I spent an extra $20 on a hand cart last month because it’s made in the United States, plus another $10 on a broiler pan that’s also made here. So, for 30 bucks, I feel like a hero. Not like one of those heroes who run into burning buildings to save orphans and puppies, but a hero nonetheless.
And why not? I’m helping support the American dream for some business owner while I slash into our trade deficit with China and Japan and Mexico and Germany and Cote d'Ivoire and pretty much everyone else. I’m making it possible for some entrepreneur in Arizona to buy a few shirts for the school baseball team, if they ever get a chance to play baseball again, and for a clerk in Vermont to buy some locally brewed maple syrup. I’m tipping the scales, ever so slightly, for the home team.
Frankly, this is getting to be a bit of a fixation for me, but it’s probably one of the healthier addictions I’ve undertaken over the years. Besides the endorphin rush I get out of buying American products, my bragging rights come with almost no effort. I just add ‘made in USA’ or ‘made in America’ to my search terms and even Amazon will offer up a wide array of options. This is exactly the kind of heroics I like. All gain, no pain.
Even better, almost all the products have been very well made. I should probably retract my initial claim that I paid extra for Made In USA, because the quality level made these items more valuable than some of the imported stuff I’ve purchased. Several letters have rubbed off my made-in-China keyboard recently, as the photo with this blog attests, so I’m just a bit more in touch with the price/value ratio these days. So far, the Yankee products have ranked fairly high on that scale.
Beyond the products themselves, many U.S. manufacturers have fascinating back stories on their websites about how the business started. If you love the American Dream, this is required reading.
I’m also loving this process because I don’t need to depend on anyone else or any government programs to make it happen. I believe in free trade and I believe in freedom of choice, so I wouldn’t legislate where most (non-security/defense) items are made, but buying from my fellow citizens seems to be a very sensible choice.
It’s very timely, as well. I’ve heard a rumor that many Americans will be buying a ton of stuff over the next 26 days. Locally sourced items could make December just a bit more merry and bright.
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When it comes to mixed blessings, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to surpass Thanksgiving 2020. Our annual celebration of American excess is being disrupted for most of us this year, bringing a ton of disappointment and a surprisingly large number of benefits.
The disruptions are obvious, of course. There’s nothing better than a holiday that allows…no, demands that we eat nonstop from roughly noon until the last dishes are done. Our hearts are warmed by the family traditions, whether it’s Aunt Mildred’s stuffing recipe or the grandkids circling all the presents they want in the “toy mazagines.” Old jokes, platters used only once a year, placing bets on which old fart will fall asleep first on the living room couch…really, there’s no place like home for the holidays.
The upside is not quite as obvious, but that’s because we keep thinking about Thanksgiving like we’re living in a Normal Rockwell painting. We’re not.
The fact is, nobody has ever liked Aunt Mildred’s stuffing. It tastes like fish guts wrapped in a bicycle tire and she always insists on giving everyone a second helping. We only pretend to like it because she’s loaded and we wanted to inherit something when she kicks it, but now she’s moving in with her yoga instructor and there’s no point to this charade any more.
Meanwhile, Cousin Marley whines every year about failing to buy Google at $92, Auntie Kim complains nonstop about her ex, and there’s no escaping the incredible genius of Randy, who isn’t even a relative but somehow shows up every year anyway. And when dad and the uncles fall asleep on the couch, the sound of snoring isn’t the only thing emanating from their stupors.
In 2020, though, there's no family to get in the way of the perfect holiday. We can start eating and drinking as soon as we wake up, because it’s noon o’clock somewhere, and we can stuff ourselves with pizza or egg rolls or enchiladas or anything else we crave. We don’t have to deal with Aunt Mildred’s stuffing or Kim or Marley or Randy or all those smells emanating from the coma couch. If some chirpy cousin insists on doing a Zoom call, we can just put up a photo of a turkey as our background and hit mute while we search for any leftover Halloween candy in the back of the pantry.
Best of all, now we have time to come up with the perfect Thanksgiving music and maybe win the Nobel Peace Prize along the way. Seriously, someone needs to save us from eight weeks of figgy pudding and DUI reindeer.
Contrary to all common sense, Christmas music started up right after the election, or maybe it was already on the air by then and being drowned out by all those good-will-to-all ads that the candidates were running. Either way, it’s just too soon, and the only way to stop it is to insert Thanksgiving music in between. Assuming we had any Thanksgiving music, of course.
