If human history has anything to teach us, it’s that we have to be careful to give a certain year the moniker of “the worst year in human history.” After such a year occurs, some time later (like a few years after the first one) another much, much worse one happens that gets the label, and then time passes and another one gets the label, etc. etc.
While there are many advances in science, society, and politics now compared to past years (such as the early 20th century or the Industrial Revolution or even the Paleolithic era), many recent years have caused people to label such years in the manner of Comic Book Guy, most notably 2016, because of all the beloved celebrity deaths and America’s apparent downward spiral into fascism/far-right authoritarianism. Then, 2020 rolled along with the pandemic, economic downturn, police brutality, race riots, Great Awokening, killer hornets, etc. And 2021 seems only slightly better with a slightly more bearable administration (at least compared to its predecessor) and many COVID-19 vaccines are proving to be successful and coming out, but we nevertheless have the ongoing pandemic with new mutations, vaccines coming out at a less-than-ideal rate, pseudo-progressives that would be more inclined to support seemingly right-leaning and/or woke causes or do nothing about our problems, and of course, the Capitol riot.
While I actually wouldn’t consider it to be the worst year ever, for the reasons mentioned at the beginning, I’m not inclined to disagree with the general public in terms of 2020 being extremely awful. All this talk about years being the worst (with 2020 and the previous “winner” 2016) got me thinking of a year I considered to be really horrible: 2006 (and yes, the entire 2000s could be considered a terrible decade and I’d agree with you to an extent, but I want to focus on one year).
The year actually didn’t start out too bad. I officially became a teenager the previous year and was turning 14, the second year of my teens, and it would be the last year of middle school; I would be a high schooler in the next school year. Also, there would be the debut of Monty Python’s Personal Best on PBS in the month of February. But it would be during that month that things would start to turn for the worse that year.
In the middle of the month, possibly around the 15th, during a class at Riverside Middle School, the fire alarm blared its shrill beeps and we all had to evacuate the building. We all got as far away from the building as possible, near the track-and-field area outside. I thought it was a standard fire drill, nothing to worry about.
A few minutes outside, some teachers and aides told us to move back towards the track-and-field area and onto the bleachers. I could hear some adults saying that it was a bomb and for any students who had them not to use their cell phones, though I saw a few high schoolers call people on them as we moved towards the bleachers. It had also rained recently, and it was the middle of February, so we had to sit in the frigid outside on wet bleacher seats for a great while as the police and (as we were told) their vicious K-9 units were searching around for any explosives. After a great amount of time, how much I can’t recall, we were eventually let back in and the day went on as usual, with no bomb being found.
Nothing else had happened for the remainder of the week and Monty Python’s Personal Best still aired every Wednesday night on PBS. But then, practically exactly one week after the first evacuation, something else had happened. In the middle of a class, possibly the same one as the previous week, the fire alarm blared again and we all evacuated into the cold weather like last time, thinking it would be a fire drill and we would be back inside soon. After a little bit, we were told to go back to the bleachers again due to another apparent bomb call, much to our astoundment and horror.
We all sat at the bleachers for a while in the gelid weather, waiting for the police and bomb squad to do their work. A great while passed in the freezing February weather on the bleachers until the teachers and aides present told us to get up from the bleachers. We wouldn’t be going back into the school. Nobody had coats or hoodies; we left them in the school because we thought it would be a regular fire drill and we would be back inside in no time. The entire student body took the almost 10-minute, approx. 0.4 mile walk from the school to the Riverside Fire Department. We stayed inside the firehouse for a while. It was much nicer and warmer in there and the adults probably did it to keep us out of the cold. Later on, when it was deemed safe to return, I think we had to walk back to return to the school...in the cold, cold February weather, for about ten minutes.
Also, if you care to know about what caused the initial evacuations in February, I haven’t got concrete evidence, but from rumors I’ve heard, keyword being rumors, I think they were (or at least the first one was) caused by some girl student smoking a cigarette in the bathroom and carelessly tossing away the cigarette, causing a roll of toilet paper to catch fire.
March 2006 shortly arrived thereafter and I was hoping that things would be better, but of course, I ended up tempting fate.
On Read Across America Day (March 1), when we were having lunch, we suddenly got an announcement saying, “We are now on Level 1 Lockdown Procedure.” It lasted a great time and as it went on, the other students started to pick on me and they wouldn't stop, as they often had a tendency to do. I started crying and getting upset, as I had a tendency to do (a nasty habit I still had from my elementary school days that I still had). Eventually, two cops came into the cafeteria. I was being quiet, but everyone else was causing a racket and wouldn't stop. They finally settled down a little when one of the cops threatened to arrest us (at least, that's what I got from it), saying that they can arrest “you.” I took that to mean all of us, including me, who wasn't even doing anything wrong.
This kind of vibe was pervasive in Riverside School, particularly late Elementary to Middle School, causing me to try to shush people when they were talking when they weren't supposed to. For example, once in sixth grade, my class and I had to read a story about a boar. It was supposed to be a class assignment; I was being quiet and polite, but everyone else was talking and being rude, and the teacher made us read the story by ourselves. In the case of the cops, in hindsight, they were probably being tough just to keep order and most likely weren't going to arrest all of us.
