[On Sundays, Career Calling takes a break from jobs and callings to think about how we work and how work shapes our lives.]
A few days ago, I was listening to 950 AM, The Avenue, a radio station in Chicago that plays a style of music called “timeless cool.” Most of its song mix is vocal jazz and jazz-influenced pop and rock acts like Norah Jones and Steely Dan. One of the station’s favorite singers is Van Morrison. Almost everyone knows Morrison’s biggest hits like “Brown-eyed Girl” and “Domino.” But on this night, The Avenue snuck in “Cleaning Windows,” a song that did not crack Casey Kasem’s Top 40. It’s about work and joy.
Kids want to grow up to be President, ball players, singers, astronauts, and doctors. Who grows up wanting to wash windows? I really didn’t think much about window washers until I opened a business that has a sign – in a window. I thought about cleaning my office windows myself, the equipment would have been cheap and it would take a few minutes once a month. Then I realized that I knew someone who cleaned windows, the young man who always smiled and said hello to me when I passed him on the street.
Abe Quigley was my first window washer, and he had several clients up and down the Andersonville business strip on Clark Street. On the hottest summer afternoons and snowy, cold winter mornings, Abe had the same smile and words of friendly welcome. That was a big part of the reason I hired him. He also did great work that left me more time to do the kind of work I’m good at and like doing.
A few years ago, Abe left the company to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. He was replaced by Omar Misal, who is a foot shorter than Abe, but just as skilled in his craft. Where Abe could reach high points or do so with one pole, Omar will use several poles linked together or climb on a ledge to reach higher. Both men shared a love for their work that was obvious in the final product – no dirt – no streaks.
The window cleaner, like other craftsman, has the reward of doing work where the result is obvious. It can be seen. They don’t manage a “complex sales cycle” or a “multi-phase project.” The do not deal in “intangible outcomes.” Such work lets the working person stand back and appreciate the result of her labor. Van Morrison caught this feeling in his song:
What’s my line
I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time
I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby, don’t let it slide
I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows . . .
Sadly YouTube does not have a video of Van the Man singing this song, but it does have a funky, jazzy version by Jason Wilson Band with Pee Wee Ellis. Click here to listen.
To hear Abe Quigley’s music and learn more about him follow this link.