Doing Laundry

"No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar. " ~Abraham Lincoln

The rain has finally subsided. It's a chilly, fog-shrouded Sunday morning. Snowed a couple of inches in the hills near Saratoga yesterday. For California, that's newsworthy. Trees in our neighborhood reflect the late-winter season: oaks bare other than a smattering of acorns untouched by squirrels; cherry trees, confused by the warm weather a couple of weeks ago, sprouted masses of frilly pink blossoms. Maybe a nod to George Washington? Do school kids still hear the simple tale of how young George chopped down a cherry tree and then couldn't lie about it? And what about me? Am I honest?

With Presidents' Day tomorrow, college-daughter Michelle's home to celebrate her birthday. This afternoon we'll see a movie, get dinner, walk around the city. Simple joys. A day off. No looking at tags, no sighing. I promised Michelle. And I never, ever lie.

Last night, Michelle and I did some shopping for her birthday presents. Everything she wanted--does it even matter what the items are?--were predictably Made in China. But since Don and I had decided to give her cash, I was off the hook. Don's the one who came up with that nifty plan. "We just won't buy her anything this year," he said. "Let her buy it herself." I hesitated. "I don't know. Isn't that kind of like money laundering? Doesn't seem right. We give her the money, she buys Made in China stuff, our hands are technically clean?" Don nodded. This was the closest Richie C / Don had ever come to cheating. Worked for me. "Ok. Let's do it."

So off we went, Michelle and I, to look for her birthday gifts. She with her fresh wad of cash, me with my somewhat guilty conscience. We planned to hit Target first, but when we pulled into the shopping center, even in the darkness we couldn't miss the huge bright yellow banners hanging from our local Borders bookstore. STORE CLOSING. I'd read Borders had filed for bankruptcy protection, but hoped our store would be spared. Our family has shopped there for years. When Michelle and her older sister, Carolyn, needed books for school assignments in a hurray, we could run over, confident the store would have something that would work. Even the library was less than dependable that way. "Oh no," Michelle said, spotting the yellow banners. "Well, hopefully another bookstore will replace it."

We went inside. The normally well-organized store looked like it'd been hit by an earthquake. Books and magazines and stuffed toys littered the floors. Dozens of shoppers juggling armloads of sale-priced books waited in a long line. Too little too late, I thought. One of the issues that apparently led to Border's money woes was shopper-tendency to browse and not buy. Borders had created this nice mix of books, a café, and cozy chairs. Well, visitors would pick up Starbuck's, bring already-purchased (Amazon.com) reading material and then sit around Borders, luxuriating in the calm, friendly atmosphere. Reading about that, I wondered if Borders should've simply charged a cover fee, maybe $5--I'm serious here--at the door; to be reimbursed should the visitor decide to make a purchase of equal or greater value. Michelle chose a few books she wanted; I picked up Joel Comm's twitter power 2.0 ("Printed in the United States of America"). The clerk who rang up our books smiled, despite the circumstances. I told him how sorry I was to see the store close, how much we had enjoyed the place. "Yeah, thanks. We're all kind of in shock. We just came to work and found out Borders isn't even our employer anymore. Kind of weird." I'll say.

Leaving the store, I had to think: If Borders couldn't get people to buy books priced even a bit higher than Amazon's, if people these days have to be that careful about spending money, then surely my idea for Apple would flop. Surely American consumers wouldn't pay more for a Made in USA iPad, iPhone, or Mac. Sigh.

At Target, Michelle easily found a few things she'd been wanting for her birthday. On our way to the checkout I spotted the pet supply section. Our Border terrier's bed has had it. The once-lush fleece lining has been chewed and dug at and now has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Michelle and I looked at all the doggy beds Target had on its shelves; we'd already looked at them a few weeks ago, but now the situation qualified as an emergency. Using the now-defunct color-coded Homeland Security model, our threat level for the dog to end up caught inside the lining and perhaps get pretty darn upset about it would be bright red: severe risk. Problem was, all the beds were made you-know-where. "I could just order that Amish Cat Bed online. Remember the one I told you about? It's got hand-painted country scenes on its wooden sides...?" Michelle rolled her eyes. "I doubt the dog wants to sleep in a bed made for a cat. I've still got cash left from the money you and Dad gave me. Don't worry about it. I'll buy the bed." I said no, I couldn't let her do that. It wouldn't be right. But I did.

So am I honest? Honest as good ol' George Washington? Or how about Abraham Lincoln? When Abe worked as a store clerk, the story goes, he discovered he'd overcharged a shopper. Honest Abe walked quite a distance to return a couple of pennies to her. Would George and Abe, patriots with incredibly high standards-- forgive my money-laundering scheme? Would they laugh and say: You have such a convenience-blessed life. How hard can it be to stick to your pledge to buy products made in our great country? Maybe. But I cannot tell a lie: this Buy-America thing is getting tough.