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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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The New Economics of Late Capitalism

The Butler Garage
by Antonio Hopson

     Parking Rates
     1/2 Hour. . . . . . . . . . . . $ 2.00
     Each Add. Hr. . . . . . . . $1.00
     Maximum to 6:30. . . . . $8.00
     Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . $10.00
     Overnights. . . . . . . . . . $3.00
     Everyday, the cars roll in. . .
     The Butler Garage is a masterpiece gone mad, an artist's canvas that has started out as one thing and becomes another, and another, until finally, it has been overworked, over thought, and stored away for historians to decide whether or not it is art or accident. It is a montage gone mess, a hypothesis gone wrong. Indeed, the old building has been refurbished so many times that to say it is one thing, is also to say that it is possible to swim in the same river twice.
     The Butler is well hidden in the city's historical district, only the rich urban lords and perhaps a few ambitious serfs know the existence of the secret garage. And if not for the wide rectangular entrance that swallows cars like guppies, and the thick black letters painted into the bricks boasting: "Butler Garage," one might hardly know it was there at all.
     But this can't possibly be true. . .
     The passing pedestrian can't help but be wooed by The Butler's strong features - a strong frame, an angular structure, sharp corners, scruffy looks, ruddy-red brick cheeks -- all tempt them to look back over their shoulder at the building with suspicion, perhaps even caution. It's as though there were some mysterious and handsome stranger watching them from the shadows.
     Most assuredly it is the bricks which have worked so hard to make the Butler its own mysterious entity. The weight of them added together make the infrastructure of wood and nail moot, and so, over time, the awkward, skewed pose on which the building has settled brings the sight of it into the range of the puzzlingly uncommon. Minus the gravitational constraints of its original skeleton, the building can now lean and dip, crawl and pant, breathe and live a life of its own. The Butler resonates, everyday shaking free of the moment at hand - growing older, changing the world around it like the smallest raindrop changes all things in the universe.
     Shortly before the turn of the century, while Seattle was descending into mediocrity one lumber mill at a time, the Butler building was a fabulous hotel (at least by the standards of a pioneer.) After the "49ers" had quarried their gold from Alaska's frontier, they traveled south again and used the building to enjoy a luxurious few days escape from dirt and squalor. In those days, the young city was logically the first real "metropolis" before The Bay Area; in fact, it was to the pioneers, a concrete oasis in a wilderness of evergreens and moss. Here, while in Seattle, and before starting for San Francisco, it would be their last chance to spend money before heading to the abject seclusion of Oregon and Northern California.
     And why not?
     In its glory days, the Butler Hotel had boasted everything a tired, weary exploiter might desire: curtained windows, mattressed beds, feathered pillows, electric lights, a fully stocked bar, toilets, bathtubs, room service, sassy maids. . . and, let's not forget the "seamstresses".
     Sadly though, today the building is but a ghostly impression of its former self.
     "The leaves," says James Joyce, "lie thick upon the way of memories". Indeed this is true.
     During the Butler's conversion into a hundred-and-fifty car parking garage, the private baths, fancy wall paper and tiled floors were ripped painfully away from the building's sticky ribs. Spaces that once lacked a view - closets, halls, kitchens, now share the long held hostage morning sun. Two-by-fours that once were hidden contentedly away are now exposed, naked and embarrassed. Chunks of chalky, white, dry wall now cling like islands in remembrance to rusty, bent, sixteen penny sinkers. Today, the Butler building is barely anything at all. "Put the silver Jag between those posts and put the Porsche behind the other!" coaches a veteran valet. "That's right, you got it, ease it there! Nice and easy, nice and easy. . ." He watches as the two cars pass with but an inch to spare. The rookie, young and Latin, has dreamed of jobs such as this since playing with Hot Wheels as a child. He parks the car with the same intensity a physicist measures plutonium.
     " . . . just like prom night - eh Slick?" Now, the pressure treated two-by-fours serve only as markers for spaces between cars - a bearing, a target for lining up rear "five mile an hour" bumpers.
     Considering The Butler's prior extravagance, the original architects, brick layers and carpenters must be restless in their graves. Once a valet told a writer who had worked at the garage for a time about a ghost in crusty overalls inspecting the building. The apparition had taken on the form of an old man. In one hand it clutched a spaded trowel which drooped longingly to his side. The lost soul wandered sadly through open space, but still minded the missing hallways, corners, doors and stairs. Every night, before finishing his lonely walk, he was said to visit the grand ballroom where oil stains and tire marks smear the checkered parquet floor. There he stands alone, closing his eyes to imagine swanky couples dancing the night away.
