BY JOHN HODGMAN
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John Hodgman, who has been a McSweeney's friend and contributor since our first issue, is on tour now for his new book, More Information Than You Require. Today, in celebration of the book, we're running the second thing he wrote for us, "Fire: The Next Sharp Stick?," which appeared in McSweeney's Issue 2. John will be at the Echoplex in Los Angeles tonight, along with troubadours John Roderick (of the Long Winters) and Jonathan Coulton (of Massachusetts).
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Setting: The offices of Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers, a firm located near the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River.
(ONE WHO HELPS THE HAIRY ONE is seated, going over some notes. Enter MAKER OF FIRE.)
ONE: (Standing.) Hey, it's good to see you. Thanks for coming by.
MAKER: Thank you, One Who Helps the Hairy One. I'm sorry I'm late. Somehow I ended up by the Really Wide River.
ONE: Really? When we met by the Sticky Tree, I thought I said near the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River.
MAKER: That is what you said. I must have gotten turned around at the Sharp Shells.
ONE: Oh, yeah. That happens a lot.
MAKER: I must have just spaced.
ONE: No harm done. Do you want a Stick That Tastes Good to Gnaw On?
MAKER: No, thanks. I just had one. I'm a bear if I don't have one before Hot Part of the Day.
ONE: (Doesn't understand, a little afraid.) Excuse me?
MAKER: (Laughs.) Sorry. Sorry. I'm not actually a bear. I just mean that I'm like a bear if I don't have a Stick That Tastes Good.
ONE: You pretend to be a bear?
MAKER: No. I feel like a bear feels when he wakes up. You know, grumpy, impatient.
ONE: Do you become a bear when you say it?
MAKER: No. I just say it.
ONE: (Still doesn't understand.) Oh. OK. I see. Well, in a way, that's exactly why I asked you to come down here. As you know, Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers is a very old and established firm.
MAKER: I do know.
ONE: I mean, for me, it's a real honor to be associated with the Hairy One and to be his helper. The Hairy One's a visionary, you know. But he's—how do I say it? He's older than the Old One, and, as a result, I think that Ten Men needs to think about its future and think about how it can stay competitive in changing times.
MAKER: Naturally, I agree.
ONE: When we met by the Sticky Tree, I immediately thought, Here's a guy who's ahead of the curve. Here's a guy who maybe can help Ten Men make the transition into That Day That Isn't This Day but Also Isn't the Day Before or the Day Before That.
MAKER: At the Shallow Pond With a Terrible Odor, we call it "tomorrow."
ONE: Really? "Tomorrow"? Very clever. But the point is, we were talking about fire, and it seemed to me after we spoke that this could be just the thing to carry Ten Men into "tomorrow."
MAKER: Well, there's no question that fire has a lot to offer any firm, Ten Men included, and I'm happy to show you why. But I think you need to think seriously about what your fire needs are. The truth is, this technology is so revolutionary that I think the real question won't be whether fire is right for Ten Men but whether Ten Men is ready for fire.
ONE: (Nodding seriously.) True. True. Well, what I have planned is pretty informal, just a meeting of the minds, so to speak. I've asked the Hairy One to sit in on this meeting, since he'll have to approve anything that might happen Not Now but Another Time. You may have to take it a little slow with him—he's a bit of a Neanderthal when it comes to this sort of thing, if you know what I mean.
MAKER: HA HA HA HA HA HA!
ONE: HA HA HA HA HA HA!
(Enter the HAIRY ONE, carrying a sharp stick. ONE immediately stops laughing and falls to the floor completely prostrate, arms and legs spread, face down. MAKER smirks and does not move.)
ONE: (Speaking into the floor.) Oh, hey, Hairy One, how are you? Thanks for coming by.
HAIRY ONE: (Grunts to MAKER.) Where are the Sticks That Taste Good?
MAKER: I think they're over there.
(HAIRY ONE crosses to side table to get a stick and begins gnawing it.)
ONE: (Starting to raise himself.) I just gathered them, Hairy One, so they're fresh. (Pauses. Looks to MAKER.) You know me: I'm a bear if I don't have one before the Time You Tell Us When We Can Eat.
HAIRY ONE: (Stick drops from mouth in fear.) BEAR! BEAR! (Raises sharp stick and crosses to begin hitting ONE with it.)
ONE: No! Not bear! Not bear!
MAKER: It's just a saying.
ONE: It's just a saying!
(HAIRY ONE stops his attack and stares at both of them suspiciously.)
ONE: (Rising, then sitting down.) I'm not a bear.
MAKER: It's just something that he said.
HAIRY ONE: (Completely indifferent.) Whatever. (Retrieves stick and sits down at head of table.)
ONE: Hairy One, Maker of Fire. Maker of Fire, the Hairy One.
MAKER: My pleasure, Hairy One. I've followed your work with Ten Men for a long time. It's a remarkable firm.
HAIRY ONE: So you're the one with the fire?
HAIRY ONE: Is it here?
MAKER: Well, no.
HAIRY ONE: Where is it?
MAKER: Well, in a sense, Hairy One, fire is everywhere. Rather than being an object, say, like your sharp stick, it's really a process, so it can't really be said to exist anywhere. In a sense, fire exists in its own imaginary, virtual space, where we can only talk about what is not fire and what might become fire.
HAIRY ONE: Whoa whoa whoa! English, please!
ONE: I think that what the Maker of Fire is trying to say is that—and let me know if I have it right—while I may have one fire, and you may have another fire in another place, and the One Who Helps the Hairy One may be planning to make a fire, the truth is that it's all fire. It's all the same thing. It's all fire.
