(Originally broadcast on Oct. 30, 2009, on The Frank Show, here.)
I considered talking about all the things I love about this country. But that will have to wait. Instead, it’s cold and rainy outside and, well, I’m just in the mood to complain.
I can’t find shoelaces in this country – you know, the strings on your shoes you tie in little bows. I can’t find the shoe polish I need. I can’t find a comb – a simple Genuine Ace hard rubber pocket sized comb.
Oh, I CAN find Rolex watches, Gucci handbags, Prada scarves, Jaguars and Maseratis. But those won’t keep my shoes on.
And I wonder, what is going on here? Everyone tells me that there USED to be little stores that sold these things. But I’ve searched pharmacies, grocery stores, malls. I can find black shoe polish, but not dark brown. Then there are no brushes to put the polish on. I found a big display of shoelaces at Carrefour, but they only had brown and then, only in two sizes. Some shoe stores have them, but then only in one size – that is, the wrong size. I can find hair stylers that heat up and big round brushes to sweep my hair back. But seriously, look at me, I only need a comb. And a small one at that.
I’m ok for now. I brought over about a dozen shoelaces the last time I was in the US. I got a comb as a wedding present from some lovely women with a great sense of humor.
And then I realized what’s happened. Life here began to make sense. I realized why I can find, not shoe polish, but just that liquid that makes it LOOK like you’ve polished your shoes. It gives it the shine and glow. But not deep down. It wears off quickly. There’s no substance. It goes on without any rubbing and brushing and buffing. We use the expression that’s a merely a spit shine.
And then it dawned on me. That’s the point I keep trying to make. That’s what’s wrong. In too many ways, this country has gone from Mobra motorscooters to Maseratis. From Cico soda to Campari and orange. From Marasesti cigarettes to Vogue and Parliament Reserve. It’s built companies that LOOK shiny like their counterparts elsewhere. They have the signs, the business cards, the clothes, the money.
They’ve seen what they want and they built something that looks like what they saw. But most often, it’s what is NOT seen that is truly important. What is NOT seen from the outside is what determines whether the company ultimately succeeds or collapses. That, I believe, is true whether it’s inside a company, inside a person, or even on a pair of shoes.
Maybe this sounds harsh. I’m not casting blame. I think it’s human nature, understandable, probably predictable. But I’m optimistic. It will come. If not with planning, then with necessity. And I predict that someday, someone, will discover that there is money to be made in a chain of stores that sells shoelaces. And shoe brushes. And combs. And all the other things that are the mundane foundations of life and business. And they will succeed, as long as they don’t put the shine on and forget about first rubbing in the polish.