“You don’t know me, but I like your ass and maybe sometime I could squeeze it!”
This intrusive found note — perhaps left on a stranger’s windshield or slipped inside a gym locker — came affectionately signed, “Your secret admirer.”
The absurd pick-up line serves as a tiny taste of the sometimes hilarious, other times tragic, but always-unbelievable discoveries in Found Magazine, the beautifully broken brainchild of Michigan man Davy Rothbart.
Mr. Rothbart, the compassionate tour guide of this twisted world of found treasure, will bring his Slapdance Across America Tour to Asheville this week for a first-person taste of Found madness. Davy and brother Peter have embarked on a yearlong tour of all 50 states to share both favorite finds and a few songs they’ve written about those finds — and, of course, to gather newfound booty along the way.
Davy recalled by phone his lifelong fascination with the power of discarded whatnots, a peculiarly addictive interest that has since become his livelihood. “When I was a kid, I remember picking this stuff up off the ground and just being amazed at how powerfully you could connect with someone, just through some little half-page love note that people trash.”
The pages of the magazine, now in its third installment in as many years, reverberate with these surreal connections. Page after page of notes and photographs open a direct vein into the pulse of the American psyche. The half-zine, half-scrapbook approach of Found marks a refreshing shift from the normally polished world of print media, and is even more unique in that readers literally drive each issue’s content with their own found submissions.
Items from the magazine and the Web site, as well as a new book collection, come fixed with their own notes telling who found it, and where — lists and letters were rescued from a Dumpster in Knoxville, a Kinko’s in D.C., the inside of a recycling bin in Sydney, Australia.
Rothbart recalls the find that convinced him to pursue Found — a love/hate note mistakenly attached to the windshield of his own car. Addressed to a Mario, it reads: “I fu••ing hate you. You said you had to work, then why’s your car here at her place? You’re a fu••ing liar. I hate you. I hate you. [Signed,] Amber. P.S. — Page me later.”
“Something about that one got me,” says Rothbart. “Angry, but hopeful. Pissed and in love … you recognize yourself in these notes. I know I do. Even when I’m laughing at the note, I’m laughing at myself because I’ve been in that same situation 100 times before.”
The completely uncensored, occasionally shocking approach of Found reveals in unapologetic detail the insane world we live in — or, more to the point, the insanely human souls who occupy it. One Found item, titled “Things We Want,” reads like a twisted Christmas wish list and includes cable TV, a Cuisinart, a new skateboard and “one pound of heroin” among its demands. Another itemized find, this one a blow-by-blow personal, monthly budget, allots $30 for laundry, $100 for savings and $600 each for rent, liquor and crack.
While the world of Found is not all squalor and tragedy, Rothbart admits to a certain emotional duress that comes with his chosen occupation. “I’ll be reading through a big stack of the notes, and I’ll actually start crying, not because that one found note was so acutely sad — I don’t think — but just the accumulated weight of all this emotion, disappointment. It takes its toll on you. But then, there are ones that are so funny.”
Indeed, the comedy inherent in so much of Found is what makes its perpetual sadness bearable. One badly written, four-page school report from the latest issue attempts to outline the workings of the human penis. Complete with a scribbled diagram for clarity, the paper informs us that “A penis is a structure that helps to spurt out the sperm,” and comes with helpful corrections from the teacher, written in the margins: “Confusing, need more” and “Doesn’t tell me anything.”
One potential drawback for some observers is the voyeurism unavoidable in perusing these often deeply personal finds.
But it’s not a problem for Rothbart.
“I really believe that a certain degree of voyeurism is healthy,” he says. “We’re surrounded by strangers all the time, walking to work, sitting on the bus … and I think it’s natural to be curious what other people’s experience of being human is like.”
[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines, a contributing editor at An Honest Tune, can be reached at email@example.com.]
Bring your own found treasures to share with the class when Found Magazine‘s Slapdance Across America Tour comes to Vincent’s Ear (68 N. Lexington Ave.) at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28. Call 259-9119 for more information.