MAKER: That's true, in a rudimentary sense, but for our purposes it'll do fine.
ONE: What's great about fire, Hairy One, is that it combines many things in one. Light, heat, pain—all in one. It's all those things. It's multi-thing.
HAIRY ONE: I thought you said it was all the same thing.
ONE: It is!
HAIRY ONE: But now you say it's multi-thing?
(ONE is confused, looks to MAKER OF FIRE.)
MAKER: It is and it isn't. It depends on how you define "thing."
HAIRY ONE: And where does the bear come in?
MAKER: It doesn't.
ONE: That was just something I said.
HAIRY ONE: I get that, OK? I just wanted to know if a bear was involved in fire or not.
MAKER: It isn't.
HAIRY ONE: Good.
MAKER: See, the thing about fire is that it's totally interactive. Fire isn't a bear, but if you put fire on a bear, then the bear becomes fire. It's completely responsive to your needs at a given time, reacting specifically to your fuel input and usage paradigm ...
HAIRY ONE: OK, stop right there. Here's the thing. I've heard a lot about this fire already. Everyone is saying how shiny it is and how flickery it is. But you have to agree that that's very specialized. I know you folks at the Shallow Pond With a Terrible Odor are making a whole big deal about this, but we here by the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River, well, we're simple folk. We want to know: what can it do for us? And the thing is, until people really figure out how fire can be used, I just can't see it becoming a staple of everyday life.
ONE: If I can just jump in here for a moment, Hairy One, think of it like the sharp stick. You know, many, many, many nights ago, everyone was using a blunt stick for clubbing and for poking at things we had no name for. We didn't even call it "blunt stick" back then. We just called it "stick."
ONE: And then someone came along and said, Hey, let's take this rock and push it on the stick and remove parts of the stick at one end until it's different than it was before. Everyone called this someone Crazy One, until Crazy One took the sharp stick and put it in the Loud One's eye.
HAIRY ONE: Someone didn't do that. I did.
ONE: That's what I'm saying. Once we had the sharp stick, the Loud One became One Eye, and the Crazy One became the Big Hairy One.
HAIRY ONE: I'm the Big Hairy One.
ONE: That's what I'm saying. You don't want to be the One Who Didn't Like Fire. Fire is the sharp stick of ... of ... tomorrow.
HAIRY ONE: What's "tomorrow"?
MAKER: Well, that's not entirely a correct analogy, since fire can't really be compared to anything that isn't fire, but ...
HAIRY ONE: (To ONE.) OK, but I think you're both overlooking an important thing: fire is very, very scary. Even when sharp stick got big, there were a lot of people still using blunt stick because they knew what blunt stick could do. People still love their blunt sticks, and it is many, many days and nights later. So I can't see how this fire thing is going to work until people have a reason not to be scared.
MAKER: Well, before we go on, we all have to accept that not everything is going to appeal to Johnny Blunt Stick.
HAIRY ONE: OK, but let me tell you that it's Johnny Blunt Sticks that made Ten Men one of the top firms by the River That's Not as Wide as the Really Wide River. Johnny Blunt Sticks like me.
MAKER: Look, I didn't mean to offend anyone. Listen, I have to use the dung heap. Why don't I step out for a moment and you two can decide how you want this meeting to go. OK?
HAIRY ONE: No offense, no offense. We'll be here.
ONE: I'm sure he didn't mean to suggest that ...
HAIRY ONE: I don't care about that. I know how they are by the Shallow Pond. You know I've met him before?
ONE: You have?
HAIRY ONE: Sure. Many, many, many, many nights ago on a business trip. I was over by the Shallow Pond, and all the Shallow Ponders were laughing at him. You know what they used to call him? I mean, before all this "Maker of Fire" bullshit?
HAIRY ONE: They used to call him the One Who Knocks Two Rocks Together Over Dry, Dead Plants.
ONE: Oh, man, really?
HAIRY ONE: He's a complete lunatic. Not just not like us—not like anybody.
ONE: But what about fire?
HAIRY ONE: Oh, he may have fire, but "Maker of Fire"? He's an idiot. Where did you meet him?
ONE: Over by the Sticky Tree. He wanted to know if Ten Men would want to give him some food and then he would give us some fire.
HAIRY ONE: He what?!
ONE: He called it "barter."
HAIRY ONE: Well, I call it bullshit. He's obviously deranged. I thought he was here to invite us to go to the Shallow Pond and kill everyone and take fire.
ONE: No, he wants to "trade."
HAIRY ONE: Now I just feel sorry for him.
(Re-enter MAKER OF FIRE.)
MAKER: Well, have you thought it over?
HAIRY ONE: Maker of Fire, you do us great honor by traveling so far to visit us two men of the Ten Men Who Help Each Other But Are Not Brothers. But until I get a sense of how fire could ever be useful I'm afraid we're just going to have to muddle along without it.
MAKER: I understand. Not all are fire-ready.
HAIRY ONE: And I'm sorry about the Johnny Blunt Stick business. Please, come over here and join hands.
(MAKER goes to join hands. The HAIRY ONE stabs him with the stick, and then beats him until he is dead.)
ONE: What are you doing?
HAIRY ONE: There, he's out of his misery, poor fellow. Now go through his skins and his magic bag.
ONE: What? Why?
HAIRY ONE: We're looking for fire, my helper! We're looking for fire!
ONE: Oh, you truly are the Wise and Big Hairy One!