I’m so old, I can remember when furniture came already made. Once, I bought an entire coffee table and all I had to do was place it in front of a sofa. I didn’t suffer through a dictionary-sized instruction booklet, pondering the meaning of illustrations of stick figures and arrows. No counting hardware to ensure all pieces were included. No hunting for the manual’s English section. Just put it on the floor and get a cup of coffee. That’s how old I am.
We consumers have done it to ourselves. Always tending toward less expensive products, manufacturers have no choice but to compete. They cut costs till things must be outsourced to China or Vietnam. To keep shipping costs low, factories pack a dresser in cardboard and foam so tightly it arrives at your door in a box the size of a wallet. That’s when buyer’s remorse sets in like your vote after Election Day.
Today, furniture isn’t the only item that arrives stripped down, but toys, appliances, and even tools. Recently I purchased a new table saw. Some Assembly Required had been scrolled across the sides of a glossy cardboard box picturing the gizmo fully functional, complete with sawdust. The crate was large enough that I hoped assembly would be painless.
No such luck.
Five hundred and thirty-one individual pieces – I didn’t know a table saw could be so complex. I laid its guts on the cold cement floor of my garage to take inventory. It looked like a forensics team reconstructing an aircraft accident. Legs and braces and table wings sprawled nakedly, along with some idiotic contraption that’s supposed to keep you from cutting yourself. I later found the way it worked was to prove itself so unwieldy you just didn’t use the saw.
Next to the spread, I unfolded instructions like a twelve foot world map. They don’t make printers this big in America. After a lengthy hunt, I spotted the English section somewhere around the Atlantic Ocean. I had passed it several times because the grammar was what you would expect from a pupil educated through Common Core.
Look, when I finally got to college, I’d taken three years of Spanish and two root canal-painful years of Latin. My Alma Mater required yet another foreign language, so I chose Mandarin Chinese for variation. Other than jumping from a perfectly good aircraft at fifteen thousand feet, that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. What reason would I think that I, who can barely color inside the lines of English, could learn a tonal language? And not just that, but one written in hieroglyphics.
One of my fondest memories of that debacle was an oral exam in my first semester. The teacher would ask a question in Chinese and you would respond, preferably in the same language. Only a minute into the exam my instructor’s face was red as China’s flag and tears glistened in the corner of an eye. One more question, then his muffled snicker turned into a healthy cackle.
“What’s so funny?”
“Am I doing that bad?”
“No. Well… Yes. They’re a mixture of Spanish and Chinese.”
Apparently I had only one parking spot in my brain labeled foreign language, and Spanish hadn’t wanted to be evicted.
Now, studying the English section of this world map instruction set, I gaped at the journey ahead. The hardware package was stuffed as full as a child’s trick-or-treat bag after canvassing a neighborhood of recovering diabetics.
- blast furnace
- torque wrench
- PHD in mechanical engineering
Well, the generous manufacturer had provided a multi-tool that resembled the spawn of a wrench mating with a screwdriver. But its offerings were useless, so a good ‘ole Craftsman socket set had to finish what the manufacturer had started.
But truthfully, Made In China has gotten a bad rap. Nothing is made there anymore. How can you call a Barbie Doll Dream House that comes with more pieces than an F22 Raptor and an instruction booklet that dwarfs the Affordable Care Act be considered poor quality just because we can’t figure out how to put it together? We procrastinate its making till midnight Christmas Eve after four glasses of eggnog. It may be blow-molded in a foreign country, but every one of those gaudy masses of plastic joy are made in the USA.
So, next time you bloody your knuckles after a wrench slips and you slam fingers into the sprocket of your son’s new bike, take it with a smile – it’s Made in America.
Any way you look at it, my fellow patriots, we’ve done it to ourselves.
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