They called her Gadget because she loved toys. Little wind-up cars, travel clocks, desk fans, talking dolls…. it was all a toy to her, even if it wasn’t a toy.
Gadget lived on a beach town. With all the tourist shops, there were always new gadgets to buy. And it was fun to watch the tourists, who all had new toys – cameras, phones; games.
Her mother indulged Gadget. Why not? Gadget’s mother was a prosperous lawyer, who had both her own income and what she won in the divorce where she represented herself. Gadget was her only child. Gadget kept her grades up at the community college, was friendly to everyone, and was no more boy-crazy than a girl her age was expected to be.
Gadget’s problem was that most boys were not chasing her. She was definitely cute, and often pretty, but she stood 4’10” and about 90 pounds. Most girls on the beach could fill out their bikinis well enough to attract guys from miles away. If a waiflike body and a rep for being kooky about things that buzzed or beeped weren’t bad enough, the third strike came when a Good Samaritan called the police on Gadget’s last date, having made the natural mistake of assuming that the young man was taking advantage of a 13-year-old. Gadget produced her driver’s license and then ran home in tears.
Other young women might have become confirmed spinsters after such an event. Gadget’s natural sociability soon got her back out of the house. The few girls who sniped at her over the incident soon found themselves less popular among the male surfers. As Sunbird, scholar of the beach, put it, “guys are superficial but they aren’t stupid. They see sexy and they see mean and it cancels out. Gadget’s pleasant any way you look at her, so she’s invited to stay and the mean girls are invited to scram.”
Sunbird himself was another allied outsider of the surf culture. He did not surf on the stated grounds that he avoided any sport that unnecessarily taunted gravity. Sunbird had the surfers’ respect for not only being smart but for being generous with it. He did not show off, he did not condescend, and he was always available if someone needed tutoring or a good, fast excuse to cover behavior that might not be completely remembered by the perpetrator.
What Gadget called “the whole mob” was there when the hypnotist came to town. The hypnotist looked like a magician (someone wondered aloud how he could be comfortable in a tux and Sunbird responded, “he’s clearly demonstrating mind over matter”) and did all the classic hypnotist routines. People thought they were chickens or thought they were naked. The trouble came with the classic “human plank” routine.
A local girl was made stiff and rigid and suspended across two folding chairs. Before the hypnotist could free her, Muggs (who everyone hoped was a stoner, since that would give an understandable explanation for his behavior) cried “what a cool surfboard!” and grabbed her, racing to the waves. Although the enthusiastic Muggs wiped out and his board reanimated immediately afterwards – no hypnotic suggestion is more powerful than the survival instinct, and it was awaken or drown – a new fad was born.
The pundits had a great time trying to dissect this fad. A new objectification of women? A new way for girls to impress guys? Or was it just that it was new?
Sunbird, who knew a bit about everything, succumbed to repeated blandishments for information on hypnotism. He found induction techniques and also warnings on the misuses, abuses and limitations of hypnosis. A few guys found that out on their own when they thought they could take liberties with their “board” and the girl woke up and smacked them.
But the recipe for successful hypnosis is positive confidence on the part of the hypnotist and enthusiastic cooperation on the part of the subject. Confidence and enthusiasm were big parts of surf culture. It soon became a snap for guys to turn their steady girls into stiff bodyboards. In fact, so many guys used snapping fingers as a trigger that arguments flared up when one guy’s freeing his girl froze another guy’s girl, or vice versa.
Fat Wizard, uncrowned king of the beach (perhaps advised by his vizier, the sage Sunbird), settled it by saying that snapping would occur only at 10 AM, noon, 2 PM and 4 PM, and only at Chrysler Rock. Guys carried their girls (live or frozen) to the Rock at the appointed time, a loud mass snapping of fingers was heard, and the frozen girls were carried off live, while the live girls were carried off as boards. Live or rigid, girls in bikinis are fun for guys to carry.
Surfers, like any enthusiasts, like to compare notes about what makes the best surfing experience. And it’s probably encoded in the Y chromosome for guys to discuss girls. So there was detailed consideration about whether the girl should be head first or feet first and what sort of girl makes for the best surfing experience: leggy or hourglass, lean or buoyant, and so on. (Heavier girls had enjoyed increased popularity when buoyancy was in fashion.) It had already been established that the girl should be surfed face-up. A nose full of water and the hint of drowning would break the hypnotic spell on any girlboard. A consensus arose that the ideal girlboard would be lean, light and compact. This decision was partly informed by some feminist and gay surfers who had managed to find willing guyboards, but found the taller, heavier bodies just did not handle as well as the girlboards.
Sunbird, who enjoyed any detailed discussion, said idly “so Gadget might be the ideal girlboard then.” This was quickly acknowledged by the assembled conferees, who paused briefly to be stunned by the realization that none of them had considered the girl most thought of as a kid sister.
