Approaching Atlanta's outskirts from the I-285 East Bypass, you round a long curve just before you come to Clarkston, and it's here that you get your first good look at the 1,700-foot-tall granite monolith rising absurdly from the otherwise typically drab landscape of the Southern Piedmont's temperate, coniferous suburbs. Looming above the pine groves, landfills, and superstores alternately visible from the highway, Stone Mountain at this distance is embarrassingly out-of-place, conspicuous to the point of
nudity, a large gray breast on an erstwhile masculine horizon. It's just kind of there and presumably had been just hanging around, not doing much for the past million or so years, until the Georgia state government purchased it in the 1950s and built a park there to keep the Ku Klux Klan from using it as a meeting ground.
Though the Klan has long since been run off, their legacy is still apparent in the park's most distinctive feature: On the mountain's face is the world's largest bas-relief carving, conceived in the early 20th century as a memorial to the life of Robert E. Lee on the centenary of his birth, originally designed by Gutzon Borglum (who later sculpted Mt. Rushmore), and only finally completed six decades later, a football field-sized carving portraying three heroes of the Confederacy. In its finished form, the carving depicts Lee, along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Stonewall Jackson, in military dress and seated on incomplete horses, their hats held over their hearts.
Every night between Memorial Day and Labor Day, this carved face of Stone Mountain is the focal point of a bizarre patriotic ritual. At dusk, after the sightseeing train that circles the mountain has finished its final run, people gather on the great lawn, on their blankets with picnics of fried chicken or pizza, and the P.A. trades off between Kenny Loggins and Bocephus, venders are offering overpriced glow rings, and everyone waits for it to get dark enough for the laser show to start. For 30 or so minutes, multicolored lasers illuminate the carved face of Stone Mountain, tracing primitive psychedelic music videos to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Love Shack." A jock rock medley accompanies the lasered icons for the Braves, the Falcons, the Hawks, the Bulldogs, and the Yellow Jackets. The mood starts out playful and celebratory and then gradually gets down to the real business: remembering who "we'" are. Willie Nelson and Ray Charles trade verses on "Georgia" as lasers replicate moonlight through the pines. James Brown sings "Coming to America" and a glowing green eagle swoops across the laserfied Atlantic. Then the mountain goes dark, a snare begins a lonely march, and the King sings the opening lines of "Dixie."
Lasers trace the outlines of the Confederate triumvirate and their mounts. The men put on their hats, draw their sabers, and ride off to war, as Elvis implores, "Look away, Dixieland." The mountain is lit with battle scenes, and cannon blasts accompany the initial swell of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Then there is the aftermath, as General Lee rides through a battlefield, past broken artillery and fallen soldiers, as "All My Trials" plays, quiet, like a lullaby. Closeup of the defeated Lee, riding alone back across the mountain, Jackson having succumbed to pneumonia after being hit by friendly fire at Chancellorsville, Davis having been imprisoned at Fort Monroe. Surveying the devastation while a lone flute plays a requiem, Lee unsheathes his sword, tests its weight in his hand as a tympani roll grows steadily louder, and breaks it over his knee as the triumphant horns sound and Elvis sings one more time, "Glory, glory, hallelujah," the two halves of the splintered saber rotating as they fall to reveal the two halves of a broken America, which reunite and lock together as the song climaxes and Elvis insists, "His truth is marching on," at which point fireworks erupt from the base of Stone Mountain, General Lee's laser-outlined figure takes his place on the mountain's face, his compatriots are restored alongside him, and they remove their hats once again, bow their heads, and fade back into stone.
It was precisely this spectacle that occurred to the Thinker last week as the president delivered his regular State of the Union Address, the point being this: I have seen your Dikembe Mutombo, Mr. Bush, and I am not impressed; you're going to have to put on a much better pageant if you want to convince this patriot. Give me fireworks and lasers or give me death. Well, not really. But a fog machine, at least, would be nice. And furthermore, take this as a kindly reminder, because at the opposite end of the Mall from the Capitol sits a carved likeness of the man who stifled the three carved out of the rock from which the granite for his own memorial was mined. For karma speaks not in whispers but in boo-yas, and it has yet to speak to thee. Think about that. I'm'a go do a jay.
America's Greatest Thinker Update: I was gonna finish the third paragraph of of my America's Greatest Thinker essay, but then I got high. So, I'll tell ya about it later.
Many thanks to Deez Nutz, whose question was chosen as the question of the week. It goes as follows:
"If i had nuts on my wall would they be walnuts?
If I had nuts on my chest would they be chestnuts?
If I had nuts on my chin woudl they be chinnuts?"
Well, this is clearly one of life's great mysteries, and I would be overstepping to suggest that the Thinker could answer this beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I'll do my best, with a little help from my old pal, Deductive Reasoning. Grab your pencils.
Major premise: All nuts on things are the thing they are nuts on followed by the suffix "-nuts".
Minor premise: You have nuts on your chin.
Conclusion: You have chinnuts.
Get it? It's a syllogism. "Next."
Part III: Glory, Glory, Hallelujah