2001: Innocence Lost and Innocence Found

It began innocently enough.

George W. Bush was sworn in as 43rd president of the United States. He is the first, however, to be decided by a leg wrestling match between Supreme Court justices (Scalia v. Souter).

When Bush moved into the White House he found it stripped and empty. In the final days of his presidency the former occupant, Bill Clinton had pardoned a great deal of the White House furniture. At first Clinton said he was so busy filling out change of address cards he couldn't remember what happened but later admitted taking the furniture because of a sentimental attachment. "I got a hummer on every piece in this room," he stated in an affidavit.

Dick Cheney was assigned to refurbish the Oval Office and while shopping at Pier One had what appeared to be a heart attack. It was later diagnosed as an acute allergy to wicker. He had a pacemaker implanted but assured the American people it was only because they were on sale.

President Bush quickly enacted his domestic agenda which included controversial environmental measures such as replacing fluoride in the nation's drinking water with arsenic and drilling for oil under Santa's North Pole workshop. His education reform bill enjoyed more bipartisan support. It assured that by the time every child reaches the third grade they have a nickname, something along the lines of Fats, Four-Eyes or Wiener Dog.

But the centerpiece of Bush's agenda was his radical plan to overcome the nation's pesky prosperity problem. Debate raged over what to do with the budget surplus. Bush could see that it was tearing the country apart. Renewing his pledge to be a uniter not a divider, and not wanting to show favoritism to any particular side, the president miraculously made the surplus disappear with no visible benefit to anyone. Unfortunately, this political triumph went largely unnoticed by the general public who were riveted by the bone-crunching action and crisp professionalism of XFL games.

In fact, distractions abounded through the spring and summer. The Academy Awards were swept, to no one's surprise, by last year's blockbuster Dude, Where's My Car, a film that single-handedly revived the misplaced transportation genre. The most anticipated movie release of 2001, Glitter, was delayed when its star Mariah Carey checked into a hospital suffering from delusions that she could act.

When one of the Backstreet Boys went into rehab the boy band canceled their American tour. Immediately Dick Cheney, who had front row tickets for several shows, suffered what doctors termed a mild cardiac episode. But it was apparent to everyone his heart was broken.

Surprise weddings were all the rage as Anna Nicole Smith tied the knot with Strom Thurmond and Anne Heche married -- get this -- a man. Although she did make out with her maid of honor for two full minutes before exchanging vows, just to make sure that gay thing was completely out of her system.

In an effort to attract more tourists, North Dakota considered changing its name. Unfortunately, neither Live Nude Girls nor Free Beer were available as options.

O. J. Simpson was acquitted for a road rage incident when he produced yet another "Get Out of Jail Free" card. Authorities have vowed to find out where he keeps getting those.

Actor Robert Blake's wife was murdered after the couple argued at dinner, leading the media to speculate that Congressman Gary Condit was the shooter.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed despite the discovery that the FBI withheld hundreds of pages of evidence. This led to speculation in the media that Gary Condit delivered the lethal injection.

The venerable Jesse Helms announced his retirement from the Senate saying he wanted to spend more time dragging his wife around by her hair, drawing pictures of animals on the cave walls and mastering fire.

A number of highly publicized shark attacks left the beaches deserted and sent people flocking instead to Giant Liquidation Sale, formerly known as North Dakota. It was a heady and carefree time.

Then the summer ended.

In plumes of flame and smoke and cries of anguish, the summer ended. In stunned disbelief and sudden awareness and fresh resolve, the summer melted away into autumn. And with the changing leaves came a renewed appreciation for what this country meant, the proud and defiant, the beautiful and boisterous, the delicious and quirky.

We lurch into the new year, a little bruised but regaining our purpose, our swagger. And our sense of humor. God knows, we'll need it.

Gary Condit is running for re-election. O. J. is under investigation for pirating cable. He has proclaimed his innocence and pledges to track down the real pirate. Anyone who looks cockeyed at John Ashcroft is called a traitor. And Winona Ryder is accused of shoplifting designer duds.

2002 is gonna be a hell of a year.

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