Breeding Pet Rocks for Fun and Humiliation
An excerpt from my book, "It Must Be Me", coming in Fall 2009.
My parents liked to mess with me, and in retrospect, I was asking for it. I was a know-it-all little kid in a lot of ways, yet I was still wide-eyed and trusting in others. I wanted to believe... in aliens and U.F.O.'s, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, magic, and the other cool, fantastical stuff kids are into (except, of course, Santa - the one they WANTED me to buy into). And believe I did.
Thus, with the Pet Rock craze of the mid 1970's, my burgeoning critical thinking skills were on a collision course with my desire to accept the existence of something otherworldly.
For those who don't remember or don't know, the Pet Rock was a windfall for its inventor. Nothing more than a real stone of a certain variety, the novelty and its clever packaging earned its creator mucho dollars during this fad-crazed decade. The product's success was mostly attributable to its tongue-in-cheek instruction book, which gave you tips on how to teach your Pet Rock how to "Roll Over", "Play Dead", and even "Sit" - things all rocks were capable of with a little bit of help.
I begged and got my own Pet Rock and had all kinds of fun for the better part of a week, taking it through its paces with my father, who was enjoying (and laughing at) my fervor. And after its initial run, it quickly became a fixture on my dresser, along with other toys and items that fell victim to my too-short attention span.
Though it was completely unaware, my Pet Rock was about to receive what manufacturing companies call a "Mid-Life Kicker". My Uncle Eddie, while traveling around the world with the U.S. Navy, had somehow learned of my Pet Rock (maybe via telegram?), and decided that it was lonely, and should have a partner. So, he shipped a slightly larger, rounder rock to our house and enclosed a letter for me, telling me that it should be the "mate" for my Pet Rock. I really liked that idea - once he suggested this, it hit me just how lonely my Pet Rock must have been up until now. It needed another of its own kind. Shame.
But my mother and father one-upped me - they suggested I put this inanimate couple into the dark recesses of our hallway closet and leave them there overnight "to see what happens". Even that last phrase didn't alert me - hey, I was a little kid - so I took their advice. I'm sure my parents were cackling in the background that night, while I naively set up a cute little area for the rock couple on the floor, behind our winter boots. I put both rocks in place before bedtime, anxious to see what the morning would bring.
I'm not sure what I expected to find, but I awoke, and - still in my bleary-eyed state - walked across the hall in my little footie pajamas to check on my project. There they sat - the original Pet Rock and his new partner (I never thought to name her - let's call her "Louise"), exactly where I'd left them. However, the two were surrounded by seven little grayish pebbles, neatly encircling them like a litter of sedimentary puppies.
For once, I thought, "magic is real - and I have proof!" In reality, the only proof that morning was for my parents' theorem that I was willing to believe rocks could bear children. My mother, with my father's encouragement and approval, had planted the pebbles after I'd gone off to bed. I went buck wild, calling my closest three friends to tell them the incredible news. They accepted my story with a reasonable amount of skepticism, but the physical evidence combined with the fact that my parents were supporting my story won them over in the end.
My brain couldn't hold back a flood of images - reporters hounding me for interviews, famous scientists consulting with me on matters of great importance, potential toy endorsements. My mother told me years later how excited she and my father were to see my reaction that morning. I'm sure it was very entertaining from an adult point of view. From my own perspective, I was in the throes of ignorance's bliss.
Private humiliation did not quite satiate my parents, so they were forced to move on to public mockery by gently putting forth the idea that I should tell my first grade class about the big event. I was all for that idea, and brought the whole rock family into school in a delicately folded piece of felt inside a small chest. I couldn't wait to show these kids the wonders I'd been given. That was not smart to do.
I foolishly anticipated only support from the other First Graders, and was not at all prepared for their laughter, jibes, and a few quickly-concocted nicknames ("Rock Boy" was one). Kids can be cruel for sure, but they can also be pretty creative when there's a commonly agreed-upon target for their attacks. I made myself into that target. Fortunately, we moved that year, and my past as a charlatan did not follow me to our new location.
As the fog of youth lifted over the next year or two, the plates in my skull continued to solidify and it became slightly more clear to me each time I recalled the Pet Rock Incident that I'd been duped. Eventually I confronted my parents. Years later, they were still milking laughs out of their prank, and revealed to me they'd even prepped my teacher before I'd gone into school that fateful day. I asked my mother why she did it, but she wasn't able to give me any more substantial a reason than "We loved laughing at you, Stevie!" Hey, at least she was honest.