By Cate Plys

January 1

Hijackers had just released 189 hostages from an eight-day ordeal on an Indian Airlines Airbus. The hijackers had demanded that India release three comrades fighting to free Kashmir from Indian rule. Some of the hostages began telling their story to the press–how they were trapped in their seats, with shades drawn and toilets overflowing. Many hostages became friendly with a hijacker named “Burger,” even though on day seven he told them he was going to shoot them all. As Burger left the plane after the Indian government finally capitulated, one hostage joked, “If you see us in an airport lounge and you are on a similar mission, will you tip us off so we can stay off the flight?”

January 5

The British Public Record Office finally released 57-year-old documents showing that Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt couldn’t stand Charles de Gaulle. Churchill tried persuading his war cabinet to dump de Gaulle, then leader of the French resistance. At one point, Roosevelt telegrammed Churchill, “Possibly you could make him governor of Madagascar.”

January 19

A New York Times article painted a pathetic portrait of lame-duck president Clinton. His wife was away campaigning for Senate, his daughter was off at college, and Al Gore wasn’t exactly beating down his door for help in the presidential campaign. So Clinton, according to the article, was staying up too late and calling people at all hours, keeping them on the phone all night. U.S. Representative Charles Rangel had this explanation: “He needs a little space….He’s in a position where the first lady and the vice president may need to distance themselves from him. He’s stuck with himself.”

February 11

Russians scrambled to stock up on vodka after acting president Vladmir Putin’s government announced a 30 percent increase in the spirit’s minimum price by month’s end. One Russian standing in line at a vodka factory declared, “I’m buying vodka with all the money I’ve got in my pockets.”

February 11

A Moscow liquor store director explained the Russian logic succinctly: “In our country, vodka is a purchase of the highest importance. Russians will never skimp on vodka–they’ll just eat less.”

February 14

When the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization attacked Alderman Patrick Levar during his doomed attempt to win the Democratic nomination for Cook County circuit court clerk, the unkindest words came in his defense, from Levar spokesperson Mary Kay Dawson. The IVI-IPO went after Levar–who looks like Norm from Cheers, only much larger–for using $61,000 in campaign money on questionable expenses, including a membership at the East Bank Club. Dawson claimed Levar needed the membership for entertaining: “You know Pat, and I don’t think anyone believes he used it to exercise.”

February 18

John Christopher, the undercover mole from the federal Operation Silver Shovel investigation that sent six Chicago aldermen to prison, was finally sentenced himself for various illegal shenanigans committed while he was working with the FBI. Christopher was surprised when U.S. district court judge Elaine Bucklo gave him 39 months in prison. So he turned to his attorney and asked, “What is this shit?”

February 22

The Philadelphia Inquirer made a slip when it accidentally printed this note, mocked up for an in-house gag, on its editorial page: “To comment briefly on editorials, call 215-854-5060. The Editorial Board members will roll their eyes and chuckle at your remarks.”

February 29

Two varsity football players from Lake County’s Stevenson High School got in trouble for hazing sophomore players during summer practice with “atomic sit-ups.” The sophomores had to lie on the ground blindfolded and do sit-ups, faces smacking into the bare rear ends of the older players, who were standing over them with their pants pulled down. James Flood, attorney for one of the varsity players, defended the boys’ behavior by pointing out that in all of the school’s materials, “There were no directions that this was prohibited.”

March 8

As gas prices climbed, some Republican state senators were reluctant to vote for Illinois senate president James “Pate” Philip’s plan to repeal the state sales tax on motor fuel. The holdouts doubted the repeal was the best way to provide economic relief to the poor. But Philip wowed ’em with this argument: “They might drive junkier cars, but they drive cars.”

March 8

Philip also dispensed this advice to his fellow Republicans: “If you’re running for reelection and you’ve got opposition, I’ve got news for you. You better vote for it.”

March 13

The race to succeed retiring U.S. Representative John Porter was already getting ugly during the primary. One Republican candidate sent out a mailing claiming support from Al Salvi and his wife, Kathy, but Kathy Salvi denied ever giving permission to use her name. Another Republican candidate, former state representative Tom Lachner, didn’t much care if Al Salvi endorsed his opponent or not. As he put it, “The only thing Al Salvi and I agree on is maybe we should have a Republican in the White House. If Salvi endorsed me, I’m screwed.”

March 13

Rockford parents Donna Harris-Lewis and Xavier Lewis enjoyed a week of Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year, unencumbered by their five kids, ages 4 to 13, whom they left at home. By themselves. A school official found the kids and called police, who described the house as filthy and crawling with bugs. The kids went into DCFS custody. Harris-Lewis defended the family’s housekeeping: “The house isn’t filthy–it just looks like five kids live in it.”

