Gimme that good ol’ Southern misery
An outfit called the Bloomberg Network has found that, statistically speaking, we folks in Dixie are miserable.
To be specific, the five most miserable states in the United States are, in order of misery, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas.
I lived for nearly a decade in No. 2, three or four Interstate exits from No. 1. I stocked my bar at a grocery store in No. 3. After enduring all that misery, I retired to No. 4 about 10 years ago and, statistically speaking, have been living in misery ever since.
The “misery index” is a method of measuring the level of happiness or sadness in a state, based on a bunch of measurements such as income inequality, air pollution, lack of health insurance and underemployment. When you feed all those numbers into a computer, it spits out misery.
So why don’t I feel miserable after a lifetime wallowing in all these miserable states?
I think the answer is that you can’t reduce happiness and misery to a mathematical formula, unless that formula involves a football score.
Do you think those folks in Alabama were miserable when the Crimson Tide drubbed the Wolverines of Michigan 47-14?
Do you think the rest of us in Dixie weren’t cheering Alabama on, even though we tremble in our boots at the prospect of our team encountering the fearsome Tide?
But our happiness can’t be fully measured in touchdowns and field goals and yardage. Or dollars, either.
I wake up each morning in a house that is heated or air conditioned to the temperature I choose. The roof doesn’t leak, and it has indoor plumbing.
I don’t know how reliable the law enforcement agencies are here because I haven’t needed to call them in the 10 years I’ve been in misery.
My neighbors – there are families from three ethnic groups on all sides of me – are quiet and peaceable. They keep their homes well maintained and their yards mowed and junk-free.
I drive over well-maintained streets to a selection of clean, modern supermarkets anywhere from three to five minutes from my house. To get there, I pass a modern high school with its football stadium (of course) and its band practice field.
Four minutes away is a modern medical campus where I go regularly to get my blood drawn and checked so that my doctor can analyze it for problems and send me to a well-equipped hospital if need be.
Medicare takes care of most of my expenses. Before I retired, the BlueCross BlueShield policy provided by my employer in the nation’s second most-miserable state paid even more.
The drugstores around me are plentiful and well supplied.
If I want to eat out, I can select from the same chain restaurants you’ll find Up North plus a few local ones that offer their own distinctive fare.
I can get good Carolina barbecue, which is unavailable in less miserable states.
The reason I live such an idyllic existence in this heartland of misery is that I am a part of the middle class. At least I am in the middle class in South Carolina. I’m not sure how I would fare on an equal income in New Jersey or New York or Massachusetts.
The truth is, if you belong to the middle class down South, you’re at least as well off as the middle class in other states.
That’s why so many people from the “happier” North choose to migrate South when the time comes to retire.
The “misery” index for the Southern states is pulled down by the existence of an underclass that is a legacy of the War Between the States and the century of racial discrimination that followed it.
But I’m guessing – I can only guess because I can’t afford to commission a survey – that the underclass down South isn’t as miserable as the underclass Up North.
When it comes to income inequality, I suspect that the distance between the Burger King flipper in Aiken and the Sam Walton heirs in Arkansas is about the same as the distance between a hot-dog vendor on Coney Island and a Ford heir in Dearborn.
But there are pleasures open to the poor people of Dixie that aren’t always available to the ghetto-dwellers of Yankeeland.
The ordinary worker at the BMW plant in Greer may earn more than I receive in my modest retirement benefits.
But thanks to the generous tax breaks South Carolina provides for retirees, I can live comfortably within my budget.
Low taxes, of course, mean low benefits for the indigent, but some Southern folks have learned to game the system.
I had a relative who once worked highway construction for the state of New York, which meant that he was out of a job as soon as the frost hit the pavement.
So he would draw generous unemployment from the state of New York and return to Graniteville, where he wintered comfortably in his mobile home.
We have our share of underwater McMansions down here, but there are a lot of Bubbas living comfortably in doublewides.
When Bubba wants to go fishing, he doesn’t have to pack for a weekend in the Catskills. He can take his pick-up down to the river every day in the week.
There are no subway lines here, and precious few bus lines.
But as Bubba likes to put it, “gimme a 16-gauge and a four-wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”
I appreciate Bloomberg’s efforts to illuminate the depth of my misery. But to tell you the truth, I kind of like the misery I live in.
If this is truly misery, I reckon I was born in it and will die in it.
Readers may reach Gene Owens by e-mail at WadesDixieco@AOL.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.