I’m miserable. But if you paid attention to the national news or dialed up the Drudge Report in late February, you probably knew that already. How could I not be, sitting here in my office in downtown Rockford, Illinois? After all, according to Forbes, Rockford is the third most miserable city in the United States.
This was no impressionistic study. The editors of Forbes didn’t drive from town to town, spending a few days here, a few days there, trying to figure out just which cities made them feel happy and which brought them to the brink of despair. Heck, they probably never even left Manhattan, or wherever it is that Forbes calls home. Of course, New York City made the list as well—it’s number ten—so clearly there’s something to this. I’ve met few men more miserable than Taki, and if someone told me I had to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I’d probably end it all right now.
But why should we be surprised that Forbes nailed it? This was a scientific study, after all. Forbes isolated nine factors that everyone knows make men miserable, and weighted them equally, creating a “misery index” on which to arrange the top 200 metro areas by population. Figures, as they say, never lie. (I think there might be more to that saying, but miserable as I am, I can’t be expected to try to remember it.)
The nine factors include net migration; contrary to received wisdom, misery apparently does not love company. Average unemployment rate and violent crimes per capita are pretty straightforward and closely related, though not, perhaps, for the reasons many assume. (Oddly enough, most people who are unemployed spend their time looking for a job rather than a mark, and spend what money they have on food rather than on guns.) Property-tax rates and income-tax rates, at least when they are above zero, have long been known to induce misery; and if your mortgage has been foreclosed, you’re probably not a happy camper, though you may be a miserable one, if sleeping on a park bench or under a cardboard box qualifies as camping.
A decline in median home price, though, might be a mixed blessing in a city with high property taxes, especially if you’ve been able to hold on to your house; and a man with a job might seem just a bit ungrateful if he were to complain about a long commute. But who could argue that the weather—average precipitation, temperature, humidity—could be anything other than an objective measure of misery?
I’m writing this on a Tuesday afternoon, the last man standing in the Chronicles office, as the third or fourth Snowpocalypse of 2013 continues unabated, having dumped a good six inches on this miserable town already. Or should that be a bad six inches? It’s hard to care about semantics when you’re so damn miserable.
I’d be gone already, too, except that I had to write this column so that I could keep my job in order to pay my taxes and hold on to my house. It’s a vicious cycle, trying to stay out of misery. Especially when you’re immersed in it.
Of course, if you want to see real misery, you should meet my wife. She grew up in Flint, Michigan—the second most miserable city on Forbes’ list—only to move out here to Rockford. And if you think she’s miserable, imagine what it’s like to be . . . On second thought, perhaps I won’t complete that sentence. I’m miserable enough as it is, what with all the effort of trying to stay out of misery.
Now that I think about it, I guess I should feel most sorry for my children. In addition to having miserable parents, they’ve never known any home other than Rockford, so I guess that puts them at the very bottom—or is it the top?—of the misery index. On the other hand, all of them are likely to leave town for college, so their best days, presumably, are yet to come. Maybe they’re better off than they seem. Of course, our oldest daughter just got accepted at Fordham, and that’s in New York City . . . Perhaps, like sin, the misery of the father is visited upon children—yea, unto the third or fourth generation.
And yet, for some reason, I just can’t shake this sneaking suspicion that I might not be miserable after all. Even today’s snow, piled high on the branches of the mulberry tree outside my office window, makes me feel oddly . . . what is the word? I want to say happy, but I know that can’t be right. After all, Forbes told me so.
I’m sure the right word will come to me on my long commute, walking a mile and a quarter through the snow-covered and dangerous streets of the third most miserable city in the United States, to my home—one missed payment away from foreclosure—where my wife and children are gathered around the dining-room table to eat perhaps the last meal we will ever be able to afford. Happiness, they say, is a state of mind. But who the heck are they, and what do they know? Misery—well, that’s reality.
Just ask Forbes.