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The Myth of the Reliable Contractor

I thought I saw a reliable contractor once. Turns out he was hammered. My point is this: Ever notice how most contractors are a little flaky? Doesn’t matter whether it’s the guy installing a new furnace or the dude replacing your deck or your brother-in-law’s nephew repairing your washing machine. They all seem to have the same concept of customer relations: they’re slackers. They fail to call you back, they arrive two hours late – if they keep the appointment at all –and then they leave after just 30 minutes on the job because the one critical tool is back at the shop.

Why is this? Why are most contractors so unreliable? I did some research on the dark web and stumbled across a Deep Dark Secret – That’s what it’s called: A Deep Dark Secret – the course all contractors are required to take –  and are sworn never to reveal to their clients, the homeowners.

It is an intensive seven-week seminar on how to deal with difficult customers – by which they mean, well, anyone who hires them and expects the job to be done on time on price. Of course, getting the job done RIGHT will cost you extra. Every Joe plumber, electrician, and roofer must pass the course to get their license. I went undercover to expose this scam. Unfortunately, no one bought my act as Fred the Welder. Go figure. Eventually, though, I was able to obtain an exclusive copy of the course syllabus from a disgruntled former HVAC guy.

Program Overview

Don’t take crap from just anyone. Take it from us! In Customer Relations with Annoying People – or CRAP, for short, you’ll learn everything you need to deal with pushy homeowners. You know the type: the ones who expect you to do the job WHEN and AS promised. Never again let a trivial contract keep you from blowing off that roof job and going fishing instead. Follow the key principles in this seven-week program and before long, you won’t be taking CRAP from any customer [Disclaimer: Because you may no longer have any].

Week One: The Initial Visit: Setting the Trap

Arriving on time at the initial appointment is critical to landing the gig. But don’t worry – that’s the last time you need to show up on time. You will role-play a scene from our patented “First Impressions” in which you inspire unwarranted confidence in your workmanship with vague references to previous quasi-relevant experience to create the false impression you’ve actually done this kind of work before. 

Week Two: The Estimate: Tightening the Screws

This module teaches you to turn a 15-minute job tightening a screw with a Phillips into a major demolition project requiring an excavator and a cement mixer (hiding the bodies is an upper-level course). Experience the thrill of duping customers into believing that a minor leak (which you will secretly make worse) requires taking the main level down to the studs for fear their house will collapse into a giant sinkhole. Instilling fear is key.

A panel of experts discusses how to use obscure terminology to make any everyday project sound far more laborious and costly than it should be, with phrases like, “Hmmm, I see that your Angular Discharge Tube is not feeding properly into your Compression Valve. That’s a serious a problem…” 

Week Three: Over-Promise and Under-Deliver

Master the technique of promising to complete the job in three weeks under budget, then actually delivering it in three months at double the original estimate. This session explains how to set up customer expectations, then slowly chip away at their false hope by routinely arriving late, leaving early and complaining about vital parts being on back order. Participants break into “Plausibility Groups” to compile a list of credible-sounding excuses. Want to spend the day drinking? Learn to say, “My truck wouldn’t start” with a straight face using our patented mirrors for instant feedback. Masters candidates learn how to get the client to pay for a new engine for your truck. 

Week Four: Taking on Another Project That Pays Better

A key skill for all contractors is blowing off a current customer when a better-paying gig pops up halfway through the project. Learn how to rationalize that this isn’t unprofessional. Let’s face it, you’ve got the first customer in a bind, so they can’t really drop you this far into it. Is it possible to juggle six projects at once without pissing off everyone and ruining your reputation? Of course, not, but this session teaches you how that’s really not your problem.

Week Five: Avoiding Customer Calls

Otherwise known as “PTSD: Practical Tips and Strategies for Deadbeats” – The How-To guide for avoiding customer contact when they begin to wonder if you’ve fallen off the face of the earth. Popular ploys include deleting messages without listening to them and turning off the phone for days at a time. It is crucial to avoid engaging with pesky clients asking why the kitchen light switch now sparks every time they flip the switch.

Week Six: Ignoring Complaints

If you’re a contractor, customer complaints are a given. Learn how to feign concern by promising to fix the issue without committing to any time frame. Skill-building exercises include blaming the customer for any misunderstanding and how you’d be happy to finish those previously promised repairs for an additional $1,000. We will briefly explore the ethical question, “Who says the customer is always right?” 

