It’s happened to everyone a few times. You’re walking down the street, riding the bus, cleaning up at work, and something catches your eye. A sloppily scrawled reminder, a long-forgotten homework assignment, a heartfelt love letter. It’s funny, confusing, perhaps touching, and you show it to your friends, post it on the office bulletin board, laugh about it for a few weeks, and then forget about it.

Most people do, anyway. But for Davy Rothbart, that was never enough. As the founder/publisher/MC for Found Magazine, Rothbart, along with co-founder Jason Bitner and a growing legion of contributors, has taken the finding phenomenon to the next logical step, publishing items found around the country.

Rothbart is currently working on a Found book, which he had originally planned to finish by the end of August. I spoke with him during the early morning hours of Oct. 10th – he asked to be called between midnight and 6 a.m. – when he had 12 days to finish the book. No more extensions. For some reason, he didn’t mind taking a half-hour out of his busy schedule to chat about his busy schedule.

It was simple enough in the beginning. Rothbart would always find things, and over time he realized he wasn’t alone. Traveling across the country, it seemed to be a common hobby for people everywhere.

"They would have this great, prized find hung on their fridge," he said.

But there was one item in particular that sparked Found. One night he returned to his parked car and found a note left on his windshield, apparently meant for someone who drove the same make and model. Addressed to "Mario," the note’s writer accused him of some romantic indiscretion, told him she hated him, but ended with a post script of "page me later."

It was funny, but touching at the same time. So much feeling was contained in that brief note. Rothbart said he couldn’t keep this one to himself.

"I gotta do something with all this stuff I’m finding," he said.

Rothbart said that it was this note in particular that made him realize how people can understand and emphasize with what was intended to be a message for one other person or, in some cases, no audience at all.

"To me, each of these notes is a little scrap of human experience," he said.

A great deal of that experience deals with love, romance and lust, asserts Rothbart. In an age of cold and automated emails and cell phones, a written note can reflect a hotter, fiercer passion– someone took the time to write this down for a reason.

"The number two thing is probably parking," Rothbart adds. "Sex and parking."

Love and cars are good starting places but hardly the end of the story. Issue #2 of Found included public notices, threats, drawings, reminders and less classifiable items. The only thing most of them had in common, he said, was a narrative.

"A to-do list can have a story with it," Rothbart said.

Even as the number of found objects received over the years has increased and more people have in turn discovered the magazine, Rothbart said there has never been a real problem with fabricated entries. One person did send in a supposedly found tape of a jam band, but quick Internet search revealed that the sender was a member of the band. "Anyone who wanted to fake a found item and send it in would have to wait almost a year on average to see it in print for a pretty small payoff, and most people respect the integrity of the project", he said. "Fake finds are "just not weird enough," explained Rothbart. "I really do believe that truth is stranger than fiction."

What’s even stranger is that Found has now begun to reach the very people who have unknowingly contributed to its pages.

"It has happened a couple of times actually," Rothbart said.

According to Rothbart, in its earliest forms, when only 50 copies were made, there was no larger plan for Found, Rothbart said. As it became a "grand collaborative art project," a few people recognized found items they had authored. Rothbart said he expected them to be upset, but those who contacted Found were either honored or mystified that their personal life would be of any interest. Rothbart said one girl even gave him an update on her love life, first chronicled in a found item.

Besides the third issue of the magazine and a book– which Rothbart says will be like the magazine but much bigger– the Found collective is steadily expanding into other found mediums. Bitner is collecting found Polaroids, which Rothbart said he likes because each Polaroid, unlike a standard photograph, is the only one of its kind. In addition, the magazine is compiling found audio material that will accompany songs written by several bands. Rothbart is also expanding a book of short stories he self-published for an extended format set for this summer.

With all these projects, it’s easy to see why Rothbart is so busy. He said he will probably lose money with every issue that he puts out, but Found is hardly the kind of thing one would do for the money. It seems it has a lot more to do with the reasons the found items themselves were made; an attempt to connect emotionally with other people; an attempt to communicate something important.

[Images from Found magazine]
SEE ALSO > www.foundmagazine.com