How to Make Fire

Ok, I’ll admit it: my guilty pleasure is Survivor, the tv show. Been addicted to it ever since the first season, you know back when Richard Hatch frolicked naked on the beaches of Borneo (sorry for dredging up that old mental image). Hate to say it, but I’ve watched all 40 seasons of Survivor, most multiple times. 

Maybe the reason that the show appeals to me so much is because, long before the first episode aired, I was already drawn to mastering basic survival skills. By eight years old, I was so resourceful in my ability to make fire that even my mom was surprised. “Stephen, what are you doing? Why is the backseat smoking?” she asked, glancing in the rearview mirror. 

Who knew reading glasses could harness the intense sunlight flooding through a rear window and focus it into a ray beam worthy of flame? I hardly had a chance to explain my scientific breakthrough before my mom began naysaying the usefulness of my discovery. I can’t remember her exact words, but I’m pretty sure they started with the most dreaded phrase a boy could hear in those days: “Don’t make me pull this car over.”  

(It was one thing to get spanked in the privacy of your own home–and entirely another thing to get spanked on the roadside where all the world could see. I only got spanked once on the roadside–and it was by my grandma, not my mom. For some reason, I thought it would be another interesting experiment if I opened the door while my grandma was barrelling down the highway in her Oldsmobile. Right then and there, my normally sweet ole grandma stomped on the brakes, screeched to a halt on the shoulder, and then got out and escorted me to a bush where she armed herself with a switch.)

I don’t want to take all the credit for my scientific discovery about reading glasses. Truth is I was standing on the shoulders of giants–really, one giant in particular, Ryan Stegall. He had already failed the second grade once, so he was a good bit bigger than the rest of us. Usually when the art teacher came to our class each week, she was pushing a cart full of coloring implements. But on this particular week she brought a bunch of magnifying classes so we could examine artwork in finer detail. Ryan Stegall sat right next to a window, and while most kids were using the magnifying glasses to look up each other’s nostrils, he quietly and diligently set to work on other pursuits. I just remember Britney Shankle shouting, “Ryan’s coat’s on fire! Ryan’s coat’s on fire!” After that incident, Ryan was well on his way to failing second grade a second time. Still, in terms of making fire, he seemed to me like a genius.

Sadly, last I heard, Ryan Stegall was in jail for various and sundry crimes, arson possibly one of them. But I think Ryan was ahead of his time. If he would have been born in the future, say, in a post apocalyptic age, his fire making abilities would be in high demand. Or if he could have gotten cast for Survivor, he might be a millions dollars richer.