Nonsense Verse: Very Little Verse But Some Inspired Nonsense

13 08 2004

Jennifer Balderama is a professional journalist on the business beat, but she’s also a real writer. Real writers are rarely satisfied with developing only a single aspect of their talent, which is why I assume this one created Nonsense Verse–to have a place to ply her comic skills. They don’t give you much chance to be funny in business journalism, and Jennifer is a very funny writer when she wants to be, although she is more likely to provoke sly, behind-the-hand chuckles of recognition than outright belly-laughs. Not that she won’t get those too, but Jennifer–or ‘J’, as she refers to herself–specializes in a kind of humor we might call ‘oblique’.

To get belly-laughs, you usually have to come straight at your reader, like Wodehouse or Fafblog. Jennifer doesn’t often do that. Her humor comes more from the odd angle, the surprising POV. It’s almost like she’s sneaking up on it–and you–from behind some trees, and if she doesn’t play it soft she’ll scare you both away. That approach requires a lot of understatement, and understatement is usually the enemy of B-L’s. B-L’s come from slapstick, from overstatement (but not too over–a fine line), from direct confrontation. Jennifer’s style is not to confront but to slip up on her subject when it’s not looking. Like this:

That’s ‘The Boy’, as Jennifer unfailingly refers to her Significant Other, caught at a moment he would probably rather not have been. There you have a graphic depiction of Jennifer’s thang–Do what they’re not expecting, and do it when they’re not expecting it. In the matter of the cicadas, for instance. A confrontational comic writer would have made the most of the squishing crunch when you stepped on them, perhaps used the word ‘invasion’ and compared them to hordes of tiny green aliens plotting to take over the earth for its alfalfa. Not Jennifer. Jennifer is underwhelmed.

Yes, bugs were scattered here and there on the ground, in various stages between still-kickin’ and squished-to-death. And yes, they were big and stupid-looking and icky, and just thinking about them makes the bile in my stomach churn. But the whole thing wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I could still step outside my house and walk to the bus stop relatively unscathed. A smattering of splattered carcasses created something of an obstacle course, but life did not become something out of the Twilight Zone or X-Files. (Granted, I mostly stayed away from the green places, where I know it was much worse. I visited a greenish place near the end of the cicadas’ mighty run, where a handful of bugs ran into me in their misguided, look-at-me-flying-like-a-drunk-bug way. It was not pleasant.)

‘A smattering of splattered carcasses..’ It’s almost poetry, isn’t it? And you get one of those, if not more, in every post, like decoder rings in boxes of Cracker Jacks–a reader’s reward. Unfortunately, you also usually get at least one clinker in every post, and it usually arises out of that implacable Enemy of Comedy: Good Grammar. In a post bemoaning the death of the penny, she’s rolling along very nicely until the moment we slam head-on into the ‘W’ word like a zippy, remote-controlled car surprised by a wall.

Now, if I find myself 5 or 10 cents short, I’m going to have to ask for a nickel or a dime. Couch-diving is going to be much less fruitful. And shiny pennies glinting up at me from the sidewalk are going to be–well–rather meaningless.This cannot mean the end of the penny!

No. I must find other ways to use them. Next pack of gum I buy, I may have to plop down 119 pennies. I’m going to be that little old lady you get behind in the grocery store and whom you hate for counting out her exact change and rifling through her pile of coupons, to boot. Except that I won’t be little and old. I will be average-sized and 27. And for that, you will hate me even more.

In the Comedy-Writing Handbook, page 267, under the picture of Fatty Arbuckle being swallowed whole by a Bolivian boa constrictor (on loan from the San Diego Zoo), is Comedy Rule X9-dash-417, and I quote: ‘ “Whom” must NEVER, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, be used in comedic writing unless it IS the joke.’ See, a lot of comedy is timing, and ‘whom’ is one of those ‘proper’ words, so beloved by librarians and first-year freshman comp professors, that stops readers dead in their tracks. We have to think about it. ‘It doesn’t sound right. Is it right? Yes, it must be.’ BANG! Timing gone, joke gone.

Luckily for us readers, J doesn’t fall into the Grammar Trap too often. She is far more likely to make ‘proper grammar’ work for her–by turning it into a device, for instance, as in the delicious post called ‘Dopey Monkey’ wherein a lethal banana-flavored drink more or less addles her despite herself. Her grammar becomes stretched, pointlessly stretched, first like the drunk who overemphasizes every word and speaks slowly, distinctly, and with exceptionally good grammar meant to convince both her listeners and herself that she’s not really drunk, and then, the next day, like the hungover ex-drunk whose pounding head makes all words seem…meaningless, and so that meaning must be forced into them–with a crowbar, if necessary.

