Our latest installment of Valet Lit comes from Ed Park's terrific new novel, Personal Days. The following passage articulates and artfully amplifies the subjective valet experience, exploring central valet themes such as awkward smoke-break conversation, smelly automobile interiors, intentional vandalism, and the inevitable accompanying regret. Park's work is an immensely valuable contribution to the small but ever expanding pantheon of Valet Literature.
“…After having been hit with a huge pay cut, Jules looked on that Jobmilla website (remember that weird commercial?) for some extra cash to make ends meet – it was the most depressing thing, he said, because he realized he had no skills beyond typing thirty not-very-reliable words per minute; still, he needed money, and found a gig moonlighting as a restroom attendant at a nightclub, in which role he proved so popular that the owner transferred him, with a big bump in salary, to Vlad's, an adult-themed space on Eleventh Avenue, where Jules did triple duty as a valet, tout, and (his newfound talent, he supposed) restroom attendant…as a valet, he got to know some of them well when they came out for their frequent smoking breaks, shooting the breeze as the northbound traffic whizzed past, men of all ages, some of them fresh out of business school, others leathery vets, white-haired wiseguys – and before too long a few of these regulars, over cigarettes, encouraged him to start his own business, and would eventually invest in his first venture, that toaster-oven restaurant (Balustrade? Cellophane? Tenement?)…Well there was this guy, middle-aged, who drove a well-maintained but very close-smelling SUV, which you got a lungful of when you had to park it, and Jules's boss (a melancholy barrel-chested man called Duke, who called everyone Ace or Commander), told him, Keep and eye on this one, Ace – usually he's fine but sometimes he's not – the guy had been coming into Vlad's two or three nights a week for over a year, didn't drink anything stronger than 7UP, didn't appear high, usually just watched the main stage, but every couple months he'd get a room, and something would happen, something different every time – Duke had been on the verge of barring him but hoped he'd learned his lesson; then one night when Jules was making the rounds he had to deliver his patented warning rap, not because of any overly lewd contact but because – there was this guy choking a girl; and then two nights later, it was a different girl – choking the guy; Duke came around, threatening to bar him from the premises; the next week, the man and yet another girl were choking each other simultaneously – all of these permutations necessarily arranged in cash beforehand: this time they were gasping, locked in a horrible death embrace, eyes bulging like grapes, bodies flailing, the scant room accents knocked to the ground and getting smashed by their uncontrollable stampings – and Jules barged in, trying to pull the man off the girl (Vera, someone he'd been dating, against Duke's advice); as two guys from security detached her (she was weeping and even in the bad mood lighting he could tell her color was off) and sat on the guy's legs, Jules went to find the man's SUV, which he'd had the displeasure of parking earlier, and left a long key mark across one side, then the other, then all across the hood, not letting the key leave the surface, even as it traveled across glass, and then jogged around the lot to let off steam, throwing punches in the air; ten minutes later, the guy came out of Vlad's for a smoke, looking calmer and a shade less ruddy, and offered Jules a cigar and a No hard feelings? Which Jules, surprising himself, accepted, realizing as soon as the stogie was lit that the valet on duty must have been on break, because he was all alone in the parking lot with the man whom he'd just grappled with, the man who'd been engaging in a little mutual asphyxiation society with his semi-girlfriend (Vera was a dead ringer, Jules also said, for Maxine), and though the guy wasn't a weight lifter, he had shown impressive energy, a boundless will to try to relieve his aggressors of their facial features; self-preservation kicked in, there on the desolate pavement, and Jules introduced himself and shook his hand at which the man said, The name's Percival Davis, call me Percy if you like; Percy asked how he got hooked up with the strip-club gig, and Jules explained how he wasn't making enough money at his office job, and so he'd found work at a nightclub through Jobmilla-dot-com (I sounded like I was in an ad, Jules told me), and all the rest, and Percy didn't know what he meant until he remembered Jobmilla’s motto – humming the jingle till he found the words, What goes around comes around! (laughter); but when Jules asked Percy what he did for a living, he grew silent, and time dragged uncomfortably until the cigars were done; Percy said it was just about time for him to head out, and apologized for the fisticuffs; since the other valet hadn’t shown, Jules nervously fetched the freshly vandalized vehicle and said good night, really, really wishing he hadn’t scraped it up, listening to Percy whistle the Jobmilla jingle again as he drove off, and for the next few days he waited for the other shoe to drop, his appetite vanishing, notes for his last will and testament breaking into his thoughts with alarming frequency; just when he though he was in the clear, and that he might have a future on this earth, he was greeted at the club by the news that a “Mister Davis” had stopped by earlier and left a note: The gist was that he knew what Jules had done to his car, and that the next time he saw Jules, he would choke him – Jules quit the gig that night, figured he’d find something else on the Jobmilla site…”
- Ed Park, Personal Days