This year, with all the time we'll be saving by not having to entertain Marley and Kim and Randy, we can finally get around to creating the great songs that this all-American holiday deserves. It's hard to believe we've gone this long without Thanksgiving jingles and carols and noels, since the rhyme schemes are so obvious.
Turkey rhymes with murky, perky, quirky, and even herky jerky. Yams and hams are a natural, as are pies and thighs, slurps and burps, and giblets/niblets. We can even do a song about turkey gobbles and family squabbles, stressing over dressing, and Uncle Roy on the Lazy Boy.
There are only two types of people in this universe: poor benighted souls who want all Christmas music all the time and the sane people who would outlaw any Christmas music until there is actual snow on the ground and we can all see our breath. Sorry, but it’s not Christmas yet when Starbucks is still hawking their pumpkin spice latte and George Washington is trying to sell me a mattress.
That's why we're calling on all the unemployed songwriters in America (see: all the songwriters in America) to make the magic happen. There won’t be any bump for the economy as everyone downloads the tunes for free, but we’ll have a brief truce in the war over how much Christmas music is too much…and too soon. Did I mention the Nobel Peace Prize? Why, yes, yes I did.
Have a great Thanksgiving. We can't wait to hear the song about Aunt Mildred's stuffing.
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What's the Big To-Do?
There’s a very important sticky note over my desk, reminding me to focus on a very, very, important project that I absolutely must, must, must complete…in 2018.
This project is so important to me that I placed the note in a very prominent place, announcing my commitment every time I turn on the computer. I want to be sure I don’t forget how urgent it is that I get around to achieving my incredibly critical goal.
After more than two years of ignoring my reminder, though, it’s time to face facts. That project isn’t really important to me; otherwise, I would have done it by now. The same is true for several other notes around my office that cry out for my focus and my diligence. They’re all on my to-do list, but essentially none of them will ever get done.
I was going to learn to speak Polish, and Mandarin, along with Italian and Spanish. I had plans—and I put them in writing!!!—to read an encyclopedia from cover to cover, to develop the world’s most popular app, to digitize all my photos and change all my passwords from password1 to password123. I made a note, several notes, to pay for my retirement by selling my copies of Spiderman and Mad Magazine for $billions on EBay. And if those didn’t generate enough cash for retirement, I could also organize my dad’s stamp collection, and his coin collection, to raise a few $million in pocket change. Also, just in case anyone wants to make a bid, I am planning to cash in on my Beanie Babies and Pogs very, very soon.
Alas, all is for naught. My to-do lists are overloaded with TO and devoid of DO. They mock me for my failure and my foolish hopes for achievement. Late at night, as I pass my office door, I can hear their muffled snickering.
Clearly, to-do lists are the devil’s spawn, a morass of futile hopes and unrealizable dreams that torment us with endless reminders of our laziness, our incompetence and our mortality. Some of us are addicted to them, which makes us even more pitiable as we’re visited by the ghosts of aspirations past.
In my lucid moments, I realize I’m never going to learn Mandarin or read the encyclopedia or fulfill any of those other pipe dreams that I added to my to-do lists over the years. If I was really all that interested, I would have done it. If I haven’t done it, it wasn’t really that important to me in the first place.
That explains why I have become truly adept at Words with Friends, Free Cell, shouting the wrong answers at the screen during Jeopardy, and arguing with the thousands of total strangers that Facebook assures me are really my friends. It turns out these are my true priorities in life, and I prove it by spending so much of my time with them.
Now that I think about it, to-do lists are also one of my highest priorities in life. If we’re going to grade my commitments according to hours of effort, these exercises in futility would certainly rank in the top five. In fact, according to Malcolm Gladwell, I qualify as a true expert.
Wait. That changes everything. Suddenly, I realize that I should never implement any of the plans on any of my to-do lists. If I complete the projects, I destroy the to-do basis of my lists, and no true artist (other than Banksy) would intentionally destroy his masterpiece.
I am not a failure at implementing my plans. No, not at all. I am a creative genius who paints beautiful portraits of admirable intentions. I have no need to actually do anything on my lists, because creating the list is the entire achievement.
In fact, these to-do lists of mine are so incredibly valuable, I could probably make my fortune selling them at Sotheby’s. I must remember to add this to my next to-do list, if only for the irony.
