DAVY ROTHBART builds documents of America. His Found magazine and book series, now in its fifth year, publishes discarded letters, Post-it Notes, photographs, drawings—you name it—and creates a crowded, alive-feeling thing that's chillingly voyeuristic, hilarious, and—quite often—crushingly heartbreaking. Built upon submissions from all over the US, the recently released second Found book is a dizzying look at how the things we toss out can tell stories. We get a list of 291 (!) things an anonymous woman is looking for in a man (#291: "Hates the idea of breakups and divorce."). There's an inter-band email printout ("So we should begin by creating each of our band personas. For example, Ron's is Vlad Valentine. A skinny rocker type with wild hair and an even wilder attitude.") There are letters to Santa, violent cartoons—all makes and manners of ephemera, now saved for posterity.
This Tuesday, June 27, Davy will be at Holocene (1001 SE Morrison) reading selections from the second Found book. He promises the evening will be rowdy and says his brother Peter will be on hand, playing songs based on Found submissions. He'll also be at Powell's (on Burnside) on Wednesday for a more subdued appearance.
MERCURY: Now that Found has gotten so popular, does the bulk of submissions that you get become a little much sometimes?
ROTHBART: I've always loved reading the notes and letters I found on the ground, so now I feel like the luckiest guy in the world every time I go to the mailbox. It's truly amazing to read through these incredible scraps and get a glimpse into so many other people's lives. There's a lot of sadness in some of the notes, and sometimes it takes a toll on me. I'll actually start crying as I'm sitting there reading through the finds. It's not that one note in particular is so acutely sad—it's just the accumulated weight of all these crushed hopes, people not getting what they so desperately want. But I'll never get tired of reading these finds. Every time I finish looking through a crate of mail, I always wish there were a couple more envelopes to open.
Do you personally go through all the submissions?
Yeah, though all the mail gets sent to my folks' house, and when I stop by once a week to pick up the mail, my mom has always opened a few of the more interesting looking envelopes, and she's usually waving a find in the air when I come through the door, saying, "You gotta check this one out!"
What's the weirdest thing you've been sent?
Someone sent in a roadkill frog that had dried hard as a rock. My friend Sarah opened it and shrieked! So of course we put it back in the envelope, resealed it, and got a bunch of our other friends to open it over the next few days. And yes, we published the frog.
Do you ever get submissions that implicate someone in a crime?
A week ago in Houston, someone gave me these two Post-it notes they'd found [the spelling is as it is in the originals]:
"Jonesey—Mike bouhgt the gun. Make sure you get the right restraunt and get T-Zone to sit by the windo. I am going to do it this time." [and] "Jonesey—I got the gun. Make sure he sits beside the windo." Creepy stuff! I turned it over to the police, though they said nobody named T-Zone had been shot in Houston.
Has anyone ever gotten pissed about you publishing something of theirs?
Five years ago, when me and my friend Jason first put together Found at Kinko's and made 50 copies, it never occurred to us that someone might recognize their own note. But now, with the foundmagazine.com website and the Found books, it's happened a few times that someone has gotten in touch and said, "Hey, that's mine!" I didn't know if they'd be freaked out or pissed off, but I've been glad to see that the few times it's happened they were real cool about it—either a bit honored, or more often totally mystified... "Yeah, how did you get that?!" But also: "Why would anyone even care about the little details of my love life?" And I explain to them why it means so much to me, that I can probably relate to whatever they were going through in their note, that I've written the same pitiful love note a hundred times myself.
This one girl, she recognized her letter in Found where she was asking her friend for advice about two different guys she was dating. She emailed in and we started writing back and forth. She ended up giving me an entire update! She was like, "Well, now I'm back with Kevin, but Chad's coming up this weekend, so I still don't know what's gonna happen!" It was pretty funny.
And then a few weeks ago, I got an email from this kid, Lee M. Soprenuk. Now, I always change all the names and phone numbers on all the finds to protect people's identities, but in Found Magazine, I printed Lee's high school business card that said "Lee M. Soprenuk, Single Freshman" with his cell phone number in Florida. Lee emailed and said: "Hey, this is Lee M. Soprenuk. I think you published my business card or something in one of your magazines? Now hundreds of girls are calling me from all over the country. I'm not mad or anything, see now I'm like a national pimp!" He just wanted a copy of the magazine so he could see what it was all about. In a future issue of Found, we're planning a "Where Are They Now?" section to update some of the finds that've been reconnected to the person who wrote them.
Do you get many submissions from Portland?
We get tons of amazing finds from Portland! I think more from Portland than any other city in the country. Portland must be fertile territory for found stuff, that's for sure, and it makes me happy that so many folks in PDX are on the lookout for found stuff!
What can people expect from your Holocene appearance?
It's the most dazzling 80 minutes of entertainment since the Dan Aykroyd/Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places. Expect a rowdy reading and music event. I'll read a bunch of my favorites of the finds we've received the past few years, including some brand-new ones from the new Found II book—and my brother Peter is gonna play some amazing new songs based on some of the new finds, and also a song about booties that will entice even the shyest and most reserved members of the crowd to sing along and may lead ultimately to riots on Burnside.
You're a rapper too. Any chance you might take the mic at the Holocene to give us some flows?
Anything can happen—and probably will.
Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, Tues June 27, 8 pm, $8, Powell's, 1005 W Burnside, Wed June 28, 7:30 pm, free