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Extraordinary Demands

A shower that had volume and force was one of life’s few comforts.


Serving the first family goes well beyond dealing with the world’s most trying hotel guests: if they wanted napoleons from the bakery at the Watergate Hotel (as Tricia Nixon often did), then that’s what they got. If they needed someone to listen without judgment as they talked about the excruciating decisions they had to make every day, then a sympathetic ear was provided. But some presidents have made demands that proved impossible to meet.

President Lyndon Johnson, a crass, boisterous character, was rarely satisfied with anything. (“Move it, damn it, move your ass,” he was heard to cry throughout his administration. “When are you going to get the lead out of your ass?”) Butler Wilson Jerman remembers serving shrimp creole and rice to the president on the Truman Balcony. The tray of rice came with two serving forks. “He looked up at me and said—I’m not gonna use [the exact words] he said, but, ‘How you think I’m gonna get this rice outta here with two forks?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President. I’ll get a spoon right away.’”

Johnson’s intensity, and his outright bullying, caused many staffers to go out of their way to avoid him. “The clearest sign of how different he was from other presidents was that normally a half a dozen staffers and hangers-on would walk the president from the Oval Office to the residence,” said former chief usher Rex Scouten. “With President Johnson, only the Secret Service agents walked home with him.”

Doorman Preston Bruce first ran afoul of Johnson on the very day the Johnsons moved into the White House. That day, the president invited more than two hundred people to a reception in the family’s private quarters, bringing together former Kennedy advisers and his staff. Bruce was struggling to handle the elevator alone when suddenly he saw the light blinking off and on. That could only mean the president was calling for it. And he was not happy.

By the time Bruce made it to the second floor Johnson was fuming. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting and waiting for this elevator!” the president screamed, puffing out his chest and looming over Bruce—giving him what came to be known as “The Treatment,” which he used to intimidate members of Congress.

“Mr. President,” Bruce said, not ceding his ground. “I’ve been trying to get your guests out of the house. I know how to do it, but I must have time.”

Johnson continued bellowing at Bruce in front of Kennedy staffers Ted Sorensen and Ken O’Donnell. Bruce was humiliated. “I will not work here any longer, being treated like this!” he told Usher Nelson Pierce later that night. “I’m never going to get over President Kennedy’s death.”

The next day, Johnson acted as though nothing had happened—and Bruce decided that the only way to manage this new difficult president would be to refuse to back down. “It was obvious to me that if I started scraping and bowing when he lost his temper, that would be the end of me.” Bruce knew Johnson was a bully from the start, what he respected was strength. “If I was right and stood my ground I’d have a friend for life.” It turns out Bruce was right: before he left office, Johnson credited the doorman with being one of the people who helped him survive the job. The thirty-sixth president was complicated.

Johnson loved toilet humor and aroused roars of laughter once he got going. One day he broke a toilet seat and “all hell broke loose,” according to Electrician and Dog Keeper Traphes Bryant. An extra-large wooden seat was ordered as quickly as possible. Far from being embarrassed, Johnson bragged to his male friends about his new custom seat and styled himself somewhat of an expert on the subject. “He knew the good points and the bad points of all the kinds he could have had: plastic, nonplastic, bamboo, flowered, Grecian, or Early American.”

Johnson would tell his friends: “Now don’t anyone dare say it’s to fit the Number One ass of the nation.”

Johnson, who started his career as a high school teacher, roamed the halls of the White House, giving everyone—including his family—letter grades on their performance. He stuck his head into the different shops in the basement, shouting a grade at each worker.

Once he stuck his head in the Electrician’s Shop and told Bill Cliber: “Today you got an F.” Cliber doesn’t remember why.

Then again, said Butler Herman Thompson, “Sometimes we would have a dinner and after the dinner was all over and the guests were gone he would come in and he would say, ‘Hey fellas. You all did a good job tonight.’”

