Cold, Clean Glass

There’s a window washer perched outside my window right now. It’s not really my window, but a leased section of glass, making up the enclosure of the office building in which I work. One of many in downtown Toronto.

I caught a glimpse of the support rope earlier, drawn diagonally across the side of the building. Knowing what it was, I thought how crazy it must be to clean windows on such a cold day—the coldest so far for November, with the days shorter and the nights longer. He descended as if out of nowhere, against the backdrop of a stone-grey sky and a historic church surrounded by new condos on every side.

Another sip of my coffee. Sitting down, I turn on my computer and arrange my notebook and pen, ready for the day ahead. The fluorescent light above me flickers briefly—stuttering in protest to the slow march of the week.

There is a snap as he locks a hand-held suction cup on the glass and brings himself into position. An old plastic bucket hangs from his side, into which he dunks and proceeds to wipe down the glass with whatever home-made cleaning solution he’s concocted. It’s most likely water with a closely guarded secret ratio of antifreeze. Shifting again, he repositions the suction cup. From his tool belt be produces a squeegee and, with expert movements, passes it across the glass, never stopping or lifting it at any point, which would leave marks. His expression is one of focus against daylight time and the elements.

For the third time already I’ve adjusted my office chair, trying to attain the perfect height to tilt ratio in an effort to alleviate the pain in my lower back. Using an antistatic cloth, I wipe down my computer monitor. That’s better. Around me people are talking, phones are ringing, along with the incessant pinging of email and social media notifications.

Does someone inspect the window washer’s work? Would they take the time and effort to climb up and inspect it up close, or would they have the luxury of checking it from street level with binoculars?

Ping. Email notification. There’s a meeting later on today. I need to bring my project notes to provide an update on estimated time of completion. Ping. More emails. More notifications.

Thump. The window washer proceeds to the next section of glass and uses the same time-tested technique. It’s fascinating. Here I am sitting at my computer desk, in a climate controlled office, working on the latest marketing project. The window washer outside—he’s doing honest work, although his efforts are invisible to everyone. Except for me. His labour may go unnoticed, but I appreciate his efforts. I’m a silent witness to his difficult and dangerous work.

Finally, he descends to street level where he unharnesses himself. Gathering his tools, he loads them into the trunk of a small blue car and drives off before the daylight wanes.

In need of a another coffee before the meeting, I ride the elevator down to the main level where the cafe is located. Another long night awaits me. At the main entrance I look out at the street through the cold, clean glass, watching the sunlight fade into early evening.