Window Washer Thrill Comedy
One of the pleasures of living in a ranch style home is that I can clean all of the outside windows while standing firmly on the ground. Here is why that’s important to me.
219 Audubon Avenue
Once each season in my growing up years in the 1940s and 50s, my mother would wash the outside windows of our Manhattan apartment, with me serving as her very unwilling assistant. There were eight windows, four of them four stories up, looking out at Audubon Avenue and four more looking into the courtyard five stories below. (The frosted bathroom windows escaped her attention.)
With a bowl of water, laced with ammonia and a stack of newspapers, my five foot tall Mom, wearing her old apron and a babushka, would open the window and then sit on the window ledge and close the window in front of her. My job was to stand inside and hold tightly onto her legs. Her rationale was that should the window sill crumble or should she slip and fall off it, I would be able to keep her from falling and drag her back into the apartment. As a kid with acrophobia, it was an additional challenge.
She would then wash the window and of course dust the window frame and sill at the same time. She expected the same clear visibility that she once had out of the windows of her Bavarian farm house. Of course, I wasn’t assigned the task because I could not have cleaned it as thoroughly as she did.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
In June of 1968, I was given my first windowed office. After laboring for 12 years in the bowels of various midtown Manhattan buildings, I had taken the job of Advertising Manager for The Singer Sewing Machine Company. Singer occupied the top floors of the 70 story GE Building (at that time known as the RCA Building), in Rockefeller Plaza.
My office was south facing on the 62nd floor of the building. When I arrived, I noticed my predecessor had his desk facing out the door with his back to the window. The first thing I did was to have my desk rotated, so that I looked out the window to the southwest. Because the west side skyscraper boom had not yet occurred, I had a wonderful view of the Hudson River, the harbor and the southern part of Manhattan Island. I quickly overcome my fear of the height and took to eating lunch in the office and looking out the window at the spectacular scenery, occasionally using binoculars to get closer views of the cruise ships and other river traffic.
About a month after my start, while engrossed in my work, I heard a gruff voice at my door ask: “In or out?” I had no idea of the purpose of the question and it was quickly, more insistently repeated: “In or out?” I replied: “In” and in came a window washer, who locked the office door behind him.
Without uttering another word, he opened the window, took one side of a web belt he wore, attached it to a bolt in the outside of the window, stepped out on the ledge, closed the window and attached the other side of the belt to the other bolt. With a squeegee and window wiping blade, he proceeded to wash and dry the window. When he was done, he reversed the process and climbed back inside. As I sat in stunned silence, he explained the reason he locked the door was that often outside wind gusts could create problems with his entry and access to the inside.
For the next three and a half years, I always opted for “Out,” when asked the “In or Out” question.
708 Third Avenue
In the late 1980s I worked at the Association of National Advertisers in its headquarters offices on the 33rd floor of an office building at the corner of Third Avenue and 44th Street.
For security measures, before 8am and after 6pm our office was closed off from the building elevators by a solid wooden door. An early riser, I was often in the office shortly after 7am, locking myself in as was the security procedure.
One morning, I heard knocking. Walking out of my office and down the hall to the reception area, I opened the door and found no one there. A couple of minutes later, I heard it again and made the same trip with the same results.
The third time I heard the knocking; I listened more carefully and deduced the knocking wasn’t coming from the front door, but rather from the President’s office across the hall from me. I cautiously walked into his empty office and much to my surprise saw that the knocking was being done by a window washer on the window ledge outside the office.
The window washer was the multi-talented building handyman, a very large, very helpful person. I went to the window and he told me that the window was jammed and asked me to help him pry the window up so that he could climb back in. Despite my vision of him — and me along with him– plunging from the 33rd floor, I put pressure on the window and together we opened it up. He unlocked himself from the outside bracket stepped in and then slumped on to the President’s couch. He had been out there for at least 15 minutes. He was also quick to tell me that he had managed to clean the window before he had the problem.
In my opinion, window washing will always be hazardous.