     A ghost, imagining ghosts. A dream, dreaming a dream - and all the while, the Butler remains proud enough to change - despite the unwilling ghosts that have haunted its past.
     If you were ever presented with the opportunity to explore the old building, you might wander about long enough to feel claustrophobic, like perhaps Geppetto - the master puppeteer and father of Pinocchio who was swallowed by a whale. This is true because, inside the building it looks and feels more like the bloated innards of an animal than a parking garage. The supporting beams are the ribs of the animal; they run along the ceiling bending and bowing as though the animal were sighing against a mighty chest. Occasionally the beams are heard groaning like an old tired vagrant. The customers look up, craning their necks at the creaking bones while a valet plops into their driver's seat, gears up, then speeds away. This orchestrated maneuver is done with a smooth and practiced proficiency and leaves the customer gazing at their car as Jimmy Stewart gazed at Katherine Hepburn in the "The Philadelphia Story".
     Hanging from the dusty beams are crumbled wads of electrical wiring: rats play in them, they use the wads of wire as wild play structures - they run, and jump, and frolic with delight when, at the end of each night, the Butler's old yellow lights are turned off. Along the interior brick walls, running at their base, there are tiny mountain ranges of dusty cement. They have been elevated to great heights, give or take a few magnitudes, by the tiny fallen grains of sand that sat trapped for years between the grooves of the bricks. Freed from their linear and horizontal bondage, they fall secretly every day to create a monument dedicated to time and attrition. When cars flash by in a whirling, agitated mass of air, the mountains are ebbed into soft, rolling hills --like the Badlands of Montana, or the prairies of the Dakotas.
      A year is to a day
      what a day
      is to a moment.
     Caught sinking away like some lost artifact, The Butler is mired between two separate centuries. It was near the end of the gold rush, during the time that the city was becoming more and more a seaport that a great fire broke out! While Seattle's first fire engine "Always Ready" stood by, The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 had already leveled most of the new city's business center; stores, outfitters, banks and hotels were burned back down to their brick foundations. The catastrophe was most likely caused by one of any number of farm animals, such as the famous cow who tipped over a hot bucket of glue and set fire to Chicago (a famed moment in Holstein history). Though, in Seattle, it might very well have been caused by renegade clams playing with matches. (I could tell you precisely that it was in fact caused by water poured on a bucket of hot glue, but it's not as much fun.)
     After the fire, brilliant civic engineers decided it more prudent to build on top of the ruins rather than tear them down. At street level, they cut new entry ways into fourth and fifth stories and then capped the labyrinth below. This is why the original lobby of the Butler is entirely underground - buried, in a manner of speaking, up to its knees in filth and soot, dirty rags, oily cracked awning, rotting wood, and layers of chipped lead based paint. Above the ground, around the place where the building's nostrils might be, roam the new smells of cotton candy, hot dogs, beer, fish, pizza, vomit and exhaust. "Stand still you ever moving spheres of heaven," says Christopher Marlowe, "[So] That time may cease, and midnight never come." In reverence to Marlowe, for the savvy world traveler there are tours of "Underground Seattle." After comparing and contrasting the Lamaist art and architecture of the Potala Palace in Tibet, a world traveler might find it desirable to "pop" across the Pacific and take in the sublime spectacle of building foundations under a sky of concrete. There are rats there as well, big ones, who store sweet morsels of offal in their chubby little cheeks and bring it underground through sewers and grates to eat in peace. This happens, of course, only after tourists have finished browsing the dank ruins, taken many pictures, and have bought many post cards to send to relatives in Tennessee and Wisconsin.
      . . .and
     Among the many young men who valet at the garage, there is one in particular, who might, after the morning rush of opening car doors and speeding them away, casually light a cigarette and lean against the old building to watch the city go by. His eyes may search every passing soul that day - for a spark of life, a question, or an answer. The tourist, the bums, the hoodwinking legal eagles, the serfs - might all saunter by him shyly avoiding eye contact. Somehow, they must have known that he was searching, looking - and they wondered if really the young man, whose bright eyes seemed to see so much, so effortlessly - could actually know, or invent into them, every secret ever kept.
      . . . every day, the cars rolled out.




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the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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