Week Seven: Over-Billing

This session equips you with a glossary of indecipherable construction-sounding terms to assist in padding your final bill. Easily transform a $50 service charge for shutting a valve into a $795 invoice for Pressure-Balancing the Discharge Flow to repair the Hydronic Shutoff Receptor. For an additional $49.95, you’ll go home with a three-ring binder filled with dozens of highly technical flow charts and electrical grid diagrams which have nothing to do with your actual project, easily attachable to your invoice to confuse your customer. 

After you have completed this seven-week program, you’ll be prepared to respond to any customer issue that could possibly arise – whenever you feel like getting around to it – which according to my calendar is not for another three weeks months.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

©Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2017

  • As always good one Tim... Being a contractor myself and to give you and your readers some helpful pointers when…
    mike s. praskalo
  • Published On Feb. 14, 2018 by TEJ
  • I Have a Drinking Problem

    I have something to confess. It’s hard for me to talk about. It may even shock you. The fact is, I have a drinking problem. It’s been a struggle, but I’ve been clean and sober for the past six months. Before you congratulate me, I have another confession. I have also been clean and sober for the past 62 years and ten months. You see, technically, I don’t actually have a drinking problem. I have a not-drinking problem.

    I simply don’t drink. Never have. And that’s created many an awkward social situation my entire adult life. A lot of people have difficulty accepting this aberration – starting with my young adult daughters. In their college years, they attended many a party and chugged many a beer. “It’s what you do at college” they claim. Thus, they refuse to believe that spirits never pass over my lips. Nobody could be that much of a boring, uptight nerd, they argue, convinced I must be keeping from them deep dark secrets about my past.

    I attended a university where so many students regularly drank themselves into oblivion, that I started to wonder if it was a pre-requisite for graduation. The entry requirement at most fraternity parties was to chug a pitcher of beer upon arrival. Apparently, it was a violation of the Greek code of ethics to be on frat premises without consuming large quantities of alcohol. The only permissible exception was if you’d already passed out in the hall closet.

    Even now, when I go to a gathering, people just assume I’ll be drinking, like everyone else. The beverage selections typically are two red wines, a Zinfandel, three types of beer, vodka, bourbon, and club soda. Invariably, when I mention that I don’t drink, people assume the worst: I’m an alcoholic trying to stay on the wagon. When I clarify that it’s not that, they assume the even worster: I’m a holier-than thou Prohibitionist who looks down my nose at these sinners whose weak moral failings have led them the bottle. Excellent guesses, everybody, but no, that’s not why I don’t drink (although, yeah, drunken, two-timing Charlie over there making out with the fern is probably headed south when his number is up).

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    • You'd enjoy Anne Fadiman's recent memoir: The Wine Lover's Daughter. The framework of the memoir is about how she just…
      Kathy Taylor
  • Published On Feb. 07, 2018 by TEJ
  • In Life, My Wife Got Shortchanged

    Dear Reader,

    This is a desperate plea for help. Not for me, mind you. For my wife, Michele. I don’t know how to put this delicately, but my wife suffers from VID – Vertical Impairment Disorder. She is barely 5 feet tall. And she has remained that height for as long as I’ve known her. I’m doubtful she’ll overcome her impairment any time soon. But I’m a patient husband.

    Nobody knows for sure why God chose to punish her by making her so short. Perhaps her parents stopped feeding her when she reached 4’9”. Or maybe, given that she is from Canada, where nine months of the year they live in total darkness, she didn’t get enough sunlight.

    Who knows why she is thus afflicted. I would ask her mom, who’s 5’1” or her dad, who’s 5’3”, but I doubt they can shed any light. One thing’s for sure: my wife is often overlooked – unless you look down – way down – to see her.

    My heart aches because there is nothing I can do to help her grow to a normal adult height – through no lack of trying. For a while I suggested wearing 8-inch heels, but that was a total bust. I kept falling over. Then I suggested perhaps SHE should wear the high heels. But she had this utterly silly idea about accepting the way God made her. But I would not give up. I bought her a grow light. However, the only thing that’s sprouted so far is the ficus tree. One time I surprised her with a dousing of Miracle-Gro. While it’s done wonders for our house plants (you should see the ficus now!), the only part of my wife that grew was her ire. Actually, she did seem a tad taller when she shouted in my face to turn off the hose.

