I {Heart} America

Such is the patriot's boast, where'er we roam / His first, best country ever is, at home.

--Irish poet / author Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

On the other hand (she said, morphing into Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof"), corporations have to make a buck. Bucks are, as I said, the oil in this country's engine. The government and its nifty regulations, from what various CEOs have told me, may be well-meaning but add egregious bureaucratic layers, cutting into businesses' profit margins. "Ergo" as my smarter older brother would say, corporations such as Levi's pack up and flee for regulation-free, low-wage countries like Lesotho. Places where workers say please and thank-you. But mostly thank-you. And they bow when they say it. Just guessing.

And eventually aforementioned corporations find Lesotho and Malaysia and Vietnam and fill-in-the-blank so very grateful and bowing and undemanding that they just shut their US factories down altogether. At which point CEOs become good at doing "philanthropic" projects in this country to keep themselves propped up and looking good. A community center here, a nice scholarship there. But meanwhile, thousands of displaced American factory workers don’t want a community center or a scholarship or tulips planted in front of the now-shuttered factory. They want their jobs back.

On the other hand (if this keeps up I may sprout a beard) I've gotten an earful about unions. Again, well-meaning but now apparently their own equally-egregious mess. And the workers? Caught in the middle. Maybe they, too, aren't blameless, but (correct me if I'm wrong) they seem like the least powerful. They often don't agree with union bosses' decisions, but must rely on them to protect living wages and standards. They can't and shouldn't have to live like workers in Lesotho. Americans aren't good at bowing.

And please don't tell me no one in this country wants factory jobs anymore. Don't tell me we are too educated and hoity-toity for them. Yours truly worked in a factory. A couple of summers during high school, I schlepped into Hollywood to work at RCA's record warehouse. RCA needed workers to take apart mountains of unneeded stock (tapes had taken over the market) so it could be recycled. One summer I worked alongside a Cuban immigrant. The two of us, rubber gloves on our hands, unwrapped thousands of albums, one by one, tossing the wrapping in one bin and the album cover in another and the record in another. I kept myself entertained by mentally calculating how much college-money I was earning with each passing hour. The co-worker, who wore stunning gold bracelets, earrings and necklaces, talked about her luxurious life in Cuba before the revolution. "I miss my beautiful country," she said. "But it's not the same anymore, so it's better to be here." Her brown eyes looked off into a tropical place beyond the air-conditioned Hollywood record warehouse.

That tedious RCA job helped me go to and stay in college. There was no way I wanted to work in a factory the rest of my life. But a job is a job, and plenty of Americans are desperate for one. According to a friend of mine (former CFO of a well-known denim manufacturer), when Korean automaker Hyundai recently opened a plant in Tennessee, it received 100,000 applications for 2500 jobs. "These were not high level jobs," he said. "We're talking janitorial, in some cases." It's like that line in the movie "Field of Dreams": "If you build it, they will come." Guess the Koreans must've seen that movie.

So here I sit, tapping away, dressed in my worn but cozy pink Made in China bathrobe, *flummoxed* (take that, smarter older brother). What began as a simple New Year's Resolution / tribute to my late father, has grown in importance to me. The more I read and share, the more I can feel Dad nudging me along. I still miss being able to pick up the phone and call him. I'd love to ask him about the time he headed up the Cameraman's Union. He fought unsuccessfully, as I recall, for better hours for the crew--people working "below the line"--so they wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel on their way home. And I know that, given a choice between working 20-hour days and not working at all, Dad would always choose work. He loved making TV series and feature films. Loved this country. Just wanted the best for us all.

And now, with Valentine's Day coming up, I'm feeling all mushy and patriotic. If I could find one, I would wear an American-manufactured t-shirt that says "I {Heart} America." Is that schmaltzy? And as I said, I'll be ordering a pair of Made in USA jeans from All American Clothing for Richie C / Don / Stamp-Collector-Genius. And maybe this slightly-annoying t-shirt for him to wear with them. Oh, and I've found something for Richie to buy me. Hint: Bye-bye Made in China bathrobe. Hello, USA. Stay tuned.