Extreme Work

800px-WindowCleanerEvery workday, Brent straps (fastens) himself into an olive-green harness (set of straps, or strips of material, to hold someone or keep them from falling) and a canvas (strong cloth-like material) belt. After checking to be sure everything is ready, he steps out of a window high above New York’s streets and attaches his belt to a pair of hooks (a piece of metal to hang things on) on the facade (face) of the apartment or office building. Standing with his toes on the window sill (piece of wood or stone at the bottom of a window), he begins to wash windows.

Sergio, Jaime, and Cruz follow a similar routine (something you do every time). At dawn (when the sky is light before the sun rises), they lug (carry a heavy object with difficulty) buckets, harnesses, extra-long ropes, and other tools from their truck to a service (for employees) elevator which takes them to the top of the building. When they get there, they attach their ropes to the building and drop them over the side. After strapping on their harnesses, which include a seat to sit on, they attach themselves to the ropes. They pause (stop briefly), pray (ask God) for safety, climb over the edge of the building, and rappel (go down the front of the building by sliding down a rope and touching the building with their feet) to the windows they need to clean.

Brent, Sergio, Jaime, and Cruz all do what we might call extreme work. In Podcast 209, Jeff talked about extreme sports – sport activities that have a high level of danger and often require special equipment. If you’re not familiar with extreme sports, these great photos from National Geographic will quickly give you a feel for (understanding of) them. High-rise (tall buildings) window washing in New York certainly qualifies (can be thought of) as extreme work.

Brent, who’s been washing windows for 30 years, says he does it because he enjoys the work. He was introduced to window washing as a child, when his family was living in Holland, and began to do the work when he was a student at Columbia University.

His tools are very simple. A porcupine washer. A squeegee (rubber-edged tool for removing water from windows). Drop-cloths (large cloths to protect floors). Towels. Buckets. Water. And Joy, a liquid dish-washing soap recommended by his grandmother. He and his 10 assistants – mostly from Ecuador and Guatemala – clean windows in about 10,000 buildings a year.

Sergio, Jaime, and Cruz – young men from Mexico – wash windows because it pays well, allows them to take care of their families in New York, and send money back to their families in Mexico when it’s needed. One of them says, “I’m not rich, but I know that if my parents became ill, I could help them.”

The three young men say that they have to be fast, clean, and careful to be successful. Their biggest concern is the wind. “Yes, I’ve thought that I could die because of the wind,” one of them says. “Each morning we check the weather and decide if we’ll work on the building or not.” And each morning they pray, asking God that nothing will happen to them that day.

If you want to get a better feel for high-rise window washing, you can watch the short videos about Brent and Sergio, Jaime, and Cruz. I hope you’re not afraid of heights (high places)!

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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20 Responses to Extreme Work

  1. Walid911 says:

    very risky but a good combination between adventure and work for living , and as they said they love it , and that what its all about loving what you do specially when it pays off.
    for me I get scary from heights just without being up there with them its only by looking at them from down the street.

  2. Willy says:

    It’s a crazy job! I never to it!

  3. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    By myself, I would not work in such a situation. It is too risky! I love my life and not is worth losing it. No way! I am used to say that flying is for birds, not for men; diving is for fish, not for men; God made men to live stepping on the ground safely. Poor Sergio, Jaime, and Cruz! They deserve all our pity!
    Aecio, feeling the ground under his feet.

  4. Gastón Guerrero. says:

    I disagree what Aécio refer to that workers, I think they don’t deserve any pitty. It’s a extreme job!
    People who do that it’s not just because of the money, they really enjoy the danger that involves. It would be like having pitty for skiing people or parachutist.
    Those workers have my admiration for doing such a brave -crazy- and necesary job.

  5. emiliano says:

    Fascinating video, of course they speaks in Spanish and they are persons like you and me doing a work that
    no body wants to do, so always they could find a site in their society and get enough money to survive, send
    money to their parents and so forth. They have not any boss, make their risky work and see the sky, the
    open air and they are really athletes doing their work.
    Some people like to do risky sports for pleasure, and the put their life just in the edge. These persons are
    doing more or less the same as a task to survive so I admire them.
    Some body have to make the work and they do it, I clap my hands in their honor fo doing this work no body
    are prepared to do it.
    Yes some how I admire them.

    Thank you Warren, a good text as always you write, lot of vocabulary to learn.
    My best to you and your family dear professor.


  6. hussein says:

    man can do any job specialy if their parent are in healthy case
    so do not look at the kind of the job
    but search about the reason

  7. Myo ko ko says:

    “I am not a coward!”
    That was I thought to myself before I’ve read this post.
    But truth be told, I get goose bumps just looking the photo you put up there!
    It is not that I don’t have enough courage to do such a risky and life-threatening job,
    it is just that I have this a little inkling fear of heights!
    You see, I’m still brave!!! 😉

    Thanks Warren
    I’ll be back soon.

    Myo ko ko

  8. Dan says:

    Hey Guys, Hello Warren.

