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Nightmare on Elma's street

We have all had nightmare clients. It comes with the territory. It has to be handled with at least some level of grace and dignity or else the situation quickly degrades into something resembling a war.

But every now and then one comes along that seems to defy all logic or maybe has been sent by the devil himself to try one's patience.

For me, such was Elma and Ian, a seemingly normal couple who had moved here from New Zealand. They had accents that sounded almost musical to my Yankee ears. Unfortunately, it soon became a terror to hear this accent when I answered the phone. One or the other of them saying, "David, we have a majah problem with the cabinets …"

This job started out well enough. It was a U-shaped kitchen with a pretty simple door design and a paint-grade finish. They had their own painter and wanted her to do the finishing. I have always felt that there was little difference between finish- and paint-grade work, so we sanded to 220 before sending it out.

One of the big gripes was that the painted finish was rough. I tried to point out that the painter had done the work in the driveway on a windy day, using an airless rig, and the paint was full of dust. But the painter insisted that it was because we had not properly prepared the wood.

Another gripe was that there was a filler strip above the trash compactor that was wider than the one above the dishwasher. I tried to explain that this was because the floor had a 2" slope. They insisted that we should have installed the cabinets so that the height was the same everywhere, which would have put the countertops out of level.

This went on for a while and Elma kept crying, "Why can't I just have it the way I want it?" Her five-year-old daughter acted with more maturity.

We ended up in mediation. After several hours, the mediator had a stiff neck from rolling her eyes, Elma had a sore foot from stomping it on the floor, and I had a bad headache. Finally, in desperation, I did something I have never done before or since. I asked, "What do you want? Money? How about a $1,000. I'll pay you to go away!" Elma took the money and the whole fiasco came to a merciful end.

Again, a question: How do you handle situations like this?


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