We all have our monsters in the closet. Things that make us shudder. The stuff of phobias. Maybe yours is a fear of flying (aviophobia), or of snakes (herpetophobia) or even a fear of foreigners (xenophobia), although I hope not. I confess my fear is a Chile-based phobia–which makes it a fobia–and I had to invent its name, although anyone who has lived here any length of time will not only recognize it, but probably share it.
I suffer from gasfiterfobia…That’s right–a fear of gásfiters, which is Chilean for plumbers, which you may have learned as plomeros, which may or not be scary, but in Chile, anything related to gasfitería (plumbing) and cañería (pipes) is definitely fear-worthy.
Perhaps phobia is the wrong word, because by definition, a phobia is irrational–and I assure you that there is nothing irrational about that all-out alert and run-for-the-hills feeling that comes with the realization that someone is going to have to mess with your pipes. It’s a learned response, and I swear that if you don’t learn the first time–or the second–by the third time you have to re-plaster, re-paint, and mop up after one of these “professional” visits, you will definitely be convinced.
My first experience with plumbing disasters in Chile came in 1993, during what I like to refer to as “The Flood on the 19th Floor.” But it didn’t stop there. Over the years I have had everything from black-bean belching clogged drains turn into 2-story repair jobs that include re-plastering the ceiling, to rogue roto-rooters that take out a staircase, to bathtubs that mysteriously spew crud while we’re on vacation. Eeuw. I could probably devote an entire blog (or many posts in this one) to gásfiterly woes. But for now, my favorite story (perhaps because it is the most distant) about how Noah and his ark nearly made it to the 19th floor.
My daughter and I lived on the 19th floor in one of those 1970s high-rises in Providencia (Santiago) back in 1993. Shortly after we moved in I complained that the tub faucet leaked, so the landlord–who turned out to be an army captain–sent over one of his guys–who turned out to be an army private–to fix the problem. I TOLD the cap’n that they were going to turn off the water in the building that day–but it wasn’t the first (or last) time that a Chilean man didn’t listen to a gringa.
So the guy comes and starts fiddling with the pipes. Tinkers here, tinkers there, and suddenly–no water. “Nothing more I can do here, señora,” and off he goes. The hours tick-tock away and by 9 PM there was still no water–and no signs of it returning any time soon, so my daughter and I headed over to C’s place (husband now, fiancée at the time) for the night.
9 AM next morning my suegra (C’s mother) calls. Trouble at my place. Since my suegro (C’s father) had co-signed on my lease, the building administrator had their number and called to say the apartment below mine was flooded with water from my apartment. The poor woman below me had woken up at 6 AM, drenched in her bed, with water pouring through her ceiling.
She called the building staff. They called me (wasn’t home). Knocked on my door (still wasn’t home). Called the police, who did the same (still wasn’t home) and then left because without a key, there wasn’t much of anything they could do. So the poor woman waited. And waited. And waited, until the administrator arrived a few hours later and figured out how to contact me.
What a mess. The soldier-private-plumber-guy had left the job half done, the faucet full open, and the hot water turned on (hefty bill that was!). The building’s water had come back on about 10 PM and mine ran all night, overflowing the bathtub and out into the rest of the apartment. My daughter’s stuff-strewn room was the low point, and the surreal image of kid things swirling in 6 inches of water will be ever etched in my mind. We started bailing.
The janitor-guy came to help. The building’s plumber showed up to cluck and shake his head. The guy and I bailed some more. And then… standing there with my pants rolled up to my knees, ankle-deep in water and marveling at just how much water floating books can absorb, I heard music. Guitar music. Live–from MY living room.
It was a tango. I ripped out of the room to behold the unbelievable. My apartment was flooded. I was bailing hundreds of liters of water by the cupful, the woman below was drowning in my wayward bathtub water–and my husband-to-be was playing the guitar and the GASFITER WAS SINGING A TANGO!
They stopped pretty darned quick. Can’t think of much that could inspire a desperate gringa’s rath faster than a tango during a 19th-story flood–and to their dubious credit, they did pick up on that, and the guitar got stashed pretty tout suite and the gásfiter beat feet.
End of chapter 1 of the Gringa Gasfiterfobia-logue…
They tell me there gasfiterfobia has no cure.
I wanted the owners to pay for the damage to the apartment below mine, and they refused. The landlady said it was my fault (1) for not sleeping in my own apartment that night, and (2) for leaving the faucet turned on, and (3) leaving the shower curtain open!
We never did come eye-to-eye on (1) paying rent gives me the right–but NOT the obligation–to sleep in that apartment, (2) I had no reason to imagine that the faux-plumber had left the faucet on and I really, don’t know which way is on or off unless water comes out, so why would I touch it?, and (3) OK, call me indecent and slothful… but pl-ee–ee-ee–zz!
Got a gásfiter story of your own? Feel free to
dump share it here!