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Gary Dahl Unleashes the Pet Rock Craze

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Rocks as pets? Why not. As Art Carney, who keeps five of them, put it, “They’re wonderful. You don’t have to feed them, take them for walks—and you can leave them for months and they’re fine when you get back.”

It is, apparently, an idea whose moment is regrettably here. Like the Hula Hoops, mink-lined shoehorns and giant paper clips of yore, Pet Rocks are the new national mania, selling like crazy in stores ranging from I. Magnin in San Francisco to Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. Says Dennis Hamel, gift buyer at New York’s Bloomingdale’s: “It’s unbelievable. We’re selling 400 a day.”

They are not, of course, prosaic pebbles, but egg-shaped Mexican beach stones, nestled on a bed of excelsior and packaged in a little doggy carrying case, equipped with breathing holes. The kit, selling for $4, is the concoction of Gary Dahl, a 38-year-old advertising copywriter from Los Gatos, Calif., who claims he hit on the idea while boozing with pals. He attributes its success to the fact that “people are so damn bored, tired of all their problems. This takes them on a fantasy trip—you might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”

To aid new owners, Dahl has also written a manual, The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock. Sample: if, when you remove the rock from its box, it appears to be excited, place it on some old newspapers. The rock will know what the paper is for. Among suggested tricks: the Roll Over (best taught on a hillside) and Play Dead (rocks love to practice it on their own).

By now Dahl feels he has reached rock bottom when it comes to jokes about his brainstorm. But he should care. While the flash fad lasts, he is selling 100,000 Pet Rocks a day (and clearing 95¢ a sale). And so, just three weeks before Christmas, Gary Dahl has become a millionaire.