Plumbing Foreman Reds Arrington, who got his nickname because of his mane of bright red hair, may have found Johnson amusing at first, but he was soon made completely miserable by the president’s eccentric demands. Arrington, who started in the WhiteHouse in 1946 and retired in 1979, passed away in 2007, but his wife, Margaret, wrote down many of his stories. She remembers how Johnson’s erratic schedule affected their lives and the lives of their three daughters. “We were at a restaurant in Annapolis and they came through saying ‘White House calling Mr. Arrington, White House calling Mr. Arrington.’ I just thought that was so funny. It was President Johnson wanting something done with his commode.”

Johnson tortured Reds with his obsession with the water pressure and temperature of his shower. No matter what the staff did, the water never came hard enough or hot enough for Johnson. When the president was in a mood to dole out letter grades, the shower got an F every time.

Johnson’s shower fixation was made clear from the start to the still-grieving staff. On December 9, 1963, just as Chief Usher J. B. West was returning from his first day off since President Kennedy’s assassination, he was summoned to meet with President Johnson at the Ground Floor elevator landing immediately. It was two days after the Johnsons had moved into the White House, and the president had a pressing matter to discuss.

“Mr. West, if you can’t get that shower of mine fixed, I’m going to have to move back to the Elms,” he said sternly and walked away. The Elms was the Johnsons’ Washington, D.C., mansion and it was equipped with a shower like nothing the staff had ever seen: water charging out of multiple nozzles in every direction with needlelike intensity and a hugely powerful force. One nozzle was pointed directly at the president’s penis, which he nicknamed “Jumbo.” Another shot right up his rear. It elicits chuckles now, but Johnson’s shower fixation came to define his relationship with some of the residence staff.

Johnson wanted the water pressure at the White House to be just like his shower at home—the equivalent of a fire hose—and he wanted a simple switch to change the temperature from hot to cold immediately. Never warm.

A few minutes after West got his dressing-down from the president, Lady Bird Johnson asked to speak with him in the small Queens’ Sitting Room on the second floor.

“I guess you’ve been told about the shower,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Anything that’s done here, or needs to be done, remember this: my husband comes first, the girls second, and I will be satisfied with what’s left.” (She told Executive Chef Henry Haller the same thing: “Your main role will be to make the president happy.”)

The Kennedys never complained about the shower, so the engineers were at a loss. A team was sent to the Elms to study the plumbing, and Reds was even sent to the Johnsons’ ranch near Stonewall, Texas (nicknamed the “Texas White House”), to increase the water pressure and heat there to nearly scalding temperatures. When he found out that a new shower for the president would require laying new pipe and putting in a new pump, Johnson demanded that the military pay for it. The project, which cost tens of thousands of dollars, was paid for with classified funds that were supposed to be earmarked for security. “We ended up with four pumps, and then we had to increase the size of our water lines because the other parts of the house were being sucked dry,” Arrington told Lifemagazine.

Margaret Arrington remembered Johnson calling Reds himself while he was sitting in the Plumber’s Shop, located underground between the White House and the West Wing. “If I can move ten thousand troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it!” Johnson howled, his voice echoing down the halls of the White House.

Reds spent more than five years consumed by that shower; at one point he was even hospitalized for several days because of a nervous breakdown. Johnson was so obsessed that he brought his own special shower nozzle when he traveled, along with dozens of cases of Cutty Sark whiskey. Johnson also wanted his bathroom to be incredibly bright, and asked for mirrors to be installed on the ceiling. Reds and his team installed so many lights that they had to put in fans to keep the heat down. The shower’s extreme temperatures regularly set off the fire alarm.

One day, Margaret said, when Reds looked in Johnson’s shaving mirror, he screamed. “He could see all the veins on his face. He said it was scary!”

More and more people, including members of the Park Service, were summoned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in an effort to fix the shower crisis. Usher Rex Scouten even jumped in the shower in his bathing suit to test it out. “It threw him up against the wall, it was so strong,” Margaret said. “Reds said he came out as red as a lobster.”

