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Before the Internet: Rocks

“On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) put the web into the public domain a decision that has fundamentally altered the past quarter-century.” --DAVID GROSSMAN

Although plenty of our pastime activities included electronic entertainment and movies, the 1980s offered kids a multitude of recreational distractions that may be less relatable to today’s youth. Whether timeless or lost to time, this ongoing series is dedicated to the many 1980s activities in which we engaged.

There were so many peculiar things kids could become obsessed with in the 1980s. I’m tempted to suggest our limitless curiosity thrived in a world without the Internet, where easy answers to our many questions weren’t a voice-activated question away. But that isn’t fair to the kids of today, who are just as curious and imaginative as we were. Sure, they have quicker access to answers, but maybe that stokes the fires of creativity even more.

Whatever the reason, as a kid I would become embroiled in the strangest hobbies and pastimes. One of the most peculiar was my fascination with rocks. I’m not sure how or when this interest took hold, but I’m going out on a limb and guessing it had something to do with gift shops.

When I was younger, I was an absolute gift shop junkie. Whenever my family went on vacation, whenever my school took us on a field trip, my greedy little heart was set on that magical visit to the gift shop. We’re going to the Planetarium? I need me some astronaut ice cream! We’re headed to the zoo? You best believe I’m buying one of those jointed, plastic snakes that seem to move of their own accord.

At some point, probably on a family trip to New Hampshire or Upstate New York, I became fascinated with those giant segmented cases with different kinds of rocks and gems. You know the ones. They were (and perhaps still are?) pervasive in nearly every gift shop I’ve ever been to. I haven’t the faintest idea why they were such a hot commodity on the vacation circuit, but it was the ‘80s and I guess in the absence of high tech gadgetry, kids got excited about…rocks?

I fell for it hook line and sinker. I bought those little cards with glued on rocks next to their names. I’d buy the loose rocks. I begged for larger crystals like amethyst or shiny stuff like fool’s gold. I’d even indulge in that most sought after of all gift shop treats: rock candy. What a time to be alive!

I had no great ambition to become a geologist when I grew up, yet my fascination didn’t quite end at gift shops. Somewhere along the line (maybe in school or from my parents), I learned that inside your everyday rocks, there could be hidden crystals or veins of minerals. The mere notion of hidden treasure lurking beneath the mundanity of stone sparked an idea, from which a new activity grew.

I’ve previously written about “street games,” wherein I discussed stoop ball, the game where you throw a handball at stoop steps so it would bounce back at you. Well, I started playing stoop ball…with rocks. My brother and I would scour the neighborhood (the park, the strips of grass on the sidewalk, the sparse lawns outside of apartments) for only the most interesting rocks. Preferably unbroken round ones, but we’d occasionally work with other shapes too.

The goal was simple: throw the rocks as hard as we could at the stone steps or cement sidewalk until we cracked the rocks open! You heard correctly. In the days before the Internet and cell phones, one of my favorite activities was throwing rocks at the ground. Believe it or not, many times the newly cracked rock would reveal bits of crystal or minerals running through the interior. It was never anything as cool as amethyst of course, but it was enough to keep us hurling rocks at the stoop like diminutive, insane cave dwellers.

We’d sometimes keep the best of these rocks, but after a while my parents made us toss them. Sometime later we completely lost interest in the new game. I don’t think there’s a kid out there, even now, who can’t find at least a little fun throwing rocks at stuff, but it wears thin. We moved on to actual games, electronic or otherwise, but I never lost that childlike fascination with rocks, and still have my old gift shop finds to this day.

What was your weirdest obsession as a kid?


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Jun 16, 2022

I had a short stage where I was obsessed with rocks, too! My daughter had one growing up as well.

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A bunch of people over on the 80sXchange FB page also admitted to being obsessed with rocks. I guess not as weird of a hobby as I thought!

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