Dear Smiley: Many years ago I matriculated at a college that required two years of a foreign language.
Because I had two years each of Latin and French in high school, I was prepared to choose either French or Spanish.
An upperclassman friend warned me against such a choice because, he said, the instructors in those languages made them very difficult because they resented people taking them as easier courses.
He suggested Russian, because the instructor appreciated anyone taking such a “difficult” language and really worked with each student.
I followed my friend’s advice, and did well in the course.
Sometime during that two-year period I discovered that Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian premier, shared my birth date.
Therefore, I purchased a birthday card for him and asked to borrow my professor’s Russian keyboard typewriter to address the card.
My professor inquired if I thought I might want to work for the federal government in the future. When I said that was a possibility, he suggested not sending the card.
When I later clerked for a federal judge, I often wondered if sending that card would have had an effect on my serving in that position.
Cajun meets German
Dear Smiley: More about our language problems when abroad:
Many years ago when I was traveling through Germany, a friend with me said we should go to the weekend flea market in one of the larger cities.
We climbed into a taxi, and with my best Cajun guttural German accent, I said, “Flumahket.”
We wound up at the airport (flughaven), and the cabbie had to be cussing me for about 10 minutes in his native tongue for being such a dumb American!
He would not take us to the flea market, and we had to get another cab, where I tried to explain in my best Cajun tongue where we wanted to go. No more attempts at German!
We got there, but it was very late!
Dear Smiley: My wife Debi and I got to know Jim and Helen Taylor when we worked as volunteers at the Andonie Museum on the LSU campus adjacent to the Lod Cook Hotel.
Jim and Helen gave freely of their time promoting LSU academics and athletics.
At one of Jim’s talks to fans, he spoke of his career at LSU and in the NFL. As he stood trim and fit in shorts, tennis shoes and a white LSU golf shirt, he asked his audience, “How many surgeries do you think I have had from playing the violent game of football?”
As the audience members speculated, Jim held up his right hand, making an “O” with his thumb and index finger.
“Zero,” he said.
The music man
Dear Smiley: While we were eating at a Baton Rouge restaurant the other night, there was a large group of people at a table behind us.
A gentleman in the group started to sing. His kids asked him to stop; other people may not like it.
As a person who encourages good behavior, I asked him to sing us a tune. He started to sing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."
What a beautiful voice he had! Everyone in the place clapped.
As we were leaving, we stopped by the table to meet him. It was Jack O’Neill of O’Neill’s Music House — and an opera singer (a professional singer in New York for eight years).
Miss Drama Queen
Dear Smiley: Having dinner at my sister's home with her adorable granddaughters, I was enjoying a discussion between them about the 4-year-old granddaughter's "boyfriend" who opens umbrellas for her at the pool, gave her a ring (that he took from his mom's jewelry box), etc., but who does not get along with her 7-year-old sister.
At the end of this discussion, I said I could not wait to hear more of this story the next time I came to Baton Rouge, to which the 7-year-old responded, "This is not a 'story' (making finger air quotes). This is real life — MY real life."