Made in the USA: An Am-Erick-an Perspective
A few weeks back, I was out on my private firing range loading thirty pounds of Tannerite into an old Chevy Spectrum when I got a call from my assistant Jimmy Martin telling me I needed to get crackin’ on an article for The Paint Contractor. “The March theme is Made in America,” he said. “You’re a proud patriot—give ’em fireworks.” I hung up and walked back to my shooting bench. Someone had abandoned this automotive hunk of junk on the property before I took ownership of it, so I was going to have a little Maine-style fun and blow it up. I thought about Jimmy’s words as I peered through my scope at the jug of binary explosive placed in the old hatchback.
It’s true—I do love my country. I love American girls, nice guns, cold beer, and fast cars. I love free speech and the privilege of voting for the man or woman I feel will best lead our nation. I love our incredible history, and though it’s often hard, I try to remain optimistic about our future. I reflected on these things as I exhaled and squeezed the trigger of my hunting rifle…then grinned ear-to-ear as the compact hatchback was suddenly scattered over half an acre of land. The things we do for fun.
Fireworks, says Jimmy.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you fireworks, at least not here. They say fireworks and dynamite come in small packages, but I’m not known for presenting a small package. I could write a book on the importance of American-made products. Alas, I’m only allowed 1,500 words. But I do have a few thoughts on the subject.
Patriot or Paint-Riot?
The Paint Contractor takes Made in the USA seriously and so do I. Having an Editorial Calendar means they have articles planned month to month for the year, but I have the privilege of living a life largely unencumbered by editorial parameters. My patriotism is unwavering. It doesn’t matter if it’s January or July—American pride is in my veins and manifests itself in my company. A “Made in the USA” tag on a manufacturer’s packaging has already won me over.
The sticker may be small, but its meaning transcends words. For some of us, that little tag gives an immense sense of pride in knowing that we’re supporting each other. We’re all in this together. The American brushmaker crafts its applicators for the American painter so he or she can be paid by the homeowner in American dollars. (And in theory, those American dollars will be spent on an American-made work van, or at least more American-made brushes.)
I won’t get into the debate over whether American craftsmanship is dead. Not because I don’t want to cause a firestorm (I happen to love causing firestorms) but because I think it’s a one-dimensional argument.
I’ve used imported brushes. I once bought a 10-pack at a surplus store for a dollar and change. I was sold when I saw the package included a—wait for it—‘super quality premium 5-3/2″ natural bristle brush.’ (Yes, you read that right.) That two-inch thick beast was something else. It was made of burled mahogany and kinky split-haired bristles that refused to stay in the not-so-stainless steel ferrule. Each stroke left loose bristles buried in the varnish, creating a unique texture in what was supposed to be a mirror-smooth finish on some vintage oak crown molding.
How Important is an Import?
My imported roller cover left much to be desired. The package talked a good game but after fifteen minutes, the sleeve started to come apart and resembled one of those cans of buttery layer biscuits. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I pressed a spoon against the center of it. When I used my 49¢ 5-in-1 to open a can of paint, I realized I had overpaid. Instead of cursing when it snapped in half, I laughed and indulged myself with a moment of “What did you really expect?”
Oh, and the spackling paste I used was gifted by a well-meaning family member. (Aunt Gladys found it at a yard sale for a dime and simply had to get it for me. Like me with the 5-in-1, she overpaid.) It smelled like WD-40 with a hint of bubblegum. It was gritty to the point where I wondered if playground sand was one of the ingredients. It filled small holes well…but it dried harder than Bondo when it finally cured a week later. The old toothpaste trick would have been superior.
By now you’re probably asking, “Who is this hack and how did he get his own painting company?” Well, my inexperienced 18-year-old-self had to quickly repaint my bachelor pad apartment on a budget to get my security deposit back. One of our readers might have gotten the contract to go in and paint behind me. (If so, I hope your frustration was alleviated when you found that contraband in the fireplace I forgot to take with me.)
War Rant or Warranty?
Everything’s disposable now. We throw a torn shirt away and buy a new one. When a small appliance fails, we replace it instead of having it repaired. (Buying a new one is usually cheaper anyway.) I recently replaced my seven-year old refrigerator. The salesman at the Big Box Store was amazed it lasted that long. (Meanwhile, my uncle’s 1950s Kelvinator still turns beer to slush.) My water heater has a Chinese tag and a one-year warranty. I’ve had it for five years so I’m probably looking at a headache in the very near future.
Last summer, I painted a home where the owners were discouraged because their water heater had sprung a leak. I saw two plumbers struggling to carry it out of the house—a teal and chrome behemoth from the late ’50s. “Boy, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore,” one of the plumbers said. (A 60-year life—I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at my one-year warranty.)
Because we’ve allowed ourselves to become accustomed to short-term throwaway products, very rarely do we hold manufacturers to a higher standard. We say we want a well-made American product that will last a lifetime…but what we inevitably demand is a cheap product. Manufacturers fill that demand by selling consumer goods made by children in dark Dickensian workhouses. Overseas factories use cheap (and sometimes hazardous) materials to keep costs down. Quality control is just a sick joke.
A crappy three-dollar hammer might be perfect for the white-collar guy who needs to tap a few nails in the wall to hang his credentials, but us working-class guys and gals realize that our livelihood relies not just on our learned skills but on the reliability of the tools we use to do our job. We invest in the best and generally don’t buy throwaways.
Like my ex, we’re looking for long-term commitment. Hannah is the name of my favorite (now discontinued) 3″ Purdy Titian wall brush. I’ve been using it since 2007. My Estwing drywall hammer has been with me since I started hanging rock back in the early 2000s. And Vancy, my 2002 GMC Savana, is still the most reliable and forgiving girl in my life.
If my ex could see how into long-term commitment I am now, she’d probably leave her doctor husband, three-story home and Esmerelda the blue-ribbon Pekingese behind and look me up. Yes, I occasionally (daily) find myself on her Facebook page.
AmeriCan or AmeriCan’t?
The only thing left intact on the Chevy Spectrum is the frame, which is surprisingly solid and clean. If Spectrums ever come back into style (don’t laugh—there’s a whole subculture devoted to restoring AMC Gremlins) someone could use this frame as a launching point to build something incredible. Well, maybe not incredible. But drivable. Possibly.
I’m proud to see a renewed call for American-made products. We may have experienced decades of outsourcing, but like the exploded Spectrum, the framework to build on is still solid. In patriotic tradesmen like me, American manufacturers have a built-in market. Country of origin is the first thing I look at when buying tools and supplies for my company.
I’m fine with paying more for that Made in USA tag. I’ve always said: nice things cost money. And in my experience, nothing is nicer than an American-made product. To manufacturers reading this, make a good product here at home and you have my word I’ll buy it. Or keep selling imported junk (like the Chevy Spectrum, which is actually a rebadged Isuzu Gemini) and it’ll eventually find its way to my firing range…strapped to a jug of American-made binary explosive.
Erick Gatcomb is owner of Gatcoming Painting and Design n Hancock, ME.