Through a glass darkly 

12 Things You Oughta Know About 2004

A new year—despite the entrenched dominance of a self-loathing tradition calling for a binge followed by false repentance—is a time for looking forward, and, not coincidentally, a time for forward thinking. The year just past raised an awful lot of questions, and not all of them have obvious answers. Will the Civic Stadium get built? Will the Milltown dam go down? Can Brian Schweitzer win? Can George W. Bush clinch the popular vote? Will Saddam be spared? Will Friends finally, truly die?

If mere mortals claimed to know the answers we’d dismiss them for cranks. For these sorts of inquiries we generally seek the advice of experts: soothsayers and psychics, fortune tellers and tarot card readers, maybe a Magic 8-Ball.

So with this New Year upon us, we thought we’d turn to one, but alas, alack, turns out we don’t have that kind of budget here in the wake of all this seasonal celebration. And no insult to Magic 8-Balls, but in truth we’d hardly be able to help but doubt the veracity of any of the above anyhow, seeing as how we’re reporters, and they’re, umm, charlatans and party gags.

So in an independent spirit, and curious as hell, we decided to do it ourselves. We pulled the old crystal globe out of mothballs (actually, it’s our grandmother’s retired marbled blue Brunswick bowling ball, but she won several trophies with it and its mojo remains strong, its luster darkened with age but still shiny) and took a long, lingering gander at what the future holds in store for 2004. What we saw may confound and/or amaze, shock and/or awe, titillate and/or frighten, but don’t blame us—we don’t set the future on its course, we just read the signposts and watch the mile markers go whizzing by.

And as would any self-respecting teller of fortunes, we’re obliged to note that long-range psychic forecasting can be a fickle business, with the future revealing only as much of itself as it wants known and occasionally indulging—much like certain governments we can think of—an active interest in the dissemination of disinformation. Thus the necessity of our duly vetted disclaimer, which follows: Your year may vary.

And so herewith, sans further adieu, the Indy’s Top 12 Predictions for the Coming Year.
#1 He shall come from on high

Movie star Tom Hanks, recently spotted at a local Coldwell-Banker real estate office, will close on Marshall Mountain in February. Hanks will subsequently bar the public from his slopes, citing a suspiciously altruistic year-round “elk closure,” and use the land to build a private mountaintop retreat, from which base camp Hanks and Bitterroot buddy Huey Lewis will enjoy overlook views of the valley below and open season on Hanks’ own private elk herd, managed with assistance from Fish Wildlife and Parks under taxpayer-financed landowner incentive programs. In November, an elite company of unidentified elk will break into Hanks’ compound and trample him to death in what will be remembered as the state’s first casualty in a coming epidemic of elk-on-actor violence. Missoula police will investigate the slaughter as a hate crime, but fail to identify a suspect. David Letterman will cry on national TV.

#2 Hamilton goes wild

In March, The National Institute of Health overseeing the proposed Hamilton Lab Biosafety Level 4 expansion will issue its revised Environmental Impact Statement, mollifying anti-lab activists with its finding that Hamilton and its downstream environs are not, after all, depopulated wastelands suitable only for tinkering with Ebola, smallpox and other lethal baddies. Instead, in an unforeseen change of direction that shocks and angers local environmentalists, the new EIS—nailed to a church door by reclusive Bitterroot investment billionaire Charles Schwab—will recommend that the entire Hamilton Lab facility be airlifted to an undisclosed location deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, where any unanticipated leaks, spills, or contaminations will impact the absolute least number of people of any possible site in the lower 48. Stunned wilderness advocates react by chaining themselves to the lab’s sewer outlet in an effort to prevent the airlift, but when dozens of activists succumb to botulism in the protest, Forest Service contractors dismantle the sewer connection and, with the help of Hot Shot teams on loan from New Mexico and Texas, spirit the lab into the mountains, trailing a cloud of effluent from the dangling sewer pipe. Outsourced former federal employees are called back to temporary duty to affix international Hazardous Material symbols to all existing trailhead markers entering the wilderness area. Thereafter, Gov. Judy Martz announces, all future Region 1 logging and firefighting resources will be diverted to the Bob to combat “the devastating effects of wildfire.”

