Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?
About thirty Americans -- half of them trackmen --
among the athletes on the two buses. The German guides meeting
the stop near the Brandenburg Gate emphasized in several
languages -- Spanish,
English and Japanese -- that buses would
load up and leave from this spot
at 23:00, 24:00, and 01:00.
ones unfortunate enough to miss the buses will be on their own to
back to the Village," one guide warned in English.
"You mean the ones lucky enough!" an Australian runner said jauntily.
"Lucky enough to have found an hospitable fraulein!"
dreaming," another Aussie said. "If you miss the last bus, you'll be
passed out in the gutter."
Glenn loved hearing the Aussies' banter at the Village. In fact, even when
they were talking about the mundane, just passing the word about a team
meeting time, they could sound like they were teasing each other.
went several directions, and the Japanese took off together.
of the Americans, plus a few Australians and Spaniards, followed
Torrance, trusting him because he claimed the Germans working
at the Village track had recommended a spot, at least as a starting point.
The Essen Haus turned out to be a giant hall with
long tables. The German
customers spotted them, but other than
the raising of steins in their direction
for welcoming gestures,
left them alone at first. None of the German men
were in uniform,
though, which surprised Glenn. Up to this point, it had
as if half the men in the country wore uniforms. Gradually a handful
men -- all in their twenties, it seemed -- wandered over. One of them just
started talking to Torrance, as familiarly as if this was a corner bar in Denver
and everyone knew each other. Or as familiarly as it could be when half the
conversation was in a second language. Because of the noise, only those closest
to Torrance could hear, but Glenn was part of it.
of us," Torrance said. He gestured up and down the table. "Australian
and Spanish, too."
"Welcome," the German spokesman said. He raised his glass, and his
German friends did the same. Glenn reached out and tapped a few of the
Germans' steins and glasses. Smiles all around.
Another German, skinny with
floppy light brown hair parted in the
middle, materialized at
Glenn's side. Glenn was starting his second beer, and
told himself he would stop there.
"What do you think of our country?"
"So far, it's very impressive," said Glenn. "Everybody seems
The German smiled. "Not what you expected?"
"I wouldn't say that."
"There are a lot of lies being told
about us," the German said.
An Aussie broke in. He wasn't challenging, asking it almost breezily.
. . ."
The German stopped.
The Aussie asked, "You mean like . . . how you treat your Jews?"
waved his hand. "I'm sorry to have raised this. There is no
to talk about such serious matters. These Games should be about friendship
. . . between your nations and ours."
Before long, the Aussies announced they liked the Essen Haus just fine,
so there was no need for them to move on to another tavern. The American
trackmen, Glenn included, decided to walk back to the Unter den Linden
and wander a bit before picking out a spot for another round . . . or a nightcap.
made it clear they were about to head out, the German who
mentioned "lies" approached again and leaned in close to Glenn. Now
Glenn noticed that he seemed to be on his own, not with the other Germans.
"You fellows misunderstood,"
the man said.
Glenn peered at him quizzically.
The German continued, "The lie is that by now, we are all Nazis. We are
not. And even many who have joined the party for reasons of pragmatism do
not advance the party principles."
"I think most of us know that,"
"Do you? Then tell your journalists to stop saying ‘Hitler's Germany' or
‘Nazi Germany.' It still is the Fatherland. Deutschland. Germany. There are
many of us who love our country, but are not Nazis. Remember that during
Glenn smiled. "I'll try to."
The German said earnestly, "No,
I am serious! During all the salutes of
Hitler, please remember
that. Some Germans are doing what they have to
do, not out of
enthusiasm, but necessity and duty. It is no different than if
were a member of your President Roosevelt's opposition party, acknowledging
he is your head of state. I've read that many in America believe his
policies are against your nation's traditions."
"That's true," Glenn said. "They're called . . . Republicans."
much the same here."
"But Americans can openly disagree. Can you?" Glenn challenged.
The German leaned
even closer. "No. We can't," he said conspiratorially.