    After several years of trying in vain to coax my wife to a respectable 5’5”, I concluded I was being terribly shortsighted. So, I’ve decided to accept her just the way she is. We are determined to still have a quality life together even though we may have to make a few height-restricted accommodations. For example, Michele can’t reach anything on the top kitchen shelf, so I often will stop watching TV to retrieve the fondue pot or maybe a tall vase for her. And I will do this gladly – unless the game is in overtime.

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    • I know how crushing VID can be for the sufferer and for the family. You know my wife, and…
      Seth Greenblatt
  • Published On Nov. 16, 2017 by TEJ
  • Home Cooking for Husbands Who Don’t Cook

    In our house, my wife does a lot of the cooking… okay, most of the cooking… okay, all of it. I’d gladly do more.  I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest culinary expert, but I can microwave a six-minute Stouffer’s Mac N’ Cheese like the best of them. For some inexplicable reason, though, my wife does not consider that “making dinner.” She once had the nerve to tell me toasting two frosted cinnamon pop tarts does not constitute “preparing breakfast” either. She’s so unreasonable.

    There are millions of husbands who love the challenge of preparing sophisticated haute cuisine meals using exotic ingredients like foie gras and arugula, with a side of home-made Dijon-pepper sauce. I’m just not one of them. I never grasped the appeal of laboring for an hour to prepare a lavish feast that I will scarf down in fifteen minutes, only to spend another 45 minutes cleaning up the four pots, five bowls, and nine ladles required to turn my kitchen into a disaster area.

    Hey, I can prepare a home-cooked meal every bit as well as the next husband who has never cooked one. But recently, my wife decided it would be a good thing “for our relationship” if I were to pitch in more in preparing our dinners. She presented a ridiculously lame argument about how she has been making the meals for our family for the past thirty years. I countered with a much more cogent argument about not messing with a good thing. Surprisingly, she didn’t take that as a compliment. In my defense, I handle all the clean-up after every meal. And I try extremely hard to make sure I whine about it out of ear shot of my wife.

    But my wife is no dummy – despite evidence to the contrary in the form of her decision to marry me. She had signed up for a service called Home Chef, which sends you a box filled with all the ingredients pre-measured to readily conjure up fancy meals like Salmon in Brown-Butter Tomato Relish or Sumac-Spiced Steak & Butternut Squash. Nowhere on their list of entrée options could I locate Chili Dogs with Fries. Go figure.

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    • I would highly recommend that you stay at least a football field length from any room that contains a stove,…
      Eleanor rushworth
  • Published On Oct. 25, 2017 by TEJ
  • The Upside of Getting Old

    I recently turned 45. Even more recently, I turned 62. This old body is starting to show signs of wear and tear. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure it’s way out of warranty. When I was a teenager, I thought anyone in their sixties was ancient. But now that I’m one of those people, I realize that as a naive 17-year-old, I was … 100% correct. If you’re one of those youthful people still in your teens, twenties, thirties or even forties, don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve discovered many advantages to getting old.

    For example, at my age, I’ve stopped worrying about what other people think of my appearance. It’s so liberating. Sure, my body will never regain the six-pack abs I never had in my youth. And yes, my waistline is not quite as svelte as it once wasn’t. That’s okay. That’s the great thing about getting to this point in life: you can look back and finally accept that most of your hopes and dreams have passed you by. Nobody expects you to do any great new thing in your next chapter – because there is no next chapter. So, you can kick back and read the latest John Grisham novel – on the couch – in your boxers – scarfing down peanut butter from the jar.

    I’ll admit that I don’t have quite as much hair as I used to. But, full disclosure, I still have way more than my three brothers. Trust me, by comparison to them, I look like a member of heavy metal band Mötley Crüe. Besides, now I’m finding hair in exciting new places, like my ears, my nostrils and the knuckles of my left hand. (But not my right hand, for some reason. Should I be worried about that?)

    Another benefit of aging is that I no longer worry about all the embarrassing things I did the previous day – because I usually can’t remember doing them. My recall skills have declined a bit in recent years. For example, last weekend, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the name of that gifted group who sang Let It Be and Hey Jude. Then hours later, BAM, it hit me: Of course! The Grateful Dead.

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    • Tim, one of your best and I am right there with you! If I were a facebook participant,…
      Thomas Owen
  • Published On Sep. 27, 2017 by TEJ
  • What You Need to Know Before You Remodel

    Right now, we’re far, far along in a major remodeling project – by which I mean we’re almost 15% through. On the off chance you’re foolishly thinking of doing something just as bone-headed, let me pass along some valuable advice.

