Some satirists knock you over with their sarcasm. That’s not Bonny Belgum’s style. She finds the outrageous in the every day, and her view of the idiosyncrasies of American life and culture may have you alternatively guffawing, grimacing and nodding in agreement.
Belgum, a Minnesota-grown humorist who wrote a humor column for the Minnesota Women’s Press for five years beginning in 1989, has put together a collection of 61 essays that were published in a variety of venues between 1989 and 1998. The slim volume is called “Bonny’s World,” and we talked with Belgum about the personal and the political, the hilarious and the sublime. It was a phone interview: Belgum, who lives on a hobby farm outside Taylors Falls, is recovering from a broken foot, which happened when her lame potbellied pig, Porquay, stepped on it.
Bonny Belgum reads from “Bonny’s America”
Sept. 25, 7 p.m. at Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, 4755 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. at The Bookcase of Wayzata, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata
The writing life
While some writers can trace when they began to write or decided to make writing their life’s work, Belgum grew up a writer. “It’s just what I did,” she said. “In high school I wrote what we’d now call memoirs or journals. I just called them ‘my notebooks.’ It wasn’t humor; that wasn’t a humorous time for me. I thought they were my salvation.
“Anytime I was out somewhere, if someone said something I wanted to capture, I’d scribble it down on whatever was available. One time I had a pen that was out of ink and I scratched an imprint on a gum wrapper.”
Like most good humorists, Belgum’s not afraid to go against the grain. An example of this is her attitude toward gainful employment, which she wrote about in her essay, “Working 5 to 9.” Belgum explained, “Erik (Belgum’s husband) and I were very clear when we met that we would both work part time.” Because the two loved to travel, “sometimes that was intermittent part time,” she said. “Working 5 to 9 begins with a salvo: ‘All I’m saying is, it’s not healthy, this assumption you have to work, everybody does it, and the sooner you adjust the better.'” Belgum explained in the essay that she doesn’t consider “rewarding” to be work, “I’m talking about rat-in-a-maze work.”
Taking on the big boys
Belgum explores the world that she and millions of other Americans inhabit-that of no employer-provided health insurance. Although her particular health plan-“The Cadillac of HMO’s,” with a monthly premium to match-is in her sights, she also lampoons the lack of adequate coverage of mental health services. In describing many health plans’ limited mental health coverage, she wrote, “Well, I think next time we should work on a concrete suicide prevention plan for you so that-whoops, your time’s up, and so are your 10 sessions.” She sums it all up aptly: “The insurance companies posit that your body and your head are two things, separated at birth, and darned if they’re going to ensure them for one price.” She hits home with her solution to the high cost of dental care: “Deny the x-ray. Not only do you save some hundred bucks, you save the potential costs of filling replacements, dental surgeries of all kinds, even cavities. … See no evil, pay no bills. It’s so exciting to be an adult.”
While feminists worldwide expressed their outrage at the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, some at great length, Belgum does it effectively in just six paragraphs. Likewise her take on the “selfishness” of childfree living, the vetting of the wives of prospective male executives, and why her grandma, preparing to move to the nursing home, got rid of her collection of china cups but held on to the petrified hairball from a cow’s stomach.
Petrified hairball? You’ll have to read the book to figure that one out.