Then he backed off and reached out. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Morris.
Good luck in the Games."
Suddenly, he was walking away.
Glenn called out. The German gave a half-wave over his shoulder.
had wanted to ask how the German knew his name, but then he suddenly
his face had been all over-or, if that wasn't the reason for the
someone else could have disclosed his identity. At least that's
he thought until they were on the street, and hurdler Forrest Towns
up with Glenn.
"Wow, Long sure looked like he was telling you something important,"
thinking he meant another American, and he didn't know of
member named Long.
"The German you were talking with," Towns said. "You don't know who
"No," Glenn admitted.
"Geez, I thought you knew . . . That's
Luz Long. The German. Only man
in the world who might be
able to beat Jesse Owens."
Glenn was genuinely confused. "In what?"
"Broad jump," Towns said. "If
Jesse gets too tired because he's doing everything
that guy'll beat him!"
Glenn's first instinct was to pass along what Long had said, but then
quickly realized that would be betrayal. He was reminded by that, too, when
they were back on the Unter den Linden, draped with the huge swastika
banners hanging on long poles from the front of the buildings amid moving
spotlights. Then Walter Wood, in charge of picking a second spot, called
out, "Next stop, Café Wilhelm!"
The spacious café and
bar was sedate, at least compared to the beer hall.
The Americans settled at several tables, near the back. Glenn was with
Wood, Torrance, and Towns. Soon, they noticed a huge man loudly speaking
English at a nearby table. His back was to the athletes and he hadn't noticed
them. He wasn't as big as Torrance, but even seated, he appeared to be
strikingly tall and burly. His companion, facing them, was a smartly dressed
blonde young woman who, judging from her accented attempts to respond
during his rants, was German. The man was drunk, that much Glenn could
tell. He also seemed familiar. Turning slightly, he looked up at the waiter
announced, "Your country is magical! If there weren't
a Germany, someone
would have to invent one! If your publishers
were just a little more honest in
accounting for royalties, it
would be perfect!"
After the waiter left, Glenn walked over to the American's table. "Excuse
me . . ."
The man looked up.
"Aren't you Thomas Wolfe?"
"Now why in the hell would
you confuse me with that fat hack?" Noting
the man laughed and added, "Of course I am."
"I'm a fan," Glenn said.
"Of course you are."
didn't seem interested, so Glenn began to back away. "Just wanted
to say . . ."
The writer turned. "You want an autograph." It was a statement, not a
"That's all right. You're busy."
"Oh, don't mind me,"
Wolfe said. "Just been a long day, getting here and
away meeting with Ambassador Dodd -- I must have signed a book for
in the embassy -- and doing the interview with the newspaper in
suite. And now Thea here" -- he gestured at the woman -- "has gotten me
very drunk on this exquisite Pfalzer wine."
Wolfe had turned slightly to keep Glenn in his
sight, so he caught sight of
the other Americans at the back tables.
"You boys all Americans?"
"Mostly," Glenn said.
"Well, I'll be damned . . . you're our athletes!"
grinned self-consciously. "Right."
"Well, how come you're not in bed? Or drinking milk somewhere? Or putting
yourself to sleep by reading Sinclair Lewis?" He laughed at his own
and gestured at one of the extra chairs. "Sit down!"
"Just for a minute," Glenn said. He introduced himself. Wolfe's handshake
was firm. He seemed genuinely pleased when Glenn told him he had started
Of Time and the River on the SS Manhattan, was making steady progress and
was enjoying it. Glenn thought about asking, but didn't, if Wolfe was offended
if readers skipped some of his painstaking description and philosophical
rants to get on with the story. After doing that some in Look Homeward,
Angel, Glenn was doing more in Of Time and the River.
it is good," Wolfe said. "But are you appreciating it? Appreciation
is the lifeblood of an author."
Glenn couldn't resist. "I thought it was selling books," he said.
lots of books. Which you seem to do."
chortled. "That, too." After a pause, he asked, "What sport are you
Thea leaned forward and told Wolfe, "He is your decathlon man."
