Fiction by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver | Illustrations by Scott Garrett
Ever since I can remember, I have wanted a pet robot.
“Robot,” I’d say. “Can you brush my teeth for me?”
“Robot,” I’d say. “I lost my sock. Please find it.”
And he would. At least, in my imagination.
So you can imagine what I did when our principal, Mr. Love, came into our classroom to announce that my school was having a “Build Your Own Robot” contest the next day. To be truthful, he had announced it the week before, and the week before that too. Stuff like that always slips my mind, and I mean always. This time, the announcement sunk into my ears and stayed there. I stuck my hand up in the air, waved it around like a flag on the Fourth of July and said, “I’m in! Please pick me!!!”
He did. The problem was that I had only one day to build a robot and had no idea how to do it. I mean, no idea.
Luckily, I have two good friends, named Frankie Townsend and Ashley Wong, who are full of ideas. Unlike me, they are really good students and they know how to get things done on time. I specialize in getting nothing done, and getting that done late.
After school that day, Frankie, Ashley and I met in our clubhouse, which is in the basement of our apartment building. Most people in the building call it the storage room, but not us. It’s our clubhouse, even though it’s mostly filled with old cardboard boxes, broken bicycles and even a discarded couch, which is where we sit.
“OK,” Frankie said in his let’s-get-organized voice. “What kind of robot do you want to build, Zip?”
I knew the answer to that right away.
“One that picks up dirty socks,” I said. “That way, when my mom tells me to clean up my room and be sure to pick up all the dirty socks, I can say: ‘Already done, Mom.’ ”
Ashley laughed. “Good thinking, Hank,” she said. “What are you going to name this sock picker-upper?”
“Let’s name him after my dad, Stanley,” I suggested. “He’s so neat, he puts his socks in the hamper while they’re still on his feet!”
We all cracked up. Frankie and Ashley and I have the best time together, no matter what we’re doing.
I had the idea to look through all the cardboard boxes on the shelves to see if we could find parts for Stanley. We scored right away when I found a remote-control helicopter. It was missing its propeller, but that didn’t matter to us. It still had its engine and remote control.
“This is great,” I said. “Now Stanley has his brain. All we need now are parts for his body.”
We weren’t so lucky in the body parts department. Here are three things we found and rejected:
A pair of false teeth. (No one wanted to pick them up.)
A toaster. (We needed something to pick things up, not pop things out.)
A facemask with a snorkel attached. (Stanley is not going underwater anytime soon.)
So we took the helicopter and headed upstairs to my apartment to continue the search. We had lots of good luck in my kitchen. In case you’re ever thinking of building a robot, your kitchen drawers are a real treasure chest.
We picked out two spoons for arms. One was my sister Emily’s baby spoon that had little pink hearts on it. The other one was a green plastic spoon left over from last Sunday’s takeout dinner. For his head, we chose a tea strainer that my mom uses to hold the tea leaves as she pours hot water over them. It even smelled good, like mint tea.
“What should we use for Stanley’s body?” Ashley asked.
“That’s easy,” I answered. “Legos.”
“Great idea,” Frankie said. “Do you have any?”
“OK, Zip.” Frankie shook his head. “Do you happen to have Great Idea No. 2 rolling around in that goofy brain of yours?”
While I was trying to come up with Great Idea No. 2, my sister Emily walked in, with her pet iguana, Katherine, draped around her neck like a scarf.
“I need to take a cookie break,” she sighed. “I’ve been building my Lego castle all afternoon and I can’t figure out where to put the unicorn barn.”
“Emily,” I said, giving her my best Hank Zipzer smile, the one where I show both my top and bottom teeth. “How would you like to loan me some of your Lego pieces?”
“I wouldn’t, but I would like to get myself a cookie.”
“Em,” Ashley said. “Let’s talk woman to woman. Hank needs your Lego pieces for the robot competition. You’d really be helping not only him, but all of the science world if you said yes.”
“I love science,” Emily said, her beady little eyes lighting up. “And that’s the only reason I’ll help.”
Emily forgot all about her cookie and ran into her room, with us following close behind. She ripped off one entire wing of her castle and handed us the pieces. It didn’t matter that they were pink and purple and orange.
We took them to my room and built a square-shaped body for Stanley. We installed new batteries in the helicopter motor and attached it to where Stanley’s butt would be. Then we attached the spoons on either side of his body for arms, and Frankie wired them to the motor. The finishing touch was taping the tea strainer on top of his body for a head.
“You’re done, Stanley,” I said proudly. “Robot contest, here we come. Let’s roll.”
“Uh, Zip,” Frankie said. “We’re not rolling anywhere. Stanley doesn’t have wheels.”
We scrambled to my toy chest and dumped everything out. We found four wheels from an old monster truck, and we used two of my colored pencils to attach them to Stanley. In case you’re interested, they were Canary Yellow and Sea Green. Then we wired the wheels to the motor.
And finally, Stanley was done.
The Robot Contest was being held in the Multi-Purpose Room, and the whole school turned out to see it. Lots of kids were standing around holding very complicated-looking robots.
Ryan Shimazato’s robot was made from two circuit boards and could dribble a little blue Nerf ball. Heather Payne, the smartest girl in my class, made a robot she called Doodle Bug that could draw doodles with a crayon. Katie Sperling and Kim Paulson made twin robots that held each other’s hand as they rolled across the floor. Luke Whitman’s robot could pick his nose, just like Luke does.
When it was my turn, I proudly pulled two socks out of my jean’s pockets and walked to the center of the stage. By mistake, I had chosen two of my smelliest socks. I held my nose as I put them down on the ground, and turned to face the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Stanley,” I said. “He is an expert sock picker-upper. Watch and be amazed!”
The room grew quiet. I picked up the remote control, and Stanley took off across the stage toward the socks. So far, so good. I stopped Stanley just in front of the socks and pushed the button that controlled the arms. He scooped up one sock in Emily’s heart-covered spoon. He scooped up the other one in the green plastic spoon.
There was a round of applause in the room.
I pushed the remote control to turn Stanley around, but that’s not what happened. Instead, he raised both arms and flipped the socks high in the air over his head. They flew backward across the stage and smacked Principal Love right in the nose. I thought he was going to pass out from the smell.
Everybody started to laugh. I got very flustered and starting pushing all the buttons at once. Stanley spun around, went into hyper-drive and zoomed right off the edge of the stage. I ran over and looked down — and there was poor Stanley. He had come completely apart and was nothing but a pile of wheels, Lego pieces, two spoons and a strainer.
“You’ve got to say something, Zip,” Frankie whispered. “You can turn this around.”
I gave the audience my best Zipzer smile. You know it — the one where I show off my uppers and my lowers.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” I yelled over the laughter. “I’m glad you enjoyed Stanley, the only robot in this whole competition built to self-destruct.”
Then an amazing thing happened. The laughter died down, so I kept going.
“I’ve never built a robot before in my whole life,” I said. “I never thought I could do it. But with the help of good friends, you can try something you’ve never done before. Wouldn’t you agree, Stanley?”
You’re not going to believe this, but just at that moment, Stanley’s motor let out one last little whirr.
“See? Stanley agrees with me.”
Everyone in the audience started to cheer. I took a bow. It was a great feeling.