Indeed, no one in the cafeteria was arrested. In the end, the lockdown lasted until the end of the school day, around 2:35 PM, and we were all dismissed. As my mom was picking me up from school, I saw the nearby kindergartners coming out wearing Cat in the Hat hats, similar to what my class and I wore around this time at my age, and thought to myself, “This day was their Read Across America Day...”
The school year eventually was coming to an end and one of my friends and her family were moving to Florida that summer. I was sad, but no one took this as badly as my sister, four years my junior, who was best friends with the younger sister.
Summer 2006 eventually arrived. There was a big hype that year about possible horrific things occurring, or possibly everything horrible was to reach its apex, with the arrival of the anti-Christ or something. The reason for this was because it would be the sixth month of the sixth year (if you count 2000 as year zero), which would feature a sixth day. In layman’s terms, it would seemingly produce the number of the beast, 666, although the date would actually read 06/06/06, with the zeroes in the way. I would see some tabloid magazine, ironically around that 9/11 anniversary, saying that Satan would arrive, or something like that, but I recall the only film to take advantage of this date was The Omen, a remake of the 1976 film, another remake in a decade already fully populated with unoriginal and poor quality films and stories.
I admit I was a little nervous on June 6, 2006, fearing what could happen. Early that morning, before school and during breakfast, I caught a little bit of The Today Show that was airing after the NBC10 Morning News and they said that day marked the 62nd anniversary of D-Day, something positive, so I tried to focus on that. The day went by without issue, but towards the end, something odd happened. Not bad, but a tad unusual for me.
My mother, now deceased as of last April, took me for a walk to the school for some reason. I asked why and she said it was for an election, even though it was June, and elections are usually held in November, as that month in 2004 taught me. My mother would often take me to the local voting place during elections. She was a die-hard Democrat supporter (though she was against political correctness, as she told me many years ago while listening to the Cher song “Half-Breed” on her cassette while driving, and that she had respect for President Reagan). She was also a staunch defender of Bill Clinton, feeling life was better under his tenure, often found lionizing Democrats (and to a lesser extent the left), and also strongly disliked the Dubya administration of the time, blaming everything bad on him and the GOP, from slight price increases on things to bin Laden not being found quickly enough to probably even other things.
I have to say that this sort of thinking influenced me as well. And given that around 2006 or recently later (or recently earlier) I discovered that the GOP was fully in control of the US government, the Presidency and Congress, since 2003, and with everything that’s been going on in the 2000s, especially 2006, I wouldn’t have been pressed to disagree. The War in Iraq was still going on, with people split whether it would help stop al-Qaeda or it was irrelevant to everything; post-9/11 security measures, such as state-sponsored surveillance via the PATRIOT Act and the controversies of torturing—er, enhanced interrogation of accused al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantánamo Bay detention camp, caused some people to think that the US was headed towards a fascist, totalitarian path, like in George Orwell’s 1984 (in fact, I first heard of the book thanks to this kind of talk), and actually not making us safer from terrorism; and lots of other stuff like these:
Gas was around $3/gallon and mom wouldn't stop bitching about it. I asked her why she couldn't just find a place where gas was cheaper (I was 14 at the time and had no basic understanding of how modern stuff like this worked), but she said that there was no such place. Whenever I saw the $3/gallon signs around, it would remind me of the recent strife and whining.
In late July going into August, my hometown of Riverside was the subject of national attention due to controversy from the Republican mayor and GOP government passing an ordinance that would fine any business that would hire and any landlord that would rent any illegal Brazilian immigrants coming into our town, causing many protests and marches in the street. It was sobering to see my hometown appear on national news outlets like CNN because of this, complete with footage of the controversial town meeting about the ordinance. My father would often attend town meetings and usually leave for them at around 9 PM and arrive home around half-an-hour or so after leaving. This time, however, he came home after that meeting around 11 PM.
The brief Israel-Lebanon conflict then started. I kept on flipping the channels between other things and news sources, including CNN, and I think MSNBC and others. I don't remember just exactly how I thought about this Middle Eastern conflict, but I do recall that it did cause more stress and hatred for the year. More Middle Eastern stress arrived in the summer, with Iran wanting to develop nuclear weapons. While flipping through the 24-hour cable news network, I caught a channel mocking the Iranian leader, a satirical dub where the “Leader” said (I think) that he was the anti-Christ (or something to that effect) and would plan the apocalypse but had trouble scheduling. It was a little humorous, I admit, and actually added some levity to the grim year.
Later on in August, during Vacation Bible School, a terrorist plot at an airport was foiled. While another rare bright spot for the year and decade, this incident was a double-edged sword. An Al-Qaeda/Islamist terrorist plot was successfully stopped before it could start, but this caused airport security to beef up security and make things more intrusive, which continues to this day.
