I was at the Ice Factory, a recording studio and art space on Ashland near Grand, but I felt like I was hanging out in a basement where someone's dad goes to jack off to Barely Legal. The room was windowless, with exposed brick and wood paneling and nappy cigarette-burnt couches and lopsided La-Z-Boys, and a dark-haired woman had just asked a group of about 50 people, "What kind of fuck do you like?"
She was reading from a survey that a man at a New York bus stop had handed Lisa Farjam, a complete stranger, entitled "APPLICATION FOR A PIECE OF ASS," except the guy had crossed out "A PIECE OF ASS" and replaced it with "SOME DICK." Other questions on this head-scratcher included "Are your breast/balls real?" and "Can you stay out late?" When you're screwing, it wanted to know, do you cry, fart, whistle, yodel, scratch, hum, faint, or go to sleep? We were to anonymously write down our answers, which would be tallied and read from later in the evening.
This little party game was adapted by the editors of the improbably successful Found magazine, a cut 'n' paste publication that compiles items nosy nellies around the country have stumbled upon. They were celebrating their new sister mag, Dirty Found, a compilation of spread-butt-cheek photos, I-can't-wait-to-fuck-you notes, accidentally forwarded e-mails about drugs and sex, erotic drawings, masochistic journal entries, and other miscellany that's apparently too racy for the PG-13 Found. The first issue came out around Thanksgiving in an edition of about 5,000; editor Jason Bitner just had to reorder another 10,000 for the holidays.
"There's something really special about seeing unpolished, amateur photos of lovers or nasty fantasy doodles," says Bitner, who's been working on Found proper with honcho Davy Rothbart (who's based in Ann Arbor, Michigan) since its inception almost four years ago. "They're these incredibly raw insights into other people's sex lives, which we don't often have access to, and especially those of strangers."
Take, for instance, the guy named Tony, who wrote--and signed--a contract with himself to stop masturbating. "Violation is a punishment of going without T.V. and radio (and tapes) for one week," he writes. On the same document in a different pen there's an ambiguous amendment: "Without just cause."
Later there's a series of pencil drawings of a pigtailed young woman with enormous breasts, dressed in a schoolgirl skirt so short her labia peek out from underneath. Her hands look like cauliflower blossoms at the end of short stumps, but her breasts are more detailed and defined, traced over several times. She exclaims that exams suck, then goes home to squat on a penis on top of a box that says, "High voltage use of this will keep you vibrating." Finder Cara Stephens notes that they came from "a cardboard box from a seller while working at a used book store."
"The beauty of the project is not only the object itself, but also the mystery of how it got to where it was found," says Bitner. "The context is completely lost. Was this intentional? Did someone die? Was it neglect?" Taken out of context, these musings and photos don't generally inspire arousal, he adds. "It's a sort of visual Kinsey report--not pornography so much as documentation."
"Very little of the magazine makes me feel horny," says local illustrator, graphic designer, and filmmaker Arthur Jones, who's had a busy couple of weeks--his animated "Monster Team" shorts premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center on November 28. "I think looking at it gives you some sort of weird sexual paralysis." He favors the drawings over the other content, he says, probably because "I spent a lot of time in my preteen years tracing Marvel comic book characters without their uniforms on."
Jones met Bitner and Rothbart about two and a half years ago during what they call Saturday Basketball League, a loosely organized rotating cast of men and women, most in their early 30s, who've been getting together on weekends to shoot hoops for the past ten years. "High fives were slapped and male bonding occurred," says Jones. Now he and Bitner share a studio space at Acme Art Works in Humboldt Park. "So when it was time for the magazine to be organized and laid out," he says, "I was the most qualified and convenient choice because I sat across the room from him."
"We decided early on to do everything by hand," says Bitner. "No fonts or typography, just pens and pencils and typewriters--and I knew that Arthur would go nuts with it." Watching all the stuff come in for Found gave Jones a pretty good idea of the aesthetic they were going for--DIY collage meets slick art mag--but the real challenge was figuring out whose identities would be OK to obscure with a simple black bar over the eyes and who needed their faces blurred or their tattoos Photoshopped out.
"That photo of the three guys with manginas?" says Jones. "I just know those guys are day traders. Jason said, 'Those guys will sue the shit out of us.'" So he put a long piece of masking tape over all their faces. Otherwise, he says, they didn't make many compromises.
It's not fair to play voyeur, says Bitner, "without looking into our own lives as well." Hence last Friday's survey. We discovered that as a group we were pretty damn boring: most like pussy sex (as opposed to asshole sex), most like the missionary position best, most shake when they come. When the dark-haired woman announced that most people said they can orgasm twice before exhaustion, she held up a sign reading try harder. When she got to the part where people wrote in how much they'd charge for certain sex acts, the answers got more pathetic: a one-night stand for a shot of Jager, one hour of sex for "some kind words," ass-eating for a home-cooked meal, a blow job for some cheese fries.
Before the results of the survey Friday night were read, Jones gave a slide-show presentation of some of the best finds. I missed it because my sorta-not-really boyfriend and I were breaking up yet again--which always puts a kink in party plans--but I talked to Jones about it later.
He said the cream of the crop was a drawing/letter combo Carrie Salazar found on her bicycle seat. "I wish my face was your bicycle seat," the note begins, "or even my weenie that could be transformed into a Vienna sausage stuck in a can with others cold like me much as sardines lie in their tin bed or a baby sleeping with his covers pulled up tight beneath his chin." Beneath was a crude drawing of a naked woman with what Jones calls "omelet breasts" holding some kind of drill contraption to the crotch of a winged man who's saying, "Arf!! Arf!!"
"The note is so crazy that once you've read it a couple of times it stops being creepy and is inexplicably endearing," says Jones. "It's like a masochistic New Yorker cartoon in an insane asylum's newsletter. . . . I guess at some point I've wished my face could be someone's bicycle seat, but I've never had the clarity to write it down."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.