Weird follows me around like high interest on a bad credit card. Some of it is my own making, but not this time.
In preparation for our trip to the Kingdom of Sagan I have been taking Slovak lessons on the Internet since January. Everyone thinks this is weird, especially my teachers.
“Why you wanna learn Slovak? No one learns Slovak.”
“Slovakia is next to Austria and I want to branch out.”
“I know where Slovakia is. But everyone speaks German or English, and everyone else Russian. Why you don’t learn Russian?”
“Because studying Slovak is weird. That’s why.”
When all other explanations fail I just tell them I love Peter Sagan. This always works because he is the most adored Slovak ever, sorry Andy Warhol.
“Oh of course. He’s world popular champion.” Then they confide, and I have heard this exact thing from three different teachers: “Anyway, Slovak is Esperanto for Slavic languages. Easiest to learn and can learn Russian, Polish, Croatian, any Slavic language easily. And every Slav understand Slovak.”
Riiiiiiight. Suuuuuuuure they do.
Of course Slovak is about as easy to learn as ballroom dancing in heels, blindfolded, on a high wire.
Slovak teachers aren’t the only skeptics about the practicality of learning a language spoken by three million people in a tiny, landlocked Eastern European country. My pal Ol’ Grizzles was especially negative.
“Dumbest fucking thing ever,” he said. “Useless as tits on a boar. Why don’t you learn how to change a flat in less than hour? Helluva lot more practical than fuggin’ Slovak, for fuggsake.”
“You never know,” I said. “Someday it could prove really useful.”
“Sure,” he said. “So could the zither. But between that and a quick tire change, go with the tire change.”
Minding my own business
So there I was sitting at Gate 135 MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS AS USUAL. The flight was nonstop on LOT, the Polish airline, to Warsaw and we had gotten there early. Way early; only a couple other people were there.
As I sat there MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS an old man wandered over, holding a tattered piece of paper in his hand that said “Nadia.”
He stood in front of me, which was weird because the gate was almost completely empty. Finally I looked up when I couldn’t ignore him anymore. “Hi,” I said, preparing for the weird.
He pointed to my phone. “Phone?”
“Yes, it’s my phone.”
“My phone?” he repeated.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “My phone.”
He smiled. “My phone. No English.”
We weren’t getting anywhere, or at least nowhere I wanted to go. “Polish?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Belarus.”
I was stymied for a second until I recalled my teacher saying Slovak was the Esperanto of Slavic languages. I took a flyer. “Do you speak Slovak?” I asked in Slovak.
He smiled big. “No but I understand it.” Weird thing was, he was speaking Belarussian, but it was so similar to Slovak and our conversation was so simple that I understood him easily.
“My daughter,” he said, waving the scrap of paper with the phone number on it. “Can I call her on your phone? I don’t have a phone. I want to tell her we are okay. She lives in Virginia.”
“Sure,” I said as I dialed. “Does she speak English?”
“Perfectly,” he said.
So I rang up Nadia. “Hello?” she said.
“This is Seth.”
“Seth Davidson. I’m here at the airport with your dad. He wants to let you know he’s okay. Just a sec.”
I gave the old man my phone and they talked for a few minutes, animatedly. “Thank you,” he said, handing back the phone.
“You’re welcome,” I answered, pondering the utter uselessness and impracticality of Slovak.
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