Campaigns & Barn Washings

I first wrote and published this in the summer of 2016 when the campaign for President was in full swing, when there was still hope in the air amidst the disgust of the fraction of a man the Republicans had put up as their candidate, when it seemed the United States couldn't go that far off the tracks. We know better now. Maybe I should have just moved to the country, preferably in Canada, to a beautiful place with an old barn, one in need of washing.

The piece has been updated slightly and has a fresh ending free of charge to all you who read it.

In today’s email I received messages from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and from Mike, a man offering to wash my barn. It’s a great day to be alive.

The campaign informs me that we are not meeting fundraising goals. At my old school, I used to run candy sales and manage the money at chicken barbecues to finance trips that management had stopped supporting but were no less vital to the kids and our school. I taught English some of the time but seemed to take as much time raising money, pushing kids to sell Butterfingers and Hershey bars. In the process I may have learned all I ever need to know about running a national campaign. It mostly has to do with not hitting fundraising goals and letting everyone know how much harder they need to work. I feel the campaign's pain.

Unlike candy sales and chicken barbecues, the campaign holds less promise of adventure as payoff. I mean, we'll get Hillary Clinton as President, someone up to the job, informed, albeit part of the machine. As long as we don't get the ass-clown the Republicans are putting up, it will be worth it. But that's slim reward compared to the school fundraising. We took kids on three-day trips to a great Adirondack camp and one-day trips into Manhattan. In the mountains there were kayaks and horseshoes and campfires with s’mores. In the city kids wandered Chinatown, bought Foakleys, ate the great pizza on Earth, and had the chance to slip supervision and score some NYC weed. Hillary is nice and all, but kind of like the under-ripe peach I’m reluctantly eating as I type this. It’s not exactly bad, but I can’t get excited about it.

What I do get excited about is barn washing. I don’t own a barn or the land on which to build one. I’m a writer not a farmer, but I have read Wendell Berry and E. B. White enough that it’s time to get out of the books and into a barn. Mike, the barn-washing fellow, first contacted me while I was on vacation in Florida. He sent prices and a schedule for doing the work. I told him his prices were good so far as I could tell, but that my experience with barn washing is limited by not having a barn. There was the chance that my brother, visiting our house to tend the cats and always on the lookout for a project, might have built one out back of our house. Even so, would such a new barn already require washing? I thanked him but regrettably declined the offer.

Mike sent more email a week later. We were home by then and I looked out the back windows imagining the barn, the chickens, a pig, and a cow. But I don't know anything about tending such animals and the city zoning is pretty strict about such things, so I erased the animals and just imagined the barn which seemed a pleasant place where maybe I could set up a writing desk near a wood stove. The whole thing felt more and more appealing with each passing moment. Mike's prices in this new email were the same so I knew he was an upstanding guy. In a P.S. he wrote, “Brian, let me know if you get this email. The last time I sent it to the wrong address.” Following instructions to the letter, I wrote back saying that I had indeed gotten his email and was reconsidering the wisdom of going through life without a barn to wash.

Today’s message, Mike's third, delighted me as I had gone weeks without speaking to him and, I’ll admit, had forgotten about barns dirty or clean. Sadly though, the message was just a repeat of the the second message and included the same P.S. I imagined Mike just in from a barn washing, his wet boots left on the map by the back door. He was at the computer thinking, this time I'll get the right Brian. But no. I, however, was undaunted. I wrote back immediately: “You’ve convinced me. I’m beginning construction of a barn tomorrow. Should be ready for a wash shortly thereafter.” I tell you, I’m still excited about it. I hope Mike is as well.

The Clinton campaign needs to generate this kind of excitement. A barn! What could be more exciting? I have visions of the Amish (and Harrison Ford) coming to raise the frame. My brother and I could side and roof it. Maybe I would get that cow and pig, those chickens and learn to tend them in secret so as not to invite a code violation from the city. Still, no matter how quiet I keep things, they are bound to make a mess. Then I’ll contact Mike to see if the prices still hold and we can schedule a washing. I bet he’ll be excited too.

There's a chicken barbecue every year about this time at a church in the Valley just down from the best ice cream I’ve ever known. The Clinton people can join my brother, Mike, and me for dinner and dessert. We can talk about candy sales, class trips, and livestock while pulling that sweet chicken off the bone. Then we can get ice cream in cones and drive to my house where I'll take them out back and show them the barn. It will be freshly cleaned and Mike will accept the pats on his back and maybe engage a few more barn owners in cleanings. We can finish our ice cream cones and feel what it takes to make people excited about big projects.

I can see it all now. The August sun is shining. We're all full from chicken and ice cream. The pig has come to the edge of its pen to be scratched. There are a few eggs in the barn. The cow is ready to be milked. The night is warm and the company is good. Mike is laughing at something one of the Clinton campaign people has just said. My brother is showing another the hayloft and rope swing inside the door. I stand in the yard marveling at the barn feeling that in this America, nothing could ever go too wrong.

Somewhere far away a cheer goes up for a strange and terrible man shouting incoherently about building dirty walls instead of barns made all the more beautiful by Mike's careful washing. The campaign really needs to raise more money.