It’s all there on bulletin boards

From the mundane to the mind-bending, it’s all there on bulletin boards.

Somewhere amid the chaos, perhaps, there is clarity. The answer to your problems. The deal of deals. A clue to what you need to know to be happier, smarter. Or, a plea for help. A call to action. An invitation. There are services rendered, services sought.

The bulletin board — the old-fashioned, off-line kind — plays social jazz, riffing on the erratic rhythm of our lives. Fliers offering pet-walking overlap notices selling self-improvement, which partly obscure the trash haulers, who distract from someone’s last-ditch effort to find her favorite sweater.

It doesn’t take anything more than a stapler to get a voice. You just need the right passerby to wade through the noisy collage and find you.

In fact, the typical bulletin board (which can also take the form of a wall or a telephone pole) is such visual scat that it can be hard to tune in. Yet the very lack of order and the unpredictability are what makes it so alive. There are few rules and only a few cheaters, like one bar-band promoter who made it a mission to precisely cover up a competitor’s fliers with his own.

Scan the stapled messages on a bulletin board and you will see democracy, capitalism and some anarchy, too. It’s all there, from the mundane to the singular, the practical to the eccentric. You will find something like this: “Yard Doctor”. . . “Man with Van”. . . “Learning to Love You”. . . “Become a volunteer“. . . “Authentic Conversation” . . . “Hypnobirthing” . . . You’ll find bands screeching for attention on fluorescent paper next to anti-war demonstrations next to feminist karate next to a populist poet above an anti-FBI film. Perhaps the father-and-son plumbing team will be there or the guy trying to sell used boots for $200 (where else but Flint?). There is usually a piano for sale, as well as lessons on how to play it. And so it goes.

The only vital background information the buyer has to go on is a one-line résumé or an all-purpose adjective like “funky.” You might find a phone number or maybe a Web address, often compressed onto those little tags hanging like tassels for you to tear off and take home.

So who are these people behind the paper? Are they trustworthy? Desperate? Revolutionary? Are the volunteer options reliable? Someone you’d like to know?


chaos & clarity

Offers to teach a skill are near the top of the bulletin-board food chain, but my eyes were drawn to a color photograph showing a young, attractive duo frozen in dance-step and surrounded by other fresh-faced people hamming mock awe. They looked so happy in an unabashedly corny way. But it all referred to volunteering.

I called Tonya Surface. She is the founder of Flint’s main volunteer organization and is suitably energetic. Surface specializes also in dance: the Lindy Hop, Shag and Balboa, all forms of the Jitterbug, a synchronized dance born in the ’30s and rekindled in fits and starts during the past decade.

She organizes dances, leads employment workshops, gives lessons, competes, and works as a DJ occasionally at the downtown ballroom. Everyone in the tight swing community already knows her, she says, so the notices on the bulletin boards around town and the University of Michigan dorms target beginners and those who want to refine their moves.

In fact, it was such a flyer stapled to a sandwich board five years ago that not only transformed Surface into a jitterbugger but set her life’s course. While a UM student, she noticed a flier inviting one and all to a Jitterbug dance and free lesson. She went and loved it, but no one had information on how to join the dance club, so she scoured the campus for another flier and finally found one. So great she combines this with her volunteer activities.

“Thank goodness I did,” says Surface, 27. “I was a business major finishing up my degree and was able to combine my love for the dancing and my business training with my volunteer work to help the underprivileged in our community. It changed my life. I’m my own boss and doing what I love while, at the same time, helping those who need it most.”

I peeked in on a beginning Lindy Hop class at the ballroom near campus one Thursday night. Twenty couples, each frozen in starting dance position, formed an oval around the edge of the room. Surface and co-instructor Bryan Sera stood in the middle wearing microphone headsets, parsing movements and narrating the elementary concepts of footwork, posture, and torque as they went.

It moved slowly, step-by-step, but you have to crawl before you can swing. That also goes for volunteer work.