New phones, old rocks

The hot tech news is that Apple has just unveiled its new iPhones. The top-of-the-line iPhone XS Max will carry a price tag of at least $1,100.

Now that we’ve looked at high tech, we should balance it out with some low tech. Well, I’m the man for that, so I’ve got just the thing for us: rocks.

In 1975, an advertising copywriter named Gary Dahl was sitting in a California bar, listening to his friends gripe about their pets. It occurred to Dahl that the ideal pet would be a rock.

You have to admit that the idea had merit.

I can just imagine the barstool banter that went with this. If you tell a rock to “sit,” it will sit. If you command, “stay,” it will comply. If you want to roll over, all you have to do is give it a little push. A rock won’t make a mess on the carpet, it won’t chew your shoes, it doesn’t have to be fed, it doesn’t make noise, it won’t get in fights, it can’t get sick, and it won’t die.

This is certainly no crazier than many of the brain-storming sessions that have occurred in Saipan’s bars, so, hey, some of our happy hour aficionados might just be sitting on a gold mine.

Dahl sure was. His “Pet Rock” was an instant hit, selling 1.4 million rocks at $3.95 each. In today’s dollars, by the way, that price is a little over $18.

The Pet Rock fad faded as quickly as it had appeared. Those of us old enough to remember it forgot all about it. Those of us not old enough to remember it probably never heard of it to begin with.

What pulled my mind back to that era was last week’s death of actor Burt Reynolds, at age 82. He was enjoying stardom in the 1970s and was the leading man in the movie Smokey and the Bandit, which came out in 1977.

It was a good ol’ boy outlaw flick, which was a popular genre at the time, especially as lead-footed drivers used Citizens Band radios and radar detectors to evade the cops enforcing the national 55-mph speed limit. The limit has since been lifted, as have, fortunately, some of that era’s fashion trends. Some of those old movies, and the music that went along with them, are period pieces that can invoke nostalgia.

There were a lot of wacky trends during that time. The Pet Rock fit right in.

For all the farcical humor behind the Pet Rock, which was often given as a gag gift, it resonated with people because there was a streak of truth within it. So the Pet Rock really was a good pet in many ways, because it really did avoid a lot of problems associated with pets, well, until the novelty wore off, the jokes tapered off, and the dust piled on.

I was a kid at the time and, like a lot of kids, I had a few favorite rocks sitting on my shelf. We were always on the lookout for cool rocks. We collected spiders, too, but they didn’t last as long. Anyway, it struck me at the time that the Pet Rock appealed to adults who had probably forgotten the simple truths they knew as kids. Rocks, leaves, sticks, trees, they’re all cool. We get too old and sophisticated to appreciate them. And then we book $8,000 vacations to be around them again.

The phrases “dumb as a rock” and “dumb as a box of rocks” are common, but I’ve never seen a rock do anything stupid. Much like the rock-as-pet gig, we could list some rock-as-sage items that show just how smart rocks really can be.

And, as a matter of fact, some ancient Chinese wisdom counsels sages to be dull like rocks, not shiny like jade. Those wise thinkers of old had a greater appreciation than we do for what is lasting and what is ephemeral. Shiny trinkets didn’t impress them, but the subtle and enduring ways of nature were worthy of reverence and even emulation. It’s interesting that our contemporary outlook is the opposite.

Well, now that we’ve covered new iPhones, old wisdom, and the rocks, spiders, and speed limits that came along in the interim, we can safely say we’ve accomplished a lot. Besides, it’s time for happy hour, and I could use a few million-dollar ideas, so let’s get cranking, shall we?

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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