Five replacement showers, including one custom-built by the same manufacturer that designed the shower at the Elms, were installed, but they wouldn’t do. The plumbers even had a special water tank installed with its own pump to up the pressure, and added six different nozzles located at different heights so that the spray would hit every part of the body. The pumps sprayed hundreds of gallons of water per minute—more than a fire hose. Still not good enough.

Cliber, who started at the White House when he was just twenty years old and stayed on for forty-one years, said Johnson once asked him to come into his bathroom and watch him test out the shower.

“Are you ready for a man’s test?” the president said, standing stark naked in front of the electrician, one of the dozens of staff members brought in to address the domestic crisis.

“I’m going to throw it to you this time,” Cliber said.

“Okay, give it your best shot,” Johnson said as he jumped in.

When Cliber turned the shower handle on, Johnson yelped in pain, the pressure was so intense. “Whoa! What are you doing to me?” But a minute later he was screaming in ecstasy. “Wait, this feels good! Whoa!” It blasted him against the wall and he came out beet red.

And yet it still wasn’t quite right.

The last day Arrington saw Johnson in the White House, the president was sitting on the toilet. Reds had to work on something in the president’s bathroom and was standing outside, waiting for the president to come out.

“Come on in,” Johnson bellowed.

Reds walked in sheepishly.

“I just want to tell you that the shower is my delight, and I appreciate everything you did.”

For Reds, that one small sign of gratitude made those stressful years less painful to remember. Margaret said that Lady Bird invited them to their Texas ranch for “one more hoorah!” after Johnson died. “It was just wonderful. We had a picnic supper and I was with movie stars and generals and, gosh, I was just eating it up!”

Johnson’s older daughter, Lynda, would later thank Reds and his wife in person: “When Daddy was happy we were all happy, and we thank Mr. Arrington for that!”

When I interviewed her younger sister, Luci, she was more reflective about her father’s shower obsession. “A shower that had volume and force was one of life’s few comforts,” she told me. She is keenly aware of her father’s legacy and how it has been marred by Vietnam. “I’m sure he probably expressed very specific guidelines and expectations and probably expressed them with a firm hand. But it’s not much to ask for when you are the leader of the free world, getting that small little bit of solace and creature comfort.”

And yet, as soon as Lyndon Johnson was gone from the White House, his shower was too. Richard Nixon took one look at the elaborate setup and said: “Get rid of this stuff.”


DESPITE HIS EXTRAORDINARY demands, LBJ had the complete loyalty of his staffers. Social Secretary Bess Abell, who affectionately called Johnson “the big boss,” came in for some intense presidential pressure. After Abell gave birth to her first son, Johnson called her at the hospital and asked, “What did you name that boy?” When she told him “Daniel,” he replied: “Oh too bad, if you’d named him Lyndon, I’d have given him a heifer calf.”

She was sure to name her second son “Lyndon” after that. “He wanted everyone to name their baby after him,” she said.

Lynda Bird Johnson Robb said that her father “considered it a supreme compliment” when people named their children after him. And he was never afraid to push. One of Lynda’s friends told her about a conversation she had with her father before her son was born. “You’re going to name the baby Lyndon, aren’t you?” Johnson asked her, his imposing six-foot-three-inch frame looming over her.

“No, we have this name we picked out,” she stammered.

When she saw the disappointment on his face she added: “But you know we love all of the Johnsons, and so we’re going to give our boy ‘Johnson’ as a middle name.”

Lynda laughed at the memory. “I don’t know if that was really for us or just to make Daddy a little happier!”

When he first took office, Johnson ordered a budget reduction in every executive department. Convinced that an enormous amount of electricity was being wasted at the White House, he terrorized anyone who forgot to turn off the light when they left a room. The Eisenhowers had established a tradition that all the lights in the State rooms should be kept on until midnight, but Johnson demanded an end to that. He personally wandered the halls looking for any transgressions and if he saw a light on somewhere that he didn’t want to investigate himself, he called the Usher’s Office and asked them to find out who was there. If the room was empty, he became furious.

