At any moment, someone from the White House information-systems department will come for my computer. I am not ready to give it up. A guy showed up in my office last night, looked at his clipboard, and said he was there to remove my computer’s hard drive. I explained that it was not in the national interest for him to do so, given that I am a speechwriter for the president with ongoing work to do. He agreed to come back sometime today.
The White House is in full bug-out mode. In every office, people are packing boxes of personal files and taking pictures off the walls. They work, as always, with their televisions on, tuned to CNN but with the mute button on. All day long, silent Democratic senators grilling silent Bush Cabinet appointees. Later, a mute Ricky Martin serenaded the soon-to-be first couple at a pre-inaugural celebration on the Mall a few blocks away from here.
In the hallway outside my office, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, staffers push hand trucks stacked with boxes to their cars. Most of us have finished boxing up the official files that are to be archived at the Clinton Library. The boxes are stacked on wooden pallets and covered in shrink-wrap, waiting to be loaded onto C-5 transport planes and flown to Little Rock, Ark. Every few minutes I get an e-mail from a fellow staffer saying what an honor and a pleasure it has been working with all of us (the e-mails are usually mass-mailed) and leaving forwarding information. A few of the e-mails are from people I’ve never met, but just the same, I’m printing them out and saving them.
One of the pleasures of this job is eating at the White House mess. I went there to pick up some carryout a couple of hours ago. It was my last mess meal, because by tomorrow morning I’m supposed to have settled up my bill. As I entered the first floor of the West Wing, I was shocked to see that another small pleasure had disappeared. Normally, the walls are hung with large recent photos of the president, called “jumbos.” These are selections of the best work of our brilliant White House photographers and feature the president in various recent settings (meeting with his Cabinet, shaking hands with children at a school, etc.). This morning, the jumbos were taken down, and the walls are now eerily bare.
The ceremonies on the Mall just ended with a fireworks display that rattled our office windows.