Made in Kuala Lumpur

May 17, 1994|By Art Buchwald

I WAS in a department store the other day when I came across something amazing. I found a men's lambswool sweater with a label that read "Made in the USA." I called over the sales clerk and said, "What are you doing selling an American sweater in an American department store?"

He responded: "There must be some mistake. We sell Chinese sweaters, Malaysian sweaters, Polish sweaters and Hong Kong sweaters, but we don't carry sweaters made in this country."

"Look," I pointed out, "the label couldn't be clearer."

"I'll call the manager," he said nervously. In a minute the manager came sprinting over. The sales clerk showed him the sweater.

After carefully examining it, he said, "This has to be a shipping mistake. We haven't had any 'Made in the USA' sweaters in 10 years."

"I think it's a beautiful sweater," I told him. "May I buy it?"

"I don't have the authority to sell any American goods in this department. We handle European clothes, Mexican clothes, shirts from the Dominican Republic and socks imported from Costa Rica. This sweater is so unusual that it could be classified as a collector's item. I think I may put it in our display window on the Fourth of July."

"Since I found it, I believe that I should be the one to buy it."

"I have to call headquarters before I can sell it." He went to the phone to call his New York office. I listened to the conversation.

"You're not going to believe this but a customer found a 'Made in the USA' sweater in the men's department. . . . I don't know how the hell it got there, but I'm not taking responsibility for selling it in the same bin with those that just came in from Iceland. . . . Yes, it looks great and just as good as the ones from China. I think that the American sweater makers are beginning to get the hang of it. . . . You want me to send it up to New York to show our buyers? . . . Will do." He hung up and said to me, "They want to take a look at it in New York. Most of our people have never seen clothing made in the USA before."

I protested. "It was on sale and since I found it I feel that I am entitled to buy it. I have sweaters from all over the world but this one is unique and I'd like to add it to my collection. If you don't want a lawsuit on your hands you had better hand it over." The word "lawsuit" made him uneasy and he started to fold the sweater, constantly checking the label to make sure that his eyes weren't deceiving him.

"May I see your driver's license?" he asked.

"What for?"

"I'm not going to sell an American-made sweater to just anybody."

I handed over my license.

"I don't think you'll find another one like this in the city," he told me.

"I think you're right. Discovering a 'Made in the USA' product in a store is a once-in-a-lifetime event."

"Don't you want to try it on?" he said.

"No, I'm going to put it in a safe deposit box for my grandchild. I want him to have part of this country's history."

Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.

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