Davy's little magazine, now three issues deep, one Web Site wide and one book tall, is edited not by political inclination or even writing ability, but by fate. Davy has been picking up debris since he was a child, and early on he was impressed by "how powerfully you could connect with someone just by reading a [found] love note."
It all crystallized for him in Chicago, when he found a letter stuck to his windshield by someone named Amber who mistook his car for one belonging to someone named Mario. The letter used choice words to accuse Mario of being at some girl's house when he was supposed to be at work, declared her hatred for him and ended with the postscript "Page me later."
Along with his younger brother Peter, Rothbart began collecting these tiny forgotten epics from street corners, schools and Laundromats. They produced the early versions of Found for friends, 50 at a time, in his parents' basement. Something in these recovered notes and wayward photos made sense to people. Whether it was "truth undistorted" or "a natural way for people to come together," Found had found an audience.
The existential scabs of American life came from all 50 states: sublime love notes, a "Dear John" letter written on an airsickness bag, photos of forgotten places. There are funny, sad elegies from prisons and playgrounds, pieces of stories that, for Rothbart, evoke "multiple currents of emotion."
"It is striking to me how many people want things that they pretty clearly aren't going to get," he says, referring to pages on which girls practice writing potential married names, referring to a letter found in a graveyard written by a boy to his mother. The fact that their authors didn't expect them to be seen gives them a kind of nakedness, the power of truth.
Is it voyeurism? "Absolutely," Rothbart says. "A certain degree of voyeurism is healthy."
With healthy voyeurism in tow, the Rothbart brothers rented a van last April and hit the road, destined to visit the 50 states in an eight-month tour. Their shows include a reading of some of Rothbart's favorite pieces, a guitar performance by his brother using found notes as lyrics, and a found object open mic for the audience to share. Meanwhile, the Rothbart household in Ann Arbor, Mich., receives 10-20 new items a day, and the magazine has been covered in The New Yorker, The Washington Post and recently, on "David Letterman."
Having glimpsed thousands of different lives through words and images, Rothbart is ultimately surprised by "the similarities between us." Without filters, we recognize ourselves in these scraps.
The media, he says, gives us "stories wrapped up in neat little bows." But Found, like life, isn't so polished. "These are fragments, cliffhangers. You're left wondering about them." S
The Found tour finds its way to Chop Suey Books Friday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to submit items, visit www.foundmagazine.com.
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