Essays > Coping with Communal Life > How to get the toilet repaired
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A letter to a newspaper and to the housing office gets the job done.
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This story about a plumbing job in an apartment is told by the historian K.P. The incident occurred in a private apartment, but is nonetheless a good illustration of the relationship between people and city repair services.

When K.P. was a little girl, the toilet broke in the apartment where she lived (as the joke goes, while the intelligentsia live in different kinds of apartments, the one thing they all feature is a leaking toilet). Water kept flowing without filling the tank. The housing-office plumber was gloomy in his prognosis: the corrugated tubing in the tank was worn through. There were no tubes in the warehouse and none were coming in; he had no idea where to get one. So there was nothing he could to do help. Oh, the marvelous technology of the toilet tank! In the archaic constructions of the 1970s, there was a kind of toilet tank that used a corrugated tube: when you yanked on the pullcord, the tube contracted and let water flow through a metal pipe into the toilet bowl. The tank was high up, more than a meter above the toilet, and the pipe was long.

K.P.'s father, a physicist, used a classic Soviet ploy. He wrote a letter and sent it to both the local housing office and to a newspaper, something like Leningradskaya Pravda. In the letter he noted the precise amount of water, in liters, that flowed into the sewage system because the tube had holes in it. Calculated over an entire year, the number was significant, and as a result of poor-quality tubes, the country, it seemed, was flushing away millions of precious rubles intended for the domestic economy. As an honest citizen, the author of the letter made a request: if the government could not provide its citizenship with new tubes, it should charge him personally for the use of communal resources. The water, after all, was flowing out of his household, while nobody was paying for it. And he was ready to pay.

The offer was paradoxical (who would ask to pay extra?) but effective. A few days later, around midnight, the doorbell rang. At the door was the housing office plumber with a tube that just happened to turn up at the right time.

Click the image to see a larger version, uncropped and annotated.
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