Robert Reich
The Coffee Klatch with Robert Reich
What the hell should I do with my Cabinet chair?

What the hell should I do with my Cabinet chair?

(You know you’re retiring when they take away your office.)


Retiring from the university means I have to vacate my office. The university has already scheduled a cleaning and new paint job (as if my years of habitation have somehow infested it).

What to do with my books? I’ve accumulated several hundred over the years, now scrunched together on shelves running floor to ceiling. I’ve considered carting them to the student common room with a sign reading “free books” but can’t yet bring myself to part with them. Many are like old friends. They’re filled with my underlinings and marginal notes. A few have traveled with me for 50 years. How can I just put them out?

The biggest immediate problem is my Cabinet chair — the chair I sat in at Cabinet meetings when I was secretary of labor.

By tradition, Cabinet members purchase their Cabinet chairs when they leave the government. When I left the Labor Department 26 years ago, my staff bought the chair for me as a going-away gift. I was touched at the time. Now, I’m befuddled.

It’s heavy and ugly — a clunky late 18th century design that’s been standard in the Cabinet room since William Howard Taft was president.

It’s also huge. When I sit in it, my legs shoot straight out like Lily Tomlin playing Edith Ann.

And it’s personalized. When you join the Cabinet, a small engraved brass plate is attached to the back of your Cabinet chair showing the date you started (in my case, January 21, 1993). Another is attached when you leave, with the date of your departure (January 12, 1997).

Together, they feel like a tombstone.

There’s no place for my Cabinet chair in my home. Even if there were, I wouldn't ever sit in it.

What should I do with it? Craigslist? Too undignified. eBay? Inappropriate. Auction it off and give the proceeds to charity? Too complicated.

It would be best, I think, if the White House would just take it back and reuse it for another Cabinet official (minus my tombstone).

I called the White House switchboard yesterday, but the kindly person on the other end of the line didn’t know how to respond.

“Hello, I’d like to return my Cabinet chair,” I said.

“Which Cabinet office would you like to be connected with, sir?”

“Sorry, you misunderstood me. I want to give back my Cabinet chair.”

“We don’t dispose of chairs, sir.”

“It’s a Cabinet chair.”

“We don’t dispose of cabinets, either.”

“No, I want to recycle the chair I sat in when I was in the Cabinet.”

“You want the White House to recycle?”

“Just my Cabinet chair.”

“Sorry, sir, we cannot handle your request. Thank you for calling the White House.”


Anybody want a big, ugly, heavy, former Cabinet chair?

Source: S. E. Forman Essentials in Civil Government, A Text-Book for Use in Schools (New York: American Book Company, 1908) 178


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