Have finds, will travel
Davy Rothbart is on the road again,
Many of us are familiar with the old adage “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Well, it turns out that might not always be the case. Back in 2001, a guy named Davy Rothbart decided it would be cool to share his finds with others. He compiled a collection of found items—love letters, journal entries, drawings, to-do lists and the now infamous “Mario, I fucking hate you letter” that Rothbart credits as the catalyst for his idea—and published the first issue of Found magazine, along with a little help from his buddy Jason Bitner.
His goal was to provide readers with a glimpse into the private, most unadulterated moments of another person’s life—without judging that individual.
The items within Found magazine frequently elicit a powerful response from readers, mostly because they encompass a variety of human emotions. Whether they induce laughter or tears, we all can relate to the snapshots of honesty that they reveal—and that seems to be the draw for most readers, including Rothbart.
“I think what it boils down to is, I mean, I laugh at a lot of notes, but usually I’m just laughing at myself,” Rothbart explained in a recent phone interview. “I think a lot of people are reading it the same way. They’re not ridiculing the subjects, because they recognize themselves in them, and whatever emotion the people are expressing is probably something they’ve felt before, too.”
It’s true, most of us have, at one time or another, been afflicted by a sort of junior-high sentimentality, putting pen to paper to work out our innermost thoughts and emotions. We certainly never intended our words to be read by another, let alone thousands of others.
“If my notes were found and put in the magazine, I would be like, ‘That’s all right.’ I can’t imagine that I would be offended by it, personally,” Rothbart explained.
Most original authors have never contacted Rothbart—including Mario or Amber, who penned the letter that started it all. The few people who have contacted him have been more amused than pissed off.
“The few times it has happened, the people have been really cool,” Rothbart said. “They’ve either been honored or, more often, totally mystified. They’re like, ‘Why would anyone care about these little details of my love life?’ They don’t get it, and I try to explain to them why it interests me so much. That I can relate to it. That I’ve probably written the same pitiful love note a hundred times myself.”
Since Found’s inception, the number of people who submit items to it has grown exponentially. While not all these items make it into the magazine, that doesn’t mean they are merely discarded.
“I treasure every single thing that is sent to me,” explained Rothbart. “If it’s not in the magazine, maybe it’s on the Web site or in the Found book. … Even if it’s not in any of the magazines or books, we hand-decorate thousands of copies of the magazine. Say you send in a find, and we don’t use it in the magazine, we may put it on the cover of someone else’s copy,” he explained. “I certainly wouldn’t throw them out,” he continued.
In the first Found book, The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World, Rothbart explains that he asks his fellow finders to name their discoveries, much like an artist would name a painting, his reason being that he views each find as an “equally noble act of creation.”
In a way, Rothbart is very much like a museum curator. He’s responsible for the care of the entire Found collection. He determines the layout of the finds within the pages of the magazine; he manages the storage of the collection, although Rothbart does confess that he is somewhat of an “organizational moron"; and he arranges special events, including gallery exhibits and readings. In the past, Rothbart has presented his collection in galleries in Chicago and Stockholm, Sweden, and he has plans for a show at a gallery in Minneapolis.
“It’s cool because when we do one of those events,” Rothbart explained, “we show not just the finds themselves, but also the envelopes that they came in and the letter that the finder wrote. You get a sense of the community nature of the project. That’s actually one of my favorite parts about it.”
Without the help of finders (and unwitting losers), Found wouldn’t be what it is today. Currently, Rothbart receives about 20 finds a day, mailed in from across the United States and around the globe.
“It’s like this huge community project,” Rothbart explained. “It only happens because thousands of people are participating.”
Rothbart is currently on a 52-city tour, promoting Found magazine and The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, a collection of short stories that he jokingly claims to have found on a disc instead of writing himself.
Despite the fact that he’s published four issues of Found, two issues of Dirty Found (which is populated by nudie photos and pervy prose) and a Found book (a second one is in the making), and has traveled extensively sharing his finds with others, Rothbart is still surprised at the level of success he’s achieved—especially when it comes to the turnout at an event.
“I always think no one is going to be there,” Rothbart explained. “It’s been great turnouts, and people are bringing us awesome found stuff every night. It’s just been really fun,” he continued.
So, what can one expect from a Found event? Basically, Rothbart and his brother, Peter, present a rowdy reading and musical show. Rothbart reads a story from The Lone Surfer and shares some of his all-time favorite finds, while Peter performs songs he’s written based on various finds. According to Rothbart, one of the highlights of the show is Peter’s folk-ballad cover of the song “Your Booty Don’t Stop,” a rap track from a homemade mix tape that was found in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“Everyone who comes to our shows seems to leave with big smiles on their faces—which makes me feel good. It makes me feel like maybe they’ll go out and start looking for found stuff and share it with me.”