So I'm watching a baseball game in my hotel room in Providence, Rhode Island, when an advertisement comes on that shows me something about America.
This was just a few days into one of my periodic trips to the western world, and because of that, the ad struck me in a way that would not have been possible even a fortnight later.
You know those big metal bins people put in their yard for construction waste when they're renovating? This ad was for one of those, but made of some sort of really tough mesh fabric, and not nearly so tall as those ugly metal bins.
What a good idea: less of an eyesore for the neighbours, and less risk of wrenching your back while hoisting a roll of carpet into the bin. The ad showed people dumping kitchen cupboards, sinks, maybe even a toilet into the thing.
And then - here's another twist - a lorry from Waste Management shows up at your house and lifts the thing* by the handles - yes, it has handles - and takes it away. Ingenious: so much so that it almost made me want to commit some Do-It-Yourself, if only for the sake of the bin.
Just a passing television commercial, yet it helped me to understand what makes America work.
Americans are always thinking stuff up. It's a very inventive culture, always hatching ideas for new things to sell or new ways to sell old things. If America were a football nation (the real kind) it would be one of those players who always keep their feet moving; who has a good engine, is a disruptive force, shows a good work rate.
Here's another ad interrupting our ball game: it tells us that 50 million Americans "suffer from sore mouth". What a laden use of suffering: in America to suffer is not to starve, or be violated, but to have a slightly awkward sensation in your gullet. Fortunately, the ad made it clear that help was at hand, and at a low, low price.
And now here's another one: Wendy's has rebranded its bacon cheeseburger as the Baconator. Seriously, the Baconator. But if that's too much for you, there's also the Son of Baconator. This isn't meat, it's a Schwarzenegger vehicle ("I'll be back … for bacon").
In much of the world - the truly conservative parts - it is a different story. The status quo is acceptable and does not require constant tinkering. Instead it is change that is mistrusted. A samosa is a samosa is a samosa. There's no need to call it the Samosinator, or Son of Samosinator.
But Americans will try anything. Their kitchen cupboards and garages overflow with worthless knick-knacks.
Americans are not just the world's leading source of venture capitalists, but of venture consumers. They spend wantonly. And so every idea has a puncher's chance. For heaven's sake, the person who invented Spanx - Spanx! - is a billionaire.
And it doesn't bother Americans if their spending puts them in debt. Debt fuels the expenditures that fuels the inventions that keep the whole enterprise afloat. If Americans were more discerning with their dollars, maybe they wouldn't buy Baconators, or Spanx, or the cure - at last! - for sore mouth. And the invention culture would wither at the root, and the gaping maw would be unfed, and for that sore mouth there would be no cure.
When the US Declaration of Independence enshrines "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", I think the most important word is neither life, nor liberty, nor happiness, but pursuit.
* OK, I looked it up. It's called the Bagster, its motto is "Dumpster in a Bag", and the company's website says it is made of "a woven material that won't tear if punctured, unless sharp objects continue to cut through the material".