by Roger Naylor

This was the year hope died and William Hung sang at the funeral. We choked on the sickly sweet bile of fear. Fear pushed us in the mud and stole our whiskey money. FDR must have been crazy, because we've got buttloads besides fear itself to run squealing from. Wolves gather, Cheney snarls, inflation rises, cellphones explode. Better pop another Vioxx.

Terror permeated '04. The ceaseless barrage of alerts, warnings, heads-ups and officially sanctioned color-coded panic spasms finally overwhelmed us. Red Alert! Orange Alert! Red-Orangey-Tangelo Alert! Now just opening a pack of Starburst Fruit Chews prompts a warm cascade of urine down trembling legs.

We're afraid of being outsourced. Afraid to go shopping because we're up to our ass in debt, afraid if we steer clear of the mall the whole teetering economy will collapse around us.

We're afraid to go deer hunting or to an NBA game. Afraid to turn on our television because we might hear a swear word or see a boob. We're afraid to open our mail because it might be a draft notice. Afraid to answer our phone because it might be Bill O'Reilly wanting to rub us all over with a falafel.

They say to overcome your fears you must stare them down. So that means one last white-knuckled, teeth-chattering look back at 2004. (Unless you're too scared.)

With his lead as Democratic presidential front-runner shrinking, Howard Dean tried to regain momentum by exposing his breast during a speech to supporters. Unfortunately, his shirt snagged on his nipple shield and Dean's anguished scream further undermined his campaign.

America continued its cakewalk through Iraq, although a few soldiers slipped and fell in the frosting. A bit of spirited horseplay at Abu Ghraib prison was misconstrued. The image of detainees formed into a naked pyramid pile flashed around the world and prompted immediate action. The FCC fined the detainees $500,000 for indecency.

Following Howard Dean's stunning collapse, the hopes of Democrats rested squarely on the elfin shoulders of Dennis Kucinich. Billionaire George Soros aggressively funded several 527 groups with the express purpose of nominating a candidate so lumbering and lugubrious everyone will believe him to be stitched together from pieces of freshly dug corpses. The John Kerry juggernaut began to lurch forward.

Shocking revelations came to light during the 9/11 commission hearings, like the leaking of an intelligence memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Fly Planes into Twin Towers on September 11." But as Condoleeza Rice explained in a husky whisper, without knowing whether the terrorists meant morning or afternoon, the administration was powerless to stop the attacks.

America's favorite tease Britney Spears got married, revirginified, then married again. Barbie and Ken broke up, Kobe dumped Shaq, but some relationships endured. Vice President Dick Cheney spent a magical spring day crouched in a duck blind with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

After being released from prison, Mary Kay Letourneau hooked up again with her former student. Mary Kay says the youngster has developed into a superb lover. He no longer requires crayons to keep him from getting fidgety during foreplay.

Star running back Ricky Williams retired from the NFL so he could spend more time in the lab perfecting a bongwater-based sports drink. Tara Reid and Lindsay Lohan engaged in a public feud over who was really best friends with socialite Lyndie England. Rush Limbaugh launched a blistering diatribe on how allowing gays to wed undermines the sanctity of marriage. He paused just long enough to file for divorce from his third wife.

The presidential campaign took a decidedly negative turn with the Swift Boat ads, conjuring up Vietnam-era ghosts. Unlike the fog of weekends that obscured huge chunks of President Bush's National Guard service, war casts a peeling clarity over each mission. On the day John Kerry earned his medals, every grunt in country was watching his actions on the Mekong Delta. They returned an overwhelming consensus: Kerry couldn't roll a tight joint.

Perhaps most damning of all was the fact that the hamster Kerry allegedly rescued claimed that the event was overblown. "I was never in any real danger," squeaked Licorice the hamster. "All John Kerry did was flip-flop around."

Paris Hilton's pet Chihuahua went missing. Bill O'Reilly called to offer words of support and to ask what she was wearing. The governor of New Jersey resigned after announcing that he was gay. Liza Minnelli called with words of support and to ask what he was wearing.

According to voters, moral values played a big role in the 2004 elections. Devout evangelicals stopped worshipping a partially eaten grilled cheese sandwich long enough to elect George W. Bush to a slightly less tainted second term. Harboring a haunting image of the Virgin Mary, the sandwich was later sold on eBay for $28,000. It now tours the country with some tomato soup containing a semi-submerged cracker bearing the likeness of John the Baptist.

After the election, Democrats vowed to do whatever it takes to return to the mainstream, including getting all Jesus-y and starting phony wars of their own. Canada, what are you looking at, bitch?

Bill Clinton's presidential library opened to glowing reviews. By most accounts, his water slide was far superior to the one found at Six Flags Over Eisenhower. The Supreme Court was left short-handed after Chief Justice William Rehnquist received a season-long suspension for leaping off the bench and punching spectators. Colin Powell resigned as Secretary of State after admitting to steroid use. In his defense, Powell thought he was taking flaxseed oil and Cialis.

Yet just when things seemed darkest, when the nation seemed more divided than ever, Congress came together to enact a crucial piece of bipartisan legislation. By an overwhelming margin, Republicans joined with Democrats to pass a bill making it illegal for Tim Allen to ever star in another Christmas movie again.

Now climb back in the handbasket and stop asking where we're going. Just enjoy the ride.

Publication date: 12/23/04

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