Sunday, January 18, 2009

When did we stop making our own stuff?

Boone Hospital Center – Room 3029

3:00 a.m. Sunday, January 18, 2009

This is my tenth night in the hospital.  Six nights since the triple bypass. It must be time to go home, because here I am journaling/blogging in the middle of the night.

For some reason, I’ve been noticing ‘made in’ tags here at the hospital. Like they’ve been telling us, it’s a world economy. This composition book I’m scribbling in was made in India. The white woven blanket on my bed was made in Pakistan.  Although the front of the tag proclaims it to be from the Phoenix Textile Corporation. In the bathroom I found baby wipes from the Allegiance Company, made in Israel.  I picture hundreds of huge shipping containers each tightly packed with thousands of wet baby wipes. Israel always looks like a dry country when I see it on the news. A place where water is a precious commodity. And yet, all over America people are wiping their bottoms with water from Israel.  What’s wrong with this picture?  How can it be more profitable to make and ship baby wipes from Israel instead of putting them together in the Cheeseborough-Pond’s factory over in Jeff City?  The one that laid everybody off and closed down years ago.

I can’t criticize the hospital or anybody else. The nightgown I have on is soft and warm, well-made, and made in China. I bought it last week at Wal-Mart for $5.00.

I just had to switch pens. The one I was using, made in China, was getting scratchy. This one, also made in China, is much smoother. The telephone on my little rolling bedside table was also made in China. But I found the facial tissues sitting here were made in the USA. Hurray! Nice to know if we can’t make the fancy wet wipes, we still have at least one plant producing the dry kind. I could go on and on. Maybe I already did… This room is full of stuff: complicated electronic medical equipment, sheets, towels, chairs, TV, etc. – stuff brought here from all over the world.

When did it happen? When did we quit making our own stuff? When I was young, back in the early sixties, owning something foreign made meant that it was either cheap and junky OR very expensive and well-made. But not ordinary. The ordinary stuff came from a plant in the next town over, or maybe from New Jersey or Michigan.

‘Made in Japan’ was the tip-off for cheap. The stuff you picked up at the dime store, like little ceramic figurines to sit on an end table or plastic toys the kids would tear up the first week.

‘Made in Germany’, Switzerland, or England meant you were buying the best hand crafted items: knives, watches, clocks, fine china. Do the best, most expensive luxury goods still come from Europe? I don’t know. I was never in the market for luxury goods, and Lord knows, that has not changed.

Today, Obama rolled through Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, and into Washington making speeches and promises about a new beginning for America. If he is successful in all he hopes to accomplish – maybe more of our ordinary stuff will be made by ordinary Americans.