Carpenter Isaac Avery was working late one night in the Carpenter’s Shop when all of a sudden the room went pitch-black. “Goddammit, who turned off the light?” Avery yelled. There was a pause.

“I did,” a deep voice growled from the hallway.

Avery turned on the light switch and walked out into the hall to investigate. He saw the president standing there flanked by two Secret Service agents.

“I didn’t realize you fellows worked so late,” Johnson said, mellowing as he realized his mistake.

“I was finishing the frames for all those pictures you sent over,” Avery told him, stunned.

Another unlucky staffer was working in the Carpenter’s Shop, putting pull chains on some fluorescent lights, when Johnson caught him working with the lights on—in the daylight.

“He just went after him profusely,” Bill Cliber recalled, shivering at the memory.

Everywhere the residence staff went, Cliber said, they learned to carry flashlights for fear of getting caught in utter darkness.

Finally, one of Johnson’s requests seemed to go too far. The stairs were all lighted for safety, but the president was convinced this was burning too much energy.

“You have to turn off all the step lights,” Johnson told Cliber.

“Mr. President, you can’t turn the step lights out. This is a big building. Everybody thinks it’s only three stories high—it’s eight floors inside this White House [including two small mezzanine levels]. And these are all marble steps and boy, you slip on those and you hurt yourself.”

“Well, are you sure?” Johnson wanted so badly to keep those lights off.

“Yes, sir, I’m sure.”

“Okay, keep the lights on the steps,” Johnson replied, in a rare concession. Still, every once in a while he would stop into Cliber’s basement office and plead: “You still got those step lights on?”

The only person who really stood up to Johnson (even Doorman Preston Bruce had to be careful how he talked to his boss) was Zephyr Wright, the Johnsons’ family cook, whom they’d brought with them from Texas. She first realized that she had to “talk up to him” well before he became president.

One night Johnson came home at about eleven-thirty, and asked for dinner. Even for Johnson this was unusually late, so late that Wright had gone downstairs to lie on her bed and rest. When he called her to serve him, she forgot to turn off the lights before she went back upstairs. When he saw that the downstairs light was still on, he threatened to take the cost of the electricity out of her pay.

She was enraged. “Well you just do that, because I have always lived at home where I had to pay my own light bill. Nobody ever told me anything about turning off the lights. But if you would come home on time, you wouldn’t have to worry about me turning off the lights, because they wouldn’t be on if you’d get here on time.”

Her approach worked: “Of course after that he didn’t say any more to me.”


LYNDON JOHNSON WAS not the only White House occupant who tested the nerves of the staff. Ronn Payne remembers one day when Nancy Reagan called him into the West Sitting Hall on the second floor, where she was sitting under its large half-moon window.

“Ronn, the lights,” she motioned theatrically above her. “They’re not on.”

Payne, a florist, was far from an electrician. He looked around the room and noticed a light switch on the wall.

“I thought to myself, There’s a light switch right here. Do I turn it on and make her look like an ass, or do I say, ‘I’ll call the electrician?’”

He decided to hit the switch, turning on every light in the room. Like a queen, the first lady looked up at him and said, “Thank you,” without a trace of embarrassment.

“She was spoiled rotten,” Payne said, making a face. “When she wanted something she wanted it last month, and if you tried to persuade her [to change] from white freesia to white snaps because white freesia wasn’t available anywhere in the world, she would say, ‘You’ll find a way.’” And they did: the florists would have flowers flown in overnight from Europe just to satisfy her.

Still, Payne, like Chef Mesnier, says he appreciated how straightforward Mrs. Reagan was about what she wanted. And if you did as she asked, she was happy.

“I remember hearing her call for her personal maid one day and it scared the dickens out of me—just her tone. I never wanted to be on the wrong side of her,” said fellow florist Wendy Elsasser.

