This story was originally published in Outsider Ink, way back in 2006. It’s a little creepy and funny, in a dark sort of way.
In fifth grade my friend Jimmy changed his name to People are Starving in Ethiopia.
I told him it wasn’t a good idea, but he never listened to me, just like he didn’t listen when I told him not to send microwave dinners over there. Every week, he’d steal at least one box of Six Cheese Lasagna out of his mom’s freezer and send it to the American Embassy in Ethiopia labeled “For the Starving People.”
“It’s just that people forget,” he squeaked in his voice that reminded me of a squirrel on helium. “We talk about it in class and then people forget, so now they can’t forget anymore. When anyone says my name they’ll have to remember.”
“They’re just going to shorten it anyway,” I told him.
Before I knew it, People are Starving in Ethiopia had started a trend. But, sure enough, he would only be People are Starving in Ethiopia for a day. For a while, everybody started changing their names. There was Rain Forest is Dying, We’re Polluting the Oceans, and Global Warming. One day Tommy Smith changed his name to Dad Hits Me a Lot. All the other kids thought that was a little strange.
The Friday after it all began, Global Warming got into a fight with Rainforest is Dying. Global Warming was a bully anyway, one of those kids that would laugh at you when you didn’t buy all your clothes at Macy’s or you rolled the wrong pant leg or didn’t roll it far enough. He wanted to call her just Rainforest, and she said that was simply not okay. So Rainforest is Dying’s hair was pulled, and Global Warming was kicked in the groin.
They both ended up having a talk with the principal.
Meanwhile, I found a name for myself. My mom said that on the way to work one day there was a whale circling under the Golden Gate Bridge. All the cars slowed down to nearly a stop as people watched. The next day, I told People are Starving my new name was The Whale Under the Bridge that Stopped Traffic.
“That’s a stupid name,” he chirped.
“Better than Spelling Homework,” I said, pointing to a kid with glasses and giant patches of red freckles. Lately there were names like that all over school as kids renamed themselves to remember homework and even phone numbers.
After a day, my best friend’s name was People are Starving, then simply People, and finally just Peeps. Nobody likes a long name. Chelsea, who had boobs already in fifth grade and everybody called Chesty but not to her face, asked him, “Why’d you name yourself after an Easter candy?”
“What?” squeaked Peeps.
“Those little yellow sugar chicks,” Chesty said.
“No, it’s People are Starving in Ethiopia,” he said.
Other kids thought his name came from the fact that his voice sounded like a peeping chicken.
Despite her demands, Rainforest is Dying soon became simply Rain. Global Warming wasn’t happy with his new nickname either – Globby – which he thought was an insult about his weight. People started calling me Whale, and that annoyed me because the whale itself was really beside the point. I did my part to remember all the names. When he was down to Peeps with everybody else, I still called my best friend People are Starving.
People are Starving was crying at recess.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“This isn’t right anymore,” he said.
The next day, Dad Hits me a Lot came to school with his arm in a splint. I asked him about it, and he said, “Fell down the stairs.”
After that, People are Starving in Ethiopia told me he wanted to just be Jimmy again.
“Whatever, Peeps,” I said. He couldn’t just change his name whenever he wanted to.
Just then, Water Pollution came up to us with her hand stuck down her pants. She was always digging around down there. “Can you tell Dad Hits my a Lot he’s doing it wrong?” she asked.
“Doing what wrong?” said Peeps.
“His name. What does Dad Hits me a Lot have to do with the world?”
“I’ll talk to him,” Peeps said sadly.
But he didn’t talk to him. Dad Hits me a Lot mostly stayed in the classroom at recess, making him hard to find. I noticed no one was talking much anymore except to fight. One morning, People Suck stole People are Cool’s lunch because her name offended him, and they were set to fight in the field after school. All the kids started changing their names that day. It began at lunch when Globby changed his name to People are Cool. Though several kids argued he couldn’t have a name that had already been taken, he explained that it was to show support for his friend.
There we were at 3:05, lined up on either side of the field, all the People Sucks on one side, all the People are Cools on the other. Between us, squared off like serious fighters (their Pokemon and Garfield lunch pails dropped to the ground and pushed to the sidelines), stood the original People Sucks and People are Cool. People sucks stomped the grass like a horse. People are Cool stuck out her tongue and blew her enemy a raspberry.
Suck got a handful of Cool’s hair and swung her around by it, pro wrestling style. She screamed and flipped over, losing a fistful of blonde curls before grabbing Suck’s shirt and ripping his collar down almost to his belly. Suck tried to kick her, but the giant roundhouse made him slip in the mud, landing him on his back with a splash. Cool saw her chance and crashed down onto his belly with her bottom and legs.
She scratched his cheek with a sharp fingernail, leaving a mark that looked like a long, red worm.
“Let me up,” Suck sputtered. “You’re just lucky I don’t hit girls.”
“Say you’re sorry,” said Cool.
Suck stared at her and struggled to get up, but with her weight and the slippery mud, he couldn’t move. Cool held her sharp fingernail over his face again.
“Okay! Sorry!” Suck yelled.
So it was done. The next day everything was pretty normal. Most everyone went back to their old names. Dad Hits Me a Lot – Tommy Smith – was absent that day, which wasn’t much of a surprise either. He’s sick pretty often.