I’m not sure what it is about a man with a squeegee. There’s just something about watching someone methodically smooth out or wipe off a surface that I find absolutely mesmerizing.
It all started in Paris. In the arched subway tunnels of the city of light, there are massive ads that follow the curve of the wall. The men who preside over these oversize posters – advertising everything from grocery store discounts to an upcoming theatre performances – are like the oompa loompas of the métro. Not because they are short or unattractive, but rather because they arrive in bright blue overalls, at unexpected times of the day, to complete a job you almost forgot existed.
Hanging a Parisian subway poster, curiously enough, does not involve the removing of the previous poster. The new poster arrives, neatly divided into four-six sections, each of which is neatly folded in four. The bright blue overalled “man of the hour” unfolds one of the four sections, lines it up with the edge of the poster’s frame, and deftly smooths out the magically adhesive fabric, repeating this job three more times until the poster is complete. I have, at times, missed a train on purpose to watch these men at work. There is something so soothing, almost meditative, about the rhythm and precision of their work. Perhaps it is just the quiet confidence of a job well done, a small glimpse of the many seemingly simple infastructures that keep our complex world afloat.
(Upon watching this film, I realized that my memory had omitted that the Parisian poster hangers work with brushes, not squeegees – but the movements are squeegee-like.)
The New York subway holds no such pleasure for me. I’ve never seen anyone change out the small-scale advertisements on the subway cars (although I’d be interested to watch them complete one of the full-scale ad-makeovers on the 42nd street Shuttle), and larger advertisements do not hang on the stations’ walls. So far removed from my Parisian moments of squeegee meditation am I, that when I received an email this morning stating that a window washer would be paying my office a visit, I did not – at first- register that there would be a squeegee involved.
I have seen window washers in New York City before. They are a daring breed, half-hanging out of skyscrapers (and often looking down). I always fear they’ll flinch when a car honks or a garbage truck goes rattling by. But I’ve never had a window washer visit my own office or home.
The process is simple enough (with double-hung windows) and not as dangerous as I would have thought. But the squeegee action is blissful. Sudsy swirls drag across the window pane, followed by the clean sweep of a squeegee (led by the methodical snaps of a well-trained wrist).
The men who visited my office this morning, squeegees in tow, could never have anticipated the glee I felt while watching their masterful work. And though they were here for mere minutes, they made my day (not to mention improved my view).
The only irony in this squeegee splendor is that I feel no such joy in manning the squeegee myself. It is only watching the true experts, the unconscious rhythm derived from their repetitive gestures, that fills me with childish awe and wonder.