Anthony London swings from nylon ropes over the side of building rooftops, a bucket filled with warm water and Joy dishwashing detergent strapped to the board on which he sits. With a scrub brush in one hand and those ropes tightly grasped in the other, London makes his living the old-fashioned way: He washes windows.
Now watching this 26-year-old acrobat do his job is a sight to behold, and children walking through downtown Washington sometimes congregate below him and yell, "Look Mom! It's Spiderman." To which sensible mothers respond by covering their children's eyes and hauling them away.
After all, window washers do fall.
In 1978, London and a partner were standing on a scaffold alongside the Bender Building at 18th and L streets NW when a passer-by shouted up to them: "What would you do if you fell?" The partner began to curse the man. But before he finished, they fell.
"I heard a noise on the street, like a car crash -- then I realized it was the scaffolding coming apart," London recalled. They were 12 floors up, and they dropped eight stories before safety ropes broke the fall.
"All I remember is busting out in a whole bunch of sweat," he said.
For many people, a this kind of brush with death would be enough to make any desk job look good. But for London, the excitment of window washing makes his life worthwhile.
He compares it to a sport, and enjoys the challenge of working against the wind, balancing scrub brush and squeegee in a relentless battle against rain, dust, soot and grime.
His equipment is a wooden board and a set of ropes attached to a descent speed control mechanism called a "Sky Genie." Portably packed like a parachute, it is prefered by window washers who fancy themselves urban mountain climbers.
He opted for this device after his fall from the scaffold, which requires two men to operate and has a reputation for causing several local deaths in recent years.
Once he is over the side of a building roof, however, the fun of window washing begins. Or is it window watching?
"I have seen a lot of naked women in hotel rooms," London smiles. "People have even tried to open the window and offer me champagne."
But there is little time for swinging in and out of hotel rooms when there are more than 1,000 windows to wash each day. Not only that, there is no telling when an inspector from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be watching.
"They might watch you for several days," London says. "Then one will come up to you with a handful of pictures and ask if you know this guy. The guy will say, 'Yeah, that's me.' Then he'll be fined $500 for using one rope instead of two."
The end of the work day brings London home to his wife Annette, who works behind a desk for Pepco. There, she sometimes listens in silence at talk about how crazy people are for working as electrical linemen.
"I never tell them that my husband dangles in the wind from 20-story buildings," Annette London says. "My problem is that $400 a week is not enough for the danger."
This makes Anthony London blush.
The day after his close encounter in 1978, his wife tried to talk him into taking a safer job. "When I told her I wanted to go back up, she said, 'The next time, I hope you break your neck.' "
Of course she didn't mean it.
"What I meant was that this is not something you can make into a career," Annette London said to her husband. "You can't be 50 years old trying to jump off the side of buildings."
Anthony London was washing windows when he started dating Annette more than eight years ago. His work didn't bother her then, but now, after two years of marriage, she says she is having second thoughts.
So Anthony has started taking courses in night school, preparing for a less risky venture in the construction trade. But whatever he ends up doing, he says, he'll always take pride in his skill as a genie in the sky.