    People who have survived the ordeal of a home makeover will use words like “exhausting”, “overwhelming” and “it was entirely my wife’s idea.” But there are countless others who tackled the same project who don’t have a single negative word to say about their experience. That’s because they’re all dead. It killed them. But if they could return from the grave, they’d totally concur with the survivors.

    Before you begin your long, arduous journey into this Hell hole, ask yourself a few salient questions: “Why on earth would you take on such a lengthy, expensive, frustrating endeavor?” and “Is your life raising teenagers not stressful enough already?” and “How do you feel about living in the garage for the next six months?” These are all excellent questions I wish someone had posed to me before we took the plunge. Actually, my sister raised all these points, but what does my sister know about home improvements? (I can’t believe you wrote that! – Betsy, your editor and SISTER!)

    My best counsel would be to forget about a remodel. Buy a nice hot tub instead. Way less hassle. But once you’ve decided to ignore my advice, the first thing to consider is how extensive of an upgrade? Are you simply looking to retile the bathroom? Or is it a bit more wall to wall, like ripping out the carpeting and replacing it with hardwood floors? Or have you gone completely off the rails and decided to gut the entire main level down to the studs and start over? Only an idiot would think such a massive undertaking was a good idea, and by idiot, I am, of course, referring to my wife’s husband.

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    • Good one Tim! Especially loved how the dead people kept their advice to themselves! :)
      Dorothy Rosby
  • Published On Sep. 19, 2017 by TEJ
  • My Personal War with a Backyard Mole

    I’m not a violent man. But everyone has their breaking point. And I’ve reached mine. If you’re a homeowner, there are three certainties in life: your property taxes will go up, the roof will need to be replaced SOON, and with the first blossoms of Spring, moles will arrive in your yard.

    I’ve lived in three different houses over the past 28 years. I’ve had a mole problem in every location. Not to sound paranoid, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same mole in each place. He’s following me. I’ve named him Henry – because I hate the name Henry. He probably crawls onto my covers at night just to glare at me with those nasty, vengeful pinhole eyes of his, daring me to try to defeat him.

    My never-ending war with Henry started up again this spring after a wintertime truce. At first it was just a skirmish. A mound of dirt discreetly left at the corner of my backyard. Barely noticeable. I stomped it down and that was that. There were no other mounds for several days. Relieved, I concluded that Henry had moved on to my neighbors’ yard. I concluded wrong.

    One week later, there were two fresh mole hills. The following week, four more. We’re now up to over 40 dirt pyramids. It’s possible Henry’s brought in reinforcements. Looks like my nemesis was going to make a mountain out of this after all.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking this lying down. I get off my hammock every morning to resume my personal battle with the furry face of evil. I’ve made countless trips to ACE Hardware to stock up on defenses and ammo. First, I tried sprinkling fox urine powder around my yard. Supposedly, moles are afraid of foxes, so the urine is a humane way to coax them to move next door. Apparently, my neighbors use a more powerful concentration of fox urine powder because Henry has decided to stay here and keep on digging. I can just see the smirk on Henry’s obnoxious squinty face right now.

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    • one word...pavement. yup just pave the backyard. It will settle the little bugger and you can wax nostalgic for…
  • Published On Jul. 29, 2017 by TEJ
  • Everything I’ve Ever Learned About Oil Rig Piston Corers and Drill Strings I Learned from My Dry Cleaner

    Did you know that on a deep-water oil rig, the crew cements casings between drillings and that when the rock cuttings reveal the oil sand from the reservoir rock, they then remove the drilling apparatus from the hole and perform a logging test to retrieve a core sampling before lowering a perforating gun into the well to set off explosive charges in order to create holes in the casing through which the oil can flow? Neither did I – that is, until this past Tuesday, when I stopped at my local dry cleaner to drop off a pair of pants.

    It was a routine trip to my local dry cleaners. All I wanted was to get my trousers pressed. In and out in three minutes, right? Not quite. The owner, an elderly Korean man, was feeling particularly chatty, so it took me almost a half hour to get out of there – and I was the only victim, I mean, customer. This is the honest (significantly abbreviated) retelling of the day time stood still.

    As I was wrapping things up, the proprietor, Mr. Ho, asked me my name – so he could write it down on the claim check. In retrospect, revealing that information was an egregious error.

