It’s Inauguration Day,* when we observe the peaceful transfer of power from one party — one individual — to another, a day when we breathe a momentary sigh of relief that, against all odds, the fragile fabric of the republic has held one more time, a day when, no matter our political affiliation or private beliefs, we celebrate our grubby, flawed, yet remarkably resilient system of governance.
It’s a happy day in our house. But my wife is a practical woman. She has questions about how this presidential transition thing is supposed to work.
She wants to know about the sheets.
Surely they don’t just wash them and put them back. Surely they burn them. Maybe the mattresses too. Maybe the beds.
When, exactly, do you start packing to get out of the White House, she wants to know? Who does the packing? How can we be sure they get everything out?
How do they clean the living quarters? Lysol? Ultraviolet light? A blowtorch? Do they tent the place during the inauguration and fumigate it?
Do they just replace the toilet seats, or the entire toilet?
They must check all the drawers for cracker crumbs, forgotten Brioni socks, the random Louboutin slingback, and golf club matchbooks. But what about the showers, and the orange colored hair caught in the drains? Is there time to replace the plumbing?
What does it smell like? Do they light scented candles? Burn incense? Do feng shui? Rugs and carpeting must be a problem. Stains of uncertain origin, some indelible. Toss them too.
No inauguration speech is long enough to do a gut job on the living quarters. And even that might not be enough; there’s probably two hundred years of accumulated memory and anxious sweat and toenail clippings in there.
Just accept that it’s a temporary dwelling, a time-share, a short-term lease, that it always belongs to the next occupant, to our collective future, and we can all sleep better at night. At least the new resident already knows the place intimately, won’t be surprised or dismayed or impressed by any of it. And he’ll be gracious about it when the next guy or gal moves in.
But it’s his and his wife’s moving day, so let’s all say it, quietly, hopefully, happily: welcome to the White House, Joe.
*For a study in contrast with today’s ceremonies, please read this post from Inauguration Day 2009.