April 14

Teachers’ unions thwarted a plan backed by Illinois house speaker Mike Madigan, Governor George Ryan, Illinois senate president Pate Philip, and Cardinal Francis George to give $12 million in state funds to private and parochial schools. Philip described the unsuccessful last-minute negotiations: “I stuck my head in that room last night. There were at least nine lawyers at the table. I thought I would throw a hand grenade in there and get rid of all of them, but I didn’t do it.”

April 16

The Sun-Times looked at Illinois Secretary of State leases during Governor George Ryan’s tenure and found that landlords for the department’s offices also happened to be Ryan campaign contributors to the tune of $237,000. Plus, “four of them ended up with unbreakable leases, an extraordinary deviation from state policy.” Ryan’s office renewed a five-year lease with Chicago attorney Peter Palivos early, and dropped the escape clause. After federal investigators starting examining the leases, Ryan’s campaign returned a $2,000 campaign contribution from Palivos. Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton explained, “It was just determined…that contribution should be returned for reasons I can’t get into here.”

April 19

A tornado ripped through Parsons, Kansas, decimating a carnival after crowds had fled for shelter. The same day, the Parsons Sun had run a color picture of the carnival, using the familiar time-lapse technique to get some cheery blurred bright lights. In the wake of the tornado, townsfolk suddenly saw Christ in the picture; said Lanette Stice, a church youth director: “You can see the rays of light going across from the rides, and then right smack in the middle of it is Christ….It means that God was there to protect us.”

April 19

Ann Charles, the newspaper’s editor and publisher, saw more in people’s reaction than she did in the photo: “They see what they need, and in times of crisis, sometimes you need more.”

April 20

Reporters went on alert when Armando Gutierrez, the spokesman for Elian Gonzales’s family, left the Gonzales house during the Elian siege. It turned out Gutierrez’s wife had insisted he come home and fix a leak. Reporters desperate for quotes called him repeatedly, but all they got was, “I can’t move. I’m waiting for the plumber.”

May 19

The National Rifle Association announced it wants to open its own chain of multimedia entertainment centers, putting the flagship in New York’s Times Square. Visitors could use a virtual-reality shooting range, buy vests and other shooting paraphernalia, and sample wild-game delicacies. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said shooting is “fun for the entire family” and insisted, “It’s probably about the safest activity an American can pick up as a hobby.”

June 5

A convicted child molester escaped from a Florida prison after a cohort landed a helicopter on the grounds and whisked him away. But the helicopter only made it about 100 yards out of the prison, crash-landing in the surrounding swamp. A full-scale search with dogs and helicopters began immediately. Martin County sheriff spokesperson Jenell Atlas offered a vivid picture of the escaped duo’s prospects: “They’re not prepared to stay out here like we are. They likely don’t have food or water and come nightfall, the bugs will carry them off.”

June 22

Saint Louis TV reporter Deanne Lane of KSDK tried wrangling a jailhouse interview by sending her picture to a serial rapist named Dennis Rabbitt. Rabbitt’s lawyer was disgusted: “Think about it. Sending a picture of yourself to a sex offender–what do you think he’s gonna do with it? It was just gross.”

July 10

The Bulls lost the chance to draft high school basketball star Darius Miles because Jerry Krause told him he couldn’t wear his hair in cornrows, according to Miles’s mother. Coach Tim Floyd denied Krause had made such a comment, insisting Krause had only “put out different scenarios to find out how the young man would deal with…team rules.” Miles’s agent, David Falk, apparently believed mom. Falk told Sports Illustrated, “Are we going to pass a rule now that says NBA executives can’t be overweight because they are an embarrassment to their team?”

July 23

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on a topless car wash in western Pennsylvania, run once a week during the summer by a strip club called Truck Stop 22. The proceeds go to charity; last year the car wash helped pay for a kidney-pancreas transplant. But this year, owner Ron Laughard explained, he changed one thing: “Last year, it was Sundays, noon to six. But we moved it to Saturdays because everybody wanted to go to church on Sundays.”

July 24

Twelve-year-old Miguel DeLaRosa became another horrifying statistic when he was killed in gang cross fire as he rode his bike through Humboldt Park. His church’s associate pastor bluntly assessed the situation: “Half the congregation are gangbangers and drug abusers. This is not a wake-up call. This is a confirmation of the type of neighborhood we live in.”