Cletus Clark, whose hours were supposed to be from seven-thirty in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon, remembers just how punishing his schedule was when Mrs. Reagan decided to redecorate the second and third floors.

“She didn’t ever want me to come home! We worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, and I’d see her around eight o’clock at night and she’d say, ‘Where are you going?’ I’d say, ‘I’ve got to go home.’” It got so bad, he said, that when he saw her in the West Sitting Hall he would walk down the stairs on the east side of the mansion so that she wouldn’t see him leave. “I just had to come home. After seven days a week, continuously, it wears and tears your body.”

Nancy Reagan had personal quirks that almost rivaled Lyndon Johnson’s. She could not abide long hair on women, and she made the housekeeping staff label her clothes with purchase dates and when the item was last worn.

She also had several collectibles she wanted proudly displayed at the White House, including a group of small hand-painted porcelain Limoges boxes, around twenty-five in all, to be arranged meticulously on a table. She also had a collection of porcelain eggs and a collection of plates. (“They had an incredible amount of stuff and that’s because they don’t have to clean,” Executive Housekeeper Christine Limerick said, with a wry smile.) If anyone moved any of them by even an inch Nancy Reagan would take notice. Likewise, she demanded that all her silver frames and expensive perfume bottles be arranged perfectly on the bathroom countertop—and be put back exactly in their original places after cleaning, or else.

Though she conscientiously avoids badmouthing her former bosses, Limerick makes an exception for the “very tough” Nancy Reagan. She vividly recalls the transgression that eventually led her to leave the White House for five years. “At the beginning of their administration there were several items that were broken: one by Housekeeping, one by the Secret Service, and one by the Operations Department.” Mrs. Reagan blamed Limerick. “She chewed me out. She really did.”

She went after Limerick with such venom, and for so long, that Chief Usher Rex Scouten eventually went up to the second floor to intervene. “Chris, you can go,” Scouten said, turning to speak to her and volunteering to take her place for the verbal beating. Later on he told Limerick why he’d saved her: “You’d heard enough.” The first lady then turned her wrath on Scouten, whom she adored so much that she actually named her Cavalier King Charles spaniel “Rex” after him. She even called Scouten “the second most important man in my life.” All that was not enough to spare him from the remnants of her tirade.

More than two decades later, Limerick is still shaken by the incident. She remembers exactly what was broken: “One was a Limoges plate; one was a candlestick; another time a Secret Service guy tripped on the table and some things fell.” They were all just accidents. But that didn’t matter to the first lady. “She actually was so upset that she had me pack up a lot of her personal belongings that she had out on the mantel in the private living quarters. They stayed packed up for several months. Then finally things settled down and we unpacked them again.”

After the blowup, Limerick decided on a new protocol to keep track of any potential problems. The residence maids dusted and straightened throughout the house every day, but once a month they would do a more extensive cleaning of each room. Going forward, Limerick decided to have the first family’s bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, and offices photographed before each monthly cleaning, so that she could have a record showing that everything was put back in its place.

The hardest part for Limerick was that she and the first lady had a close working relationship. Limerick even wrapped personal presents for the first lady to give to her friends. While she was taking heat from Mrs. Reagan, though, she could not defend herself; all she could do was continue to apologize, head bowed.

“In my whole career I never had a complaint about the linen or the beds,” she said. “The ladies who worked for me, they could put me to shame. And I can make a pretty good bed.”

In 1986, after working at the White House for seven years, she left to return to the Mayflower Hotel. She then spent a couple of years in Hawaii before going back to the White House in 1991. She admits that she left, in part, because the struggle to keep up with the first lady’s demands was wearing on her. “It wasn’t because Mrs. Reagan was who or what she was. It was because I realized that I was getting close to talking back.” That would have been a cardinal sin at the White House, and she knew it.