    Mr. Ho: You name Jones? You know Keith Jones?

    Me: No, can’t say that I do. Who is Keith Jones?

    Mr. Ho: He very nice man. He live London, England.

    Me: You don’t say? And to think we’ve never met.

    Mr. Ho: He very smart. He manage oil rigs all over world.

    Me: Very impressive. Well, thank you. Have a nice day.

    Mr. Ho: He in charge of oil rigs in Africa and Asia. But not South America.

    Me: Fascinating. So, you say my pants will be ready on Friday afternoon? See you then.

    Mr. Ho: Keith Jones. He Welsh. You Welsh?

    Me: Um, yeah, I have Welsh ancestors – and Scottish and German.

    Mr. Ho: Keith no German. He Welsh. He very smart. Was my boss. He work in oil business for years. Manage rigs. I work on rigs for career.

    Now I SHOULD have just ignored that last comment, smiled, turned and marched out the door. But No! I had to be polite and ask, So, you worked on an oil rig, you say? I immediately paid for this blunder.

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  • Published On Jul. 15, 2017 by TEJ
  • Breaking up with an English Teacher

    [The following text exchange took place between a female business executive named Roxanne and her boyfriend of four years, Virgil, a high school English teacher.] 

    Roxanne: Dear Virgil, I gotta tell you something and it’s been on my mind for a long time.

    Virgil: Good evening, Roxanne. Thank you for your text. By the way, “gotta” is not proper English. I believe you meant to say, “I must” or “I have to.” What’s up?

    Roxanne:  We need 2 talk. 

    Virgil: You errantly used the digit “2” as in one more than one. So, you’ve lost me. We need “one plus one talk?” That makes no sense. Please clarify. 

    Roxanne: Oh, for God’s sake, Virgil. 2 is short for “to.” We need TO talk. I cant wait any longer. 

    Virgil: Sorry, still not clear on what you’re trying to convey – unless you mean “no, I can’t” in which case, don’t forget the apostrophe since it’s a contraction.   

    Roxanne: Geez. Okay. Got it. 

    Virgil: Who’s got what? “Got it” is missing a subject. Who has it? A policeman? The Queen of England? My schnauzer? My brain buzzes with possibilities. Could you clarify who it is that has it and what specifically does he or she have? 

    Roxanne: Jesus, Virgil. I’m talking about US. We need to talk about US. 

    Virgil: Capitalizing the letters US only makes sense if you’re referring to our country. But even then, technically you should put periods after the letters since it’s an abbreviation for United States. 

    Roxanne: Virgil, focus. For the millionth time, I don’t need another syntax lesson. 

    Virgil:  I believe you mean “another grammar” lesson. Syntax is about word order. Your mistake was – 

    Roxanne: My MISTAKE was taking four freakin’ years to tell you what I should have told you four years ago. It’s over.  Read More…

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  • Published On May. 25, 2017 by TEJ
  • If I Ruled the World

    If I ruled the world - misspelled namesThe world is falling apart. People are oblivious to the needs of others. It seems nobody ever holds the door open for the next person anymore. We’re all in a rush. We blame others for our problems. Politicians talk about building 50-foot walls to keep out Mexicans. North Korea is launching missiles at South Korea. And my Mariners are on another five-game losing streak. What has this world come to?

    If I’m ever given the chance to rule the world, things will be different. Way different. I’d implement long-overdue legislation that will make life way better for everyone (well, at least the people I like). When I rule the world…

    • I’ll declare Cookie Dough ice cream the official junk food of the United States – and I will use my presidential authority to veto any attempt by Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment changing it to Pistachio.
    • People will get ticketed for being obnoxiously rude. Failure to hold the door open for the person behind you will be subject to a $25 fine. Talk on your cell phone in a movie theater? That’ll be a mandatory 10-day jail sentence – with no cell phone privileges.
    • People who nab my parking space, even though they could clearly see I was there first, waiting for the other car to leave, will lose all driving privileges for a year. Enjoy taking the bus, dude.
    • I will ban Twitter. It’s been ten years now, and I still don’t get the appeal. #banTwitter.
    • If my computer becomes infected with malware simply because I clicked on a Facebook link that reads “25 celebrities who have aged badly”, the perpetrator of that malware will be sentenced to six months in jail – and their job 16 hours a day will be to remove malware and viruses on laptops worldwide.

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  • Published On Apr. 16, 2017 by TEJ