A very interesting topic of conversation recently came up on the Walls & Ceilings Web site bulletin board (www.i-boards.com/bnp/wc/) regarding the question, "Is it ever OK to leave a job unfinished if the circumstances of the job become intolerable?" It must be in the air because coincidentally, Jim Olsztynski's Smart Business column this month offers 12 reasons to just say no. Some snippets from the bulletin board conversation:

"I am talking about starting a job and after you are in the middle of it, finding out that the guy is insane and may be dangerous! This guy that went out of his way to make our job impossible to do. He tried to blackmail me and threatened not to pay me for any apparent reason. I ran the job the same way I always do and everyone has been happy so far!"

"I had one guy who actually did end up stiffing me for the last draw of the payment. He would tell me he was from Nevada and the desert if full of bodies there!"

These incidents all involved difficult customers ... but what about the difficulty of the project itself? I used to work for a janitorial company and my boss, John, had an incredible work ethic. He worked long and hard, we usually didn't stop for lunch, and the bread and butter at the time was residential and light commercial window cleaning. Early in his business, John took the job of cleaning the exterior windows on a new-home construction project. The windows had manufacturers' stickers, inspection stickers and occasional tape on the glass, in addition to minute flecks of stain and/or paint resulting from the careless stainers and painters. We used blades, dish soap, TSP, elbow grease but they weren't coming clean. We contemplated abandoning the job based on what he was charging and how long it would take.

Eventually, we ran to the store for oven cleaner, which worked like the blood of the creatures in the Alien films. Like butter, everything seemed to slide off the glass. But it was a big house, there were many windows and even after the oven cleaner was employed (and it does remove paint from wood), the windows still had to be cleaned.

Finally, as the last dimness of dusk diminished, we decided we were finished and loaded the van, including the brand new 12-foot extension ladder John bought especially for this job.

With no roof rack, the ladder had to be loaded inside John's recently purchased brand new GMC cargo van. It had to be positioned just so. After several tries and not being able to close the rear doors, John got impatient and gave it a shove ... and the foot of the ladder instantly put a nice long crack in his windshield, which would about cost our day's work to replace. It was almost like the Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith wants nothing more than to read his beloved books when a nuclear holocaust conveniently wipes out everyone and he's free to raid the empty library only to break his glasses, leaving him unable to read.

John had no way of knowing we'd break the window of the van. Had we not, the job would have been worth finishing. The long, hot, muggy day and the impatience to be free of that house contributed to the impatience that broke the window. That type of stress, arguably, is not worth any job. Let the stress meter help. Stress is terribly unhealthy. It might help to determine a stress ceiling. If a project exceeds it, on to the next one.

W&C is debuting a new department this month: Project Profile. It will be a short, illustrated piece that shows some of the more extravagant construction endeavors underway. Readers are invited to submit projects for consideration.