We all love picnics, this much is sure. Yet the picnic grounds remain vacant. I used to have my share of picnics, when I was single. If you can’t get action on a picnic, maybe the morgue is more your speed.
I have to admit that, after the picnic that hooked my wife seven or eight years ago, I can’t remember but maybe half a dozen small picnics. There’s been plenty of camping food, drinking and snacking while fishing, and hiking to the tops of small mountains to consume sandwiches and chips. But leaving the property with the explicit purpose of consuming food in the great outdoors has gone by the proverbial wayside (pun intended).
This is a good spot for a picnic. Small mountain looks better from here than on it.
I was recently walking to the top of one of these small mountains, which is when I do all my thinking, and I thought, no one has time to picnic anymore, but everyone still loves picnics; I should start a picnic business! And I thought how lovely it would be to take van-loads of pleasure seekers to beautiful picnic spots, replete with baskets and blankets and beverages and even service, where I could cook beautiful roasts and whole fish and vegetables, outdoors. Real china, glass, cloth napkins and silver would provide the ambience to civilize an appropriately rustic activity, like target shooting, or huckleberry picking. Then I remembered how I don’t really like other people, especially outside the city
A picnic must, absolutely must, include a blanket. Tarp is optional.
So I decided to have my own picnic. After an abortive attempt to walk up a small mountain, and suffering from a protracted acid flashback, we ended up at a spot I’d been eyeing for some years as potentially conducive to aesthetic appreciation. After giving up on removing all the trash from the grill (indeed, through the static of paranoia, the logistics of such an operation were totally beyond me,) I focused on the task at hand: light the coals.
Coals working, I had decisions to make: should I make food at all? Because despite having had only a granola breakfast, I had no interest in food. Besides, how was I going to get my hands clean? Everybody knew my hands were dirty, they had to. Germs. Task at hand. Be cool. Put the sausages on the grill. Use the tongs. Tongs! Yes tongs! You can touch the food with tongs and avoid those dirty hands. Struggle with the grate; which way does this thing work? Fuck. Okay. Sausages on, turn, turn, turn. Sausages done enough. Do I trust these sausages enough to cook them less than black? No. Less-than-busy Romanian butcher shop sells old cheese. But then there’s the salt and nitrates. Thank god. Okay. All good.
Are those sausages… diseased?
Sausages are done; buns are done; mustard, pickles, peppers, horseradish, sauerkraut, all spread out on this nice soppy-wet piece of black plastic the park service has thoughtfully nailed over top of this picnic table. I think I need to dry the water. Brought a towel! That’s good. Sop sop sop. Everything’s sitting there and no one’s eating. Everybody’s staring off into space. Plotting my downfall. Fuck. I don’t know why I’m such a bad person. Okay, be cool.
“Is anyone hungry? The food’s done.”
Mumbling all around.
Man, I am really not into eating right now. I should though, maybe that’s what I need to bring me back down. Oranges! (I’d brought some Satsuma Mandarins.) Wasn’t there something we used to say about tripping and drinking orange juice? Makes you happy right? No, makes you trip harder. Okay fuck that. Looks like I’m going to have to be the first. Take a sausage; put it on a bun; go down the line; load that son-of-a-bitch. I’m eating; I’m gonna eat. What about this sauerkraut? Looks suspect. Definitely full of germs. Get over it; be cool. On goes the sauerkraut.
“This guy is kind of freaking me out.”
Standing in front of the spread, just to say: look guys, it’s all cool. The germs aren’t that bad. I take a bite. Oh, nice Snap! Chew… Chew… Chew. Man, this sausage is pretty stellar. Three, four, five bites. Now they’re coming up. Now everyone will eat. Then it will all be cool again.
And they do, and then it got cool again. Relief. I can speak — without first attempting to consider every possible interpretation of every innocuous utterance. I can move around, naturally! I must of been pretty hungry.
All cool now. Note the black plastic over the table. Boo on that.
I didn’t really bring enough food. The grill bottom was too littered with cigarette butts to roast the potatoes next to the fire. Brought chips and salsa and bean dip to snack, but with sausages? Please.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a simple picnic, but I fear that this pared-down version of a picnic is becoming the new bar from which all picnics are measured. If I say picnic all I hear back is about some cheese and bread and wine. Almost not really a picnic. That clever little aphorism, “Keep it simple,” effectively relieves us from the duty to challenge ourselves, but the hard truth is that everybody loves a nice spread.
Is what I perceive as the demise of the picnic due to the platitudinous “busy modern life,” or does the busy lifestyle leave time only for activities that drench the nervous system in an intoxicating stew of hormonal secretions, quickly? The picnic lacks the adrenaline- endorphin- dopamine burst that characterizes our new favorite outdoor pastimes. I myself have plenty of things I like to do: Hike, hunt, fish, forage, shoot &c, that stimulate hormone secretion. I notice lots of people mountain bike, windsurf, mountaineer and ski, and I’m sure they eat while doing those things, unless they get by on Clif bars, gel packs and Gatorade. But treating the meal as an aside, and your hunger as an annoyance or, worse still, an enemy to be defeated, is a prescription for an anemic life. People who regard their sexuality like that are usually considered neurotic.
This is aesthetics.
The picnic is more than a meal outside; it is an aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience — I’m pretty sure — is largely seen as an academic pursuit for people who don’t know how to have fun outside of their own minds. I’m not sure if this is a sign of the times, or universal to human existence, but utility rules. Hiking is healthy; fishing provides food and dopamine squirts. Whitewater rafting and mountain biking provide exercise and adrenaline squirts. What does the picnic “provide” that a meal at home does not? A chance to gaze and reflect? So does meditation and Yoga, I hear. But the picnic lacks that misty, exotic cachet, and hence the redeeming social value. It’s also not about self-denial or discipline, which are very in demand amongst the satisfied. Instead, it’s about indulgence and pleasure. It brings the gustatory and olfactory senses to the fore in a situation that would normally privilege sight and sound. It is therefore about total sensory — sensual — engagement. The picnic doesn’t exercise our legs, or chest, or pituitary glands, or core. It does exercise our aesthetic sensibility. And looking around here, at the world we’re building, we could all use a little exercise there.