Henry Granger was an inventor.
He had a different job, of course, sweeping floors at the local elementary school, but he was not a janitor. He was an inventor, through and through. He only felt truly alive when he was in his basement workshop, tinkering with wires and scrap metal.
His mother, who lived in a tiny apartment on the top floor of his house and cooked him a terrible dinner every night at 6:00 would yell down the stairs, “Henry! What’s all that racket? Are you messing around with those tin cans again?”
Henry always answered politely, “Sorry for the noise, Mother. Can’t invent anything without a little banging.”
“Looks like a bunch of junk to me,” she sniffed, but he just dipped his burnt meatloaf in some ketchup and said, “It always looks like junk before it’s finished.”
The pile of scraps on Henry’s workbench on the meatloaf night did look like junk. Odd pieces of bent iron stuck out all over the place and the knobby round piece on top was covered in rust. Thick wires crisscrossed in every direction like a child had tied the whole thing together. No one could have guessed by looking at it that it was actually Henry Granger’s finest invention.
It took a few more days of tinkering to get it just right, but when Henry was satisfied that it was ready, he invited his friend George over to have a drink and see his masterpiece. George worked with Henry at the school, and he was most definitely a janitor, but he was also a kind and friendly sort, and the two men got along like jam and bread.
“Whaddaya call it?” George asked when he saw the invention. It didn’t look much better than it had a few days before, just as much rust and just as many wires. The only significant change was that it now sported two arms and two legs along with its knobby head, so that it was clearly identifiable as a two-foot-tall robot.
“I call it Giant,” Henry said gravely.
“Seems like a silly name for such a little bitty robot,” said George.
“Well, that’s just the thing,” said Henry, who was fond of being just a little too clever. “It’s an Ironic Giant.”
George blinked at his friend in confusion, then shrugged and took a swig of his Coke. “Well, it’s a smart little thing. Can it walk?”
In answer, Henry pressed a button, causing Giant to stagger forward a few steps.
“Well, I’ll be,” George said. “Can it talk?”
“That’s the part I brought you here to see,” Henry said. “That’s what makes it my finest invention.”
He pressed another button. Giant began to hum. Then it gave a great clunk.
“That means it’s ready,” Henry said. “Ask it a question.”
“Um…what’s your name?” George said.
“Well, it’s Tiny, obviously, because Henry is so good at making sense. And your name is Einstein, obviously, since you can so easily remember things you were just told two minutes ago.”
George set down his Coke. “Whew-eee. It really can talk. That’s just amazing, Henry. You’ve really got something there.”
“Because there was nothing before it could make noise. Just the wind whistling over your workbench.”
“He just keeps going, don’t he?” George said.
“No, I don’t keep going. I just shut off the second you brilliant humans are ready to open your brilliant mouths. What could a robot like me possibly hope to say to such impressive beings?”
George chuckled. “He’s the funniest little thing.”
“Which you would definitely be qualified to judge because you are such an expert in comedy.”
“I do like good comedy. Which reminds me of this joke I heard the other day…”
“Oh, please. Tell us a joke. I’m sure it will be so original and entertaining,” said the robot.
Pleased with this encouragement, George told the joke.
“As expected, you’re quite the wit,” Giant said when he was finished. Henry laughed freely since he knew George would think he was laughing at the joke.
That night, after George went home, Henry carried Giant upstairs to dinner at his mother’s.
“Don’t you bring that junk up here to clutter up my space!” said the old woman.
“It’s all finished,” Henry said mildly. “I wanted you to see him because I made him just for you. He’s a robot.”
“That’s the ugliest robot I’ve ever seen,” she said, slamming a plate of congealed mac and cheese in front of her son.
“And you’ve seen so many robots, I’m sure,” said Giant.
Henry’s mother looked offended. “I don’t need to see a bunch of robots to know ugly when I see it,” she snapped.
“Of course not,” responded the robot. “And I’m sure none of the ugly you’ve seen was ever, say, in the mirror.”
“Well, you little… Henry! Don’t you let this junky old robot talk to me that way!”
“He doesn’t mean anything by it, Mother. He’s a robot. I’ll turn him off for a while if you like.”
“Right. Because I’m the one he really wants to turn off,” said the robot.
“Well, just see to it that you do,” Henry’s mother said, pointing a wooden spoon at Giant. “I’ll have no more words out of that pile of junk.”
“Of course, Mother,” Henry said. He pressed a button. The lights inside of Giant’s head winked out.
“Much better,” she said.
“Sure it is,” he answered. “I always love it when your voice is the only one I can hear.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but as he was calmly eating gloopy mac and cheese, she said let the comment slide.
Downstairs later, Henry set Giant back on the workbench and turned on his power.
“Oh, there’s the brave man who made me,” said Giant immediately. “Boy, do you ever know how to stand up to that woman.”
“You must be so proud of yourself,” Giant continued. “All the brains it takes to make something like me, and you’re using them so well. You’re really brave working down in this basement and sweeping floors all day. Those are some really big accomplishments.”
Henry’s smile faded.
“Being smarter than other people has done you so much good. You’re really living the high life here. That pasta tonight was really excellent looking. I can see why you never leave here.”
With one sweep, Henry knocked the robot off the workbench, causing its head to fly off. The lights went out.
“Irony is amusing,” Henry muttered, “but no one mocks Mother’s cooking.”