In 1972 I got a job as a construction site handyman because I had a PhD in Psychology. I was interviewing with the president of a subdivision development company in a Denver suburb. After I outlined my construction experience, he explained that the main part of the job was to check on finished houses to resolve any construction issues the new owners might have discovered after moving in.
He and one of his associates started laughing about one owner in particular who was complaining that her walls moved. Hilarious, they said, because the walls were made of concrete block and brick and couldn’t possibly move. That she continued to complain for several months just proved to them that she was “crazy” and would be impossible to satisfy.
This was when I told them that I might be able to deal with this woman because I had just received my PhD in Psychology. They were surprised, of course, that I would be looking for a construction job instead of something more cerebral (my word, not theirs), but accepted that there weren’t any current openings and I was looking for a way to pay my rent while I waited for something more suitable. And there was also the woman with the “moving walls,” so they hired me.
With some trepidation I knocked on the door of the house with the mysterious concrete walls that moved. I half expected a deranged maniac to answer the door, but was surprised to find that the woman who complained was just a normal looking housewife with a couple of kids, trying to settle into a new home. There were still unpacked boxes scattered around the living and dining rooms that I could see from the front door.
I introduced myself and she invited me inside. I asked her to show me the walls that she was concerned about. She led me to an inside hallway and pressed lightly on one of the wood panels that formed the wall between the bathroom and the hall. It moved. It turns out that the carpenter who installed the 4 ft by 8 ft panel had tacked it up with a nail in each corner and neglected to finish the job. So, of course, it moved.
A dozen nails later, the wall didn’t move and the woman was finally satisfied. She thanked me profusely for coming to her door and actually looking at the wall. She had been calling the builders every week for three months, and I was the first and only person that came to check out her concerns.
As it turned out, her problem was one of the simplest to fix. One finished house had over a dozen electrical wiring errors that kept blowing the main circuit breakers. I also discovered several unfixable problems. One homeowner had a large bump on his basement floor where what looked like a wheelbarrow full of concrete had spilled and hardened on the newly finished floor. Another had water stains on his walls because sloppy workmen had left a large number of mortar “bridges” between the exterior layer of brick and the interior layer of concrete blocks, allowing water to seep through.
It should not have been a surprise, then, to come to work one day to find the builder’s office had been vacated overnight. Not a single desk or telephone or typewriter remained. No one showed up to supervise the workers. No sign on the door explained what had happened. No one got paid.
So, I started looking for another job where a PhD in Psychology might come in handy.