|Mr. Savadian said that since his company invented the Winbot, he no longer does his own windows. Behind his triumph, I thought I detected a hint of regret.|
The Joy of Clear Glass: Spring is just around the corner, and that can mean only one thing: spring cleaning. Actually, spring means lots of things—trees budding, birds singing, more hours of daylight—with cleaning ranking pretty far down the list, at least at our house. I'm just trying to make this column sound more timely because, truth be told, the desire I'm here to address can strike me at any season and at almost any hour.
It's not what you think. I'm referring to cleaning my windows. There are few things that annoy me quite as much as a dirty window, as having to observe the world through a layer of filth. And the great thing is, I can do something about it. I'd go so far as to say that little in life delivers greater satisfaction than transforming a window stained with dust and dirt into a perfectly transparent surface through which to admire the planet.
As a brief aside, a while back I visited 30 Rock to interview Chuck Scarborough, the veteran local NBC News anchorman. As impressive an individual as he was, I couldn't believe how dirty his office windows were. The view was great—overlooking Rockefeller Center and the ice-skating rink—but you could only dimly perceive it through the grime. He told me the landlord didn't clean them and he sounded helpless to do anything about it. "Damn it, man," I thought and probably declared, though slightly less strenuously, "you're Chuck Scarborough. You deserve clean windows."
One more almost totally unrelated point regarding the subject of window cleaning: I used to attend a writing group that met occasionally at a Central Park West apartment. The bathroom faced the park. People pay millions of dollars for views of the park, yet the bathroom window was frosted. Why? There wasn't another person who could see the occupants when they showered any closer than Fifth Avenue. And any voyeur would still have to use a high-powered telescope.
My bathroom window has no such view. Yet, when it was installed, I had the manufacturer make the bottom pane of glass frosted for privacy, but the top pane clear so that I could see the world—the clouds scudding by; the seagulls circling. I bet people don't realize there are seagulls circling the city, high in the air, all the time. I wouldn't have, either, if I hadn't insisted on a clear pane.
I offer the Chuck Scarborough outrage and my custom-made bathroom window as proof that I take window cleanliness seriously. So it made sense that when Nick Savadian, executive general manager of Ecovac Robotics, was in town recently I'd seek an audience. Ecovac manufactures the Winbot, a window-cleaning robot.
Given my passion for clean windows, you might think that I'd regard Mr. Savadian and his product as saviors of a sort. No way. Here's why: As much as I love clean windows, 50% of the pleasure—no, 75%—comes from polishing them myself. Like everybody else, I delay gratification. I tell myself they're not that dirty; it can wait; there are more productive things I could be doing with my time.
No, there aren't.
There are also elements of risk involved. My windows in the city open inward for easy cleaning. Nonetheless, I sometimes get carried away and extend my brass squeegee so far outside that I risk tumbling nine stories to the ground. (By the way, I'm not recommending those who live in buildings with old-fashioned windows purchase a harness and straps and hang out over the street for the satisfaction of clean windows; please leave those to professionals.) And my windows upstate have storm windows over them. So, for every window, you're effectively cleaning two windows. Indeed, one could spend the whole day cleaning windows, a temptation I resist.
But when the chore is completed, I never regret it. I may regret a smudge I missed or a streak from the squeegee that shows I could have done a better job. But few things fill me with the same sense of well being as the ability to see the world through clear glass. It's almost as if the sense of control you possess over your immediate space extends out infinitely. You become a god.
So, obviously, it was with no small amount of skepticism that I listened to Mr. Savadian as he touted his window-cleaning robot. He explained that it joins other domestic robots manufactured by his company, including the Deebot, which does floors, and the Atmobot, which chases down pollutants while playing your favorite music. For example, you could be sitting there smoking a Cohiba when all of a sudden you have company; it'll suck in the smoke and serenade you with something by Nirvana. Whether you want company is another matter.
The way the Winbot, which I borrowed for a week, works is that it attaches itself to a window, like a tick, and then scuttles back and forth, its brain somehow mapping the window's dimensions and remembering the area it has already covered. It has certain limitations. It probably won't conquer caked-on grime if you don't wash your windows regularly. And it will only clean windows in the vertical position. Since mine in the city angle for cleaning, the Winbot wouldn't work on them. I suppose I could just attach the device to the outside of the window in its upright position—it comes with a large suction cup to prevent it from falling—but I don't think I'd want to suffer the legal consequences if it somehow lost suction and plummeted nine stories onto the head of an unsuspecting pedestrian.
"Go and enjoy your life," the personable Mr. Savadian told me. "When it's finished, it will play a song and move to the other pane."
Actually, you have to move it. As talented as it is, it can't unsuction itself, climb down, cross the room, pause for a beer, and start on the next window. It still requires a human handler.
But that's not the point. The point is that for some perverse reason, I enjoy cleaning my own windows. (Did I mention that it also saves money? Professional window cleaners can set you back hundreds of bucks.)
"You're the second person in the world" who likes cleaning his own windows, Mr. Savadian told me.
"Who's the first?" I asked.
"You're looking at him," he said. "I'm a clean freak. Clean windows are like clean vision. The sunlight comes in differently. It changes you mood. These are medically proven facts. You have an improved outlook towards life—healthy and happy."
So why deny us obsessive-compulsive types the small pleasures in life? He mentioned do-it-yourself problems such as streaks and dirty water dripping onto floors and carpets. Details.
We even compared notes on our squeegees. He has the two-sided variety, sponge on one side, squeegee on the other. I prefer the classic one-sided squeegee, which I apply after washing the window with a separate sponge soaked in soapy water. Streaks and hard-to-reach corners are promptly addressed with a small towel, just like the pros do.
Mr. Savadian said that since his company invented the Winbot, he no longer does his own windows. Behind his triumph, I thought I detected a hint of regret.