Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crazy, Baby!

If you visited my blog in the recent past you know that I write about some of the experiences I had working as a designer. During the Gulf War business went in the toilet. I had just opened a showroom, and there were days when I could have shot a cannon ball through that place and I wouldn’t have hit a living soul. But I persevered, sitting at my antique rococo desk amongst the many samples and swatches, praying for a client to walk through the door so I might pay the rent, which would come due the beginning of the month. One dreary rainy day after I’d just hung up the phone, (I often called my dad for advice and moral support), in walked Shar Zimmerman.

She sat across from me and introduced herself, saying, “My name’s Shar Zimmerman, it used to be Shar Jacks, and before that I was Shar Costello. My birth name was Sharon Bailey. As you can see I’m working my way through the alphabet. My third husband is Doctor Frederick Zimmerman, you’ve probably heard of him. He’s a prominent psychiatrist at &%#@ Medical Center.” I’m choosing to leave the name of the prestigious hospital out of the story, and I’ve changed the names of the people mentioned to protect myself from any sort of legal issues.

Shar crossed her long legs and fiddled with her wedding ring. That rock had to be five carats, or better. Shar wasn’t a beauty but she was built like a Barbie doll. Her hair was what my daughter refers to as blorange, overly processed and BIG. Her nails were incredibly long and shellacked in coral wonder. Her high-heeled boots appeared to be snakeskin. “So, the deal is, I’m loaded now. I come from nothing, like Dorothy, you know—Kansas? Anyway, I came out here to California and basically ended up in therapy after a couple of failed marriages and suicide attempts, and that’s how I met my husband. He calls me Zelda. I’m a home wrecker, you see.”

At this point in her story she looked me in the eye and said, “So, you think you can come out to the house? My husband’s ex-wife lives in BelAir, in a six thousand square foot masterpiece. But the house he bought me is in Brentwood, and it’s much more modest. Let’s be honest, it’s uglier than hell. I need an estimate on crown molding, new windows and doors, four bathroom remodels, and a kitchen. I don’t cook, but I’m told that I should remodel the kitchen anyway. The place is hideous; I’d like to get started right away. Today would be good for me, what about you?”

I have a sixth sense about people. And I knew that Shar Whatever-the-heck-her-last-name-was-at-that-moment, would turn out to be a nightmare client, but I needed the money to keep the doors open. I followed her home. My mini-van trying to keep up as her Mercedes sped through the winding streets, weaving in and out of traffic.

The deposit I received that day was hefty enough to enable me to bring in a girl I’d been anxious to work with. Irene had just graduated from some big-time design school out in Boston and had come in looking for a job. We went to work right away.

Shar was one of those women that felt free to share the most intimate details of her life. The guy that I hired to replace her old windows with custom top-of-the-line European-style wood versions told Irene that Shar showed him where she kept the handcuffs and sex toys that her and her sixty-some-year-old husband kept in a bathroom drawer.

I was told (she’d been gone for five days to attend a conference back east with the good doctor) about how Doctor Zimmerman bought her an apple farm in Vermont on a whim, complete with a hundred year old house. Seemed that Shar had always dreamt of living in New England. It would be their vacation home. How much money did that man have? I wondered.

Shar had twin sons from one of her previous marriages. The guys that installed the crown moldings left early one day because she had laid into the little boys so viciously about tracking mud into the foyer, so viciously the carpenters just couldn’t take it.

I was sitting at the table, putting the finishing touches on my drawings for the kitchen remodel one morning when Shar parked next to me, as she was scrutinizing my work she said, “I’m in a really foul mood. I just found out that my husband’s daughter is coming to stay with us. Just what I need. My maid quit and now my annoying big mouth step-daughter is coming to stay!”

I had problems of my own. I didn’t feel sorry for Shar, not one little bit. I did not like the woman.

Three days later, Clare the step-daughter, marched up to me and said, “That Shar. She literally stole my father. My mother’s a cardiologist! She’s lovely and smart and classy. Nobody can believe that he left my mother for that piece of trash.” Clare had to be one of the most beautiful people I’d ever laid eyes on. If her mother looked anything like her, well…like I said Shar was no beauty. It was obvious that the doctor saw something in that woman that the rest of us didn’t. The painters quit after working just a few hours. Shar pissed them off with her constant nitpicking.

