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Calvin Trillin | The Nation

Calvin Trillin

Author Bios

Calvin Trillin

Verse Columnist

Calvin Trillin, the author of Random House's Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Election in Rhyme, is The Nation's "deadline poet." He has been acclaimed in fields of writing that are remarkably diverse. As someone who has published solidly reported pieces in The New Yorkerfor forty years, he has been called "perhaps the finest reporter in America." His wry commentary on the American scene and his books chronicling his adventures as a "happy eater" have earned him renown as "a classic American humorist." His About Alice—a 2007 New York Times best seller that was hailed as "a miniature masterpiece"—followed two other best-selling memoirs, Remembering Denny and Messages from My Father.

Trillin was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, and now lives in New York. He graduated from Yale in 1957, did a hitch in the army, and then joined Time. After a year covering the South from the Atlanta bureau, he became a writer for Time in New York.

In 1963, he became a staff writer for The New Yorker. From 1967 to 1982, he produced a highly praised series of articles for The New Yorker called "U.S. Journal"—3,000-word pieces every three weeks from somewhere in the United States, on subjects that ranged from the murder of a farmer's wife in Iowa to the author's effort to write the definitive history of a Louisiana restaurant called Didee's "or to eat an awful lot of baked duck and dirty rice trying." Some of the murder stories from that series were published in 1984 as Killings, a book that was described by William Geist in the New York Times Book Review as "that rarity, reportage as art."

From 1978 through 1985, Trillin was a columnist for The Nation, writing what USA Today called "simply the funniest regular column in journalism." From 1986 through 1995, the column was syndicated to newspapers. From 1996 to 2001, Trillin did a column for Time. His columns have been collected in five books.

Since 1990, Trillin has written a piece of comic verse weekly for The Nation. In 2004, he published Obliviously On He Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme. A sequel, A Heckuva Job, was published in 2006. Both were New York Times best-sellers.

Trillin's books have included three comic novels (most recently the national best-seller Tepper Isn't Going Out) and a collection of short stories and a travel book and an account of the desegregation of the University of Georgia. Three of his antic books on eating—American FriedAlice, Let's Eat, andThird Helpings—were compiled in 1994 into a single volume called The Tummy Trilogy.

He lectures widely, and has appeared often as a guest on television. He has written and presented two one man shows at the American Place Theater in New York—both of them critically acclaimed and both sell outs. In reviewing "Words, No Music," in 1990, New York Times theater critic Mel Gussow called Trillin "the Buster Keaton of performance humorists."

Calvin Trillin is a trustee of the New York Public Library, a former trustee of Yale and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Articles

News and Features

He says he had no clue the stock would tank.
About the details he is still evasive.
Though "on the board but clueless" could sound lame,
With Bush, a clueless claim sounds quite persuasive.

They pledge allegiance to the thought
That every politician ought
To take a stand that's foursquare for the Lord.
They think if they say, "God is great!
Don't separate him from the state!"
Election is the blessing he'll afford.

"How long do I have?" James Pierson asked, trying to maintain eye
contact with the man behind the desk.

"Three months, eleven days, seven hours and forty-three minutes,"
David Barnett said.

"That specific?"

"Well, it's now the afternoon of August 19, 2010," Barnett said. "We're
advising people not to wait until the very last day. December 31 is a
time when there can be a certain amount of New Year's Eve chaos at
hospitals, and that could put the death certificate over until next
year, or at least muddy the waters if there's a question that ends up in
court. So, getting it done in 2010, if you're being prudent, means
getting it done before December 31, or three months, eleven days, seven
hours and forty-three minutes from now."

Pierson swallowed. He found the phrase "getting it done" off-putting.
Finally, he said, "I don't suppose there's a chance that this could be
reversed."

"Well, in theory there's always a chance," Barnett said. "The Democrats
could come back after recess and announce that they've changed their
minds, and, despite everything they've said in the nine years since
2001, they're going to make the repeal of the inheritance tax permanent,
but I don't think it would be wise to count on that happening."

"So it's now or never is what you're saying?" Pierson said.

"Well, it's this year or never. Look, under the provisions of the
original law, the exemption has been raised and the rates lowered every
year for the past nine years. It would have been shortsighted to die in
order to take advantage of any of those tax reductions, because this
year the tax is gone altogether. But the law still has its sunset
provision: It fades away on December 31, 2010, unless it's renewed. So,
given the Democratic majorities in both houses and the current deficit,
it's likely that starting January 1, 2011, the estate tax will be the
same as it was before the rates started coming down. From a tax
liability standpoint, there is no alternative to taking advantage of
this window of opportunity."

