Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A life in the day

This pulled me up short. It’s from A Life in the Day, an anthology of the famous back-page column in the Sunday Times magazine. It’s from 4 January 1998, when Roko Camaj, who cleaned the windows of the upper floors of the World Trade Center in New York, described a typical day of his life with a certain quotidian lyricism:

Window cleaners are weird guys. I think it’s because when you go down the side of a building it’s a completely different world …. I’ve been working up here for 22 years and now it’s just like I’m standing on the ground … This tall city seems so shrunken and insignificant from up above. It’s like a toy town, with tiny cars and people who look like toothpicks. I’m even higher than the clouds and airplanes. When they flit by I have an urge to jump out and ride on the back of them. I see a few birds circling round and I often have the unpleasant task of cleaning squashed birds from the windows when they’ve crunched into the glass by mistake. Everything has to be secure in the cage. You can’t, for example, have loose change in your pockets. God forbid – if you drop one penny from here you can kill someone down below.

My world consists of windows and reflections. I prefer to be on the outside looking in. I’m the one who’s free. Inside it’s like a jail. I wouldn’t ever want to change places with the big shots sitting inside in their leather chairs. As I pass their air-conditioned cages, I can see they’d love to rip off their ties. Me, I don’t have any stress … It’s pretty hellish up there when the wind whips around, though the cage is rock solid. But I’ve often come off the building with windburn. In summer there’s a nice spidery breeze … But I love this job. I get $75 more than the window cleaners downstairs.

Roko Camaj was on the roof of the south tower on September 11 2001 and his body was never found.


  1. Lovely read Joe. really enjoy ur posts.
    Thanks for writing about such everyday people and their lives

  2. Thanks, anon.

  3. A very powerful and understated post Joe.

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