Let's do it Memento-style, where we start from the final seconds of the longest night in Greece and head backward. We'll do it that way because at the moment we're looking forward, just as Aristotle urged us to. Protreptic, the wise man called it. Explore life with a philosophical spirit. Of course, Aristotle never had to worry about hailing a cab at 5 a.m. outside of Akrotiri Lounge, a nite club filled with gods and other good-looking monsters, hard by the Aegean Sea in leafy Kalamaki. So we look forward before we look back, and what we see are the true closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games as opposed to those anaesthetized ones NBC airs the following day.
Michael Phelps rounds up more friends for a night on the town.
Saturday night is the final Sports Illustrated Olympic party, a biannual bacchanal whose motto is: Citius, Altius, Fabulous. It's ludicrous and Ludacris (on the sound system), a melting pot of Phelps and Spitz, Jamaican runners and Jennie Finch. But we're already getting ahead of ourselves at the beginning. And so we begin at the end:
6:08 a.m. Asleep. Alone. Unloved. Nothing on television except Melrose Place reruns. Andrew Shue, I have learned, cannot act in any language.
One hour earlier: 5:08 a.m. Finally, a taxi stops. There is a Zeus. He slows down. Yassas. A nod. Syntagma Square. Another nod. Efaristo. Parakalo. Two girls on cell phones, maybe 20, in the backseat talking Greek -- and not talking to me. One last look at the sea before I close my eyes.
Twenty minutes earlier: 4:48 a.m. I know one thing, that I know nothing. I know that's what Socrates once said and I know that I cannot find an empty cab for nothing. And I know that I'm not alone because there are 20 of us on the side of the road, not too far from the place U.S. gymnast Carly Patterson, her mother and her agent were waiting an hour earlier. Waiting, waiting, all of us waiting, in fitted shirts, tight slacks and dark shoes. Yellow streaks of light and medal hurl by but nobody stops. Akrotiri, an ancient city buried, and preserved by volcanic ash, is swallowing me whole.
One hour earlier: 3:48 a.m. I'm sitting outside the club. Sheryl Spain of Communications to my left, technology director Anne Jackley to my right, the world at my feet. Gold medalist Finch leaves. Gold medalist Kerri Walsh arrives. Those Slovenian handball players again. Everywhere, the Slovenian handball team, wearing red shirts and the stench of an 11th place finish, but partying like gold medal winners. Olympians soar by as fast as Shawn Crawford. Was he here? No, I don't believe so. But Carl Lewis was, and we chatted for about 15 minutes about Athens. Or was that party two? I don't remember because my mind is flipping like Bela Karolyi, whose ear I just whispered into offering congratulations for his wife, Marta, the coach of the U.S. women's gymnastics team. Or was that the first party? A man kisses a woman I know is not his wife. Again. There's Al Roker, leaving, after dancing like MC Hammer.
One hour earlier: 2:48 a.m. Tipsy. Everybody get Tipsy. I already am, J-Kwon. Evander Holyfield walks by. Damn, he's big. Grant Wahl introduces me to a new drink: Red Bull and vodka. I am not a drinker. This is why. Red Bull and vodka and I do not mix. But Lester Holt and good suits do. The NBC newsman walks by wearing a piece of cloth that costs more than I make in a month. Looks good. On him.
One hour earlier: 1:48 a.m. I'm partying like a decathlete and it has nothing to do with the fact I just saw Dan O'Brien. Is that Couric and Lauer or Donna de Varona and John Naber talking to a reporter from USA Today? USA Today? Journalistic interlopers. No time to investigate. The cheerleaders from beach volleyball are walking around, wearing very little. Keep moving. At the center of the party, on a bridge over a swimming pool, I see Sarah Hughes, who gets a 6.0 for doing SI's Q&A. The gold medal figure skater is talking about Phelps, the gold medal swimmer who is sitting behind a velvet rope with a lithe blond, the same blond who looks like every other lithe blond at the party, who is just a couple of feet from the velvet rope, which is being guarded by a large man, who is staring at me, who is leaving that area right now. Which is when I spy Australian swimmers Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim and some other stars of the sea: Lobster, tuna, salmon, kingfish and shrimp. This is not, I am learning, the same provisions we get at the Main Press Center. Famished. That, I believe, is Richard Jefferson. Cool guy and I like the Nets. But hit a shot, my man. Sometime in Greece.
One hour earlier: 12:48 a.m. Past the cameras. Walk the red carpet. No one wants to talk to me but I now know what cool feels like. Buzz. Heat. Traffic. Always traffic in Athens. The cab driver smiled when we told him the name: Akrotiri. Why did he smile? What does he know? And why is the meter sprinting faster than Justin Gatlin.
One hour earlier: 11:48 p.m. I'm late but I'm glued to the set. They embrace. Two men, a Moroccan and a Kenyan have brought me to tears by the thunder of their feet. Man, what a race. Let this race be clean. Please. The 1,500-meter final between Hicham El Guerrouj and Bernard Lagat is something I will remember. Magic, in the Athens night. On the level is all I hope.
One hour earlier: 10:48 p.m. Laptop is closing to the sound of party hoofs. There's always horsetrading prior to these bashes. Mo Greene's people need tickets? How many? The U.S. softball team? They need 16. Tim Layden, Michael Farber, and Jack McCallum have all filed for the web. Money. That's what those guys are. Wahl stops by to ask a question: "When are you going to the party?"