Jewish World Review July 2, 2004 / 13 Tamuz, 5764

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

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Consumer Reports

I fuss and cuss but know where my heart is | When people get blue, they often turn on, even attack, a partner, a friend, a family member. It is, of course, a time-honored way of venting: hurting the ones you love.

Not me. When I get the mullygrubs, I snarl at my region of the country. I cuss, kick and threaten to leave the Deep South. I rant about the litter, the politics, the loud cars. I fuss about burgs that have tanning salons but no grocery stores, beauty shops but no libraries.

Then, before too long, I sheepishly settle myself down, say I'm sorry and hope all is forgotten. It's perfectly clear I'm never going to leave the South; nor, if the truth be known, do I really want to.

It was during one of those unseemly bad moods recently when the West — the desirable region du jour — was looking awfully good. It was 90 sticky degrees in the shade, and I was taking a walk with a friend visiting us from Berkeley, Calif.

Now, Berkeley is not the particular part of the West I was longing for, though it is an interesting place to visit. Berkeley is a town that has utterly unique things — a lending tool library where you can check out a chainsaw or a rasp for the afternoon, a Martin Luther King Drive running through a white neighborhood. Unique things.

I was thinking more along the lines of the empty, rural, still-wild West. I was dreaming of log cabins, cowboys and Indians, pinto ponies and hot springs. I was lusting for lonesome.

"Idaho," I said to Larry, kicking a beer can in the gravel road in front of my house. "I think I'll relocate to Idaho, where it's cooler and people have enough sense not to litter."

"People litter everywhere," Larry said.

"Not in Berkeley?" I said.

"Oh, sure. Even in Berkeley. Even up in the redwoods."

"Well, not in Idaho," I continued. "I've seen the place, and it's pristine."

Poor Larry sighed. He saw that it fell his lot this day to defend my homeland from vicious attack. Friends do that for one another, fend off the insults until the temporary dissatisfaction passes like some nasty Death Angel.

"But it's just so beautiful here," he said.

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And it was lush. The long, cool spring had plumped up the vegetation that grew with abandon in the ravine, almost covering the abandoned refrigerators, televisions and car parts. It had that velvety wet look it gets whenever the weather is especially rainy, as if the natural dark forest could take over civilization again if all the residents simply slept late one morning.

"And the people. People are much nicer here," he said, soldiering on in the shadow of my scowl.

"Friendlier, not necessarily nicer," I corrected. "There's a big difference."

Larry let it drop, sensing I simply was not in the mood to find the geographical glass half-full.

That same night, the temperature dropped to porch-perfect, and we sat with more friends on and around the old brown couch. In some places, I thought, couches on front porches are illegal. I could never live where that was so.

Our talented musician friend Eddie pulled out his guitar and started playing the blues — a sound that's of the South, by the South, for the South. As he covered Mississippi's Jimmie Rodgers, the lightning bugs were a distant and moving marquee.

It was the kind of mellow evening that rarely happens in the city. The noise simply won't allow personal outdoor concerts. It probably was still freezing in Stanley, Idaho, and there the blues would have to be imported.

Suddenly I was content again, happy to be alive and well in my own neck of the woods, as we say Down Here.

It was beautiful, and the people were nice, and maybe it's true that even in Idaho some fools foul their own nests. Home is like family; you can criticize it every now and again, but don't let anyone else try. Larry and I won't like it.

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© 2004, Rheta Grimsley Johnson Distributed by King Features Syndicate