fence will be constructed in West Virginia and Alaska.
In baseball, the New York Yankees, despite being clearly the best and most expensive team the world has ever seen, fail to even get into the World Series, leaving Yankee fans to spend yet another bitter off-season wondering why their team can’t simply be awarded the championship, and not have to play these stupid games against clearly inferior teams from dirtball cities that don’t even have subways.
But October ends on a happy note with the celebration of Halloween, a night of magical fun when millions of youngsters, all over America, are kept indoors. The most popular costumes this year, according to retailers, are Power Ranger and Nancy Pelosi.
As the election approaches, polls show that the Democrats have a good chance to regain control of Congress. But then disaster strikes in the form of John “Mister Laffs” Kerry, who, addressing a college audience, attempts to tell a joke, which is like a fish attempting to play the piano. This has major repercussions in …
… when Kerry’s “joke” causes widespread outrage, prompting Kerry, with typical humility, to insist that it was obviously humorous, and anybody who disagrees is an idiot. Kerry is finally subdued by Democratic strategists armed with duct tape, but not before many political analysts see a tightening of the race to control Congress.
As the campaign lumbers to the finish line, the Republicans desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they — once the party of small government — have turned into the party of war-bungling, corruption-tolerating, pork-spewing power-lusting toads, while the Democrats desperately hope that the voters will not notice that they are still, basically, the Democrats.
Nationwide, however, it eventually becomes clear that the Democrats have gained control of both houses of Congress. President Bush handles the defeat with surprisingly good humor, possibly because his staff has not told him about it. For their part, future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issue a joint statement promising to “make every effort to find common ground with the president,” adding, “we are clearly lying.” Pelosi sets about the difficult task of trying to fill leadership posts with Democrats who have not been videotaped discussing bribes with federal undercover agents.
The first major casualty of the GOP defeat is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, the day after the election, is invited to go quail hunting with the vice president. He is never seen again. As Rumsfeld’s replacement, the president nominates — in what is widely seen as a change in direction on Iraq — Barbra Streisand.
In other celebrity news, Michael Richards, a graduate of the Mel Gibson School of Standup, responds to a comedy-club heckler by unleashing a racist tirade so vile that even John Kerry realizes it is not funny. A chastened Richards apologizes for his behavior, citing, by way of explanation, the fact that he is a moron.
On the economic front, the holiday shopping season officially kicks off with “Black Friday,” and retailers are pleased with the numbers: 2,038 shoppers hospitalized, up 37 percent from last year.
In other good news, with four days left in the virtually storm-free 2006 hurricane season and still no storms in sight, U.S. weather experts, citing new data, predict that the season will end up having been very mild. This forecast turns out to be right on the money, but the experts waste no time on self-congratulation, as they immediately begin making scientific predictions for next year’s hurricane season, which, they warn, could be a bad one.
Speaking of bad …
… gets off to a troubling start, with the worsening situation in Iraq worsening faster than ever. The nation’s hopes for a solution are pinned on the Iraq Study Group, a presidentially appointed blue-ribbon panel consisting of five Republicans, five Democrats and the Wizard of Oz. In accordance with longstanding Washington tradition, the panel first formally leaks its report to The New York Times, then delivers it to the president, who turns it over to White House personnel specially training in reading things.
With the Iraq situation pretty much resolved, the world’s attention shifts to Iran and its suspected nuclear program, which becomes the subject of renewed concern after U.S. satellites detect a glowing 400-foot-high spider striding around Tehran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that it is “a peaceful spider” that will be used “only for mail delivery.” Shortly thereafter, North Korea — in what many observers see as a deliberate provocation — detonates a nuclear device inside the Lincoln Memorial.
Finally responding to these new threats to international stability, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United., the U.K., Russia, China and Google — hold an emergency meeting in Paris, where, after heated debate, they vote to have a bottle of 1959 Chateau Margaux with their entree. Unfortunately, they cannot agree on a dessert wine, causing the city, which had just reopened, to shut down completely.
Speaking of health problems, rumors that Fidel Castro is ailing gain new strength when, at an official state dinner in Havana, a waiter accidentally tips over the longtime Cuban leader’s urn, spilling most of him on the floor.
In other deceased-communist news, British police decide to treat the mysterious death of a former Russian spy in London as a murder, caused by the radioactive element polonium-210. New York immediately bans the element, forcing the closure of 70 percent the of city’s Taco Bells.
As the year, finally, nears its conclusion, Americans turn their attention to the holiday season, which they celebrate — as generations have before them — by frantically overbidding on eBay for the Sony PlayStation 3, of which Sony, anticipating the near-homicidal level of demand, manufactured an estimated 11 units.
But despite the well-founded fear of terrorism, the seemingly unbreakable and escalating cycle of violence in the Middle East, the uncertain world economic future, the menace of global warming, the near-certainty that rogue states run by lunatics will soon have nuclear weapons, and the fact that America is confronting these dangers with a federal government sharply divided into two hostile parties unable to agree on anything except that the other side is scum, Americans face the new year with a remarkable lack of worry, and for a very good reason: They are busy drinking beer and watching football.
So happy new year.
Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.