near the edge

I never liked riding the school bus. Something about the bus brought out the worst in elementary squabs. Maybe it was the smell of grape Hubba Bubba melting on vinyl seats that drove them mad. I think they were just plain mean.

Moving around so much as a kid made me a prime target for their junior terrorism. The new kid. Not only that, but I carried around a horrible handicap for several of those years. It's never been easy to play violin in the fifth grade.

I remember the first bus I ever rode. It was in Bartlesville, Okla., a medium-sized town that, in retrospect, was filled with people who talked funny and had one branch in their family tree. When I stepped on the bus in that town, thousands of eyes scrutinized me, my Muppets lunch box and primary-colored Le Bag. Like most 10-year-olds, I was funny-looking, clumsy and believed I could change the big, beautiful world. But to the other kids I was different.

Big, pink plastic glasses, tinted to match my argyle sweater vest, was one indication of my kind. The fact that I had to maneuver my violin case down the narrow aisles, occasionally hitting someone who refused to move their knees out of my way was another signal. But the final straw was no one letting me sit with them while the bus driver yelled at me to sit down. You see, I was a grade-school nerd.

In reality, I'm still a nerd but the university landscape is a lot easier to survive in. Somewhere between having Steven Skinner tell me my lunch looked like puke and having my braids tied to the locker cages in junior high, my kind got cool.

It could have been the advent of "Revenge of the Nerds" or "Weird Science." Whatever it is, to quote nerdy singer Huey Lewis, "It's hip to be square." You trendy people don't believe me? Let's review the facts.

Paul Schaffer, not to mention the whole David Letterman cast and their gags, embodies the true mid

sense of nerd heroism amazing talent and wit under a shell that is neither tanned nor toned. Buddy Holly, Jerry Seinfeld, James Dean and Albert Einstein all are in the nerd ranks, having either been tormented for their intelligence, size or Coke bottle glasses.

Some of my friends were labeled nerds and subjected to tortures too hideous to mention. I was lucky. As a girl, I only got hit in the face once and that was a mistake, I think. Also, I pretended I was an airhead for a year in junior high so kids wouldn't pick on me, which landed me a spot on the cheerleading squad in eighth grade. With a mild dip into nerdiness as a high school drum major, life has never been the same.

But after years of wondering why I was picked on I want to know, where are all you bullies now?

Some part of me hopes you've dwindled into obscurity and will end up in a purgatory where you're continually hit in the face with a tether ball. But I've become a better person than that.

Nah, who am I kidding? I still carry those elementary school memories with me. Regardless of how old, pretty, intelligent or famous we nerds become, we still want justice.

Jon, a fellow victim of bullying, said he gloated when he saw a childhood nemesis working at Basha's. My friend Greg said the last he heard of his tormenter the guy was in drug rehab. We scoff at their pain.

As much as we'd like to pretend we're above this type of satisfaction, the scars left by being poked in the back with pencils, labeled a freak or beat up for our milk money run pretty deep.

For instance, in one fell swoop, my friend Ed moved up a grade in elementary school and became the smartest and smallest kid in his class. Needless to say, he was picked on. Ironically, today he's a 6-foot-2-inch double black belt going for his third, with a propensity for wearing black trenchcoats and picking on bullies. Personally, I'm learning to shoot things.

Even those of us who haven't gotten bigger than our bullies are doing just fine. All the real nerds I know are cruising through college on full-ride scholarships and have gained some degree of notoriety in our respective circles. Plus, they've retained their sense of idealism, and in some small way, defend the defenseless.

But if any of you bullies still have not mended your ways, I highly recommend you do so before you graduate. We may be your bosses.

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