{Not Quite} Midnight in America

As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost...

--Marcel Proust

Ever since our imports-induced bender, Don and I have felt "off" our patriot game. Just this past Friday, as I left to buy fish to grill for dinner, Don was in no hurry to get back on the wagon: "Let's have swordfish. Even if it's imported." He practically slurred his words.

With five months to go, it's a bit early in this journey to feel like we've hit the wall. But there you have it. We're like two adolescents with zero impulse control who tossed back a few beers and wandered into a marathon. It ain't pretty. I'll never forget watching the 1984 Summer Olympics on TV as Swiss long distance runner Gabriela Andersen-Schiess--a superbly trained athlete--entered the Los Angeles Coliseum for her final lap. She didn't so much run as wade in slow motion; frail, birdlike, a Bambiraptor battling a tar pit. Painful to watch. But the point is: Don and I are like Gabriela Andersen-Schiess without any training. Plus, it's the middle of the marathon and we still have miles to go. Ok, so maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the picture. Like I said, not pretty.

And so I stood at the fish counter, the weight of my Buy American resolution on my ill-prepared shoulders. The swordfish from Ecuador looked fresh and delicious. Don's pleading echoed in my head. But the wild salmon looked fresh and delicious, too. The small note card propped alongside it on the crushed ice said "Product of U.S.A." Such a simple choice. "I'll take the wild salmon filet. A tail piece, please."

Back home, I opened the door to Don's office / den, peeked inside. Don looked up from the patient charts he'd been dictating, wire-rimmed reading glasses on the tip of his nose. "Got the swordfish?" he asked, a hopeful smile on his face. I told him the swordfish-from-Ecuador versus salmon-from-the-home-team story. "Good choice. Let me know when you want me to turn on the grill." Richie C had returned. Whew.

About an hour later, as the sun dipped below the ridge near our house, we sat on the back patio and ate our meal: fresh local zucchini, onion and baby tomatoes sautéed in California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil; grilled wild salmon topped with yogurt sauce (made with fresh local-grown dill and fresh squeezed lemon juice from my sister Joni's tree); Sonoma County's Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay. "Is it just me or is this the best meal we've ever had," Don asked, which is just one more reason he's a keeper. "It's just you," I said. "But thanks."

At 10 P.M.--late for this neck of the woods--it was still so pleasant outside that we decided to walk to our favorite frozen yogurt place. We live in one of the area's oldest neighborhoods, built in the late 1940's. No streetlights. Just the moon and stars on a clear summer night to guide us until we reached the business district a couple of blocks away. Music from a jazz combo drifted toward us as we entered the main part of town, followed by the sounds of glasses clinking, cutlery scraping plates; people laughing and talking, eating pizza or pasta or tacos or fish and chips or sushi or whatever struck their fancy at one of the dozens of cafes and restaurants. Votive candles flickered on tables, tiny white lights, strung here and there in trees, twinkled.

As Don and I walked along the boulevard, I thought of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." I so enjoyed how the film, thanks to stunningly beautiful cinematography by Darius Khondji, took us on leisurely walks along the Seine. And truth be told, even as I do this very American project, France holds a special place in my heart. Marcel Proust occupied most of my time in college. French cooking was, at one {crazy} time, my hobby. And for over twenty-five years, bright toiles and small prints from Provence have made my house a cheerful place, even in winter.

But as Don and I walked along our little town's boulevard and ate our frozen yogurt, Woody Allen's 1920's Paris gave way to the here and now. This is heaven. We are living the American Dream.

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, how do we keep the dream alive? Our GDP is now a paltry 1.3% (China's is close to 10%). Our manufacturing activity is at its lowest point in two years. How do we buy our Hondas--and our iPhones and iPads--and still keep this country economically feasible? When a company like Graco--the same {American company} that brought us the world's first baby swing in 1955--now chooses to make all its baby products, including my grandbaby's Pack 'n Play, in China, how do we move past that? Can we?

I don't know. But look just beyond Mr. Allen's idyllic 1920's Paris. The Great Depression awaits there, just off in the distance. Makes you think. As we raise debt ceilings and borrow from China to keep ourselves going, maybe it's a good time to invest in products that are actually made here in America. Infuse more capital into our economy. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think we have to keep trying. Even if all we can find is salmon and zucchini. And we may not have Paris, but we'll always have frozen yogurt on a warm summer's eve, with the fog rolling in from the San Francisco Bay. It just doesn't get much better than that.

PS: What does your slice of the American Dream--your own bit o' heaven here in our country--look like? Do tell.