One of our fears before we moved into our new apartment was that it would have the interconnected drains that we experienced in another apartment in a building of a similar era many years ago. Thankfully, our fears were unfounded and, aside from the odd gurgle, our drains are working well and independently. Because the interconnected drains? Were a complete nightmare.
Our apartment was on the main floor of the building, with two apartments above. And, gravity being what it is, when the tenants above let the water out of their kitchen sink, it would flow down and wash up into ours. Which, if our sink was empty, was a bit disgusting. One of our neighbours never scraped their plates before washing them and those bits would wash up in our sink along with their bubbles.
“Oh, look,” one of us would mutter to the other, “upstairs had pasta for dinner again.”
Which is probably more than you want to know about people you’ve never actually met, but is somewhat less weirdly intimate than fighting over the shower water with a total stranger as happens in many house-to-multi-family conversions.
Worse than the empty sink scenario was when we’d be washing our own dishes and someone upstairs let the water out of their sink. Because, as we quickly learned, if we didn’t lean in and push down hard, the pressure of the incoming water would lift the plug and fill our sink with their dirty wash water and how gross is that?
One night, my parents had come up for a visit. They always insisted on doing our dishes for us after we cooked them dinner, which was lovely and spared them the knowledge that frequently we’d just let them pile up for a day or two, which was not how I was raised, but, honestly, who does dishes every day, let alone after every meal? My parents, that’s who.
We were having a pleasant time of it, Dad washing, Mum drying and me intercepting her as she put things away where she thought they should go but where I would never find them again if I let her (I once had to phone her and ask where she’d put the sugar bowl. Her answer of “In the cupboard where it belongs!” was somewhat less than helpful).
In the midst of a lovely chat about this or that, I heard the distant rumble of the pipes.
“Oh, shit!” I yelped, elbowing my father out of the way and leaning on the plug with all my might.
“Barbara!” he was aghast.
My father never swore and really hated it when any of us did in front of him. And I tried, I really tried not to. But the words would slip out in moments of stress and this was one of those moments.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” I muttered, rising onto my toes as a sweat broke out on my brow.
Once the crisis was averted, I stepped back and apologized and explained. He may not have agreed that the bad word was warranted but he was totally with me that the drain situation was horrible.
Given the fact that upstairs’ leftovers were spread out in our sink night after night after night, it came as no real surprise when our drain clogged.
The first time it happened, we called Wayne the Super who called in a plumber. “Your neighbours are using their sink as a garbage disposal…” I knew that, but what could I do?
The next time the drain clogged, I called Wayne the Super. Who called me back. “I can’t call the plumber again,” he told me. “The landlord will be here this afternoon.”
The landlord turned up with a bottle of something noxious. I tend not to buy things with a skull and crossbones on the label and this was covered in them.
“I’ll pour half down now. Wait a half-hour and then run some water. When your husband gets home, have him pour down the other half.”
I smiled tightly.
A few minutes after he left, I heard the familiar distant rumble and ran into the kitchen. Up from the drain oozed an oily, black, foul-smelling liquid. When I say foul, it grabbed the back of my throat. Our collection of copper pots, that I had lovingly polished days before, instantly turned black. Smoke billowed up from the sink. Tears streamed from my eyes as I made my way, coughing and spluttering, out to the balcony. I threw the door open wide, but couldn’t really stay out there, because it was the middle of winter.
As I was opening the kitchen window, I heard the sound of the other sink being let out. Given that our sink was already half-full of toxic yuck, I panicked a little and, grabbing a pitcher, bailed out the sink, racing down the hall to empty it into the toilet.
As I was making my way back from one of those trips, there was a knock on the door. I threw it open to greet the Super’s wife. Taking in my wild appearance, red eyes and the smoke rolling out into the hall around me, she said, “I was going to ask if that smell was coming from in here…”
I took her in to show her my sink. And my pots. “The landlord’s a bit of an idiot,” she said, to my hearty agreement.
Then she went back to her apartment and convinced Wayne the Super that calling in the plumber would be a really, really good idea.
A few months later, we broke our lease and moved away. To a lovely little apartment in Toronto. That was infested with cockroaches.
Last Monday, we woke up to discover that our fridge had died. We put in a call to Ewan the Super and then went out to breakfast. When we came home, the new fridge was in place and all our food was inside.
I think we’re going to be happy here.