MANCHESTER, NH– I passed by Billy Cooper on my way on foot down Elm Street. He was busy squeegeeing the big pane at Birch on Elm, getting it streak-free in time for their 5 p.m. Friday night dinner service. On the way back down Elm it looked like Billy was packing up for the night so I stopped to say hello.
I’m glad I did. It was the end of an era: the last window wash for Billy Cooper.
“I’m not doing windows again after today. I’ve been doing it too long,” Billy told me. It was hard to read his face as most of it was covered with a mask, but his cloudless sky-colored eyes betrayed him.
“It’s a little sad. You think about some of the good people around here that you’ve gotten to know over 20 years. But I’m tired. I’ve been really tired.”
Two months ago he was diagnosed with cancer – throat and tongue. He says he wishes the doctor had biopsied his throat sooner, after he had a sore that wasn’t healing. But on Dec. 13 he got the news. So he went through 35 rounds of radiation and he thought that was that.
“It came back,” he said. “Stage 4. I’m having surgery on Tuesday in Boston.”
He grew up in Concord and moved to Manchester after a divorce. He got a job working at E&R Cleaners and also started taking on odd jobs. That’s how he got into the window-washing business.
For 20 years Billy Cooper has been a fixture on Elm Street, his yellow bucket, sponges and squeegees, and the newspaper he uses to dry the windows – a pro tip to avoid streaks. He does about 30 windows per month. It was always a part-time thing, something he did along with odd jobs. Handy-man type work, he said.
“Every other week I’d do some windows, and a couple of them I did once a week,” Billy said. “It’s been fun; it’s been a lot of fun, but it’s time to go now.”
He finished up with the window, which was catching the afternoon sun and he tossed the crumpled newspapers he used to shine the windows up into the trash. He gathered up the tools of his trade and started to walk toward Amherst Street.
Before he left I asked him where people could send him a “get well soon” card if they wanted to cheer him up.
“My place- 54 Brook Street,” he said.
I think I detected a hint of a smile in his eyes as he picked up his bucket and went on his way.