Cut to two hours later. The scene: Me, sinking ever deeper into my high heels, stumbling about the poolside patio, saying my goodbyes so I could get the hell out of there and into a chair, somewhere, anywhere, and have a big platter of food plopped in front of my face.The Dopey Monkeys were taking hold.

I guzzled a lot of water at dinner and ate plenty of food—two activities that, in general, are supposed to ease the effects of the drink. But this time, for some reason, these tactics didn’t work. By the time I got home, around 10:30 p.m., I was, quite literally, passing out.

I tried to stay up to read some very important creative documents produced by my talented better half, but I was so overtaken by the aftermath of the monkey drinks that I found myself tipping over and apologizing, “I’m sorry, but I have to stop. I can’t go on!” (BAD girlfriend, bad.)

My head could not hit my pillow soon enough. I vaguely remember some silly pillow talk ensuing, but alas, as of this evening, I can’t remember what was said (a failure of the highest order).

What I do remember is waking up. And not being able to wake up. And muttering something nonsensical into my pillow to the effect of, “No get up. Stay home and break the rules. Okay. Okay.”Of course, I didn’t stay home (or break any rules, I hope), because I’m too responsible to call in sick on a semi-deadline day. I did, however, vow this morning that it would be a long, long time before I would consume a Dopey Monkey again—a vow I proceeded to semi-break this afternoon, when I agreed to hit the same poolside bar at a date to be determined with a pal who did not have the pleasure of attending the happy hour last night and therefore missed out on the banana-flavored trauma I was lucky enough to endure.

Brilliant grammar-use–you can almost hear the suppressed slurring in her voice.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that Nonsense Verse is all sly, sidewinder humor and technical virtuosity. It isn’t. When J wants to go for the jugular, there’s a machete in her hand. Like a lot of female writers, it seems, J can be devastatingly funny when she’s pissed. In a post with the gripping title (pun intended) ‘And now, it’s time to play ‘Hide the Penis’, J is less than thrilled with the reasons given by a ‘source’ for cutting the scenes when Colin Farrell goes full-frontal in his new film. They were cut, it would seem, because ‘the women got over-excited.’ (Apparently, the sheer size of him was the ‘issue’.)

But there was one thing that irked me about this item, and that is this: What is the big freaking deal about women having something to get over-excited about? Let them be excited, I say. And let the damn blokes be uncomfortable. How do you think women feel, honestly, when they’re sitting in a theater, next to their man of the moment, while scarfing down Super Value Buckets of popcorn, and some ultimate babe on screen, like Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry or Salma Hayek or any other big-titted, skinny-waisted, slim-thighed goddess you can think of, takes off all her clothes, hoo-ah, for all to see?I’ll tell you what the usual reaction is:

The men get over-excited.

The women feel uncomfortable.* Very uncomfortable. Insecure. Small-breasted. And FAT.

But you don’t see studio execs gettin’ antsy about that, do ya? No, no.

“It’s good that the guys are excited,” the studio boss says. “Excited men are happy men. And happy men buy things. Including return tickets. And DVDs–hoping for exxxtra-special bare-breasted footage.” [Nudge nudge, wink wink.]

And the women?

“The women?”

Yes, the women, sir.

“What about the women?”

What do you say to the women’s reaction to that double-D cup on the big screen up there? What if the women seem a little uncomfortable?

“Well, that’s easy: Let ’em squirm.”

Right? So just this time–and especially in light of all this extra publicity the Farrell film is now getting (it’s called “A Home at the End of the World,” btw)–I say come on, studio executive guys: Bring on the penis!

Or, perhaps more appropriate: Throw us a bone!

I can’t top that.

Nonsense Verse is fun, clever, and occasionally inspired by sublime goofiness (check out “Gulliver the Travel Monkey

Gulliver was born in Chicago, Ill., on Aug. 6, 2004. His owner rescued him from a throwaway $1 toy bin at a hip urban clothing/home store, and into the world he hatched—a fully formed jet-setting primate.

Gulliver’s travels began just hours after his liberation, when he boarded a sleek, 36-foot sailing vessel and set out on the Great Lakes to take in his great fortune. The fresh air! The spectacular views! The bird doo-doo on the poop deck! Ah, freedom smelled so sweet.

–see what I mean?) Perfect for summer–or anytime your blues get so old they start turning green. Her titles alone (as you could probably tell from some of the above examples) are worth a visit. Jennifer herself is worth many.

She’ll be worth a few more if only she’ll relax about the grammar ‘thang’.




One response

11 06 2007
Catching Up 2 - The Journals « LitBlogs

[…] the first category is Jen Balderama of Nonsense Verse (original review is here). Although she doesn’t post often, when she does she rarely misses. Her writing has deepened […]

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