Gadget, in turn, had never thought of herself as a potential girlboard. It was something cool girls did, and Gadget never considered herself a cool girl. But the next time she saw the gang; the gang saw her and the idea was broached. Could she see herself as a surfboard? Gadget was quiet as she imagined herself floating on the water, a man laying on her as he paddled out to the water, then the wave under her back as his strong legs balanced on her. With a catch in her voice, she said she would have to sleep on it.
She went home, hoping her mother would give her perspective. Mom was so focused, so sensible, so oriented on her career over everything else. In fact, the first thing her mother said when Gadget got home was “Darling, Mommy has to leave for a few weeks. There’s a messy legal matter. I’m leaving you the credit card for groceries, ordering food, and so on. I’ll see you when I get back. Please don’t buy any more new toys.”
Gadget nodded agreeably. She was proud of her mother for being in demand. And then it occurred to Gadget that now she was in demand. The surfers wanted Gadget, and her mother trusted Gadget enough to be on her own for a few weeks. So clearly, becoming a board for the gang was the right decision.
The next day, Gadget just had two questions. Who would ride her, and what would her trigger be? She was told that she could veto any rider, and that her trigger was hers to pick. She thought a second and grinned. “Freeze please!”
“Daring and polite. A charming combination,” mused Sunbird.
What happened next may be explained by the fact that this one subject was surrounded by hypnotists. Each of the surfer dudes had experience with hypnotic induction, though not all of them did it the same way. However, Gadget was a natural people pleaser, a very willing participant, and surrounded by positive peer pressure. At “freeze please!” she became a role model for steel bars.
As it turned out, she was an excellent board. Because most girls are built with considerations other than being aquadynamic, girlboarders would often wipe out. This was an accepted risk for surfer and girlboard, as the girlboard became a girl again immediately once survival demanded swimming to shore. However, anyone surfing Gadget hardly ever wiped out. The one time someone did, they discovered Gadget floating face-up on the water. When released, Gadget explained that once she swam back to the surface, she just inhaled deeply and froze up again. It seemed an obvious thing to her.
The problem was that there was no consensus on the reverse trigger. Some guys used “unfreeze please.” Others used “release please,” which didn’t rhyme as well but was memorable because of the letters in common. So which she responded to became her choice. And Gadget soon recognized that as a board, everyone wanted her.
So one day, there was much consternation when Gadget’s response to either “unfreeze please” or “release please” was either silence or a noise like “uh-uh” which came out through closed lips. Either way, she remained rigid.
Tickling was applied. So was rude fondling of the kind that woke girls up early on. The fondling occasionally got a pleased “um” but no further response. Pins and pinches got a grunt but no animation. Lit matches were discussed, as was holding her head under water. However, Sunbird pointed out that anything that harmed Gadget, or risked harm to her, was sure to bring down her mother’s considerable and litigious wrath. Of course, leaving Gadget a board was likely to have the same hazard.
Thus Fat Wizard issued the edict, “all right, smart guy, you figure it out.” And Sunbird, being a smart guy and a motivated one – he liked Gadget, he was as legally liable as any of the surfer crowd, and he’d be severely heckled if he failed – did.
Sunbird not only liked Gadget, he knew her, and thus had a plan which he discussed with Fat Wizard. Endorsing the plan, Fat Wizard ordered his surfer subjects to bear Gadget back to her home, after a detour to a preschoolers’ toy store. Soon Gadget was lying on her own bed, and would have seemed to be peacefully asleep.
Under Sunbird’s direction, Gadget’s prodigious collection of wind-up dolls, cars and robots was wound up and allowed to roam over her body. As her toys rolled and marched across her, Sunbird said in her ear “Oh, it’s a same that poor Gadget isn’t here to play with all of these. We’ll have to throw them into the trash compactor.” Gadget did not return to life, but her toes wriggled slightly. Sunbird had her attention and had introduced an internal conflict. Sunbird also had a plan B, which had been bought at the preschoolers’ store.
Fat Wizard knew his lines in advance. “So Sunbird, this new gadget you’re holding is really a girlboard control box?”
Sunbird’s prepared reply was “Sure. See, different surfboards have different shapes for different kinds of water. So with this toy, I can change the shape of a girlboard. For example, supposing we wanted one bent at the waist. I just work this control, and here we go...”
The “control box” was simply a plastic toy with bells, whistles, buzzers and other noisemakers. Sunbird turned a crank that produced a grinding noise. As he turned the crank, Gadget was aware that she was gradually sitting up. Sunbird’s scheme, proven successful, was to merge her stubborn clinging to hypnosis with her love of toys and gadgets.
Fat Wizard grinned and gave his next line. “And what about the interviews at the girlboard competitions? She has to be able to talk to the judges.”
Gadget felt her ears twitch. Girlboard competitions? She never heard of such a thing before, but she wanted to participate.
