Once a week Paul and his sister come to my house to clean it. They're recent arrivals to America from Russia and work at cleaning houses in order to support themselves and take courses at night at Irvine's community college. They're part of a larger group of Russians that live, not in the astronomically expensive beach towns along Southern California's solid gold coast, but inland where life is considerably cheaper.
Every Tuesday Paul and his sister arrive in a beat-up old Toyota, haul their vacuums and supplies in and set to work with a single-minded thoroughness at their job. They're in and out in an hour and off to another house. If they're ever feeling down, I've never seen it. They're pleased to be working and they work hard.
Paul's sister has better English than he does. His is spotty to say the least, but it improves. We all try to spend a few minutes talking in English since they are keen to learn the vernacular. We once spent 45 minutes going over the inflections of "Too cool for school," "Whatever," and the inner meaning of
"Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." I like to think I'm giving them insights into English not available in the classroom.
But this is Laguna Beach, a latter-day hippie stronghold of liberal socialist in homes with an average value of $1,300,000, and so we don't ever speak of politics. Until election day this week.
Paul and his sister, both in their late 20s, come from a country where they learned in childhood that politics can be, well, a touchy subject. They clean houses for their living and hence might be thought of by some as, well, less than "acceptably intelligent." They never struck me that way, but I know from conversations here and there about my smug and self-satisfied town, how much the population values "intelligence" as measured in testable IQ , and which, as an article of faith, they claim not to believe in. "Intelligence" to these souls is measured it seems not in IQ points per se but in party allegiance. Much simpler than a test you see. Very simple: Democrat = "Intelligent," Republican = "Dumb." This is not a scientific question, you understand. It is a religious belief. Alas, this part of their all-too-secular faith has this week has cost them all significant control of the United States for at least a decade and possibly a generation or more. Yet, they are all so smart they cannot see this -- even now.
Paul, my non-fluent, English challenged, house cleaner is smart enough to see this shadow religion of his employers and, what's more, smart enough to be very careful about discussing politics. After all, one false move in Laguna Beach and he might be out of a job. Not that he couldn't replace it, but who needs the aggravation?
So I was surprised last Tuesday when I was standing in the laundry room of my home and Paul entered to say, "The election, today, right?"
"That's right. The election is today," I said and waited.
"Always. It is the duty," I said dropping quickly into the pompous, "of an American to vote. Your one duty above all others."
"I will be American by the next election and I will vote always."
"Great." And then it got sort of quiet.
After a long moment of just looking carefully at my face, Paul said, "So.... who?"
He smiled and relaxed. "Good. Very good. I would too and will when I can vote. I will vote always."
"He won't get to run again."
"Oh, yes. I remember. But I will still vote."
"Really. For who, the Democrat or the Republican?"
He looked at me and thought about it.
"Not for either. I will vote always for best, always. In Russia when I was small there it was always the party this and this..."
"This and that..."
"Yes. But I don't like the Party. I think. I think I must vote for best."
"Did I vote for the best, Paul?"
"Why do you think so?"
"Because he makes freedom. He does not say freedom only, but makes freedom. In my country, a lot of people say things of freedom and make nothing."
"So you think the war for Iraq is good?"
"Yes, very good for them I think. Here I think, people do not like the war that makes freedom."
"I think you're right."
"But they do not know. They have too much too long. Me, I remember first no freedom and then freedom quick. When freedom came I knew what I wanted in it."
"What was that?"
"To come here. To be here. Quick to America."
"Why so quick?"
He shook his head and looked at me as if I was the one who didn't understand English.
"Because in Russia, freedom can go away. Here never. If I vote for best."Posted by Vanderleun at June 20, 2006 4:20 PM | TrackBack