"No alternative?"

"Look, Jim," Barnett said, "Why are you in the business you're in?"

"Because the company had enormous paper losses that saved me a bundle in
taxes and the only thing it actually owned was shares in some airliners
that we depreciated the hell out of before we fobbed them off on some
bush airline in Central America."

"And why do you drive the vehicle you drive, even though the dozer
attachment makes it difficult to park in any space smaller than the
Wal-Mart parking lot?"

"Because we can write it off as farm equipment, of course," Pierson
said.

"This is my point," Barnett said. "You've always run your life according
to what makes sense from a tax-liability standpoint. You have a vacation
condo in Louisiana, where you exist in what amounts to a steam bath all
summer, because it's in a development that juts out into the gulf and we
figured out how to depreciate it as a shrimp boat. You and Margaret
tried to time the birth of your children for late December to get an
extra year's deduction. You've planted a lot of weird-looking trees so
we could have your backyard declared an experimental forest and take a
$14,000 loss every year, not to mention deducting what you pay the kid
to mow the lawn. I'm just your tax consultant, Jim. But it seems to me
that if you don't take advantage of the 2010 window, you wouldn't be
you."

"I'd be alive, of course," Pierson said. "There's that."

"But don't you see: You'd just be living for the government," Barnett
said. "Just because you live past 2010, 50 percent of your estate will
go right into Uncle Sam's pocket. What's the point?"

"Fifty percent!" Pierson blurted out--and then, before he realized what
he was saying, added, "I'd sooner die than give the government 50
percent!"

"Exactly!" Barnett said.

Pierson was silent for a while. Then, his voice still tentative, he
said, "Have you been making any suggestions about method? When you said
'window of opportunity' a moment ago..."

"No, no," Barnett said. "What we're recommending is a high-quality
hunting rifle. It's dependable, easy to operate and almost certain to be
completely undamaged by the incident, so that it can be passed on in
mint condition to the heirs--who, of course, would pay absolutely no
inheritance tax on it."

"A high-quality hunting rifle would be rather expensive," Pierson said.
"I don't suppose..."

"Yes, we believe that under a loophole in a rider to the Reserve Officer
Training Act, as rewritten in 1978, we have a way to deduct it," Barnett
said, "as long as you register your cellar as an Alternate Emergency
Munitions Collection Point."

Pierson nodded his head silently, and then said, "I wouldn't imagine..."

"Yes," Bartlett said. "We believe we've figured out a way that your
heirs could depreciate the hunting rifle."

"Over ten or fifteen years?"

"Six years," Bartlett said, beaming with pride.

"Six years!" Pierson said.

"Wow!" He nodded his head again, slapped his hands on his knees, and
stood up. Then he said, with new resolution in his voice, "That settles
it."

Agnostic's what he was, had always been.
He'd never prayed a prayer, confessed a sin.
He's thinking, though, if Martha goes to jail,
On Sundays henceforth he will never fail
To be in church. In fact, forevermore,
He'll be in synagogue the day before.
It's not as if this man's the sort of pill
Who wishes fellow human beings ill.
But he's convinced: If Martha takes the fall,
There is a God in heaven after all.

The camera pans across the room
To see what she has made:
An omelette or a spring bouquet
Or just an inside trade.

The EPA cites chapter, and some verse,
To show this warming's making matters worse.
It's getting worse no matter how you score it.
So here's the plan: They think we should ignore it.

One mystery I've tried to disentangle:
Why Cheney's head is always at an angle.
He tries to come on straight, and yet I can't
Help notice that his head is at a slant.
When Cheney's questioned on the Sunday shows,
The Voice of Reason is his favorite pose.
He drones in monotones. He never smiles--
Explaining why some suspects don't need trials,
Or why right now it simply stands to reason
That criticizing Bush amounts to treason,
Or which important precept it would spoil
To know who wrote our policy on oil,
Or why as CEO he wouldn't know
What Halliburton's books were meant to show.
And as he speaks I've kept a careful check
On when his head's held crooked on his neck.
The code is broken, after years of trying:
He only cocks his head when he is lying.

So what's it called if during war you criticize the President for any reason?
Treason.
And how long does this war go on (and this is where this theory's really pretty clever)?
Forever.

Likud says it does not anticipate
That Palestinians will have a state.
So they, in turn, are meant to stop this shrying,
And try to make their peace with occupying.