Welcome to the wilds! New Jersey for me was like crossing the border into Tijuana. Sure, the new lifestyle was crazy, but no one would ever admit to living there. When my husband’s job was relocated here in August 2010, we both were frightened. Now we’re learning about life, love, and marriage in this strange new culture. Feel free to tag along for the adventure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Curse of The Broken Sinks

On Sunday, we completed our “walk through” to move into our new townhome. Besides all the light bulbs needing replaced, and the dust and dirt covering every surface; it was your average, slightly neglected rental property. Then, my husband, having searched every cabinet discovered a broken kitchen sink. Real tears formed behind my eyes and I repressed for the sake of our two overly eager Realtors. The woman, being female, saw past my “happy” façade and gave me a hug. I smiled.

“This is great!” I lied. There was just no way to fully explain the trauma of another broken sink. Some people are unlucky in love; I am unlucky with plumbing. In my many rental years, I’ve not just had minor apartment repair problems like a broken faucet or clogged drain; but also the PVC pipes busting, drains leaking, and garbage disposals clogging …the list is as long as the New Jersey sewer system.

To illustrate this curse, I exhibit my first apartment in Washington DC (also my first and only Craigslist apartment find). It was a tiny efficiency off of Connecticut Avenue. It was little, but quaint. I romanticized the city life: riding the metro, living in a dimly lit hovel that was both over priced and abused. It all seemed perfect to me. Granted when I moved in the electricity was glitchy, every surface was covered in wood chips, the shower had about as much water pressure as a dripping drain, and of course there was the sink. My “handyman” landlord, wrote into the lease that I had to call him first for any repairs. Little naive me signed it. Ha…Ha…Ha…

A little helpful advice if your new “handy” landlord has just sold his convertible to buy his fiance an engagement ring, rides the bus, would try to talk himself outside of a cardboard box, and has already evidenced his “mad skillz” with faulty electricity…BEWARE!

The first of many lies that passed across his lips was move-in day.

“The sink doesn’t drain,” I said.

“You have to run the garbage disposal to get it to drain. If it really bothers you, let me know and I’ll read up on it and come over and fix it.”

Now, if you’re reading this, don’t roll your eyes. I thought, “Well, that’s life in the city for you,” shrugged my shoulders and gave it little thought after that. However, I should have thrown my hands in the air and said, “Ah Ha! I know you’re lying! You can’t possibly read?!”

In the first week, my “handyman” landlord visited three times to fix first the electric, then the shower, and eventually endeavor to repair the drain. Turning on the disposal every time I rinsed a glass or ran the dishwasher had gotten old. Just try flipping on the garbage disposal every time the dishwasher drains, and you’ll see my point. However, as suspected my not so handy landlord could not fix it.

It took nearly two months; until the problem was resolved. But don’t hold your breath, he was never successful.

On his final attempt, he said, and I quote, “Could I use one of your steak knives?”

“Sure,” I replied; having no clue what it could possibly be used for when working on a garbage disposal. Then, as he sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, I watched as he attempted to saw PVC pipe with my knife! Inevitably, it slipped. He sliced his own finger, and there was carnage…but paper cut size.

The bleeding stopped after some time, but he still sat in the middle of the kitchen floor whining childishly about the slice, expecting me to feel sorry for him. I had already given him soap, paper towels and a rag, as well as wasted precious minutes listening to him complain rather than watching him fix the broken sink. But I added, “Would you like a band aid?”

“I think I’ll need stitches,” he replied dramatically; as he cradled his pointer finger. And I snickered. Okay, there was a lot of blood, but fingers bleed a lot. Just ask O.J. Simpson.

For a week, I survived without a kitchen sink, because my landlord was too “critically impaired” to come and fix the thing. He just left it out in the middle of my kitchen floor. Don’t feel sorry for him though…he didn’t need stitches. Then, just before his wedding (this is crucial for the story) he does finally come to fix my sink, puts it back together…and surprise, surprise the garbage disposal was still necessary to drain it and now the dishwasher was also unusable.

I’m angry to say the least; especially since another problem of said landlord was his inability to show up on time. He was in a hurry to leave; already late for another appointment, and promised once he returned from his honeymoon he would fix it. He actually asked me to be understanding. And here I thought I had been…for the last two months.

But my battle with the kitchen sink was not over. No, oh no. It exploded while I had a sink fully of soapy water. The constant use of the garbage disposal finally dislodged bolts and piping and the whole thing one night simply broke. After the ferocious clatter, it did not take long to deduce the cause of it. A waterfall cascaded out of the cabinet underneath the sink. We’re talking a massive flood: filthy, soap-scummy, steaming water everywhere!

I called a plumber. There was nothing left to do. Said landlord was on his honeymoon and “I was trying to be considerate” by calling someone else. When my favorite plumber arrived, he needed to snake the disposal after he fixed the pipes. And would you like to guess why my garbage disposal and sink hadn’t worked? It was clogged by packaging material. My landlord never took the plastic and Styrofoam out of the thing when he installed it!

I no longer resent him for his ineptitude. I simply think, “God Bless.” After all it takes a rare individual to defy the laws of nature. With Darwin’s theory, the man should have been dead years ago.

This cautionary tale, however, does illustrate the reason for panic over a broken sink. So when my new landlord asked us to use his handyman before calling in a professional, I gulped back fear and heartache. And I vowed if he asked me for use of a knife, I would kick him out, and call a plumber. There was just no reason to relive the horror.

At 4:30 on the dot, the landlord’s handyman arrived in a truck with all sorts of workman paraphernalia in the bed of it. That was the first good sign. The second was his workman’s shirt and boots. We exchanged pleasantries before he detached and inspected the garbage disposal (I had seen my past landlord take an hour to do the same thing). He worked. I watched. Everything was going well.

It seemed he had made some success before he asked, “Do you have a…”

I held my breath hoping and praying he did not say “knife.”

And when he said, “Flat-head screwdriver. I’ve got one in the truck, but I think I’ve found the problem.” I nearly cheered. Before my amazed eyes, the handyman proceeded to explain what had happened and offered to replace the garbage disposal, because the seal had disintegrated…which he completed in under a day.

Point of this story: Of all the strange things in the Wilds of New Jersey, so far the most intriguingly helpful are handymen…quite capable individuals!

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