    Interesting new words I did not know, interesting video, and I saw other videos over there related to workers in NY city.

    I like the word “squeegee” that tool makes just that sound when used. Is that an onomatopoeic word? It looks like it is.

    To tell you the truth, I do not see that job so dangerous. I mean, if you are well attached nothing can happen.

    I would do it, why not. It’s a job.

    Thank you.

  9. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,
    I think these women and these men have a lot of courage. This job requiert to be very careful and these people take huge risks.

    Each day you don’t know if you will go back at home alive (with a family, it can be much more difficult).
    Even if this job pays well in compared to others job because of extreme risks, I think that these risks are big too.
    As we say in French “ life has not price “ I don’t know if you understood me.

    I think probably many of these people do this job, because they have no choice, they have a family, certain people comes from abroad, like Mexico and so forth.
    Sometimes they have not qualification or simply because of their graduation which is not known by the US for work in their field.

    The positive think is that they are lucky to see a nice view of things that surround us, when they are outside to clean windows of high-rise.

    I wish a lot of courage to all these people who make this job.

    See you soon


  10. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Hello my friend Gastón Guerrero.
    I am very honored for getting your words of disagreement. Of course, I do not expect you to agree with my thoughts for opinion is one thing that belongs to those who have them. My friend, when I said “pity” it was not what you understood. People like me who got a graduation on work safety engineering and know almost everything about accidents have some precautions trying to avoid people from getting hurt and lose their lives in accidents. Regardless all the cares workers take with safety personal equipment, the probability of occurring an accident is very high, just seeing the statistics in press. Like people say: “Accidents happen.” All right my friend, reading your words is really pretty nice. Believe me!
    Aecio, from the line below the equator, Brazil, where there is no sin.

  11. emiliano says:

    Very complicated subject to talk about, but people are so different every where that is quite difficult to
    be in the sould of our human brothers.

    Only some questions.

    What about being a bullfighter?
    formula one pilot?
    motorcycle racer?
    test pilot?

    All these are risky professions, they earn lots of money, that is the big only

    These men do a job very difficult and dangerours, but it is sure they enjoy
    doing their work because they could choose another one less risky, even
    it is possible they could earn more money doing this that doing other kind
    of job.

    My best Aecio and Gaston Guerrero, you are very welcome Gaston.


  12. emiliano says:

    this is an extreme job also given to femails by the Creator:

    Very timely reaches my eyes reading the feelings of a young gestate to the fact their first child within her womb.
    I admired her words, her emotions, and It serves as a good example to treat a subject as controversial as what is abortion.

    I can not properly review this issue, I am not a woman therefore impossible to be a mother, but I understand that a it is difficult, controversial, punishable by years, have laws that embrace the right circumstances for a woman to have legal support to interrupt a pregnancy grounds recognized by law.

    We live in society, we can not exercise our will without the same is covered by the law, more attentive if the rights of others let alone the rights of an unborn being.
    He, the unborn beings, can not ensure their rights, should be the law society who care for them.
    It is my opinion that may be wrong, but for that there are forums, modifications, and words.
    But what has no name is the feel, is the best God could do … feeling your baby as it moves inside, is an emotion that has no limit, you feel a bit connected to yours .. and now I have it in my arms I could not explain the emotion I feel every time I look in those beautiful eyes, feel his little hands touching my face is the best gift God could give me ……….. (Monica 26 years, his first son Thiago)…these are her words said to me.
    These are feelings of a young woman who has been a mother for the first time and that we men can never feel.
    Amaze me as yesterday’s demonstrations in Madrid, when three young naked from the waist up are manifested in the Congress of Deputies screaming comparing abortion with something sacred.

    It is certain that a new mom is not going to manifest peculiar that way screaming how good it felt being a mother and brewing a new life for nine months.

    To my sincere words that reflect a strong, strong sense of motherhood have absolutely more value than the cries of these other women who may otherwise manifest freely gave reasons to opt for an abortion to measure, however it is easy and that if you want to be mothers at hand without having to mow the new life can take shape in her womb.

    I am not a woman, I repeated, not have the feeling of being a mother, but if you shouting women don´t like you can help being without resorting to abortion.
    I have three adult daughters, who do not want to be mothers and put the appropriate means to avoid becoming pregnant.

    My daughters were born in the period of four years and when my wife and I decided not to procreate more children was really easy not to.

    There are ways, you just need information and culture enough to put the media.

    ” The right to abortion is sacred and neither sackcloth nor Gallardón he is putting the ideas are those to decide what we do with our body ”
    That what these girls or women said in the Congress shouting and showing there breasts, what for? I don´t undertand…

    and the add…

    “Women can be naked when the system you want and we write our claims in our bodies ”


    Teach young people and report the means exist to prevent impregnating her girls, couples, girlfriends or wives.

    The man, the young, must be informed, trained and hold him accountable for his actions, and the girl, the young man or woman should also know what it means to build a life inside.
    Abortion with rules, laws, within limits dictated by the reason if, like other issues really conflicting.

