Good dirt

Davy Rothbart of Found magazine reads from Requiem on Saturday night at Precinct in Union Square
By MIKE MILIARD  |  May 6, 2009

"I think the story of what the found item means to the finder is sometimes just as interesting as the found item itself," says Found magazine, uh, founder Davy Rothbart, who's spent eight years soliciting crumpled love notes, mud-smudged to-do lists, and faded Polaroids that offer glimpses of private lives.

And so comes the latest addition to the Found canon: Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World (Fireside), in which Seth Rogen recounts his prepubescent dalliance with a rain-soaked porno mag, Chuck D sings the praises of car junkyards, and Patton Oswalt learns while returning a lost wallet that no good deed goes unpunished.

Rothbart — along with his brother, Peter, who performs songs he's written that are based on found notes — will be reading from Requiem and showcasing many original artifacts on Saturday night at Precinct in Union Square. I got him on the phone to talk trash (and treasure).

I never figured I'd see Mike Schank, Billy Bragg, and Robert Evans anthologized between two covers.
[Laughs] I was, like, astounded by the juxtaposed e-mails I would get some mornings when I would open my inbox: Susan Orlean and then Mike Schank, and then, like, my mom. For me it was a personal thrill to have some of my heroes, like Chuck D and Jim Carroll and those people I grew up adoring, and have them enthusiastic about participating. The stories they had were all pretty cool.

What are some lessons you've picked up from doing Found about the ways people live?
One thing I've learned is how similar the issues are that we deal with. I remember once I got two finds the same week. One was from New Canaan, Connecticut; the other was from some small town near Addis Ababa. One was a banker and one was a shepherd. But they were both writing letters to siblings about the loss of a parent and trying to make them feel better and comfort them. They were leading such different lives, but the notes had such similarities. It was really striking. I do feel less alone the more of these found notes I read. Like the shit I'm going through in my own life is the same shit other people have to deal with too.

When you were a kid growing up, were you given to picking up litter on the ground and examining it?
Yeah, I used to cross this old ballfield to get to the school bus. And I remember the backstop there would be sort of a net for all sorts of blowing scraps of paper. And if I had a few extra minutes before the bus, I'd just be poking around in there. My mom, to her credit, whenever I took something home, she wasn't like, "Don't pick up trash!" She was like, "Whoa, that's a crazy note, what do you think is going on there?"

Some recent favorites?
This kid who lives down the street from me in Ann Arbor here, he's talented at finding interesting receipts. One had just four items on it: "gun, gun, ski mask, Nerds." That sounds like an interesting afternoon, right?! And then after that he found another one: "chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, 12-pack lubricated condoms."

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