“Sure. You trigger response mode with this bell. Ring it, and she’ll go into what I call Miss America mode. Bright-eyed, alert and smiling.” Sunbird rang the bell to demonstrate. Gadget immediately had a pageant contestant smile on her face. “What’s your name?” Sunbird asked.
“I’m Gadget!” she replied.
“What do you do?” Sunbird asked.
“I’m a girlboard!”
“Why not split the time between girl and board?”
“I’m not much of a girl, but I’m a great surfboard!” Gadget replied happily.
“That she is,” said Muggs before being clouted on the back of the head by Fat Wizard.
“Are you a surfboard or a girlboard?” Sunbird asked.
“They’re the same thing.” Gadget was still smiling and cheery in pageant contestant mode, but there was a delay in her response.
Sunbird didn’t pause. “A girlboard is a girl and a board. A surfboard is just a surfboard. You’re a great girlboard because you’re a great girl. Don’t you know you’re a great girl?”
“Yeah, a great girl!” Muggs repeated. Fat Wizard’s hand traveled to Muggs’ head out of habit but at point of contact, change course and gave Muggs a friendly noogie.
“Say it. Say ‘Gadget is a Great Girl.” Sunbird waited a moment and then pressed a bell on the toyboard. “Gadget is a great girl. Repeat it.” Sunbird pressed the bell again. “Gadget is a great girl.” Again the bell.
“Gadget is a great girl,” Gadget said. Sunbird said nothing but just hit the bell. Every time he hit it, Gadget repeated the affirmation, “Gadget is a great girl.” But she remained still.
“And every great girl deserves a Prince Charming. Who’s your Prince Charming, Gadget?” asked Fat Wizard.
“Sunbird,” she said with no hesitation. Gazing straight ahead, she saw Sunbird’s jaw drop.
“Kiss our princess and wake her up, Prince Charming!” ordered Fat Wizard, king of the beach.
Slowly, as if walking on a thin layer of ice, Sunbird knelt down and carefully touched his lips to Gadget’s frozen smile. The moment their lips touched, Gadget wrapped her arms and legs completely around Sunbird. The next moment, they fell off the bed. And the third moment, everyone was laughing – especially Sunbird and Gadget.
Then Fat Wizard made his surprising announcement. “As King of the Beach, I hereby issue my edict against the two of you. Gadget, you have earned my royal wrath for scaring my court half to death. And Sunbird, anyone who takes this long to realize what a great girl Gadget is, and say it out loud, has clearly such a fool as to have no business passing himself off as my sage and vizier. I hereby exile the two of you from the beach for 72 hours. Anyone who sees you outside the confines of this house for that period is under my royal orders to spitball you to death.”
“Hail to the King!” said everyone but Fat Wizard – the aforementioned King – and the two exiles, who were again laughing.
When the two left their places of exile five days later (“damned sad when a vizier can’t count!” scolded Fat Wizard), the girlboard fad was over. Partly because Gadget was by far the best girlboard ever and no girl likes competing for second, and partly because dealing with a girl who wouldn’t leave her trance reminded the surfers that hypnosis could be a dangerous thing.
“I am retiring as your vizier,” announced Sunbird upon his return to the beach, “on the grounds that a vizier’s first loyalty should be to his king.”
“I am glad you are retiring,” replied Fat Wizard, “as if your first loyalty was still to me, you’d be a bigger idiot than Muggs.”
“I second that!” said Muggs.
“But since your first loyalty is currently not in evidence, charges of moronship may still be held against you,” quipped Fat Wizard.
“Indeed they may,” replied Sunbird, “because this was her idea.” He spoke into his watch. “Gadget, come to Fat Wizard throne area ASAP.”
“Order received,” came the audible response from the watch.
The girl herself walked into view a few minutes later. She wore a radio watch identical to the one Sunbird did. It was not the first thing anyone noticed about her. She wore a multicolored tinsel wig and a metallic swimsuit. “Order carried out,” she stated. “Awaiting new order.” She stood erect like a toy soldier.
“My god!” said Muggs. “You’ve turned Gadget into a Gadget!”
“You know how she loves toys. She said she wanted to be one herself. What am I, crazy? No, really, I can’t tell. Am I crazy?”
“What happens if she locks up this way?” Fat Wizard asked.
“Covered.” Sunbird spoke again into his watch. “Gadget, enter human emulation mode and remain in it until specifically countermanded.”
The toy soldier blinked, shrugged, and was the old Gadget again. “Hi, guys! What’s going on?”
Fat Wizard groaned. “So wait. She’s hypnotized into being a robot, and the robot is under orders to act like a human?”
Gadget grinned. “Sure, why not? Best of both worlds!”
“Oh, that was a great Star Trek episode,” said Muggs. “The one where the evil half-robot race kidnapped the ship’s captain and roboticized him…” Muggs saw everyone looking at him. “Oh, right.” And he hit himself on the back of the head.