Tuesday, February 13, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Life Is Movable Feast For Writer Calvin Trillin -- Of Hats, Humor And Fruitcake


Calvin Trillin strides into the executive suite at Bellevue's Hyatt Regency Hotel with hats on his mind, but none on his head.

It seems that Trillin, who writes a column for the New Yorker magazine, was talking about hats just that morning and he can't shake the subject. He loves hats.

He says he has a collection of hats from around the world. Trillin recommends looking for well-made hats at the airport in Portland. For some reason, there seems to be a fine collection of hats in the Portland airport, he says.

He will wear a hat when asked. But apparently, no one asked him to wear a hat on this visit to Bellevue.

Instead, Trillin was asked to do what he does best: talk. He also writes, but yesterday Trillin was talking as part of the Bellevue Town Hall Lecture series. He gets to talk about whatever happens to come to mind.

For example, the above paragraph is called a ``billboard paragraph'' by The New York Times. The billboard paragraph usually comes about third or fourth paragraph into a newspaper story and explains to the reader why they are reading the story, Trillin said.

Just because a person or story is interesting, Trillin said, isn't reason enough for The New York Times to write a story about that person or event.

Even on the subject of hats, Trillin feels a need to explain why they are on his mind this morning. Last week, a friend had a 50th birthday party and on the invitation was the request that everyone had to wear some kind of hat.

``I didn't have any trouble with trying to think of getting a hat,'' Trillin said. ``I have a fine collection of hats. I had a problem trying to find which one of the fine hats to wear.''

Trillin said he finally decided on a baseball cap that had an advertisement from a casket company printed on the front. Part of the advertisement included a casket being opened. Trillin said he wore a hockey mask featured in slasher movies as an accessory.

While Trillin hasn't written about food since 1982, he is still asked questions about where to eat, what to eat and what is good to eat. One article said Trillin ``is to food writing what Chaplin was to film acting.''

If it's anybody's fault that Trillin is so closely associated with food writing, it would have to be Trillin himself. He has written three books on the subject, a collection he calls ``my tummy trilogy.''

``I never cook,'' Trillin said about his own eating habits. ``I used to make scrambled eggs for my girls until they got old enough to boycott them.

``I really started writing about food as a comic relief for me, but I stopped doing that in 1982. I became an expert on the subject as soon as I said I didn't know anything about it. I still get phone calls from people, asking me where to find the best potato chips.''

Writing humor isn't an easy job. Trillin has a column that appears in newspapers across the country as well as in the New Yorker.

He says people don't understand that he is only kidding when he writes about such subjects as the only fruitcake in existence that circulates throughout the world. People write to tell him they like fruitcake. ``I call them my fruitcake nuts,'' he said. ``I want to get a rubber stamp that says, `Get a life,' and send postcards back to them.''

The next speaker at the Bellevue Town Hall lecture series will be Joan Mondale on March 19.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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