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06.17.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Dorothy Gotlib
Finder, Keeper: Davy Rothbart is looking everywhere for your doodles.

Notes From The Ground

Davy Rothbart, the scavenging genius behind Found magazine, on the joys of collecting the detritus of other people's lives. Catch him snooping at the Cayuga Vault this week.

By Jessica Lussenhop


WOULD you hire Davy Rothbart? "I never had a real job before. Ticket scalper. Marijuana salesman," he says. "I applied for a job at This American Life. I wrote a really great cover letter, but I was so depressed about how lame my résumé was, I sent it in as a joke almost."

Nonetheless, the same principles that hold up Rothbart's creation Found Magazine--that idiocy and honesty are the best policy--seemed to be pretty effective here, also.

"All of a sudden Ira Glass, with his stammering voice, calls, 'We-we-we would like to interview you,'" he says. "I didn't get the job, but it helped me share some ideas with him."

Since then, Rothbart's résumé has beefed up considerably. And though he's become a correspondent for This American Life and a New York Times eulogist (for Mr. Rogers), written a volume of short stories called The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas and is in the process of editing a film, his appearance this week at the Cayuga Vault is all about his first love--finding weird shit on the ground (passive aggressive signs, break-up notes, naughty doodles, death threats) and sharing it.

"We get a lot of stuff from Santa Cruz," he says. "It's fertile territory." (Literally, in the case of a Santa Cruz note that read, "Please, please stop pooping here ... The river is two blocks away," posted on the Found website.) This time, Found has released Requiem for a Paper Bag, a volume of essays about finding things by some of Rothbart's friends and idols, from Jim Carroll to Susan Orlean to Seth Rogen.

By now, Rothbart is in city no. 45 as he closes in on the final leg of his 57-city, 62-day tour. Though he's well-established enough to be put up in hotels and flown around on a seven-city tour, the 34-year-old and his brother Peter, a musician, do all their tours driving in a van, in a different city almost every night, often crashing with friends. This, he says, is a perfect example of why: "[Last night,] this guy told me when he was a little kid--third, fourth grade--he lived on the water in Washington State, and he'd write messages in a bottle and throw them out," he says. "Ten years later, he's a senior in high school. His dad comes in and says, 'I need you to come out here.' At the door are two Seattle police officers. Someone found a note he wrote that said, 'Help me, help me, I'm being held against my will,' and gave his address. They wanted to know, do you still need assistance?" He giggles into his earpiece, the whoosh of highway noise in the background. "That's why this never gets old," he says. "I just collect those kind of stories. It's a human version of Found Magazine."

Rothbart will be reading from the new book, his brother Peter will perform songs he's written inspired by found notes, and, of course, we'll hear the latest and greatest finds, chosen from the hundred and hundreds of found notes that are sent to Rothbart's parents' house in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Next up in Rothbart's varied playbook is the completion of his first film, based on a pizza parlor in Ann Arbor where he once worked as a delivery boy (and still does every New Year's Eve). Steve Buscemi is also turning some of the stories from Lone Surfer into a screenplay--another "lucky fluke" says Rothbart--and an intimate documentary that takes place over the course of two past Found road trips is nearing completion. But it's not just about poop notes and all-night driving. "We found, when we watched the footage, we had a movie more about the ups and downs of my love life. It's a personal documentary, but I think that there are universal things on it," he says. "There are some pretty raw moments, but I've been publishing other people's notes for years. The least I could do is share my own stories."

For a sneak preview, one need only hear the title: My Heart Is an Idiot. For it seems, though he's gone from marijuana salesman to renowned author and journalist, there are some things that never change. "I'm far more likely to think some girl's my soul mate than the other way around. It rarely goes the other way," he says.


DAVY AND PETER ROTHBART perform with the Watson Twins on Friday, June 19, at 8pm at Cayuga Vault, 1100 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets $10 advance/$12 door. More information at www.foundmagazine.com.


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