Into the Wild Nerd Yonder Online - Julie Halpern

chapter 1

I SO USED TO LOVE THE FIRST DAY of school. Ever since my mom let me pick out my first pair of first-day-of-school navy Mary Janes with the flower pattern puckered into the top, I knew I’d like the newness, yet revel in the sameness that the first day of school always brings. New pens I’ll lose after first period, new schedules with the promise of a cool new teacher or intriguing new exchange student, and new classes to ace. Not in a braggy, nerdy way, just in an I’m-smart-and-I-kind-of-like-to-study way. It’s not as though school defines me. Although, I guess I don’t really know what defines me. Yet. Not like my best friends, Bizza and Char. Would it be lame to say that they define me?

Elizabeth Ann Brickman, or Bizza as she’s been called since birth. (So I ask you: Why not just name her Bizza? I guess for the same reason my parents named me Jessica but call me Jessie. It’s not really the same thing, though. Jessie’s a pretty common name for an equally common girl. Unlike Bizza, uncommon in every way. Maybe that’s why her mom decided to dub her only child Bizza, like how famous people name their kids after fruits and various other random unnamelike nouns—guaranteed un-anonymity.) Is it a name that lets someone know they’re going to be different? Is it her name that makes her cocky and clever, weird but cool, funny but scary at the same time? Can a name do all of that? Or is it that everyone at Greenville High School knows Bizza because Bizza makes herself be known? If I truly wanted to, could I become infamous, too?

Not that I want to, but could I?

And then there’s my other best friend, Char, who doesn’t seem to have to try at all. Full name: Charlotte Antonia Phillips, every bit as gorgeous as her name implies, thin, but not skinny, tall, but not imposing, and hair so thick you could use it for climbing when in distress. If she were popular in the traditional high school use of the word she would be head cheerleader or prom queen or, I don’t know, whatever else it is those “popular” people aspire to become. (Why are they referred to as “popular” anyway? That would suggest that everyone likes them, which is virtually impossible since popular people are notorious for treating the commoners like crap.) But popularity among the masses has never been anything that Bizza, Char, or I have aspired to. Which is why we’ve always been such great friends.

It started in first grade when the three of us convinced our teacher that the other students’ lives would be empty without our fabulous lip-synching rendition of the movie Grease, so we gathered up any first graders willing to dance in front of people (amazing how it was so easy back then to find boys who weren’t ashamed to dance) and any girl who was fine being relegated to one of the random, nameless Pink Ladies in the background. Bizza mouthed Rizzo’s parts, Char mouthed Sandy’s, and I was usually the Twinkie-loving Pink Lady Jan. At least my Pink Lady had a name, right?

Bizza, Char, and I have always had this fantastic creative energy, and a lot of funky things were born out of our friendship. In seventh grade we filmed one episode of a soap opera we created called Mucho Love (based on the telenovellas our Spanish teacher, Señora Goldberg, showed us in class). The soap was so funny, we actually got it aired on cable access (although I think cable access channels are legally required to air anything anyone sends them). Of course, Mucho Love wouldn’t have been nearly as good if Bizza and Char hadn’t convinced all of the hotties on the block to play the studly male leads. But that’s why we work(ed) so well together: I bring the brains, they bring the brawn.

In eighth grade we started a band, The Chakras (Char thought it sounded “mystical”), and we all took up instruments. Bizza was, of course, the lead singer (without a care in the world that her voice sounded like the cries of a llama taking a particularly painful dump) and guitarist (her guitar playing wasn’t much better than her singing). Char was the statuesque (and statuelike, since the only things she moved were her fingers) bass player. (“Chicks are always bass players,” was her reasoning. My response: “Um, aren’t we all chicks?”) And I was the drummer,