When I was a mere tad out in California in the 1930s, The Oakland Post-Enquirer, a newspaper long since disappeared, carried stories from Washington impressively bylined, "By Felix Cotten, Int'l News Service Correspondent."

William Randolph Hearst's International News Service is no more, but Felix is still about, and is a good, if casual, friend--which is why I use his first name. He's still holding forth these days as a public information officer for the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, a post he's held since 1969.

Not long back, a departmental publication, Commerce People, published a first-person reminiscence by Felix, in which he recalled attendance at presidential press conferences over the years.

Once, Felix recalled, President Calvin Coolidge was asked in an Oval Office news conference about a book intended to debunk the legends surrounding George Washington. "Coolidge took the written question in his hand," Felix wrote, "rose . . . and with a sweep of his right hand," pointing toward the vista to the south, exclaimed: "The Washington Monument still stands."

When Harry Truman was president, he once took a stroll along the Skyline Drive, and returned to the White House to note that snakes hibernate in cool weather. In a subsequent bantering press conference, Felix observed, "Mr. President, I didn't know you were a herpetologist."

Truman's response was characteristic: "What in hell," he asked, "is that?"