I am a fan of Calvin Trillin. Now, there are those who might go so far as to say that I’m obsessed with the man, but they would be people who neither know me nor my ability to obsess all that well. I would guess that they would also be people who have never read any of his work (or were just sadly incapable of appreciating it), especially The Tummy Trilogy, one of my favorite books. Well, technically, it’s three books, each as brilliant and funny as the next, all together in one convenient binding, but you get the idea.
No, it’s not an obsession at all, which would be sick and wrong. It’s just that I think Calvin and I could be buds. I mean, we’ve got a lot in common, after all. For example, we’re both really into food and would consider it not the least bit strange to, say, drive for an hour to some parking lot if the cart operating out of it sold truly remarkable carnitas tacos. Also, we’ve both got great senses of humor. I know Calvin has a great sense of humor because I’ve read all of his books and also several dozens of articles he’s penned for magazines like The New Yorker, Gourmet, and Time and they are always laugh-out-loud funny. You can’t write material that funny and not have a great sense of humor.
I know I’ve got a great sense of humor because in my nearly thirty years of existence, I’ve always been funny. Oh yeah, I can make them laugh. Like this joke I came up with I was seven after my brother broke his foot while dancing with the girl who lived next door (and who, strangely, seemed to be present just prior to most of Jeff’s emergency room visits in those early years). Anyway, at the time ABC used to have a show called something like “Wide World of Sports”, and they would start out the show by showing all these moments in athletic history with a voiceover that promised they would show us “The thrill of victory; the agony of defeat.” The last part, if I remember correctly, was accompanied by a visual of some skier wiping out in what seemed to my untrained eye, a particularly agonizing way. So my brother was laid up with his foot in a cast, and I think he was complaining about his foot itching or something, so I said “Oh, it’s the agony of da feet!” Which had everyone in stitches, and I was only seven. So you can imagine that years of practice have sharpened my wit into a fine and remarkable art. See, Calvin and I are both funny.
Calvin likes to write, and obviously, I do too. Calvin meets colorful people and writes about what they eat. I think that’s really cool. We both went to Yale (and just to prove that I’m not obsessed, I didn’t crash his 40th reunion to try to meet him, even though I could have, because that would have been obsessive, and therefore sick and wrong). Calvin thinks that Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City makes the best barbeque around, and I have no reason to doubt him. We’ve both written about turduckens, though he more thoroughly than I. And we both have these fantasies about some public figure coming to town and giving them a whirlwind tour of the best chow to be found. For Calvin it was, at least at one time, Mao Tse Tung. He referred to this imagined scenario as a Mao Run, and would describe how he would take Mao eating throughout New York’s boroughs, sampling the best of each item available in the city.
For me, surprisingly enough, it’s Calvin. I know exactly where I would take him the first morning after meeting him at his hotel and trying to act really casual that I was going to spend the next few days taking him on a tour of Seattle taste treats. So we’d start out for coffee and breakfast in Ballard and a place called Café Besalu, and I would gently suggest that although all of their baked goods are well above average, the ham and cheese pastry is truly outstanding. When we had eaten, we would head back to the car, which, for whatever reason, we had parked on Ballard Avenue, and I would point out Madame K’s Pizza and inform him that she did a very good rendition of New Haven style pizza (which he would appreciate, having spent some very culinarily formative years in the Elm City), though sadly she sold no clam pie, and that we would be heading back here for dinner later in the weekend. Then we’d head downtown, and I would show him around Pike Place Market (which I’m sure he’s been to on many occasions, but not with such a chowhoundish guide) and I would point out Sosio’s, my favorite vegetable stand, where they would cut a sample of a particularly juicy peach or an amazingly crisp apple for him to try. Then we would continue down to Pure Foods fish market where we would sample some of their hard smoked salmon and buy a good piece for snacking on later. At that point, Calvin would turn to me and say, “Hey, Paulette,” and I would reply, “What’s up, Calvin?” He would then tell me that I should call him Bud, like his other friends do, and I would be really flattered and try to record the moment in its every detail for later storytelling purposes because, I mean, how momentous, that Calvin, I mean Bud, considered me a friend. And it happened at that very moment, standing next to the obscenely large Australian lobster tails with tourists bumping into us, mistakenly thinking that they were at the fish-throwing place further down the market (which Bud and I would have walked by earlier, and where he would have stopped a moment to watch the whole fish-tossing shebang, but then after a moment I would have explained to him that this other place we were headed did a much better smoke with their fish, and he would have broken away from the crowd and followed me because he would implicitly have understood that it was time to get our priorities straight). My lifelong dream had just come true and was magically transformed from a fan to a friend. Bud’s friend. I liked the ring of it. Somehow, everything would just sort of make sense, and the moment would just feel really huge.
Then Bud would kind of tap me on the shoulder to bring me out of my reverie and repeat what he had been saying for at least the last five minutes. “Hey, is there a good place to get lunch around here? I’m starving.” And I would steer my new friend Bud to the Market Grill, just across the way, and tell him that he should get the halibut sandwich, but not the chowder, because while it quite good, the soup at Jack’s Fish Spot is truly exceptional and not to be missed. Then I would say, “You know, the salmon sandwich here is fantastic, too. You might want to get both.” Bud would smile and nod, and maybe give me a little punch in the arm, because now we’re buds and that’s what buds do when they have a moment of understanding, and then, just to avoid being corny and drawing the moment out too long, I’d tell him that later we could stop by to get a bag of these really good mini-donuts that they make fresh throughout the day.