#3 Gannon’s golden years

Weeks before April 1—when the final light switch will be flipped off at Touch America’s beleaguered Butte office building and a final bankruptcy decree signed by a Delaware judge—former Montana Power/TA CEO Bob Gannon will put his Flathead lakefront mansion on the market. The asking price will be just upstream of $4 million, but Gannon will take the first offer over appraised value and skip town for West Palm Beach, Florida. There, where bankruptcy laws tilt liberally in favor of homeowners, Gannon will pool the proceeds from the sale of his home with years’ worth of bonuses and payouts leached from his dying companies and sink the bundle into an oceanfront estate, there to ride out the dozen or so civil suits against him with his assets protected. While lounging on the beach, Gannon will fortuitously borrow a bottle of suntan lotion from Foxx Industries President Barrett Singer, who last year famously pitched the city of Butte on the idea of transforming itself into a gambling-and-entertainment-based tourist destination along the lines of Branson, Missouri. Together, and with plenty of time on their hands, the two will hatch a scheme to sell Butte on the idea of transforming itself into the nation’s premier inland virtual aquarium. Miners would be put to work tunneling glass-walled corridors around the perimeter of the Berkeley Pit, through which tourists could gaze into a landlocked ocean squirming with digital holographic sharks, anemones and giant squid. The holographs, designed in India, would be pumped into the pit via fiber optic cable once owned by Touch America, to be leased from a Belgian conglomerate which by then will have purchased the broadband from Canada’s 360Networks. Incredibly, Butte will bite.

#4 Wherein the levee breaks

During preparations for the removal of Milltown Dam, engineers studying the structure discover that the dam has no core, and is in fact simply a hollow façade propped up from the inside with 2-by-4s like a frontier town movie set. As they discuss this fact amongst themselves on the dam’s catwalk, the dam overhears them, and realizing that it has finally been discovered living a lie, decides to end it all rather than face the shame of public exposure. As the timbers give way, the reservoir will blow a mountain of toxic sediment downstream, where it will settle out in Missoula’s irrigation ditches, filling them up and creating tendrilled veins of poisonous mine tailings curling throughout the city. The EPA will make appropriate changes to its Superfund map. Three kayakers will die trying to surf the wave. The engineers will later be snagged near Alberton by flyfishermen who, mistaking them for bull trout, release them back to the current.

#5 Missoula makes the show

In June, desperate for cash and with the Civic Stadium still months from completion, Play Ball Missoula will float a proposal to lure the 2016 summer Olympics to Missoula, with the new stadium as centerpiece (an Olympic village will be proposed, and eventually voted down, for Fort Missoula). No one mentions the tendrilled veins of poisonous mine tailings snaking through town. City Council, having already sunk too much political capital into the project to back out (and blinded by visions of economic boon) will greenlight the plan, and Play Ball will abandon the threatening spots currently airing on local television (“If we don’t finish it, there won’t be much to cheer about”) and launch a new fundraising campaign (“Send cash now or we’ll shoot Mayor Kadas”) that strong-arms an infusion of money to finish the job. The Stadium will be completed in October, so far behind schedule and over budget that it attracts the admiring attention of Major League Baseball, which will take the unprecedented step of relocating the 2004 World Series to the banks of the Clark Fork River, due partly to off-the-charts homeland security threats aimed at the scheduled venues in Chicago and Boston. The much-anticipated Loser Duel will draw unprecedented international media attention to Missoula, which will squander the spotlight protesting the major leaguers’ unsustainable reliance on non-recycled wooden bats by sneaking into the dugouts under cover of darkness and driving iron spikes through the game balls; over a dozen injured ballplayers will be ferried across the river by Medi-Raft to nearby St. Pat’s, and Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, having been impaled by a stray pitch, will be evacuated to Seattle for medical treatment. The International Olympic Committee, appalled at the spectacle, will award the 2016 summer games to Butte, which, it will be revealed, has discreetly employed secret diplomatic channels (the Brunswick’s reception is fuzzy on this point, but the ball appears to show the image of a turtle) to promise the IOC a Keno machine in every hotel room, locally forged metal for the medals, and a world-class virtual aquarium. To cover the costs of its failed bid to attract the premiere event in all of sports, Missoula will authorize a retroactive sin tax on stadium concessions, pushing the price of a plastic cup of warm Miller Light to $13. Citizens, tired of arriving at the ballpark only to find they’re required to settle back-charges for old beer before being allowed to tie a fresh buzz on, launch a Remove the Stadium initiative which ultimately—despite EPA support—fails.
#6 Frontier justice