    We are not equal, we do not think or feel the same way. Our beliefs are different, as are our priorities, responsibilities and of course our resources to train and educate our children.
    Most adults know very well what to do to not bring more children into this world, without resorting to drastic, traumatic, painful for almost every woman an abortion.

    No action is to forget, we remember, and I imagine that most women who have abortions can not imagine ever stop as would have been the unborn child.

    Attention, be carried in the media headlines in the newspapers, and that many people speak of unimaginable event must occur in these women a great satisfaction.

    They can teach their friends, their families, not if their children or grandchildren although it is possible that if, that were once the center of attention in the news in a country called Spain.

    A country that we are so stupid, I am the first, and to pay attention and be an unusual source of gatherings and talks such nonsense.

    I do not understand either, if they are feminists, and use her naked body as a showcase of their claims.
    Use her feminine attributes as vindictive claim does not seem very advanced or feminist. On the contrary, it is archaic, went to the eleventh century when Lady Godiva ride naked covered only by her hair to vindicate rights of his vassals to her husband the Earl of Chester.

    Lady Godiva (early eleventh century ) was a lady Saxon , famous for his kindness and beauty, who was married to Leofric (968-1057), Earl of Chester and Mercia and lord of Coventry . Your name Anglo Godgifu or Godgyfu means gift of God (“gift of God”), Godiva is the Latin version of the name. This lady, in sympathy with the sufferings and hardships of his vassals , who with her ??husband esquilmaba taxes abusive, empathized with them. Built along with her ??husband, whose good administration is remarkable, the monastery of Coventry.

    The repudiation

    When ambition seized her husband, she asked him to lower its taxes. The Count agreed, but on condition that thrilling through Coventry Lady Godiva riding , without your long hair garment. The lady did, but not before agreeing with their neighbors that they are locked away in their houses for not disturbing in its nakedness . The chosen day Lady Godiva walked naked through the village, riding her horse, while all Coventry residents remained in their homes locked and windows closed.

    The legend , that historians may be based on a true story-at least partially-finished explaining that Leofric , touched by the gesture of his wife, kept his promise and cut taxes.


    Thes girls not invent anything that has not been done already and at that time women had no rights penalties, did not count, their only means to vindicate or proved attention go to his own nakedness.
    Now if you have other means like men to raise their demands or express disagreement with a law, which frankly I have not read anything, absolutely ignore the content.

    I can not talk about a law unknown to me, I can only comment on what I see and feel.

    (from my blog….thank if you read it)


  13. Myo ko ko says:

    I think, here a question arises: Why some people “have to do” such high-risk jobs?”
    As far as I can think of, the answer is not that simple — “because it pays well.”
    Will anyone of us here do such high-rise window cleaning jobs just becsuse we get paid pretty well?
    I doubt.
    I myself will never do that sort of jobs, even if offered.
    (That doesn’t means I’m not courageous, by the way! 😉 )
    No matter how much well I get paid, it doesn’t pay off to take the risks.
    Some people do some extreme jobs just because they are already there for that.
    I mean, Mother nature has already created some confined situations for them.
    Some people have fewer choices than others in choosing their careers.
    You know, nobody on earth wants to earn a hard living with risks.

    Myo ko ko

  14. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Emiliano, as I have already said each one lives the life they chose. If someone choose to live in danger it is their concern, we do not have the right to inerfere and change their mind. Let life go the way it goes. Period. Everything I have to do I take a close look and decide what is the safest way. One day I will die so why not to wait calmly til the end. Only God has the right to take your life and God gave your life for you to take a good care of it. Being careless with your life is an unforgivable sin. Deadly sin. Think carefully about these words and live in peace and get the heaven after dying.
    Aecio from the land below the equator line where there is no sin.

  15. Parviz says:

    Hi everybody,
    Dear warren
    Thank you for this interesting topic.
    I was astonished by their work. It takes a lot of thought and courage.
    Hanging from a tall building it’s not easy.
    As a child a was always afraid of heights. It takes less effort to go up than it takes to go down.
    I used to go up fast, but when I got to the middle, I got trapped. So I could use some help to come down.
    It has always never been an interesting thing to do, for me of course.
    I think this people are crazy.
    And brave of course.
    Thank you

  16. Parviz says:

    It seems we have got some new friends here.
    Hello to all of you guys.


  17. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Hello Parvis. Are you new here? Well come to the club. I am Aecio and I would like to be your real friend as the others are. What do you think about it? Pleasure.

  18. Ando says:

    it seems so terrible…

  19. Tania says:

    Hi! It’s a new job in my country as we do not have skyscrapers being a seismic area.
    I’m afraid of heights. I think Spiderman was inspired by the window cleaners’ work on skyscrapers.
    Thank you for the interesting articles from The New York Times regarding Manhattan or Fisher Island, Palm Springs, Aspen, South Beach, Sarasota.

  20. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Yes, it seems and it is.

Comments are closed.