Perspiration on Stone Mountain
“Let’s go for a picnic,” I said to my wife the other day.
We went for a picnic at the top of a mountain. We argued a little first.
The bickering was over what kind of fried chicken would be appropriate. I suggested it, stupid me. I put the idea in our heads that cold fried chicken was essential for picnics of any sort. We discussed our options.
There’s Church’s chicken on Church Street in Decatur. I never could decide if its placement was redundant or a stroke of genius. Probably some of both.
Too far, my lovely wife said. I shrugged.
Perhaps there was something along the way? We couldn’t be sure.
We settled at last on the baby Kroger down Commerce a ways. It’s a store so small you’d have to leave it to change your mind about what you wanted. The Krogers in Atlanta are all named, because addresses alone aren’t sufficient. The naming of “baby Kroger” is obvious.
I give it a different name, however. I call it bachelor Kroger because I always see men, single and carrying shopping baskets, looking around the aisles as bewildered as a country boy lost in a big city. They gather the tell-tale signs of bachelorhood: an enormous potato, cans of soup, beer, perhaps some cheap coffee and always a bottle of wine, in case they are fortunate enough that some beautiful woman will sit elbow to elbow with them at the makeshift tables in their apartments.
Bachelor Kroger has decent fried chicken. We got it fresh from the fryer and the grease seeped out of the box corners, lining the shopping bag with oil.
We used our GPS to find Stone Mountain. We are beholden to technology. Even though we know it has flaws, we trust it more than we trust ourselves. In our marriage it’s become a bit of an arbiter. My wife and I fight like old people in the car, the quaint stereotypes you see on TV. Our friends say it’s cute. I suppose from the observers’ point of view it is.
The GPS, flawed though it may be, is the objective voice, its metrics sound enough. Its presence calms doubt about our direction. We fight less. It’s a sound investment.
On arrival at the park, there was a minor toll and an offer of a yearly pass. I declined but later concluded, as my wife did, that a year-long pass would be worth it if this will be a regular trip for us. It may be.
Stone Mountain counts as climbing a mountain, in the technical sense. The trail leading up to it involves hopping from rock to rock, with a covered area in between providing shade and a bench.
It was a Sunday in June and the clouds were talking smack about some rain. Clouds in the summer are old men drinking on the porch. They glare and bluster. But they do not make good on their boasts sometimes and people don’t take them seriously. Then something happens and they get wild, cracking the sky by slamming their fists against it.
The rain came in spurts. Most of it lived in the humid air around us, in our hair and our sweat. You could smell the coconut suntan oil dripping off the foreheads of the throngs of hikers making their way up. Some ran. The younger ones could. The older ones walked dogs. Some held children by the hand and they moved behind the rest.
I told my wife the sandals weren’t a good idea. She told me I was correct, but wore them anyway. She does this often. I felt the grit of the sand between my feet and the stone. I wore tennis shoes so it hardly mattered. In this environment, sandals are the perfect footwear for a preventable tragedy. They would be coming off before the hike was over, I knew.
The hike up became much steeper at the last quarter mile or so. We took frequent breaks so my wife could use her asthma inhaler. The athletic sorts of folks who flew up the hill before us were readying for their descent from above.
Nature can be beautiful, even if people work their hardest at defiling it with their bad habits. I found the following strewn on the mountain side: Gatorade bottles, potato chip bags, sports thermoses, towels and an empty fast food bag, I can’t remember for which restaurant.
The trash cans are there, of course, but people still felt the ground on top of Stone Mountain was more appropriate. Oh, let’s enjoy nature and then contaminate it with our mass-produced filth, I thought. Nature was nothing more to these people than a poorly-kept gym.
The teenagers who dispensed the hot towels would rouse themselves eventually, the litterers thought. Gathering the towels up for the wash, surely they’d grab the empty bags and bottles, too. The best way to show nature how much you love it is treating it with indifference or contempt.
People can be so odd.
From the top of Stone Mountain the arm of the tram carries a car up and down the mountain. There’s a covered walkway leading up to it.
We planned to find shelter there, if we needed it.
We didn’t need it.
Beyond the haze I could see the silhouette of Atlanta’s tall buildings, rising out of the ground like pieces in an abandoned game of chess. Set amid the humid gray air, it looked almost apocalyptic save for the faint movement of cars in between them. Closer to us was the golf course, and then a downtown I couldn’t place. There are better days with better views. I will revisit them.
My wife blew bubbles and they scattered, shiny and wobbling in the sky. We stood on top of graffiti rocks and posed for pictures while a man in a University of Florida hat clicked away. We dined on fried chicken fingers that we’d bought fresh from the Decatur Kroger, wiping the grease on napkins and tucking it in the oily plastic bag for disposal. We ate a morsel of cheese too, and some fruit.
She’s beautiful, my wife is. She normally keeps her hair pulled back and has sly gypsy eyes, a touch of American Indian I’ve guessed but haven’t proven. She has stout country legs and sultry, curvy figure. We both obsess about our weight, though since moving to Atlanta we’ve slimmed considerably. Why this is so, I’m not sure.
Some shirtless teenagers played catch with a football up there. Women clad in skin-tight tank tops rested, hands on knees, and took refreshing swigs of their thermoses. I watched carefully, hoping they were not the litterers. They weren’t, not that I would’ve done much if they were.
Disposing of our trash like good citizens, we left the top of the mountain. My wife took off her sandals so she wouldn’t slide off the sandy rocks. Each rock had a crevice that looked like a coin slot and within each crack there was an endless amount of sand flowing out.
Gravity did most of our work as we ambled downward.
The rain fell on us in drops as we got into the car. We dripped with sweat, too.
“I’m sorry we fought earlier,” my wife said to me.
“We were fighting,” I asked, confused.
“Yes,” she said.
“About what,” I asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” she replied.
I shrugged. “Must not have been too important, then. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” she said.
We forget our arguments sometimes. There’s something to be said for the delights of willful amnesia and its ability to pair so well with enduring love.
It began to rain harder as we drove home.
I think we’re interested in the year-long passes. Haven’t bought them yet.