Mr. Windex does windows. Inside and out, he washes the windshields of hundreds of taxicabs every day, joking and hollering, parading and performing as he squirts and wipes. In his brown trousers and dingy Chicago Bears T-shirt he walks confidently among the moving cabs–past them, between them, patting the hoods and yelling greetings to the multinational drivers.
On most days Mr. Windex can be found working the row of cabs on Michigan outside the Chicago Hilton and Towers, calling out to passersby like a stand-up comic grilling his audience.
“Oh, just look at this happy couple!” he bellows to a pair of tourists, bending at the waist and clasping his hands together. “Are you taking your wife shopping today, sir? Well, you know what they say, no shoppin’ no hoppin’, no money no honey!” Mr. Windex rolls out a laugh while the couple continues down the sidewalk, grinning. “Now go on, get outta here,” he says. “You’re all right!”
Dangling from one belt loop is his bottle of Windex, from another a worn-looking Walgreens bag that serves as a wastebasket. Stuck in the back of his pants is a rolled-up newspaper from which he peels sheets to wipe the windows. Mr. Windex charges a dollar a cab and on a good day does 20 an hour, sometimes working as many as 12 hours a day.
Four sailors in white uniforms approach from the north. “Excuse me! Excuse me!” Mr. Windex calls out. “Is it true that sailors pee in the ocean?” He raises his eyebrows, puckers his lips, then breaks into a wide smile. “You’re all right, big guy,” he says to one of the amused young men. “And I’m sure your parents are glad they don’t have to feed you no more.”
Mr. Windex is cleaning the back window of a cab. “Excuse me,” he says to the driver, leaning into the passengerside rear window. “Do you know any virgins?”
Presently a group of young ladies dressed in white shorts and summer tops pours out of the Hilton and down the sidewalk. Mr. Windex stops mid-streak, a soggy newspaper in hand.
“Hello ladies! How are you today?” His voice chimes melodiously. “Are you going out tonight?” The girls exchange puzzled looks and nervous giggles. “Well, maybe I should shower and change,” he says, adjusting his shirt collar, mock dapper. The girls are laughing as they walk away. Mr. Windex calls out to them. “Do you know that every time I see you it makes me happy? There’s something about you that motivates a man.” He nudges a cabdriver standing next to him and whispers, “I heard that on Barney Miller.”
Mr. Windex has been clearing away bugs and grime for Chicago cabbies for two years now. Before that he was, to use his phrase, “down and out.”
“I was on the street, bumming for change,” he says, sipping a Coke at Chequers grill, in the Balbo and Michigan corner of the Blackstone Hotel. “I used to beg over on Wabash. Every day the same cop would look for me, as soon as he started his shift. He told me he didn’t wanna see me standing around no more.”
Mr. Windex breaks off when he sees a waitress he knows walking by. “Excuse me,” he says to her. “Would you ever consider dating a black man? It would sure beat watching Jungle Fever!” She rolls her eyes and smiles. The manager of Chequers walks by, scowling and tired. “Hey Jimmy!” Mr. Windex cries. “I tried to get my girlfriend pregnant last night. It was great. You should’ve been there.” He returns to his story: “Then one day I saw this old man over at the Palmer House, washing cab windows. I said, ‘Damn, I can do that.’ So I bummed a coupla bucks and bought a bottle of Windex. And I’ve been at it ever since.” In New York City and some sections of Chicago parasitic window cleaners pounce uninvited onto your car, slopping suds across your windshield before you have a chance to protest. It’s not that way with Mr. Windex. “He wipes our windows clean, makes a decent buck, keeps an eye on our cabs when we step around the comer, and entertains the hell out of people on the sidewalk,” says a cabbie named Bill.
“He talks too much,” says Hussam, a Jordanian cabbie with a thick accent. “But I let him wash my windows every time.”
“I got a lot of regular customers,” Mr. Windex says. “I got some guys who say, ‘Whenever you see my cab, wash the windows whether they’re dirty or not.'”
Mr. Windex goes through about three quarts of window cleaner a day. “I’ll tell you the truth,” he confides. “Even though I carry a Windex bottle, I actually fill it with Walgreens window cleaner It’s thicker and I can dilute it more.”
He was given his moniker by a cop who observed him in action. Soon after he could be seen in T- shirts and jackets that say “Mr. Windex” in iron-on letters. “I go over to Woolworth’s on State Street,” he says. “They do my shirts for 35 cents a letter.”
“Oooo you didn’t bring me any Taco Bell?!” he bellows to a group of girls walking by with Taco Bell bags. He puts his hands on his hips, rolls his head over to one side, and bugs out his eyes, grinning. “Do you know that every tune I see you it makes me happy?” He shakes his index finger, then quickly retracts it into his fist, spinning on his heel, laughing. “Go on, get outta here. You’re all right!”
“The Hilton is my main office,” he says. “The Sears Tower and the Baja Beach Club are my subsidiaries. I usually work the tower during the afternoon and the Hilton in the morning and evening. I go over to Baja from midnight to 4 AM on Friday and Saturday nights.”
An elegant woman emerges from the Hilton and proceeds down the sidewalk. “Excuse me ma’am,” Mr. Windex bellows, taking a few steps toward her. She raises one eyebrow and regards him suspiciously. “Who is your hairdresser? Ma’am, would you ever consider changing your hair color?” She turns her head and walks away.
“You’re all right. Every once in a while I step on someone’s toes,” he says. “But I always try to find a way to rectify that. It’s nothin’ personal. I talk to people because I don’t want them to see me somewhere else and be afraid of me….Something I learned from dealing with people is that you can’t let negativism affect you,” Mr. Windex says. He walks away, singing, “I like the Sprite in you…”
Mr. Windex works all year round, in all kinds of weather. During rainstorms it’s not unusual to see him walking among the taxis with a bare umbrella frame open above his head, water pelting his face and, dripping down his chest.
“People tell me I should go into stand-up comedy,” he says. “But what I really want to do is open my own take-out liquor store, maybe down in Atlanta.”
On the side he washes windows at two such liquor stores, Sunny’s Cut-Rate at Wabash and Roosevelt and Warehouse Liquors at Wabash and Harrison. “Those are steady gigs,” he says. He lives in a South Loop transient hotel that costs him more than $400 a month. “They charge a nightly rate,” he says. “But the location is so convenient for me.”
Mr. Windex also serves as something of a ringmaster for the row of taxis outside the Hilton; he keeps the line tight, telling the drivers to pull up closer, opening cab doors for customers.
“I’m gonna have to have a talk with your brain,” he tells one driver who didn’t notice when the taxi in front of him pulled away. “It don’t function with the rest of your body.”
A group of comely young ladies approaches. “Excuse me, ladies,” he yells. “Do you know that every time I see you it makes me happy?” The ladies giggle. One flashes big brown eyes at Mr. Windex. He dances in place, like a game-show contestant hearing his prizes described. “I’ll see you tonight, honey,” he says to the girl. “I’ll be right here.”
The girls are crossing Balbo as Mr. Windex spots another group of tourists, his spray bottle heavily misting a cab’s front window.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.