Sen. Conrad Burns, hosting a July 4 Pachyderm Club potluck in Stevensville, will unknowingly ingest a casserole largely comprised of fresh bison placenta and contract the first reported human case of brucellosis. Burns will be taken to Yellowstone National Park for treatment and ultimately make a full recovery, only to find that according to state regulations, he is no longer allowed to travel beyond the park borders. Bored silly and scared as the snow begins to fall, Burns will attempt a November escape, only to be hazed back inside park boundaries by U.N. helicopters piloted by rifle-bearing World Heritage Site staff. After missing multiple senate roll calls, Burns will be forced to resign, and will ultimately take a job with a government contractor driving a snow coach.

#7 Twice burned

In late July, Montana’s forests will again begin in some degree to burn. Citizens, righteously outraged over Gov. Martz’ clearly faulty implementation of President Bush’s fireproof Healthy Forests Initiative, will demand a California-style recall. Then they’ll realize there’s an election only months away, and that Montana citizens can’t launch recalls anyway, and so they wait until November to install Missoula resident and write-in candidate Tom Hanks as governor of Montana.

#8 Thank you sir, may I have another?

In August, the township of Darby, during a routine budget planning meeting, will discover that federal matching dollars for local fire department upkeep are now routed, by executive mandate, through the Department of Homeland Security. While the redistricting of resources means that Darby will be able to afford a new fire truck, civic leaders will be required to sign loyalty oaths to the Bush administration and pledge both the fire truck and the community’s emergency response personnel to its war on terror in order to access the money. Darby will decide that it has no problem with that.

#9 The other side of the fence

Flathead anti-environmentalist radio host John Stokes—neck-deep in a battle with the state’s Department of Transportation over a widening of Highway 93 that threatens the viability of his nearby studio—will take a page from the enemy’s playbook and use his condemnation payouts from the state to found and fund an environmental non-profit organization—Save Our Stokes—dedicated to protecting the radio personality’s increasingly fragmented habitat. After District Court Judge Donald Molloy’s October ruling on his case, a “blowhard bypass” will be erected over 93 to allow Stokes safe access to his traditional breeding grounds across the highway, but FW&P personnel will report Stokes’ inability—despite heroic agency efforts on his behalf—to attract a mate. Wildlife advocates will find themselves unmoved by the certainty that in the absence of at least one breeding pair, the endangered species will soon become extinct.

#10 People’s choice awards

In November, with new handicap-friendly electronic voting machines freshly installed nationwide, most voters will go to the polls and vote with the same old ballots they always have. Differently abled computer hackers, however, will flood the booths in previously unimagined numbers, exploiting the devices’ proven security flaws to throw the national elections into chaos. When the dust settles, Cambridge theorist Stephen Hawking will emerge the winner of the popular vote before the Supreme Court forces an electoral recount and declares Apple founder Steve Jobs the 44th President of the United States.

#11 Find of the century

In late December, with President Bush’s Energy Bill enacted, Rocky Mountain Front drilling crews contracted by Missoula billionaire Dennis Washington’s Washington Group will accidentally discover the frozen remains of the last viable Democrat to roam Montana. Despite pleas for philanthropy from struggling museums around the state, Washington will have the body thawed and stuffed and auctioned on eBay, where it will be purchased on Christmas Eve by Florida resident Bob Gannon, who announces plans to mount the preserved carcass on an anchored raft floating at the center of the Berkeley Pit Aqua Park and rent paddleboats, that tourists might pedal out and see it.

#12 Can this really be the end?

On New Year’s Eve 2004, a bulging thermal mound growing beneath Yellowstone Lake will explode in a massive fireball, vaporizing untold thousands and leaving a lifeless hole in the middle of the North American continent the size of Brazil. After checking to make sure that Vice President Cheney wasn’t in Wyoming at the time, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge will announce that he has no intelligence to suggest that the explosion was terrorist-related, and advise the citizens of America to continue about their normal business.

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