One day, when I had just moved into my then-new-to-me apartment, I noticed that the kitchen sink was kind of sluggish. I thought perhaps the problem lay in a little tangle of happy wee leaves and sticks right below the drain, and so I judiciously used a screwdriver to loosen the drain thingamie and was greeted by a torrent of sloppy, foul smelling water about my feet.
What? I thought (also eew). What has happened here? the loosening of a drain screw should not cause there to be water on my floor, under my sink and on my feet. Upon further investigation, I discovered the cause. My sink is not a US-style sink. It does not have metal pipes and a handy S-curve to prevent sewer gases from building up in my home and killing me. Instead, in the undersink cabinet, I have what looks like it came out of a kids’ build-your-own-plumbing-project. First of all it is plastic. And not held together with handy little washers and screws and threaded things that go click and pop and whir when they are held together. Rather, it is a series of PVC tubes roughly sawn with a hacksaw or likewise to emulate the underneath of a sink.
But the crowning glory on this invention of a sink is the sifón. The sifón is a bulbous black capsule-shaped piece that goes between the outflow of the sink and into never-never land. It replaces the S-curve. The idea is that it holds a little bit of water to prevent the gas backup. But in the end, what happens is that all those sticks and twigs and cherry pits and occasional days-old-polenta that goes down your drain ends up clogging the sifón.
Let’s go back to my original discovery of the sifón. After I took a dirty sinkwater footbath, I realized that I should probably empty this capsule-like item. So I carefully unhitched it from where it was held in place with spit and a prayer, and gently guided it out from under the sink–and immediately almost fell to the ground convulsing from the smell of putrefying other-people’s food waste.
That was the one and only time I ever emptied the sifón. The process should go like this: take deep breath, unwedge sifón, run to bathroom, dump in toilet, flush, run away, take other deep breath and reinstall.
But I have an olfactory sensitivity like few others, perhaps reminiscent of the guy in that book by Patrick Susskind (but without the serial killing). I simply cannot be exposed to foul smells. Even now, two years later, conjuring up this story has made me feel a little ill.
So what do I do? I can’t have a slow-flowing sink, I can’t have a no-flowing sink, and I can’t empty the sifón. What’s my approach?
My approach, dear readers is the luxury of a small sopapo. That’s right, a tiny plunger that’s just for the kitchen sink. It moves enough of the twigs and weeds and polenta around to let the whole mess flow freely. It probably bothers my friends when they see a plunger in the kitchen, thinking the worst of me, of my hygiene standards. But you know what? If you had to smell the contents of the sifón you’d be right there with me going plunge-a plunge-a plunge-a.
I’m not a violent person. But plunge I must. In the end if all this sopapo-ing doesn’t work, I have the perfect solution: I’m moving.
-The best part of this story is that sopapo is, of course, the word for plunger only in Chile. It’s desatascador (atasco is a jam, like a paper jam) or it’s destapador (tapar is to cover or block) in most other countries. And sopapo in regular Spanish is a slap across the face, more or less.