People, please drop everything and go read this if you haven't already. And if you know of anyone who seems to have had more fun at the Olympics, please to let me know. Every line is a classic but I guess I have to pick a few to get you to go there. So here:
It was time for the winner’s national anthem, which began with an ominous pop, settled down for a while, gathered itself for the finale, and then stopped. We got the land of the free, but apparently the home of the brave was no longer available. Did someone foreclose? Accidents will happen, but, as a rule, if you’re going to screw up the national anthem of another country, especially a major trading partner, try not to do so when the President of that country is in the audience. George W. Bush was indeed in the Aquatics Center, standing at attention, and, even across ten lanes of water, I could tell that I was looking at a confused man. Was this insult calculated, and how should he react? The world held its breath. Somewhere nearby was a briefcase with the nuclear launch codes, possibly held by a man wearing trunks. The crisis passed. The President sat down. The semifinals of the women’s hundred-metre butterfly got under way. As for the Assistant Button-Pressing Technical Manager for National Anthem Digital Recording Systems (Aquatic Branch), I don’t know the poor fellow’s name, but his extended family has just been rehoused inside a hydroelectric dam.
The obvious precedent for Beijing was the Berlin Olympics, in 1936. Both were showcases for a muscle-flexing nation, although Hitler made an elementary error when he chose not to dress his young National Socialists in lime-green catsuits laced with twinkling fairy lights. By a careful choice of color scheme, China was able to draw the sting from any accusations of militarism, while rarely permitting the result to slide into camp.
It will be scant consolation, however, to Lord Coe. Formerly Sebastian Coe, part of the shining generation of British middle-distance runners in the nineteen-eighties, he now heads the team that will bring the Olympics to London in 2012. I tried to pick him out among the V.I.P.s on that first Friday, but without success. He may have been hiding in the men’s room, calling home to order more light bulbs. You can imagine the rising panic in his voice: “They had two thousand and eight drummers, all lit up. Yes, two thousand and eight. And what have we got so far? Elton John on a trampoline.”
Bye then. I gotta go read it once again.