On a warm day, back in the dark ages when Richard Milhous Nixon was the Emperor of DC and double-knit polyester was the darling of the fashion industry, I was scouring my school’s library for something good to read. I had already polished off Thomas Edison’s biography, every “Three Investigators” detective story I could find, and a piece about the father of the telegraph: Samuel F.B. Morse. And then I found it - a big, hardcover book on robots. Robots!
I was a teen male geek and we geeks loved transistors and vacuum tubes; vials and beakers. We watched shows like “Lost in Space” or the terrifying “Outer Limits” if we weren’t too proud to hide under our covers at bedtime.
We built gadgets with gears and wires and batteries, and we experimented with chemistry sets. And we read anything and everything about robots.
Robot stories had been a staple of my comic books, but in my hand I held the Holy Grail. I held a real book about real robots: Real robots unlike Rosey, the boxy robot maid from “The Jetsons;” unlike Tina, the sleek platinum robot from the “Metal Men” comic books. I was about to read about real robots; I beheld the ultimate geek scriptures. And then I opened the book.
To mangle a Star Wars cliché, these weren’t the robots I was looking for. These robots didn’t have eyes, or mouths. They didn’t look like Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet.” They didn’t look like the robot from “Lost in Space.” These were industrial robots. They could lift metal. They could bend metal. They could weld metal. They looked like overgrown gym lockers or swing sets or some of the rides at the amusement park. Instead of blinking lights, these robots had hydraulic levers.
Instead of sporting glowing vacuum tubes, these robots were smooth and sealed shut with bolts and screws. And even though these robots were painted bright orange or deep green, they were deadly dull. I read the book over and over, looking for the real robots. And I saw them. And they weren’t my robots.
I haven’t forgotten that book, and I guess I’m still looking for the perfect robot. But I’m less enthusiastic than I was in my youth when I met my first real robots - robots that crushed my dreams just like a sheet of metal on an assembly line on a dismal factory floor.
David McCoy, a notorious storyteller and proud Yellow Jacket, lives in Covington and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org