During Limerick’s five-year hiatus, her replacement would wreak havoc at the White House. The new head of housekeeping had problems coping with the stress of the job, and stories of her bizarre behavior eventually reached Limerick. According to Roland Mesnier, the chief housekeeper “went to the storeroom one day and requested to buy ten thousand teddy bears for the children of the world.” She actually filled out a purchase order for the stuffed animals, he says. Another time, according to florists Ronn Payne and Wendy Elsasser, she came to work with bright turquoise triangles painted on her eyelids. She was known for walking through the basement hallways spraying air freshener outside the staff office, yelling, “This place stinks!”

The Secret Service wanted the woman fired after these troubling signs, staffers said, but Limerick’s successor was allowed to stay. Limerick attributes the woman’s survival there to Barbara Bush, who was very “sympathetic” to her. Elsasser agreed; she felt that Mrs. Bush gave the troubled staffer so many chances because she wanted to see her get better. “Mrs. Bush has a heart of gold,” Chef Mesnier said. (In her interview for this book, Barbara Bush chose not to discuss Limerick’s successor, other than to confirm that she did have trouble handling the pressures of the job.)

Finally, the head housekeeper’s behavior was too much even for Mrs. Bush. One day, Skip Allen, the usher assigned to oversee the Housekeeping Department, was called upstairs urgently. Wendy Elsasser had been preparing to change the floral arrangements in the Center Hall entryway leading to Jenna and Barbara Bush’s bedrooms when the head of housekeeping grabbed a pillow (handstitched by the first lady) and threw it at her, screaming, “This is bullshit!” Jenna and Barbara stood by as the incident played out, terrified. It is unclear what set her off.

Once her grandchildren were involved, the first lady decided that Limerick’s replacement had to go. Allen helped to escort her out of the building as she screamed. “She was not going quietly,” he said.


WHEN SHE RETURNED to the White House, Christine Limerick found herself working under easier regimes—first for Mrs. Bush, then for Hillary Clinton. Some residence workers found Mrs. Clinton challenging to work with, but Limerick saw her as a positive presence in the residence.

“Hillary was very, very sympathetic to working women. She got along very well with the housekeepers; she communicated with all of them. She knew everybody’s strengths and weaknesses.” She knows that some of the men on staff might disagree with her assessment but chalks that up to a variety of factors. “Some of it was their fault,” she says of the men, but she also feels it reflected the first lady’s special consideration for the female staffers. “I believe in my mind that she was tougher on men than she was on women. She’d cut us a break if we did something wrong.”

Once, Limerick remembers, Hillary asked her to dye one of her turquoise suits a different color. “I’m usually pretty good with clothing,” she said with a giggle. “It was a washable fabric. It was a size ten when we started, and about a size two when I finished! And she thought it was funny.”

Bill Clinton wasn’t always as understanding. President Clinton is allergic to pine, but for Christmas the first lady wanted a real tree for a few days in the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor. The plan was to put the tree up around December 19, and take it down by December 28.

Limerick’s job was to lay out all the family’s personal decorations. Then the Flower Shop and the Electrician’s Shop would come up and put the lights up. Limerick knew how much the president liked putting up the decorations with Chelsea; it helped him feel like every other father celebrating Christmas with his family, if only for a few hours.

That year, though, the first lady wanted to get a head start. “The president has something this evening. Would you just put up almost everything except these two dozen here?” Hillary asked Limerick, pointing to a box of ornaments. The housekeeper did as she was asked. When the president came up to the second floor after the event and saw some of the decorations already hanging on the tree, he was furious.

“Who did this?” he yelled.

“Chris, the housekeeper,” a butler told him.

As the butler told Limerick later, the president mumbled something to the effect of, “Well, she better be careful about whether she’s going to have a job.”

Around midnight, one of the butlers called Limerick to tell her what had happened. She was worried but she trusted that Hillary would defend her. The next morning, a Saturday, she reported to the third floor to wrap presents for the family.