September 1

Five Queens teenagers ordered Chinese takeout, then bludgeoned the restaurant owner to death when he arrived at a vacant lot to deliver the food. The grandmother of one teenage suspect described the girl’s boyfriend and fellow suspect this way: “You couldn’t find a nicer guy.”

September 6

Cast members of TV’s spectacularly unsuccessful Big Brother reality series all refused a desperate ploy by producers to improve the show’s ratings: offering first $20,000, then $50,000 to anyone who would leave the house so a young blond woman could move in. (The show’s premise, in case you don’t recall, was that the last person left in the house would win $500,000.) The Long Island housemate, Eddie, explained why he was not persuaded by the $20,000 offer: “That’s a night at the bar for me.”

September 9

Continuing their nationally televised display of mass idiocy, the cast of Big Brother hatched a scheme to leave the house all at once, apparently thinking this would force the show’s producers to pay them all the $500,000 grand prize. Josh revealed himself to be the most deluded of the contestants when he said: “It would be the greatest statement a group of humans could ever make.”

September 25

The International Amateur Athletic Federation announced that C.J. Hunter, current world shot put champion, who’d dropped out of the Olympics due to a knee injury, had tested positive for a banned substance back in July. Hunter is married to Marion Jones, who had already won a gold medal in the 100-meter race at the time of the announcement and was hoping to win four more during the Sydney games. IAAF spokesperson Giorgio Reineri spoke the obvious: “Without Marion Jones, who cares about this fat man?”

September 30

George W. Bush talked to the press about a videotape of his private practice sessions before the presidential debate, which was anonymously sent to a member of the Gore campaign: “I’m confident that no one who supports my candidacy would have mailed the tape. Somebody that thinks I ought to be president wouldn’t have done that.”

October 1

The Daily Northwestern asked NU journalism professor David Protess for his review of the new NBC show Deadline. Protess had been concerned that viewers might think the show’s main characters were based on him and his students, who helped free Illinois death-row convict Anthony Porter in 1999. After watching, Protess told the Daily he wasn’t worried anymore, because the show was ludicrous. As he put it, “I watched it with my wife, teenage son and dog and cat, and the dog seemed to be the only one who liked it. But he likes to eat cat shit, too.”

October 3

Rosemont mayor Donald Stephens was sanguine after close questioning from the Illinois Gaming Board about his involvement in the controversial process of getting a casino located in his town. Stephens told the Sun-Times he’d already warned everyone involved to expect an investigation, so they should be “pure as the wind-driven snow, because they’re going to be looking in your armpits.”

October 31

The Sun-Times reported that Glenview officials were debating whether Sybaris should be classified as a hotel, thus making it subject to Glenview’s 5 percent hotel/motel tax. Sybaris owners don’t think so. They won a legal battle with Downers Grove over the same issue in 1993, contending that Sybaris rents its rooms in four-hour blocks. That reasoning didn’t impress Glenview trustee Donna Pappo, who said, “There are plenty of other hotels that don’t care if you spend the night.”

November 22

Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney had his fourth heart attack in the early morning, and by 10:30 doctors were installing a metal stent in a coronary artery that was 95 percent blocked. Cheney’s campaign gave the full report to Bush headquarters. Yet at a noon press conference, Bush told reporters, “Dick Cheney is healthy. He did not have a heart attack.”

November 22

Doctors reported that there’s a 20 to 40 percent chance Dick Cheney’s coronary artery will narrow again within six months. But according to Bush, “Secretary Cheney will make a great vice president. America’s starting to see how steady and strong he is.”

December 4

The Tribune reported that lobbyists from the payday-loan industry–famous for its exorbitant interest rates, which average more than 500 percent a year–scuttled proposed state regulations that would have required a $400 cap on payday loans and a 15-day period between loans. The industry had packed a September hearing of the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules with hecklers, one of whom was seen leaving in a stretch limousine. When asked about that mode of transportation by the Tribune, Illinois Small Loan Association executive director Steve Brubaker insisted, “I don’t see what difference it makes how they got there.”

December 7

After months of pestering from reporters about the health of U.S. senator Jesse Helms, Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Marc Thiessen finally lost his patience. Inquiries had been coming in fast and furious ever since the senator was hospitalized with pneumonia earlier this fall, in view of the fact that if Helms were to die, the North Carolina governor would probably replace him with a Democrat, giving the Dems a Senate majority. So an annoyed Thiessen sent this fax to the media: “Senator Helms is not sick. He is not in the hospital. He is not on life support. He does not have terminal prostate cancer. He does not have pancreatic cancer. He is absolutely fine and will (God willing) be around to torment you for a long time to come. Relax and accept it.”