Michele Cardella in Building Operations on March 11, 2019
The workman held the elevator door with one hand and his hard hat with the other. “What floor?” he asked. I squinted at him and his crew. “Really?” I said, “You’ve been hanging outside my window for six months. You know my floor.”
The men looked down, trying not to smile. They were on their way to the roof to catch their ride down the side of my building to continue our Local Law 11 facade repairs. Most of my neighbors think the scaffold is always outside their windows, but I’m convinced it’s permanently parked outside mine. On bad days, workers bang out the old mortar in loud and monotonous intervals, using a hammer and chisel. On really bad days, they switch to a roaring jackhammer. Still, I wave to the crew every morning from my side of the glass, in part to be polite but mostly because I hope they’ll take pity on me and glide away to a different floor. When that fails, I pick up my laptop and move to the storage closet where I’ve carved out a nook padded with jumbo packs of paper towels and toilet paper.
During this, our latest co-op Survivor challenge, our reliably difficult shareholders treated the project as a personal affront, citing the disruption to their tranquility and solitude as reasons why the work should be scheduled at their convenience. One member of this mercifully small group expressed her irritation by spraying the workers dangling outside her apartment with a garden hose. The rest of us just shrugged our shoulders and incorporated Local Law 11 work into the ebb and flow of city living.
The consensus is not that the sidewalk shed is a thing of beauty but that it comes in handy as shelter during rain and snow – especially when the dog needs a quick walk. None of us is immune to the noise and dust – and expense – but most of us recognize that getting the work done helps keep our homes dry and pedestrians passing beneath our brick facade safe.
Throughout the long and invasive process, the workers tried to be pleasant and unobtrusive. Or maybe I have a soft spot for people who earn their living hanging outside my window. They reminded me of another crew on a different scaffold in the fall of 2001. At the time my desk sat beneath the one south-facing window in my lower Manhattan apartment. In the lot beneath, a single-story bodega had been sold to make way for a townhouse that would be taller than my building. By November, when the construction reached my floor, part of me looked forward to losing my southern window. Instead of framing the World Trade Center, it now outlined empty space, a redundant and cruel reminder of how the world had suddenly changed on 9/11.
At the same time, I dreaded becoming a modern-day Fortunato, a character who was entombed alive in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” When the workers appeared in my window, trowels in hand, they met my look of resignation with apologetic smiles. This set off a ricochet of expressions that escalated to broad grins and friendly nods as we went about our jobs. As the cinder blocks were mortared into place, we exchanged greetings through the lot-line glass until, as the last block was set, we said goodbye. I sat at my desk looking at the darkened window, seeing only my own reflection. I was smiling.
Maybe the memory of those days explains why I was so at ease with the men in the elevator now. As I stepped off at my floor, I turned back to the crew. “Here’s something you can’t tell by looking in my window: just once I would like a ride on that scaffold.” Though we all knew that could never happen, the man who was holding the door for me, again, smiled and said, “It’s a deal.”
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