Sunday, June 19, 2011

`His Business is His Pleasure'

My car, mounted on a trailer with eight other vehicles, left our driveway Friday afternoon and is bound for Houston, twelve days ahead of me. A suitcase of dress shirts, pants and neckties, and a box of essential books, are stowed in the trunk. The driver, Sergei, will deliver the Olds to a former neighbor’s house next Thursday or Friday, and I’ll claim it the following Wednesday. It’s an unsettling sensation, giving car and keys to a stranger and trusting him to haul it safely across the continent.

Sergei emigrated last year from Russia. His father was an officer in the Soviet and Russian armies, and the family moved all over the former U.S.S.R. His English is heavily accented, and he works earnestly at speaking in complete sentences, not fragments. He lost me when I spoke too rapidly or used an unfamiliar American idiom. Sergei, however, passed my Russian test. When I asked if he liked Chekhov’s stories, he answered in the affirmative: “Ah, Chekhov.” The “Ah” was a long sigh of recollected pleasure.

Sergei spends his days on the road studying English on CD. I asked for a sentence from his current lesson and he said: “Even children speak English in this country.” Well, some do.

Sergei seems like a legitimately happy man, unworried and content. He makes good money and enjoys driving a truck. He’s visited forty-three states in fifteen months, more than I have in fifty-eight. “Your country is big like mine,” he said. “Very big country.” Sergei is among the rare exceptions to Dr. Johnson’s observation in The Idler #102:

“It very seldom happens to man that his business is his pleasure. What is done from necessity is so often to be done when against the present inclination, and so often fills the mind with anxiety, that an habitual dislike steals upon us, and we shrink involuntarily from the remembrance of our task. This is the reason why almost everyone wishes to quit his employment; he does not like another state, but is disgusted with his own.”

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