gem show.

There were no good yard sales, and we had slept in anyway, so we went to the fairgrounds to see what was happening at the flea market. On our way in, one of the buildings had a banner that said "GEM SHOW." Josh wanted to look, and though I expected to be bored, it was free. I've seen the geology exhibits at the Smithsonian, so I wasn't sure what I would get out of a gem show.

I guess I expected something like a museum, but the crucial difference is that you can't buy the stuff at the museum. Vendors were set up in stations, most of them having created a square of tables full of merchandise, while they operated behind the counters. Most surprising to me were the beads. I guess it makes sense (rock + hole = bead), but I certainly didn't expect the gem show to be like a bead store. While the wares did seem to be more focused on natural beads, including gems, rocks, and coral, there were still places where you could buy metal charms and all sorts of findings.

I guess the next step was jewelry, for those of us who haven't the inclination to take beads and make wearable art out of them (or those of us who maybe once had the inclination, but never really followed through on the hobby). Some stations were beads, some were beads and finished jewelry, while still others were just jewelry. One of them had a picture of a supposedly-famous lady we'd never heard of, wearing the creations of the seller.

Finally, there were fossils and shark teeth. You could buy trilobites or ferns, fish jaws or megalodon teeth. I thought the nautilus shells were cool, but creepy. There were no pictures of ladies, famous or otherwise, wearing them.

And somewhere in there was the stone xylophone.

It was set into a wooden carrying case. Tiny nails between the stones held each bar in place. The stone was dark, with some kind of dragon engraved in it. Obviously Chinese in origin, though you could be forgiven for being thrown by the arabic numerals. It was cool. A stone xylophone - I'd never seen such a thing. But it was a little chintzy. It looked like a souvenir. It probably was. Since we've never been to China, for us, it would be a $200 souvenir of the gem show.

Josh wanted it. He had not known that stone xylophones existed before today, but now that he did, he could not live without one.

I did not share his enthusiasm. Like I said, it was cool, but it wasn't anything I wanted and definitely not at that price. We left without spending $200 on a souvenir from someplace we've never been. He did buy some pretty rock pendants for his grandmothers.

The next day, Josh said he was thinking about going back to the gem show, which extended through the weekend. I thought that I had escaped the fate of having spent too much money the day before when we had left xylophone-less. At that moment, I was still in bed. I did not really want to leave my bed, much less the house, but I said okay, I'll go. He pulled out a wad of cash and counted out some twenties. He was thinking of offering $125 for the xylophone.

Once back at the fairgrounds, I told Josh that I was going to look around, maybe buy something for my mom. What I was telling him was that I wanted nothing to do with this xylophone transaction. But it became clear that he was reluctant to start negotiating, as he was following me, rather than talking to the xylophone man. I tried to encourage him.

"Well, how high are you willing to go?" This is the most important question. You need to know before you go in what your high mark is, and if it comes to that, you need to be able to walk away.

"I don't know. What do you think?"

"I don't want it at all, so I'm not a good judge here."

"Yeah." We walked around some more. We pretty much covered the whole show.

Finally, we agreed that we would start at $100 and top out at $125. I thought about all the other things you could buy for $125. Also, for some reason, he wanted me to negotiate for him. I am not sure why. He has haggled before on small dollar items at yard sales. And he got the pawn shop to drop the price on my engagement ring by $100. But he was feeling shy, and I sensed that if I ever wanted to get out of this gem show, I needed to step up.

We found ourselves once more looking at the xylophone. The guy smiled, recognizing us from the half dozen other times we had examined it. We commented that it was neat. He said the stones might be antique, but he needed to do some more research. I noticed to myself that you could get away with any number of misleading comments by saying that you needed to do more research to be sure.

Finally: "Is the price negotiable? We're on a limited xylophone budget." I managed to say this with a straight face, though the concept of having an item on a budget called "Xylophones" cracks me up.

He looked sad and said no. He said something again about more research, and depending on what he found out, the price might even go up. We smiled wistfully (well, Josh did), and we wished him luck with his xylophone. At last, we left the gem show. I did not buy anything for my mother. It would be months or maybe even a year before the gem show came back, and by then, maybe Josh would have forgotten all about the xylophone.

While I was relieved, I worried that Josh would resent me for not letting him spend $200 on a stone xylophone. Not that that is in any way an accurate description of what happened. He has money that he can spend on instruments and he doesn't need my permission. That's just the way resentment works sometimes. I considered that I may be hearing about the stupid xylophone for years to come.

Instead, he came home and said, "Thank you for talking me out of buying the xylophone. I did some research on the internet. You can buy that exact thing on eBay for $200, and they have three of them for sale. It's actually called a lithophone. Litho for stone."

Well, isn't that nice? I basked in having my good sense appreciated.

"Besides, there's a guy on the internet who tells you how to make one! And this guy at work knows where you can get granite scraps..."

Oh well.

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