We weren’t the first in line, but we also weren’t the last. We, like everyone else in town, had seen the flyers, and we wanted to experience the magic. The flyers said Boy who can turn rocks into precious gems, but we didn’t quite believe them. If that were the case, then why wasn’t the boy living in a mansion somewhere sipping all the chocolate milk he could drink, endlessly dunking Oreos, and watching Cartoon Network on an endless loop?
If that were the case, then why did we have to find out about the attraction on plain old paper, instead of in a modern way like on the television or the Internet where everything that was legitimate (and many things that weren’t) became true? Like, without the Internet, we wouldn’t know if a well-known actress who had once been important by association and gone on a bender was dead, sort of dead, or really dead this time.
Things had to be said and confirmed and then verified for us to believe them (though we believed things of questionable veracity all the time). Eat more Spinach, live to 100. Do crossword puzzles, prevent Alzheimer’s. Practice yoga five times a week, lower your blood pressure.
I think we would have believed it more if an influencer had uploaded a video about it on TikTok. But the signs said, no video recordings of any kind, and, because they used a scary Gothic font, people listened.
The group in front of us came out of the tent shaking their heads, and I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad. No one seemed to ask, and no one seemed to tell. None of us wanted to be like the asshole on Twitter who ruins the Marvel movie for everyone else.
They let in five people at a time, and, somehow, by some weird mathematical abnormality, my party was split into two. In one group was Mom and Tim. In the other group was me.
“See you outside, Jenny,” they said.
“Yeah,” I said, though I was a little intimidated to be experiencing the spectacle solo.
When it was my turn, we went into the tent all hush hush, as if we were entering a holy place.
“Greetings,” the boy said mechanically, as if he were a TV show alien.
Live long and prosper, I was tempted to say back.
But, instead, we just stared at each other until the boy’s handler asked, “Does anyone have a rock?”
Ever the Girl Scout, I reached into my pocket. “I do! I do!” I said in my best teacher’s pet voice. In fact, I had five, in case some were defective, or in case we could get the boy to do a two for one kind of deal.
The handler took the rock, and I watched carefully, to make sure that he didn’t do some sleight of hand switcheroo. The boy held the rock for a moment and then looked deep into my eyes. When the handler gave the rock back, it was my rock but not my rock. It was topaz or garnet or some other obscure birthstone gem. I had questions like, could he make diamonds on demand, and did he do birthday parties? I felt energized, excited, eager to talk about what happened with Mom and Tim.
But when I found them, Mom was eating peanut butter crackers that she got out of her fanny pack, and Tim was drinking a Coke that he had conned Mom into buying from a nearby food truck. I waited for someone to speak.
Finally, Tim said confidently, “Well, that was a bust.”
“Yeah,” I said because I was used to being agreeable. “Can I get a hot dog?”
Mom fished out five sweaty ones from her fanny pack and handed them over.
Once at the hot dog stand, I asked the hairy armed vendor if he thought this whole sideshow was legit.
He shrugged then said, “It’s good for business.”
While I waited for him to slather on mustard and onions to make the hot dog perfect, I put my hand into my pocket, fumbling for the gem, in order to confirm the real was real.