Monday, September 04, 2006

Valet Lit, Installment 2

“The most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world, he can back a car forty miles an hour into a tight squeeze and stop at the wall, jump out, race among fenders, leap into another car, circle it fifty miles an hour in a narrow space, back swiftly into tight spot, hump, snap the car with the emergency so that you see it bounce as he flies out; then clear to the ticket shack, sprinting like a track star, hand a ticket, leap into a newly arrived car before the owner’s half out, leap literally under him as he steps out, start the car with the door flapping, and roar off to the next available spot, arc, pop in, brake, out, run; working like that without pause eight hours a night, evening rush hours and after-theater rush hours, in greasy wino pants with a frayed fur-lined jacket and beat shoes that flap.”
- Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Like Dean Moriarty, the most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world, this passage may be the most fantastic published work of American Valet literature to date. Moriarty's deft automotive maneuvers dominate his own physical and textual environments; Sal Paradise is hypnotized by this display of spatial genius. Bereft of language that can keep up with Dean, Paradise's description devolves into a pure, primitive mimesis. Struggling to catch his breath, Paradise either carelessly or expertly repeats himself - 'door flapping,' and 'beat shoes that flap' - but perhaps that's just Kerouac's edit-free, benzedrine-fueled style.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Valet Lit, Installment 1

"Suddenly at someone’s parting – but markedly crisp – suggestion, I found myself stationed at the curb, directly at the mouth of the canvas canopy, attending to helping people into cars.
How I had been singled out to fill this post deserves some small speculation. So far as I know, the unidentified, middle-aged man of action who had picked me for the job hadn’t a glimmer of a notion that I was the bridegrooms brother. Therefore, it seems logical that I was singled out for other, less poetic reasons. The year was 1942. I was twenty-three, and newly drafted into the Army. It strikes me that it was solely my age, my uniform, and the unmistakably serviceable, olive-drab aura about me that had left no doubt concerning my eligibility to fill in as doorman.
I was not only twenty-three, but a conspicuously retarded twenty-three. I remember loading people into cars without any degree of competence whatever. On the contrary, I went about it with a certain disingenuous, cadetlike semblance of single-mindedness, of adherence to duty. After a few minutes, in fact, I became all too aware that I was catering to the needs of a predominantly older, shorter, fleshier generation, and my performance as an arm taker and door closer took on an even more thoroughly bogus puissance. I began to conduct myself like an exceptionally adroit, wholly engaging young giant with a cough.
But the heat of the afternoon was, to say the least, oppressive, and the compensations of my office must have seemed to me increasingly tokenless. Abruptly, though the crowd of “immediate family” seemed scarcely to have begun to thin out, I myself lunged into one of the freshly loaded cars, just as it started to draw away from the curb. In doing it, I hit my head a very audible (perhaps retributive) crack on the roof. One of the occupants of the car was none other than my whispering acquaintance, Helen Silsburn, and she started to offer me her unqualified sympathy. The crack had evidently resounded throughout the car. But at twenty-three I was the sort of young man who responds to all public injury of his person, short of a fractured skull, by giving out a hollow, subnormal-sounding laugh."
- J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

This is the first installment of what will become a short series dedicated to showcasing the unsung canon of Valet Literature. Having worked these past four months as a Valet myself, I have found that the profession is not without its own romance, however tragic. Ironically, Salinger's assiduous protagonist turns out to be most in need of escort.