December 5, 2008

Babu Sassi, the man who lives in his crane, at the top of the Burj Dubai, the tallest building, and hasn't been down to the ground for over a year.

BLDGblog is entranced:
Whether or not this is even true – after all, I never think truth is the point in stories like this – 1) the idea of appropriating a construction crane as a new form of domestic space – a kind of parasitic sub-structure attached to the very thing it's helped to construct (perhaps raising the question: what is the ontology of construction cranes?) – is totally awesome; 2) further, the idea that crane operators are subject to these sorts of urban rumors and speculations brings me back to the idea that there might be a burgeoning comparative literature of mega-construction sites taking shape today, with this particular case representing a strong subgenre: mythic construction worker stories, John Henry-esque figures who single-handedly assemble whole floors of Dubai skyscrapers at midnight, with a cigarette in one hand and a hammer in the other (or so the myths go), as a kind of oral history of the global construction trade; and, finally, 3) there should be some kind of TV show – or a book, or a magazine interview series – similar to Dirty Jobs in which you go around visiting people who live in absurd places – like construction cranes atop the Burj Dubai, or extremely distant lighthouses, or remote drawbridge operation rooms on the south Chinese coast, or the janitorial supply chambers of inner London high-rises – in order to capture what could be called the new infrastructural domesticity: people who go to sleep at night, and brush their teeth, and shave, and change clothes, and shower, inside jungle radar towers for the French foreign legion, or up above the train tracks of Grand Central Station because their shift starts at 3am and they have to stay close to the job.
This is, of course, a wonderful subject for movies and books. Perhaps you can help me think of some. I thought first of one of my favorite movies, the one where Shirley Temple lives in a lighthouse. Then I thought of "Bartleby the Scrivener" -- spoiler alert:
Upon more closely examining the place, I surmised that for an indefinite period Bartleby must have ate, dressed, and slept in my office, and that too without plate, mirror, or bed. The cushioned seat of a ricketty old sofa in one corner bore the faint impress of a lean, reclining form. Rolled away under his desk, I found a blanket; under the empty grate, a blacking box and brush; on a chair, a tin basin, with soap and a ragged towel; in a newspaper a few crumbs of ginger-nuts and a morsel of cheese. Yet, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby has been making his home here, keeping bachelor’s hall all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!

14 comments:

save_the_rustbelt said...

If memory serves me correctly, one of the cable channels has already done a "giant construction projects of the world" type of show.

Living in a crane for a year? Gross.

Bob said...

The inside of a crane is basically a just seat with a console panel or two. So no way could he have lived in the crane. Now he may have lived in the building for a year.

Susan said...

There was that Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal, where he was forced to live at the airport because of some immigration screw-up.

James said...

"Baron in the Trees" by Italo Calvino is a great book about a guy who decides to live in the trees and never sets foot on the ground.

veni vidi vici said...

William Gibson's book featuring all the people that live on the Golden Gate Bridge comes to mind.

So, living in the crane up there, does he just yell "Timberrrrrr!" when he's gotta go to the loo, or what?

Simon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff with one 'f' said...

This was all done by Saint Simeon Stylites 1600 years ago...

ricpic said...

The last line of Bartleby The Scrivener:

Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!

Smilin' Jack said...

There's a famous story ("The Human Chair") by Edogawa Ranpo about a man who lives inside a sofa undetected by the family living around him. Looking it up I found this apparently true story about a woman who lived undetetected in a man's closet for a year.

ricpic said...

I once hid in a closet for over two hours.

She swore to me hubby wasn't going to be home that afternoon.

The bitch lied to me!

Sayonara.

peter hoh said...

I was reminded of this children's story.

Original George said...

The real estate bubble popped there a few months ago. It will be ugly. The place is filled with lunatic construction projects....enormo man-made islands in the shape of the world's nations...gigunzo man-made islands in the shape of palm trees....

Babu sounds like a very lucky man, as most foreign Third World construction workers are treated like animals by their Arab employers.

peter hoh said...

George, maybe that's why he stays up at the top of the tower.

Trooper York said...

He has to do something since he got deported and lost his restaurant.

He just sits in his crane and says "You are a very bad man Mr. Jerry Sienfeld….a very bad man."