To a lesser degree, environmental issues also plagued me. Long before I was aware of his support from oil companies and the Westboro Baptist Church and back when I mainly knew him as the man who, thanks to potential right-leaning people in courts (including SCOTUS), lost to Dubya in 2000, I saw advertisements for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and, in my 14-year-old mind, saw global warming as a quickly-arriving force that could wipe everything out, leave everything underwater, and cause my family and I to be homeless, causing me to be more angry with Bush 43 and the GOP collectively for seemingly ignoring (or not caring) about this potential situation for anti-terror measures and pointless Middle Eastern wars. Another such issue I was slightly concerned about was overpopulation. Around Fall 2006, there were commercials and reports about the three-hundred-millionth American being born, and indeed, during my first weeks as a high school freshman, my homeroom class and I heard the announcement that the 300,000,000th American had been born.
Reminiscing about 2006, I find some nasty elements that make the year even worse than I initially thought. That year, my mom had heard of a little-known book called The Da Vinci Code and I got interested in it, too. I subsequently got the idea implanted that the stereotypically ultra-conservative Roman Catholic Church was part of a powerful conspiracy for power-grabbing and that the right was somehow involved with it or complicit with it (I was 14 and really don’t remember it; I just recall thinking the Church was part of a cover-up or something—in retrospect, conservative Christian groups lambasting the Harry Potter books as satanic propaganda might have something to do with this feeling).
The worst conspiracy theories I held, in hindsight and most especially now, were varying 9/11 conspiracy theories. I recall holding many such theories, often contradicting one another. I thought it was an inside job to turn America into a fascist state, like one of those people mentioned above. I also thought the US government was somehow behind major censorship controversies, like how hardly anyone seemed to make fun of Bush (although there were a plethora of Bush mockeries, such as Bushism, remember those?) or that controversial list of songs that were deemed unsuitable for play after 9/11. I guess reading random Wikipedia articles on various topics probably wasn’t entirely for the best. Not to worry. I grew out of the 9/11 conspiracy bullshit shortly after Dubya left the White House.
Pop culture didn't help me escape from the politics of that year. The most major offender, Disney, wasn't producing cartoons and was just spewing out live action scum from It's A Crap Productions, like Hannah Montana, and the movie High School Musical. I just felt jaded with Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, feeling that the both of them had gone past their prime, with the latter producing lame Disney kidcom knockoffs (unfortunately, I wasn't interested in Avatar: The Last Airbender at the time). I was also one of those whiners who bemoaned the apparent eradication of traditional animation as 3-D animation was becoming more present (I have since outgrown that and, while I still love traditional animation, I feel that 3-D animation is the animation industry advancing and progressing).
As much as I ragged on the year, there were positives in 2006. That year, I started getting interested in 24; it was the season with the deadly nerve gas and the Nixon-like Charles Logan, widely considered to be one of the best seasons of the show. I was still interested in Survivor back then (it was the one where the tribes were controversially split by race); it was still watchable, particularly the contestant Ozzy, if anyone remembers him. For middle school graduation, I got a DVD set of Monty Python's Flying Circus and (possibly all three) Cro video tapes. I ended going to BCIT Medford for high school and escaping Riverside for good, at least in terms of education. After a few years’ worth of reading about it on IMDb and Wikipedia (especially with the “Cartoon Wars” controversy—another negative of 2006), I finally managed to watch South Park for the first time and ended up enjoying it. The first episode I saw was “Go God Go XII,” laughing a lot at the scene where Cartman, in the future, uses the time-prank-call-phone to try to convince his past self not to freeze himself to wait for the Wii. As for the political negativity and cringe starting to engulf me that year, I managed to find catharsis.
One of my hobbies then, like now, was writing little stories, usually in a screenplay or treatment-like format, and mainly in disjointed ideas, when I had little-to-no grasp on story structure, symbolism, and compression. One such story was called A Utopian Dystopia, set in a fascist America, and meant to be a sociopolitical satire of dystopian stories like 1984 and current events in the vein of films like Dr. Strangelove and Brazil (which I had recently heard of and first watched in 2006), featuring the GOP as a far-right fascist party ruling America exterminating minorities, LGBT people, Democrats, and anyone else who dared lean left (even in the slightest). Partially inspired by the politics of the time, I’ve still developed that idea over many years, with it evolving with my politics. For the curious, the story, however much I focus on it and change it, it would be very much, much darker now and probably be too implausible to successfully suspend the audience’s disbelief.
Well, what can I say? 2006 certainly wasn’t a walk in the park. I might’ve labeled it to be the worst year, or a really awful one, back then, but I won’t now. Hell, I might not even give the moniker to 2020 or 2021.
Maybe 2036 will see an even more extreme version of the woke throwing straight white men into death camps along with anybody on both sides of the spectrum who dares question their power, developing GITMO-like torture prisons. Perhaps 2042 will officially be the year the GOP goes full-on fascist, setting America back to the pre-colonial era not unlike Gilead and will re-introduce Jim Crow and slavery. 2060 could possibly bring another, deadly, life-altering pandemic that could take so lengthy and tedious that it would make the COVID-19 pandemic look like it lasted a few months. Or 2071 could be the year when nuclear war starts.
Hoh boy, can’t wait for the future...