I asked Shar to exercise a little patience, to try to take a wait and see approach with the various crews I had working throughout the house. “Don’t hover,” I told her. “Wait until they're finished before complaining.”

Shar bit her lip, and then responded with, “It’s so hard though. I’m a control freak.” Ya think?

I witnessed her method of dealing with her sons a short time later. Suffice it to say, those poor kids. It was all I could do not to interfere when she grabbed the Poptarts out of their hungry little hands, sending the crumbling mess all over the kitchen floor,  and then in a fit of anger threw their backpacks into the swimming pool just because they’d left them by the back door when they got home from school that day. It was all I could do not to cry when I saw how they cried.

Business began to pick up bit by bit and I became so busy I had to send shy innocent Irene out to deal with The Witch, as Shar came to be called.

Clare left the house after staying just a few days.

Irene refused to go back after being berated for some stupid reason.

Another maid quit.

The window guy threatened to sue because Shar refused to pay his final balance, all these years later I can’t remember for the life of me just what she was upset about. I dropped what I was doing and drove over there to see what all the fuss was about.

Shar was all in a flap because she had to throw a party for her husband’s co-workers and friends. “You don’t understand!” She screamed at me. I have an IQ of one hundred and sixty! When things aren’t perfect I come unglued! And this house is a disaster! And another maid walked out on me this morning.”

I did my level best to calm her down.

Her response was, “You know, I always thought that if I could just get my hands on some money, on some real money, then I’d finally be happy. That seemed to be what stood between me and a good life. But I have money now. And damn it, I am not happy!”

In the end, Shar Zimmerman’s job, and the money she forked over, (always reluctantly), pulled me out of a financial pickle. But, for four months my life was infected with her neurosis. Doctor Zimmerman should have had his head examined for marrying that lunatic.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


Sniffles and Smiles said...

Wow! What a story!!! I admire your patience!!!! I did a brief stint as a decorator...had some crazy clients...but this has to beat all!!!! I am all admiration!!!!! You are one heckuva lady!!! And writer!!! Bravo for sticking it out! Bravo for retelling it so fabulously! ~Janine XO

lakeviewer said...

I believe every word. It didn't feel like a story at all. Anyday now, Shar will pop in your studio again and....

Scarlet-Blue said...

You weren't talking about Brentwood, Essex, England were you? Probably similar though...

Kim said...

First of all you are very interesting to me...writer, designer...and second even though I'm sure she was a nightmare to deal with she sure is VERY interesting to read about. A real live character!

Lover of Life said...

This was a great story. Wow, what a @#$%! Going after those poor little boys would have had me all over her. Hopefully life handed back what she dished out - we can only hope.

Marguerite said...

Bravo, Elizabeth! Well written and hilarious. I love a good story that makes me laugh after a stressful day at work. I was an Interior Design major and worked as a designer for many years, so I can relate to the demanding client type. So glad you're back!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

So Marguerite, you know how these clients can be..

L of Life, I think that if I had been the age I am now I would have laid into that woman for treating her boys like that. But back then I was more reserved.

Kim, she was interesting alright, but very scary too.

Lakeviewer, I only take on clients by referral anymore. And if she called I'd say, NO WAY JOSE!

Sx, I was referring to the same Brentwood where OJ slashed Nicole and Ron's throats.

Janine, I've got some more wacky tales to tell. Next installment.

Thanks all for taking the time to read Crazy, Baby!

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

I used to own a business so I know all about being nice to customers you hate BUT this seems like a nightmare. At least she realised money couldn't buy her happiness. Great story!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

I've given you a shout out at my don't have to post the award if you don't want to clutter your space here...just wanted to highlight your work, and to let you know I'm a fan! You inspire me. I've given you the literary, Premios Dardo award at my bloggie event...drop by and pick it up if you want! Many congratulations!~Janine XO

Cheryl said...

Your story reminded me of the stories my sister used to tell me when she was an interior designer (in the DC area). So many of her clients were like that, rich, spoiled control freaks. And we found them really funny. But, oh! what a tragedy for Clare and those boys...

Kirti said...

Great story! Good example of how money DOESN'T buy happiness...

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

That was really good Elizabeth. You should write a book of short stories about your designer nightmares!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I will also write in the future about some of the wonderful people I ran into as well. People that inspired me. They weren't all fruitcakes. lol.