My response to people who complain about inefficiency in the U.S.

August 23, 2012

Thirteen months ago, my entire bathroom began to seep water from its pores, and I found myself living in Dante’s third ring of hell, “a vile slush produced by ceaseless foul, icy rain from which the only safe passage is by filling the guard monster’s three mouths with mud.”   Taking heed in Virgil’s example, I called the building administrator at to do just that. But the man-beast just shook his three heads and spewed forth that infuriating and meaningless Argentine catch-all phrase: take it easy young lady, it will all work out fine.


Later that day, I was paid a visit by a very animated woman who explained in between puffs on the cigarette which she ashed on my floor, that she had just moved in to the apartment above mine (2D), inheriting it from her husband’s late aunt.  They were in the process of re-doing the kitchen.  The pipes were old and the drain was clogged and thus sent dishwater via “other channels,” i.e. through my walls.   I offered my condolences about the aunt while pushing the ash with my toe across the door threshold into the hallway.

She subsequently spoke with the administrator several times and after a back and forth about whose responsibility it was to fix her pipes and my walls, he feigned being human and agreed to cover all repairs as long as she repaid the late aunt’s debt (one year of unpaid dues).

But alas, by “cover all repairs” he meant, “jet-ski across the River Styx to Punta del Este.” I did not hear from him for several weeks, despite receiving our monthly expense report in which appeared an item-line for painting my apartment.   I called him every day until he accidentally answered.  Notably annoyed, he spat out the number of a painter named Abel who was going to make things right (and who in fact already had according to the expense report).  Abel never came, and the administrator said while laughing that there was nothing more he could do.

Time passed and cracks spread.  Now they run the length of the ceiling, the paint yellow and peeling like scabs around a new scar. Often after showering, I find tiny white flecks in my hair. Just the other day I finally understood that it wasn’t dandruff but bits of plaster.  It was a bittersweet moment.  Yes, I was relieved to throw out all of the special shampoos I’d purchased since I no longer had to suffer the insecurity of people whispering about my “issue,” but annoyed by how much money I’d spent on my faux-dandruff.  (Please refer to helpful hints for solutions should you in fact have said “issue” and wish to hide it).

Last month, my kitchen joined the bathroom in bearing the burden of the unfixed problem above, and the invading water shorted out all of my lights and burst through the ceiling and fell in fierce, constant streams, intentionally and continuously over the toaster oven. Every kitchen and miscellaneous receptacle was used, lying “sullied beneath the gurgling water, withdrawn into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.” (Dante again).

These wrath-trappers had to be emptied every three hours or the saline discharge overflowed onto the wood floor and seep into the apartment below.  The time management necessary to accommodate for this essentially put me under house-arrest.

When I informed the animated chain-smoker in 2D about my grievance, she was at first mildly sympathetic, and then much more so a few days later when her own pipes exploded. Now similarly forced by circumstance to cook in her bathroom, she joined my team, fighting the good fight against the administrator.

Upon hearing her complaint, he opened his giant, vile mouths and lies fell out.  He said he’d send a plumber to take a look.  I’d heard that one already, and when I called to confirm the plumber’s visit, he said he was in a meeting and couldn’t speak.  When my boyfriend called, the monster simply hung up on him, and when my landlord called, he sputtered, aghast, that he’d heard nothing of the problem.

The water kept flowing, and overflowing, and pretty soon, despite my efforts and conscience-imposed house arrest, the water filtered through the floor and into the apartment below, and so hell grew another ring.   That tenant too came by and saw the horror.  She called the administrator and strongly contested his claim that this was “the first he’d heard of it”.

To the shock and awe of all, a plumber did come the next day and promised to give an estimate.  But he disappeared.  A week went by, and another one came late at night, rang the wrong doorbell, and was seen out the window running away having woken up the wrong person.  On par with the status quo, he was the man chosen for the job.  It was arranged that he begin the following Monday, but he didn’t appear.  When asked to explain later, he stated the obvious, annoyed: it was the Anniversary of the Death of General José de San Martin.  Nobody worth their salt works that day.  In the spirit of San Martin, he offered to “perhaps fit it in the following week.”  In a manner of speaking he did do that, but in fact it was his 14-year old son that showed up to do the job.

The boy spent days at the helm of destruction, wreaking havoc in the bathroom and mutilating the kitchen above, while the woman prepared him untoasted ham and cheese sandwiches and did her necessities in a bucket.

I was dismissed from house-arrest and stormed in and out at all hours slamming the heavy iron door shut every time, because I could.  The top-floor neighbor in Limbo got wind of the problem, and made it her mission to see what all the noise was about.

A member of the borderline, she felt that in fact not all of the problematic piping corresponded to the consortium — a portion of the piping had rotted due to the negligence of the late aunt. She protested the consortium’s payment of all of the repairs and spoke with the administrator, who couldn’t have been more thrilled.   Wasting no time, he pitted hellions against each other and informed the chain-smoker in 2D that her neighbor in Limbo opposed the entire repair, and as such, the consortium wouldn’t be responsible for a penny of the work in progress.  All 16,000 pesos were on her, and if she didn’t like it, she and her deadbeat husband should move.

Enraged by his hypocrisy,

she insisted he come see for himself the infernal mess that he had created.  He acquiesced but his visit was brief anyhow.   Angered by the intimation that he was responsible for the damage, having approved the plumber’s estimate and then reneged, he called the husband a “little black piece of shit” and found himself running out of the building for cover.

The next day all of the tenants of the building received a letter from the administrator, claiming that he has been assaulted by “barbarians” in the 2D and would be seeking legal remuneration for the incident.

That was the defining blow.  As the neighbors started flapping lips, it was discovered that we were each told distinct versions of the truth, and so meeting was called to unite forces among the damned and kill Cerberus!

Given my penchant for violence, and legally complicated situations, I eagerly participated.   One hellion said she found out that all of our monthly dues are actually paid into the administrator’s wife’s bank account so that he has nothing in his name.  And in the last consortium meeting, he gave someone a false license number so they wouldn’t discover that his administrator’s license is expired and he is operating illegally.

Entertained by the shamelessness, I offered hoots and hollers of comradery, and I think they must have taken my support for surprise.  The attention turned to my first-world innocence, with pitying pats on the back and refrains like “you’re in Argentina now, welcome to the sandbox.”  One woman, an elegant, well-spoken lawyer in her sixties, went on to explain that when she sees the administrator she says, “I hate you” instead of “hola” and he kisses her on the cheek.  They’ve been doing that for years.

The next day I received a phone call, my first, from the man himself.  He asked me if the wall is dry enough to paint.  I informed him that in fact, thirteen months is more than enough time for the wall to dry, and I’m still waiting for Abel to come by.  After a few seconds, he said, “ah I see, let’s just pretend then that I didn’t call at all.”  And I said, “no, let’s not do that.”  In a sad, defeated voice, he admitted to understanding:  ”I am not a trustworthy man in your eyes.  You’ll see, I will earn your trust again.   Not with empty words, but with consistent action.”  That was three weeks ago.  I am still waiting for Abel.

Previous post: