Some selected definitions of the surprisingly multifaceted word find: (v. tr.) 1. To come upon, often by accident; meet with. 2. To perceive (oneself) to be in a specific place or condition 3. To recover the use of; regain. (n.) Something that is found, especially an unexpectedly valuable discovery.
Perhaps the last is the most intended implication of the word for the purpose of Found magazine (FoundMagazine.com) and the only rule for the inclusion of items. But the other definitions seem to fit the more subtle, loose narrative that can be gleaned from the tidbits picked up off the ground, and which make up Found’s volumes.
Several years ago, Davy Rothbart—creator of Found magazine and the books that would follow—never imagined that so many readers would share his fascination with the strange and juicy scribblings found littered on city streets. After being inspired by a note left on his car by a miffed girlfriend who clearly had the wrong vehicle, Rothbart and his cohorts began pooling their finds with others who had long been intrigued by misdirected and forgotten messages. It snowballed from there.
Several issues and books later, Rothbart continues to be surprised by the overwhelming response to his once-personal obsession. “We are lucky to receive so much stuff,” he says. “It’s fun to open mail.”
What will you find in Found? Anything you can imagine and a lot of stuff you can’t. That’s the best part. The contents read like a laundry list of life’s residue: grocery lists, stubs, love notes, hate notes, drawings, dangling sentiments, pictures, mantras, worksheets, suicide notes, propositions—all indicative of a strikingly similar existence we share.
For Rothbart, who approaches the project with a curious exuberance akin to that of Bill and Ted in their excellent adventure attempting to piece history together, the most attractive part about a find is something that hints at a narrative, a fragment of a story. You don’t know whether it was the recipient or the writer who discarded it, or what the subsequent result was. Another aspect that is particularly poignant is the element of surprise and the complicated emotions that underlie many of the handwritten scraps. You rarely experience just one emotion at a time, he says, and often they can be contradictory.
This is where it seems the mass appeal comes in. It’s more than just the guilty pleasures of voyeurism, though the notes do represent snippets of someone else’s life never intended for an outside viewer. But the nature of these castaway fragments of paper is raw and intimate—something that strangers interacting in everyday life don’t usually make accessible. The finds reveal bits and pieces of human existence very candidly—hilarious, beautiful, tragic and perverse all at once. After all, Rothbart says, “truth is so much stranger than fiction.”
Even the way many of them are scrawled violently (parking gripes are among my favorites), desperately drawn out or lovingly scripted is subconsciously expressive, and they paint a picture of what the author may have been experiencing at a specific moment in time. The anonymity coupled with the intensity ups the intrigue and fuels readers’ imaginations.
This is where the Found tour breathes life back into the recovered notes and letters. At the Salt Lake City Main Library—just one stop on a 65-city nationwide tour—Rothbart will perform what he calls a “rowdy read” of some of his favorite finds, while his brother Peter even sets some to music, to mimic their attitude. These items that otherwise would’ve met their demise in a Dumpster or puddle (although that doesn’t always hinder their retrieval) are revitalized and have a chance to be heard once again. And it is entertaining—it’s easy to get lost in a copy of Found. No one can resist peeping into the life of another, especially when it strikes a chord.
FOUND MAGAZINE TOUR with Davy & Peter Rothbart @ Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Tuesday Oct. 16, 7 p.m. cw