Gardening and studio work require that I make frequent bike trips to my neighborhood hardware store. I haven’t shopped at Home Depot since its founder said retailers who don’t support the GOP “should be shot, should be thrown out of their goddamn jobs,” and Lowes hasn’t offended so flagrantly yet but there’s a guy in plumbing who tried to get me into Amway.
Increasingly I avoid the big-box hardwares for my peculiarly anachronistic local, where I shot this picture of a welding clamp so old, it’s a) largely obscured by dust and b) made in the USA. The store is a partner in the Do It Best buying cooperative, and besides that could be Anytown USA’s corner shop: aisle signs hand lettered on cardboard, radio blaring oldies or classic rock, and several dogs and a cat lying around. One of the older dogs is occasionally incontinent.
I bought all the store’s cotton buffing wheels when I first started polishing my aluminum jewelry, because they were made somewhere in New York State, well-stitched and affordable—with wide enough bores for an angle grinder. I went through four before they ran out and couldn’t get any more. Like a lot of their stock, everything has changed since those wheels were made. To recall our productive glory days, I head there and laugh at the irony of hearing Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” while digging past the newer imports for dusty Yankee relics.
US-made products aren’t necessarily better (though my oldest tools are Japanese- or US-made). Their quality has to evolve. Recall that we were once an agricultural country, when our first president wearing US-made clothes was inaugurated (Madison, 1809). And a few decades ago Japan made the junk in the “dime stores” of the West. Progress is a loaded word, but when it comes to industrial regression, I’m sure we’re the world leader.
In the Do It Best, we are still number one. They find my economic nationalist peccadillo amusing. When I ruin a brand new tool in five minutes of standard use, the owner vouchsafes for the tool company that offshores its production: “They’re a good name.” You wouldn’t want your name to be crap, but names became mere brands, which without a heritage can be (s)crapped for fleeting profit.
I remember heavy US-made tools from Sears in my father’s tool box in the same thought as I do the unbroken horizon of Arizona and the forest bands that once wound through Massachusetts suburbs. At the Do It Best, the owner is still smoking in the back room, but now he leaves the door open.