Watching Calvin Trillin last night at the Newmark Theater for the 25th anniversary of Portland Arts and Lectures (his fifth appearance with the series) was like watching Springsteen at the Super Bowl. Admittedly, there was a little less black leather, but Trillin definitely went through his Greatest Hits from over fifty years as a beloved humorist, essayist and reporter for Time
, The New Yorker
, and The Nation
His bit about spaghetti carbonara replacing turkey on Thanksgiving? Check. His bit about the Alice Tax, where "above a certain amount, the government would simply take everything"? Oh yes. All familiar jokes to long-time Trillin readers.
In Trillin's case—and in Springsteen's, I imagine—familiarity breeds fondness. I'd never heard his jokes told out loud before, and they were even better than on paper. At a certain point, I did become aware that I was fifty years younger than the average audience member (and Trillin himself). For example, I couldn't chuckle in recognition at how much my kid's college tuition costs, or murmur sympathetically about midlife crises. I'm from a different generation than the one that laughs at debutante ball jokes. Looking out at the audience was like looking at a forest full of snow-covered trees.
But one of Trillin's greatest assets as a writer is that he is just so darn likable. It was hard to mind the generation gap when he has a permanent spot in my imagination as the Neighbor Dad I'd always wanted, that I'd be friends with Abigail and Sarah, that we'd all go on vacations to France together and eat bouillabaisse. I clapped just as hard as everyone else when Trillin stepped off the stage.