He walks to the row of elevators at the US Bank Building downtown and chooses the one the public doesn’t ride, the only one that reaches the 15th floor.
At the 15th, he walks down a hallway, past the “Danger Employees Only” sign and unlocks a gray steel door at the top of steep narrow steps. Beyond lies a room filled with humming machinery. Beyond that lies the building’s white roof, lit like a stage by the noon sun. Beyond the roof, nothing.
Eric Katzer walks to the edge, turns his back and goes over.
The owner of WestCoast Window Cleaning, Katzer is one of about 15 high-rise window washers in Spokane, washing the city’s tallest buildings spring to fall. He started as a 16-year-old who needed a summer job and found work from a friend’s father.
The roof of a 15-story building is empty, calm. Sharp noises of the street, worn smooth by distance, sound like a river or big wind. The mind strays. It goes places it shouldn’t. It contemplates jumping.
“You think, ‘If I run as hard as I could, I could make it out to the fountain,”’ Katzer says.
It’s not a suicidal urge, it’s the desire to see what it would be like. Every high-rise window washer he’s met has felt something similar, Katzer says.
When he was 18, the urge was so strong he had to back away from the edge and sit down in the center of the roof.
“I was just feeling really wacky,” Katzer says.
After that, he never felt the siren song of the jump again. His mind is on firm ground, even if his feet are not.
Katzer’s not a thrill seeker. He’s a talkative, athletic-looking 32-year-old who likes to watch a lot of TV.
He’s been married 10 years, has three kids and describes himself as a homebody.
“The kids think it’s just hilarious, my wife on the other hand …” he says, trailing off with comic timing.
“Look, Daddy fly,” said Katzer’s 2-year-old son Geoffrey on a recent visit to his dad’s workplace.
“I can see how safe he is,” says Tammy, Katzer’s wife. “We have a very close family and he obviously wants to live, but I still have a lot of anxiety.”
After kissing him goodbye in the morning, Tammy tells him: “Be Safe. Don’t Fall. That’s an order.”
By two ropes, Katzer hangs more than 200 feet above the ground. One is his main line, the other a backup. The green, half-inch main line can hold 10,000 pounds and is attached to the small seat Katzer hangs in.
The backup is clipped via a lanyard to a harness he wears. Both ropes are anchored to beams or other immovable objects on the roof.
The US Bank Building’s crown has an overhang that leaves Katzer dangling until he swings his body toward the first ledge, a place usually reserved for birds. This is Katzer’s office.
Built in 1910, the building has vanities only its builders and window washers have seen. Lion heads with jaws agape hang under the building’s crown. Garlands frame the windows.
“Isn’t this building beautiful?” Katzer says, sweeping his squeegee across the glass.
He moves confidently, almost graceful on these ledges. But his appearance can turn stomachs.
Inside the offices, people see him, smile, wave, then leave the room.
“It makes them scared to see me out there,” he says.
Katzer respects height. He uses rope twice as strong as law requires. He won’t get near the edge of a building without being tied to something immovable. His familiarity with tall empty spaces has not inoculated him against their power. Some days he feels nervous. He talks to himself while over the edge. It calms him.
But asked about the risk, he replies with an absolute: “I will never fall.”
It does not sound boastful. It sounds modest, as if it were a fact of life: I eat. I breath. I will never fall.
“Everyone who dies in window cleaning is doing something stupid,” Katzer says.
His mind contains no doubt about his safety.
The day it does will be the day he quits.
Until then, Katzer will continue his rooftop visits. After testing his ropes, he will turn his back to the tall empty spaces and step over the edge.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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