Give a big cheer for the end of this particular, peculiar year

December 28, 1997|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight-Ridder News Service

WHAT KIND OF YEAR was 1997?

It was -- in the immortal words of Al Gore, who began 1997 as a serious presidential timber and ended it fleeing through swamps pursued by federal dogs -- a year with no controlling legal authority.

It was a year when Mike Tyson could chomp off a piece of his opponent's ear during an internationally broadcast title fight and still not be the year's most famous biter.

But most important of all, it was a year that, thank goodness, had only 12 months, because that was frankly all we could take. In case you've forgotten how weird 1997 was, let's take just a moment here to review some of the major news events.

January

The year gets off to a less-than-ideal start aboard the troubled Russian space station Mir as cosmonaut Yuri Hackov opens a bottle of champagne to celebrate the New Year, only to have the cork blast through the space-station wall, leaving a hole that would have sucked out all the air in minutes if cosmonaut Vladimir Fishkillnakov had not alertly plugged it with a wad of gum that he had been chewing since August in anticipation of just such an emergency.

In national politics, President Bill Clinton's administration finally completes work on what many observers believe to be the most impressive accomplishment of his first term in office: planning huge parties to celebrate his second term in office. In his inaugural speech, Mr. Clinton, continuing his search for a popular issue that will assure him of a place in history, pledges to appoint a federal commission to "find out how come candy bars are getting smaller."

February

Bad luck once again strikes the troubled Russian space station Mir when the main navigational computer is eaten by a rat. Fortunately, the plucky cosmonauts are able to navigate the craft manually, taking star sightings by holding their breath and sticking their heads out the cabin window.

In other science news, a group of Scottish genetic researchers, after a long night of drinking Scotch, hatch a plan to tell the news media that they have cloned a sheep named "Dolly." The news media naturally accept this claim with no proof whatsoever, and within hours the entire world has been bombarded with images of Dolly, who is immediately signed to a seven-figure deal to write a book in which she is expected to reveal that she was abused as a lamb.

March

Problems continue to plague the troubled Russian space station Mir when all power is suddenly shut off as a result of an apparent failure by the Russian space agency to pay its electrical bill.

A 60-year-old mystery is solved when pilot Linda Finch, retracing the route of Amelia Earhart in an exact replica of the famous aviatrix's plane, finds Earhart herself still waiting for clearance to take off from La Guardia.

True item: In Somerset, Mass., police charge a woman with assault after she allegedly clubs her estranged husband to the floor with a Tickle Me Elmo doll.

April

April sees one of the hugest stories in world history when Ellen DeGeneres, in a televised event that receives more worldwide attention than the first lunar landing, courageously reveals, on the air, that the letters in her name can be rearranged to spell "Slender Eel Gene."

As the April 15 tax deadline draws near, the Internal Revenue Service, responding to widespread taxpayer complaints about poor service, announces that it has hired 5,000 additional Doberman pinschers.

May

Astronomers are treated to a once-in-a-lifetime celestial extravaganza as the comet Hale-Bopp, having rounded the sun and now leaving the solar system at 40,000 miles per hour, slams into the problem-plagued Russian space station Mir, seriously damaging the only piece of equipment on the craft that was still working, a Magic Eight Ball, which becomes permanently stuck on "Outlook Hazy -- Try Again."

Abroad, England manages to pick candidates, hold a nationwide campaign, elect a new prime minister and swear him into office in less time, and for less money, than it takes Americans to agree on a date for the New Hampshire primary.

In the Middle East, talks break down in a world-record 3.2 seconds, and there is happy gunfire far into the night.

June

The campaign-finance scandal continues to burgeon with the allegation that in August 1996, President Clinton sold Amway products from the Oval Office. Asked about this allegation during a historic Conference On Flossing, the president says that he does recall being in the Oval Office on several occasions, but notes that "a number of other presidents, including Republicans, have also been in the Oval Office."

In San Diego, El Nino robs a drugstore.

In sports, "Snacktime Mike" Tyson, in a fight with Evander Holyfield, commits an act so despicable, so repugnant, so loathsome, that the boxing authorities will probably not permit him to make millions of dollars boxing for, gosh, months.

July

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