I’ve discovered the secret purpose of the various bits of infrastructure in my apartment here in Mexico City: it’s to make me look like a fool. This only dawned on me yesterday, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I’m right. And I’m feeling pretty foolish right about now. Circumstances are making me look bad. Not merely bad, but kind of high-maintenance, whiny bad. If you’re a guy who considers himself pretty handy around the house, this isn’t a good thing.
By infrastructure, I really mean plumbing and electricity. Shockingly, electricity was the first to ambush me. Shortly after moving in, the power went out early one morning. Noting that the electricity was on elsewhere in the building, I went to the breaker box to reset it. It didn’t appear to have been tripped, but I flipped the switch anyway. Nothing happened. I tried a couple of more times, again with the same result. So I broke down and called Rafael, my landlord and explained the situation. He came out in his pajamas, flipped the circuit breaker on and off once, and Lo! There was electricity. I was mortified and apologized while simultaneously re-explaining that I had done the very same thing.
Some months later, after more power failures, and some alarming sizzling sounds coming from the breaker box, we found out what the problem was. The circuit breaker itself had a loose connection inside the box. Once replaced, it has worked fine ever since. Though I was indeed vindicated, the fact of the matter is that impressions of idiocy don’t really wear off that fast. Especially when they keep getting refreshed.
So once the electricity left off tormenting me, the plumbing took over. Take the water supply, for example. In my apartment it stops with alarming regularity. Of course it’s the typical, failure-prone Mexican system, where water slowly flows from the city pipes into a cistern under the patio. From there it’s pumped up to a tinaco on the roof from where it flows leisurely into the pipes via gravity. The whole setup runs on electricity and a set of cantankerous float valves, electrical sensors, and relays, all of which suffer from the same “Transylvanian” maintenance schedule. Which is to say that they are replaced or serviced only after they fail. Of course when there’s no electricity, the whole system runs on borrowed time anyway.
Only a few weeks after my electrical run-in, the water stopped and I called Rafael: “I don’t have any water.”
“Don’t worry; the system is back on. You should have water in 20 minutes,” he replied confidently. I was relieved he was already onto the problem. Twenty minutes later, I tried the faucets. No water. I merely heard a gentle sucking sound. The system was pulling in air as water somewhere below me flowed out. I tried all the faucets. Same result. I waited another five minutes and tried again. Same result again. So I went downstairs to talk to Rafael, who happened to be in his shop.
“It’s working,” he insisted.
“No, it’s not,” I replied. “I just tried it before I came down here. There’s no water.”
“Let me show you,” he said, walking toward the sink in his shop. He turned the valve and to my horror, water flowed out exuberantly.
“Yeah,” I said, “but that’s just water that’s already in the pipes. There’s no water in my apartment.”
“It’s fine,” he insisted. “Go back and check it again.” Meanwhile the water kept flowing out of the faucet. I could feel my embarrassment rising and hoped I wasn’t blushing.
Sure enough, I returned to my apartment and the water flowed almost as if nothing had happened. I felt foolish and could almost hear the pipes quietly snickering to themselves, “foolish gringo, hahaha!” It’s nasty when plumbing makes fun of you, but I figured this was to be my last insult. After all, how many times can this kind of weird, intermittent problem occur? And to me, who normally has such good mechanical Karma?
Ah, if only! Recently, my toilet flush valve started leaking. Intermittently, of course. Again I notified Rafael, who sent up his handyman, Arturo. Since I couldn’t see anything wrong with the valve, I persuaded myself and Arturo that the problem was the flush handle getting stuck against the tank lid. He duly replaced it. That was about six weeks ago. But it turns out that wasn’t the problem. So Arturo came back and looked again, and we both decided it really must be the valve. I felt rather foolish at having misdiagnosed the problem initially, but Arturo was too polite to comment. But he did go buy a valve. Meanwhile, actually installing the valve seems to have fallen by the wayside, and guess what? Now the toilet appeared to have fixed itself. But don’t tell anyone as they still think the valve needs to be replaced, and my plumbing credibility is hanging by a thread.
Oh, and I had an intermittent problem with the hot water too. Like in the middle of a shower, suddenly the hot water would slow to a trickle. Mind you, the cold still worked fine. That was such a weird problem even I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Later, after my cold shower, I’d check the hot water and it’d be fine again. But now when I told Rafael, he didn’t believe me. “Maybe the hot water doesn’t like you,” he said, chuckling. It took me a week of hot/cold/hot showers to persuade him that I wasn’t imagining this problem. When he finally looked into it, he apologized and said I was right. That particular problem now seems to be fixed.
Then about a month ago, my shower started leaking. Not a lot, but definitely leaking. So, figuring I’d give Rafael all the facts and let him decide what to do, I stuck a bucket under it to measure the flow and then sent Rafael an e-mail: “my shower is leaking about 1.5 liters a day. I personally don’t really care if you fix it or not, but I’m letting you know.” I never heard back from him, figured he didn’t care about a small leak, so I resigned myself to a leaky shower.
Since I don’t particularly like to waste water, I left the bucket under the leak and started to use it to flush the toilet. But the sound of the dripping water began to annoy me, especially as the bucket in the shower stall created an odd sort of resonance, making the sound MUCH louder than anyone might imagine. And then, perhaps fortunately, the shower began to leak in earnest earlier this week. Now it was leaking 3 liters an hour, and even using the captured water to flush the toilet, a lot of it was ending up going down the drain. So this time I messaged Rafael on WhatsApp, and he agreed to send Arturo around on Monday.
So what’s happened since? Yesterday the shower fixed itself, and now it’s not leaking at all.
As for me, I’m busy looking for a hole to crawl into.