Get your rocks off

This weekend I went looking for America. America somewhere in the wind among fluttering Big Mac wrappers and the plastic can rings that would inevitably choke dolphins before they would be caught in tuna nets. America - somewhere in those red plastic vending machines at the front of every grocery store that dispense sour gumballs, sets of vampire teeth and Wacky Wall Walkers. America somewhere between the Heinz ketchup and French's golden mustard on the red-checkered tablecloth in some roadside dive. America oh, I am pulling your leg and waxing pretentious poetics. All I did was go to a rock show.

Not a rock n' roll, twist n' shout show, but the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. After four years of living in Tucson, I decided to experience the event which draws more than $33 million into the local economy. I wanted to understand what causes thousands of people from across the nation to fill every hotel in town and take up every table at the Luby's. I was gonna see me some rocks.

When I was in the second grade, I had a rock collection for a brief time. I would pick out the cool rocks in my driveway and anything triangular-shaped was declared an arrowhead. My parents fed my rock collection craze by buying me a set of rocks cleverly titled "The Rocks of Arizona." My favorite rock was the fool's gold because one day I hoped to go to Toys 'R' Us and pawn it of as real. I imagined strutting into the Toys 'R' Us and placing the rock on a cashier's counter. The cashier would whip out a balance, weigh the rock and declare, "You have enough here to buy yourself a Millennium Falcon and three Snoopy Sno-Cone machines!" I never did do that, though.

Anyway, my friend Greg and I went to the gem show on Saturday in search of adventure. The first thing we did was go to the UA Geology Department's junior education table to visit a friend. She showed us how if you put a hydrochloric acid solution on calcite, the rock would fizz.

"What would happen if Greg licked it?" I asked we watched the bubbles on the rock.

"Nuthin' good," our friend said. "In all likelihood, his tongue would fall off."

Greg picked up the rock and said, "Much like Punk Boy, I do not abide by the so-called rules of our society." Then he licked the rock and ran off laughing like a madman.

I began to cruise around the rock show looking at all the ... well, pretty rocks. After 15 minutes of walking from booth to booth feigning interest, I stopped at a booth with the name "Fun With Rocks." Three dour-looking men behind the table eyed me as if they expected me to pocket some of the rocks.

"Hey, do any of you guys live in glass houses?" I joked.

The three men glared at me. Suddenly, Greg ran by screaming, "Anyone want to see my family jewels? Anyone want to see my family jewels?!"

"Wow, these rock shows are wild affairs," I said, straining a grin at the three stone-faced men. "Guys, I've never been to a rock show before and I'm having a hard time appreciating the scene."

"Son," said one of the old men. "You must not try to understand, you must feel the rocks. Unlearn everything you have learned about rocks. Grasshopper, visualize the rock. Know thyself. Let the rock speak to you."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"To understand rocks, you must buy this $20 rock," said the sage old man as his two companions nodded their heads.

"Really?" I asked. The three nodded in unison.

Greg ran by again, screaming, "I got some precious gems that I'm gonna display! Precious gems!"

I put $20 on the table and the Zen-spouting old man gave me the special rock. I picked up the rock and held it to my ear waiting to hear something. It said nothing.

"Hey guys, I don't hear anything," I said.

"Of course not jackass, rocks don't speak," said the sage old man with a Cheshire Cat smile. "I'm just a crotchety old man who conned a young whippersnapper. You want to know what this rock business is all about. It's all about money. The only sound I hear is my cash register going 'CH-CHING'."

I could barely contain my rage. Not only did the old man con me out of my money, but he made that annoying "CH-CHING" sound.

"I'll get you," I said, pointing at the men. "I write a column for the school newspaper and stuff and ."

"Just wait, you're the same guy who made fun of the monster truck shows, aren't you?" he asked.

Another one of the old men said, "You're also the same guy who had your roommate live in a refrigerator box out on the UA Mall and called it Biosphere 3."

"So you know my work? Do you like?" I asked.

That's when they started stoning me. They didn't just throw small pebbles, but big, pointy rocks. I ran out of the Tucson Convention Center as a mob chanted "CH-CHING! CH-CHING!"

Outside of the center's doors, Greg was waiting for me. He had recovered from licking the rock and was pondering Pascal's Wager.

"I don't know if that whole show was worth the hype or the ticket price," I said as I shook the gravel out of my hair.

"It's not like we paid real money for the tickets," Greg said as he pulled some gold rocks out of his pocket. "I paid with this here fool's gold. I also used some fool's gold to get us some tickets for Rodeo Days."

Oh America.

Jon Burstein is a senior in journalism and political science. Like it or not, his column appears every Tuesday. Jon thought about writing a fluffy Valentine's Day column that would tell everyone that he loves them. Of course, that would be a big lie.

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