What, you may ask, is easygoing, noncommital (except when it comes to food) Calvin Trillin doing at The Nation, that most earnest and austere of political journals? Well, he's not writing political humor--not really; no, he's just having chiefly non-partisan fun in a political neighborhood, and so will readers of these 50 short columns from 1978-81. The very funniest pieces here, in fact, aren't about politics at all. They're about publishing (the blurb buddy-system, the show-bizzing of awards), about mushu pork, and--above all--about the editor of The Nation: ""Sticky Fingers Navasky,"" famed for humorlessness, stinginess (Trillin is paid ""in the high two figures"" for his columns), and his troubles with Gerald Ford's memoirs. (Navasky deserves some sort of award for printing these.) True, Trillin does come across with some mainline needling, and when he does it's sharper than Buchwald's gentle pokes: he quotes a Jordanian daily on Nancy Reagan's adoring, fixed smile (""the best argument we in the Moslem world have seen for the reinstitution of the veil""); he quotes, sort of, Arthur Schlesinger on Chappaquiddick (""essentially the same sort of experience"" as GW's at Valley Forge, ""except for taking place at different seasons of the year""); he has a few barbs for Reagan, for a Deputy Secy. of State who's not quite sure ""whether the monarch of the United Kingdom is Queen Elizabeth II or the Baal Shem Toy."" But, more typically, Trillin will start out sounding as if he belongs in The Nation and then. . . slide. . . into more congenial territory. To wit: ""Foreign policy analysts disagree about the cause of my increased willingness to make a scene while traveling in Europe."" So don't be scared off by the provenance of these largely cheery jottings; only when casually calling Henry Kissinger a ""war criminal"" does Trillin seem to be playing to his immediate audience. Most everywhere else this is the Trillin you know and love--too abbreviated to be consistently at his best, perhaps, but blithe and independent and (like Thurber) deceptively avuncular.