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Trapped in yet another Zoom call, I’m listening to a dozen colleagues as they discuss the virus, the economy, protests, elections and what-not and I had only one question:
Who are these people and what planet do they inhabit?
Then I realized they might be wondering the same thing about me.
Yes, I know I’m supposed to say we’re all in this together or some other claptrap, but the fact is that we’re all living in different worlds and we see only what’s in front of us in our personal version of reality. For instance, I know some people…
…who are making a killing as a result of the pandemic and others who probably will be out of business by the end of winter.
…who are raking in cash from Wall Street’s exuberance and others who are trying to scrape together lunch money on Main Street.
…whose careers will be mostly gone a few years from and others who are on an arc of long-term growth.
…who plan to be self-quarantined for many months to come and others who venture out without masks, getting up close and personal with anyone who crosses their paths.
The space between our daily lives and our fundamental perceptions can be huge, which makes it a major challenge to bridge the gap and understand each other. That assumes, of course, that we care enough to try, and that turns out to be a frequently flawed assumption.
Many people in my business/social circles have a tendency to reject the legitimacy of any ideas other than their own. When we do engage in a conversation, I’ve noticed that their goal is to convert, not to understand, so we are stuck at square one forever.
It’s our fatal flaw that we all praise innovation and American ingenuity, but we make almost no effort to be praiseworthy in our own lives. We marvel at tech upgrades and medical advances and new industries that overwhelm the traditional world, but we duck and hide when it’s our chance to become truly marvelous ourselves.
Reconsider our approaches? Challenge our conventions? Rethink our paths? No way, Mr. Feliciano. We’re fine with our thinking inside this box. New ideas are nice, in theory, but let’s not go crazy here.
We tend to think of change as something that the other guy needs to do, even though the only person we can change is ourselves. The funny thing is that we do change, multiple times, as events and our own evolution progress over time. Most of those changes, though, are unconscious, unintentional. When it comes to the type of changes that we can control the most, we suddenly become acutely aware and very, very resistant.
I’m not expecting much from the next Zoom call. We’ll all “walk in” with the same perceptions as the last time and it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll exit the session with our worldviews unaltered. From my screen, the new normal looks exactly like the old one.
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When September 11 arrived this year, I was struck by all the commentators, social media addicts and politicians who waxed nostalgic about our unity as a nation after we were attacked. Almost as if they were reading from the same script, they recalled wistfully how we came together then, that we were one nation with one purpose, we were all Americans, political parties didn’t matter…it was all incredibly warm and human.
It wasn’t their soulful yearning that resonated, though. I was more impressed by their gall. Nearly all the people who reminisced about a gentler time in our history—the one right after terrorists killed 3,000 people—have also spent the past 19 years in a non-stop effort to divide us. From the pundits on traditional media to the internet trolls, these provocateurs have built their followings by undermining the unity they claim to miss today.
The classic definition of chutzpah is the person who murders his parents and then pleads for mercy because he is an orphan. After absorbing the messages from so many teary pundits, I think that definition is due for an update.
The most efficient way to build influence today is through anger, even if we try to claim this isn’t the case. We tell people we want a more civil society, but we are all too happy to pass along a savage meme. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca, we are shocked, shocked to discover that there is animosity being perpetuated on cable news and on the internet. Like Captain Renault, we deserve an Oscar for our ability to express our shock with a straight face.
Sadly, though, there’s no money to be made from peace and unity. It’s not like Marvin Frey became a billionaire off royalties from Kumbaya. (Of course, it appears he didn’t actually create it, but that’s another story.) We, the people, will commiserate with the pundits about serenity lost, but we share their love for the fight. They count their pelts in ratings and we tally up the post likes, but it’s all the same.
It’s easy to argue that this is just the way things are and each one of us is merely reflecting the reality of our times, but that’s a lie we tell ourselves to justify our misbehavior. We aren’t mirroring our reality so much as we are creating it, promoting it, and justifying its continuation by other people. And bots. The pundits make money from division because we listen, because we watch, because we buy the books. In reality, we are not just an audience; we are the actors.
Pretty soon, we and the pundits will be reminiscing about the peaceful nature of elections past, honoring the relative unity of the nation after the people made their choices. If history is a guide, all that reminiscing will be followed immediately by a hailstorm of hatred, and we, the people, will be its authors.
It turns out you don’t need to be a senior citizen to suffer from short-term memory loss.
As the Brits would say, Stay Calm and be sure to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.