Friday, 9 September 2011

Fly too high

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a room on the 22nd floor having a very intense conversation with a client. I had my back to the window and suddenly there was a really loud noise - like a big fan - and I could see the client's eyes were distracted by something behind me.  I looked around.  The windows were being washed by three men in a box which was moving up the outside of the building.  The noise was coming from the engine that was driving them from ground to roof.

As someone who suffers from acrophobia, the idea of being suspended that high up terrifies me.  I've struggled to look down from the third floor, but I love to watch them work. They concentrate so intently on their work that they never seem to notice the people on the inside who are looking out.   I wonder if they can actually see in?  Who can I ask?  Most people haven't been suspended outside the 22nd floor of a skyscraper, so they wouldn't know.

This team of three had a hierarchy.  The guy who was doing the driving.  He only occasionally wielded his squeegee.  The guy at the other end worked quickly and efficiently.  No nonsense about him.  And the guy in the middle who worked on one particular spot.  Scratching and scraping with the same commitment as an altar boy polishing the chapel silver.  As the platform moved up, this guy was still leaning over working on the spot.  They were up cleaning the next window when the box came back down.  The guy driving the operation was rolling his eyes as the middle guy got out his rag to work this one spot on the window a little bit more before he took matters into his own hands and pressed "up".  I swear I saw him spit on the rag.  That was some tough piece of dirt.  On the window.

Now I appreciate having clean windows as much as the next person, but this did seem a little extreme.  The spot was high up on the window of a room that was empty most of the time. The view out to the west of Melbourne was so spectacular it was unlikely to be upstaged by a dirt spot on the window.   I imagined a tug of war amongst the team; this clash of work standards happening at every level.  Annoying the boss would not be something I'd want to do out there.

I once sat in an office on the 11th floor of another city building.  My window overlooked a building with about 8 floors, so I could see their roof.  Roofs are interesting things.  Secret places that are often forgotten. Equipment, doors leading somewhere, occasionally a chair, airconditioning ducts. One day, I watched the whole process of two window washers setting up to abseil down the side of the building.  The procedure was very involved and it looked like it may have been the first day on the job for one of the workers and he was (literally) being shown the ropes by the other guy.

A complex routine of laying out, tying up and throwing over occurred.  Then there was this little piece of wood, kind of like a child's swing that would hang from a tree, which they sat on as they went down the side and washed the windows.  It looked like really hard work.  After about 20 minutes, they were nearly ready to go over, but couldn't go before they each got out a couple of squares of carpet.  I couldn't look away before discovering how they were going to use the carpet.  They laid it over the edge of the building so they wouldn't hurt their knees on the way over!  I love this!  At least they wouldn't have skinned knees when they plunged to their deaths on the footpath below.

Plunging to death is the only option when I think about heights.  I'm okay flying, but was paralysed with fear halfway down the Kuranda skyrail near Cairns in Queensland.  At one of the stops in the rainforest on the way back, I threw myself out of the gondola and begged the (very handsome) guide not to put me back in there.  The friend I was with showed a great deal of patience as she and the (very handsome) guide wrestled me back inside and I sat on the floor as instructed, a shaking mess until we arrived back on the ground at the bottom of the hill.  I thought I'd be okay because it was completely enclosed - sealed in fact - just like being in an aircraft, but I was wrong.

One of the first songs I ever wrote was inspired by my observation of a (very handsome) man who spent an eternity hanging outside my office window, wielding his squeegee.  I'll dig out the lyrics and post them soon.  In the meantime, all this talk of heights has made me nervous.  I'm off to lie on the lounge room floor.

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