To Thea, Wolfe said,
"How do you know who he is?"
"His picture was on front pages this week," she told the author,
then smiled at Glenn. "Berliner Tageblatt,"
she explained. Offering her hand,
she added, "I
am Thea Voelcker."
told Glenn, "Thea is the newspaper artist. Drew my picture, and I
am sure it is wonderful, for the story that is in soon and will send my German
edition sales soaring even higher! For that, she has earned the right to shortly
return to my suite."
Thea shrugged. Glenn wasn't sure if that was confirmation or denial.
you come for the Olympics?" Glenn asked.
"Two birds, one stone," Wolfe said. "I was here a year ago
and loved it. I
was going to come over sometime for promotion
and to check on whether
I'm being robbed, and we agreed this would
be a good time, with all the
journalists and other influential
folks here. I'll be meeting with some of
them. Plus, I'm working
on six books and I decided a break would do me
shrugged. "Give or take."
Glenn asked, "You going to any events?"
"Dodd said I could use
his box whenever I wanted. Said I could look
behind me and see
Hitler." He paused. "So let me ask you, since you have
shown yourself to be a man of fine judgment and terrific literary tastes . . .
how do you like Berlin so far?"
"What we've seen is great," Glenn said carefully. "The stadium
and, well . . ." He made a sweeping gesture
that might have described
the café . . . or all of Berlin.
"Who wouldn't be impressed with all of this?"
"New York has its charms," Wolfe said, "but it's filthy compared
This is so wonderfully cool and clean after New York!
Did you see the
cobblestones on the street? They look like they're
scrubbed two hours a day!
And now, the energy!"
nodded. "But our Village is way to the west, so we really have to
work to get in here." He thought of Leni and his earlier visits: If he only knew.
"And I'm pretty sure it's going to be the Village and the stadium only for us
from here on out . . . at least until we're done with our events."
asked Glenn when he was competing. Glenn told him, while being
certain the novelist wouldn't remember the days.
leave you alone," Glenn added. "I just wanted to say hello."
later, as the Americans were ordering what they promised
other would be their final round, including a beer Glenn would only sip,
Wolfe and Thea passed by, heading out. Glenn had briefed his teammates
about both the author and his companion.
"Win lots of gold, gentlemen!" Wolfe bellowed.
tall herself, looked over her shoulder, and it seemed to
that she was trying to make it clear she was just putting up with him
his door -- and not beyond.
"That dame is gorgeous," Torrance said, voicing the obvious. "And she
even looks smart. So . . . what's she doing with that jerk?"
reacted in mock horror. "Wait," he announced to Torrance, "you
are belittling a true Southern gentleman of arts and letters, one of the finest
craftsmen in the history of American Literature, a titan of the written word!"
Torrance gave him a withering look.
Towns laughed and added, "Our
Modern American Literature professor
called him all that, and
I was brought up to believe that if an LSU professor
it must be true. So I just went along with that and I got a ‘B.'"
"I'm glad I didn't take that class,"
said Torrance, the fellow LSU grad.
"The guy's still a jerk."
Glenn cut in. "Now we'll be in his next book,"
he said. "He writes about
his own life, you know. Just changes
the names of the people and places.
Instead of ‘Baby Elephant,'
you'll be ‘Moose' or something like that."
"Just so I win the gold," Torrance said with mock solemnity.
the midnight bus back. That's why you don't drink. Much.
Glenn berated himself for trying to keep pace with the boys-at least until
the last round. He wasn't drunk; he just felt light-headed and on the verge
In the room, Glenn grabbed Of Time and the River, hoping to make
through another fifty pages. He tried to picture the huge man
from the café,
no longer just the man whose picture was
on the book cover, at a typewriter,
writing the words on the pages
in front of him.
After about twenty pages, he caught himself nodding, and gave up.
As he went to bed, he told the picture
on the desk: Night, Karen.
As he closed his eyes, he wondered: What did Leni do tonight?
Read Chapter One of Olympic Affair
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