Meet New York City’s High-Rise Window Washers

"High-Rise-Window Washers of Manhattan," via The New Yorker
“High-Rise-Window Washers of Manhattan,” via The New Yorker

If you live or work in Manhattan, chances are you see them daily, specks of humans with squeegees and suds buckets dangling precariously on the sides of skyscrapers. And chances are you haven’t spent much time talking to these high-rise window washers, given the insane heights at which they work.

A new mini-documentary by Kevin Mcalester for the New Yorker reveals everything you’ve always wanted to know about window-washers but were afraid to ask. (Yes, they see naked people a lot; yes, it’s kind of like being Spiderman.) Though the once extremely dangerous job has statistically become far safer over the years, window-washers still make tragic headlines and terrifying YouTube clips from time to time.

It’s not a job for the faint of heart, as the lifelong New Yorkers profiled here, window washers John McDermott and John Wren, make clear. To clean the windows of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center, like they do, “you have to have a set of balls on you,” as Wren puts it. They started this extreme sport of a job as teenagers, which helped. “When you’re 18, you think you’re immortal, and by the time you realize you’re not immortal, it doesn’t bother you,” McDermott says.

The pair give a rare inside look at how the macho culture of window-washing has evolved over time. “You didn’t really think about safety back [in the 80s],” Wren says. “And a lot of window cleanings were better drunk than straight. We didn’t wear harnesses, we didn’t wear safety lines, it was all about the hustle.”

[via The New Yorker]


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