Aaron I really cant see the humor in explaining to my professor why my homework has pornography taped to it, begins an anonymous note on a ripped sheet of loose-leaf paper. After elaborating on Aarons pranks, the writer concludes, with a half smiley-face, Please make sure these kind of things stop.
Notes like this are Davy Rothbarts business. The 30-year old Ann Arbor native is the creator of Found Magazine, a popular online publication (foundmagazine.com) that celebrates the beauty of left-behind items. Found, which began in 2001, is a collection of discarded notes, lists and photos unearthed by readers from all over the world. Raw and unself-conscious, Founds material runs the gamut from heartbreaking to hilarious. What began as a zine has now burgeoned into the book Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World, a sister Web site that specializes in sleazy Polaroids, abandoned lust-notes (dirtyfound.com), and frequent appearances on NPRs This American Life.
Rothbart, whos dreamed of writing for a living, recently published his first collection of short stories, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. Its eight stories are largely inspired by what Rothbart calls found moments brief, fleeting interactions shared with strangers while roaming around the country. Reading like a fever-dream travelogue, The Lone Surfers tales unfold at a frenetic pace, jerking the reader from Chicago to Florida to the titular town of Montana, Kansas.
Most of them read like the literary equivalent of Found material. How I Got Here is structured as a prison inmates assignment for a jailhouse creative writing class. Its also a grammarians nightmare, written entirely in caps with sentence fragments and lots of exclamation marks. Maggie Fever delves into the relationship that can develop between finder and object. The story follows a teenage boy as he becomes obsessed with journals and mixtapes he uncovers within a stolen green backpack and the girl who lost it. Like many of the other stories, it has an almost-true quality that flirts with gonzo autobiography.
When asked about his literary inspirations, Rothbart mentions The Basketball Diaries author Jim Carroll, short stories by Denis Johnson (one of which became the 1999 movie Jesus Son), and, of course, road novelist Jack Kerouac, even though everyones always hating on him. He also namechecks William Penn DuBoiss young adult classic, The 21 Balloons. Theres this quote in the beginning of that book that I really like, Rothbart says. It goes, Half of this book is true, and the other half may very well have happened.
Ultimately, its this seamless blend of fact and fiction that makes the tales in The Lone Surfer so captivating. As Rothbart says, Imagine you were sitting on the back of a Greyhound bus, going through Arizona at night, and theres some dude sitting in the back who had a tall can of, like, St. Ives, and he was telling you stories about his life. Thats how I hope my stories read.
When hes not combing the parking lots and laundermats of America for inspiration, Rothbart is working on a rap opera inspired by the interlocking narratives of The Streets A Grand Dont Come for Free and based on the story of a friend who volunteered for a yearlong conservation program in Porterville, Calif., only to realize too late that it was a diversionary program for juvenile offenders.
Hes also now touring with his younger brother, Peter, staging rowdy reading and music events. The audience for the Rothbarts Friday performance at the 555 Gallery can plan on hearing interpretive readings of some of Davys favorite found notes, as well as excerpts from The Lone Surfer. Peter, a guitarist and singer, serenades with songs inspired by the found notes. The shows highlights, Davy says, are Peters folk ballad covers of a DIY rap mixtape found in a parking lot in Ypsilanti, which include gems such as The Booty Dont Stop and Wiggle on the Flo.
Asked why found materials have become a cultural phenomenon, Rothbart says, Theres a stigma against being a voyeur, but I really think its a natural instinct. Being curious about people who share the world with us is a good thing. Its healthy.
He concludes, laughing. A friend once told me that Found Magazine is like reality TV, except real.
8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7. 555 Gallery, 4884 Grand River; 313-894-4202. Music by Karl Pestka and Al-Iqaa.Monica Price is a Metro Times editorial intern. Send comments to [email protected]