“I f#@%ing hate you!”
Former ticket scalper Davy Rothbart started Found Magazine after someone left a note on his windshield, and then he took the magazine on tour.
Davy Rothbart’s quirky little idea not only has spawned a career for him but also has resonated with people here in the United States and around the world.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Rothbart earned a living for a time by scalping tickets to sporting events. He retired from that endeavor when Michael Jordan retired from basketball. But, unlike Jordan, Rothbart found a new horizon to explore—one that involved his lifelong interest in art—and chose to make his retirement from ticket scalping permanent. Many of us are the better for it.
Rothbart always had been fascinated by the things people stumble across every day: the discarded or lost letters, notes, pictures, doodles, homework and what have you that are basically hard copies of moments in people’s lives. When you find these things, they can make you laugh or feel sad or can create a sense of intrigue about the people behind them.
“I was always amazed at how powerfully you can connect with these kinds of notes and letters that you find on the street,” Rothbart said.
He readily acknowledged that he was not the first one to feel this way about the odds and ends one might find anywhere.
“Everyone usually has one great find up on their fridge,” he said. “But only the people who would come in their kitchen would get a chance to see it.”
One day, a note he found on his car sparked the idea to find a way to share his and others’ found items with the world. As Rothbart recounted it, his car was parked on a street full of vehicles covered with snow, and the note’s author evidently thought Rothbart’s car belonged to someone else.
“It read, ‘To Mario, You said you had to work. Then why is your car here at her place? You’re a fucking liar! I fucking hate you! Amber. P.S. Page me later,’ ” Rothbart recalled, chuckling.
“I knew then, when I found that, that I had to do something with this collection of stuff. I thought, why not put a magazine together? It would be a way for everyone to share their finds with everyone else.”
Thus, Rothbart decided to produce a magazine, with the natural title of Found Magazine, and followed that with a Web site, located at www.foundmagazine.com. Evidently, he touched a nerve; the initial issue of the magazine quickly sold 16,000 copies. He recently printed 20,000 copies of issue No. 2.
Found has taken on a life of its own. Although the first issue consisted almost entirely of items Rothbart had found, that’s not the case with the second issue.
“In the new issue, I only have one find,” Rothbart said. “Everything in there is from people all over the country. People have sent stuff in from 25 different countries. I’ve discovered that so many people are interested in this thing.”
Looking at some of Found’s items gives one an unintended peek into other people’s lives.
“You’re getting a glimpse of people in their innermost private moments,” Rothbart said. “You’re reading something someone wrote with an intended audience of one, or maybe even none. They may have written a letter that they don’t actually plan to give to the person, or maybe it’s a journal entry.
“When people are writing these kinds of things, they are being very honest. I think when people see things [like these] that are so raw and true, they respond to it. Even in our social interactions, people don’t reveal themselves this fully. It’s exciting.”
The compelling, voyeuristic quality of Found Magazine is understandable, Rothbart said. After all, we are surrounded by strangers every day, and it’s only natural to wonder occasionally what is going on in the hearts and minds of those around us. What’s going on with them, he said, is pretty much what’s going on in our own hearts and minds, which is why these items resonate with us.
“Whether someone is the president of a company or they’re writing from a prison, they’re still grappling with the same basic emotions,” Rothbart said. “[In Found Magazine] you can see they’re dealing with the same issues in their lives.
“We can recognize ourselves in these things. You see that people have written the same kinds of letters that you might have written at some point. You might see the same kind of pitiful love note that you’ve written before. We get a glimpse of ourselves. That’s what makes it so funny. We can acknowledge our own failures and triumphs.”
Found Magazine is done in the spirit of good humor. There’s nothing like recognizing our own human foibles to make us laugh. You can see this in person by attending a Found Magazine show. Yes, Rothbart has discovered something that resonates so well with people that he is touring 50 cities in the United States and Canada.
“It’s awesome,” Rothbart exclaimed. “People seem to respond with such excitement and enthusiasm. People seem to enjoy the magazine, but to have someone give voice to these things just brings them to life a little bit. Some people have said it’s the most they’ve laughed in a long time.”
Rothbart appeared at the True Love Coffeehouse earlier this year on his tour. True Love co-owner Kevin Seconds said Rothbart had sent him a copy of the magazine, and he fell in love with it.
“Davy asked if he could come in and do the live version of it, which I thought was a cool idea,” Seconds said.
A cool idea, indeed: Last March, the True Love had a packed house full of people laughing and enjoying the odds and ends in Rothbart’s collection. Much the same is expected for Found’s return to the venue, on Tuesday, December 10.
Interestingly, Found Magazine shows seem to appeal not just to cutting-edge hipsters but also to a wide range of people.
“I get bankers, lawyers, artists, doctors, teachers, librarians and writers (at the shows),” Rothbart said. “It’s all ages, too. I saw these two punk kids talking to a couple in their 60s after a show. They were bonding, showing each other stuff they’d found and making plans to go dumpster diving,” he laughs. “I thought that was awesome.”
Maybe what all these folks have in common is a predilection for using their imaginations.
“So many stories we encounter have tidy resolutions,” Rothbart noted. “They’re not only easily digestible, but easy to file away and forget. But, with these found notes, it’s unclear how the story ends. It’s also surprising that in an economy of maybe 108 words, you can feel like you really know this person and feel them deeply. But there are also fragments of the story missing, and it’s up to you to supply the story where it’s missing. So, it’s an imaginative process, trying to piece it all together.
“That’s kind of the excitement of it. It’s also why some of these pieces stick with you so much. It nags you because you’re not sure what happened next. I like that aspect of it.”
One RECENTLY FOUND item that Rothbart especially likes is an algebra test. Evidently, the student was not prepared for the test, but, rather than simply give incorrect answers, the youngster provided humorous responses. He’d graphed in smiley or frowny faces in some places, basically taking the approach that if he was going to fail anyway, he might as well have fun with it.
“One question asked, ‘If you put $2,000 into an account earning 4 percent interest compounded continuously, what would you have at the end of five years?’ The kid answered, ‘Not enough,’ ” Rothbart said, laughing.
“Another question said, ‘Using the properties of logarithms, evaluate the following: log 10 plus log seven minus log five.’ The kid drew this angry old man yelling, ‘Get off my property!’ ”
Adding a bit of intrigue to this found item, the teacher, besides giving a score of zero, had put a big red X through each response.
“There was this sense of total, humorless ruthlessness,” Rothbart said. “No encouragement or recognition of his creative spirit.”
That creative spirit also appeared on the back of the test in a series of couplets the student had penned, some of which go as follows:
My name is Aaron, I’m in Algebra 2
I sit in class for hours, but nothing I do
Maybe one day my grade will go higher,
but who am I kidding, I’m only a liar
This algebra year in June will soon stop,
and that means my grade can no longer drop
That is exactly the kind of funny and intriguing thing one comes across in Found Magazine, the kind of thing that connects you to the person who originated it. Make sure you find your way to the True Love on December 10, so you can find out just how much fun it really is.