Mrs. Clinton came through the door, exasperated, “No good deed goes unpunished in this house. I’ve had a conversation with Bill, don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you,” Christine said, breathing a sigh of relief.

Another time, Limerick got a call at home from one of President Clinton’s personal valets saying that he didn’t like one of the tailors she had recommended. She had given him a list of about four. “This is at two in the morning,” Limerick marveled, “and the valet’s babbling about how the president’s mad and I better be careful.”

When she came to work the next day she called the president’s office. She was sick of hearing everything secondhand, and she was suspicious that the butlers and valets were making matters seem worse than they were, overinterpreting every little thing the president said, even embellishing things for dramatic effect.

“I understand I’m in some hot water because the president didn’t like the tailor,” she said to Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie.

“Wait a minute, the president’s right here,” Currie said, handing the phone to the president.

“Sir, I’m sorry.”

“It’s no big deal,” he told her, laughing it off.

All that panicking for nothing, she thought.

According to Skip Allen, the Clintons weren’t always consistent in their requests. “When they asked for something and you gave it to them, it wasn’t what they really wanted,” Allen said. “They didn’t know how to ask for exactly what they wanted, so they kept asking for things they thought they’d like but didn’t.”

Allen remembers one phone call from Hillary Clinton. The kitchen had brought out a particular chicken dish too often, she said, and she wanted the chef to stop serving it. “So I called the chef and I told him we have to take the chicken dish off the menu, that they didn’t want it anymore. And a couple of months later I get a call from the first lady saying, ‘Ask the chef, how come he never serves that chicken dish we like so much?’” He exhaled loudly. “That’s the way it went for eight years.”

The Clintons were just the opposite of the Reagans, staffers say. If they were up at one or two o’clock in the morning and couldn’t sleep, they would start rearranging furniture. According to Allen, who also oversaw the Curator’s Office, this furniture shuffling was a nightmare for the curators, who log every piece of furniture in the White House collection each year. “They just took it upon themselves to move a lamp from one room to the next, or a table or chair. Then, when the curators went up to take inventory, [the records] would say, so-and-so chair is in the study, and they [would] have to look all over the house for that chair because the Clintons had moved it up to the third floor in one of the guest rooms. . . . It just made everything so complicated.”

The Clintons also seemed oblivious to the protocols involving mealtime—and everyone was too scared to tell them. Chef John Moeller, who worked in the kitchen from 1992 to 2005, never knew when the first family wanted to eat, or how many people he would need to serve. “With the Bushes we consistently got a call ahead of time saying something like, ‘Two for lunch at twelve-thirty.’ With the Clintons, we wouldn’t know what was going to happen until it actually happened!”

A week after the Clintons moved in, Butler Buddy Carter ran into the kitchen in a panic to tell Moeller that the family was seated and ready for their dinner—now. “I have it, but I’ve got to get it hot, give me a minute,” Moeller told him. From then on he would always have a meal at the ready around lunch and dinnertime.

The Clintons’ friends and political aides also liked to give the staff advice, sometimes steering them in the wrong direction. “They told us that Mrs. Clinton used a certain type of shampoo and deodorant, so we went out and we bought maybe twenty containers,” Limerick recalls, laughing. “I learned how stupid that was because then [Hillary Clinton] said to me, ‘Chris, I don’t like this stuff.’”

Sometimes efforts to please the first family put White House guests in peril. Every year the holiday season brings an internal debate about how best to decorate the State Floor. Head Florist Nancy Clarke liked to place dozens of votive candles on the buffet tables, but Chef Mesnier insisted it was a fire hazard. But Mrs. Clinton wants them, Clarke insisted.

“One particular year, we had this lady wearing a fox around her neck. She leaned over the table to grab some cookies, and of course the votive ignited the fox because she came too close. Thank God we had a quick butler there who yanked the fox away from her and threw some water on it and extinguished the fire,” Mesnier recalled. “Of course after that, there were no more votives on my tables!”

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