Anonymous: Inventor of Fire

Way back in the prehistoric days mankind depended on a few basic needs: food, water, shelter and warmth. Having a buff body and well-coiffed hair didn't hurt either, but way back then there weren't too many fat disgusting people because one spent a great deal of time either chasing or being chased by your food. It was hell on hair, but it kept a person fit and trim. For those who lived in caves, which came equipped with built-in central air, summers were manageable, but winters were harsh and it was necessary to find warmth or freeze to death; unless you were among the lucky ones who lived in more temperate climates - but they eventually paid for their good fortune by contracting venereal disease and smallpox.

All things being equal, shelter, food and water were relatively easy to find, but prehistoric man's most serious shortfall came in the warmth department. For a long time animal hide provided the only effective method of trapping the body's natural heat, but animals too often took offense at having their hides callously ripped from their bodies and upon occasion would attack and devour their pursuers. This was good for the animals because it allowed them to build up a nice layer of fat to keep them warm and toasty the whole winter but not so good for their meals.

Even though prehistoric man was only a hair smarter than the apes he had recently descended from he couldn't help but notice that fire was hot. It could of course cause a horrible and excruciatingly painful death, so such practices as setting up house next to an active volcano or running naked through an open field during a thunderstorm while wielding a golf club were eventually abandoned. In time, however, prehistoric man learned to harness fire and to make it his friend--a friend that, in addition to providing warmth, light and protection from predators, could be used to grill such delicacies as freely killed Yak which had previously been consumed au natural, sinews and all.

The discovery of fire had a mostly positive effect on prehistoric man. He could finally claim bragging rights over the apes. Secondly, cooked and smoked meat had a longer shelf life enabling him to spend less time hunting and killing for fresh meat and more time hunting and killing just for fun. In addition, he now had the perfect setting for developing a complex and rewarding social life with family, friends and acquaintances huddled around the fire angrily pointing and grunting in total frustration because they hadn't yet developed language.

There was a downside to fire; it wasn't all that readily available. You couldn't just have it delivered whenever you wanted like a call girl. If you happened to run into it you'd still have to devise a way to safely bring it home; and if it ran into you, well...

But if anything, prehistoric man was possessed of ingenuity. Organized social groups selected highly resourceful individuals known as fire gatherers to seek out fire and bring it back. If they were successful in finding it - most often as the consequence of a lightning strike - they would collect a few glowing embers in a small box, along with some kindling, and attempt to make it home before the fire could be extinguished by rain or wind or ambush by that Neolithic bandit the fire poacher.

Of course, once home, it was still necessary to keep the fire going with a steady supply of fresh combustible material. This was problematical given prehistoric man's lack of formal administrative training and coupled with his recent discovery of a rudimentary fermentation process for making alcoholic beverages. During this epoch the appointed fuel gatherer, or wood-stoker guy as he became known, often overindulged, fell into a drunken stupor and allowed the fire to slowly extinguish itself; or worse, wasted his time at the back of the cave in the pursuit of some form of worthless artistic expression.

Archeological data taken from the soil samples of a Paleolithic cave have also yielded evidence of a strange ceremony in which adolescent members of the indigenous social unit, homo almost always erectus, ritually urinated on the fire. Most disturbing of all were the often debilitating raids mounted by neighboring social groups who would try to steal their fire. This became a less widespread problem with the invention of S'mores. These highly lethal molten albumin projectiles dipped in a dark sticky substance derived from the cacao seed and coated with a shell of crushed grain were carried on sticks and flung at their attackers during raids. Those left un-flung were consumed as part of a victory celebration where lithe young women adorned with wildflowers, homo hippidus dippidus, screeched wildly about the tribes' need to show more concern for their fellow sapiens. Evidence shows that these women were frequently bludgeoned to death and their dismembered bodies used as bait.

It was only with man's ability to control fire that he eventually learned the advanced techniques of smelting ore, baking pottery and creating more sophisticated and deadly weapons in which to subjugate less technologically advanced peoples. After tens of thousands of years that ability was finally realized when our intrepid genius, Anonymous: Inventor of Fire, discovered how two pieces of wood surrounded by a combustible material could produce fire if rubbed together long enough.

Perhaps it happened by accident when Anonymous, ravenously digging some tasty termites out of a fallen branch with a stick noticed the pungent odor of slightly seared Isoptera. Perhaps that mouth-watering aroma just spurred him on to dig harder and faster, faster and harder, until the whole branch burst into flame and thousands of innocent termites, carrying mewling larva on their backs leapt from the raging inferno to the safety of cool ground. Only after finally sating his appetite by sucking up all those barbecued termites, and their babies, through a hollow reed device known as a termite pipe, which was standard issue in those days, did our nameless genius make the connection and endeavor to repeat his actions at a future time.

We can only speculate as to the actual events surrounding this momentous discovery, but we do know that it would become one of the protean events in the course of human history. Of course, like all new discoveries, it was initially met with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially from the Brotherhood of Fire Gatherers, Local 402, who saw it as a potentially fatal blow to the future prospects of their dues paying membership. It was therefore decided that a blue-ribbon committee of union officials would meet to evaluate his discovery and that during the evaluation period our genius was to use his talents in pursuit of answers to other equally important questions such as: Is it possible to be pushed off the edge of a thousand-foot-high precipice and still survive?

About the author:

Bob co-authored the book (along with David Javerbaum, head writer for The Daily Show) and composed the score for the 2000 Richard Rodgers Award winning Off-Broadway musical Suburb. It is published by Dramatic Publishing, 2006. He is also a contributing author to Romance Recipes for the Soul, Pisces Press, 1999; The Half-Life of Pizza and Other Slices, and the book George (My life as a Cat). Recently, he was awarded a NJ State Council on the Arts Fellowship for his music-theatre piece Edison Invents - inspired by Neil Baldwin's biography Edison: Inventing the Century. Bob is a graduate of Brown University and lives in Upper Montclair, NJ with his wife Maryann and three cats: Fred, Ginger and Trixie.