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Found Magazine
by Patrick Hunt

Someday, while perusing the magazine isles of Barnes & Noble, amid the testosterone-injected super-men on the covers of sports magazines and the emaciated models enticing you from the covers of women’s fashion magazines, you might also find an amateurish, grainy-paged magazine entitled, FOUND. This homegrown magazine doesn't feature frivolous Hollywood gossip, celebrities, or hyper-stylized advertisements. Nor does it provide the ultimate guide to improving your sex life/body/job/diet/health/workout. Instead, FOUND features little vignettes into the human soul.

FOUND accomplishes this by publishing love notes, grocery lists, to-do lists, receipts, journals, doodles, and photos that are found and collected by Davy Rothbart. Now that word has begun to spread, people from all over the world have begun to send him their findings as well.

Rothbart is 28 and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His fascination with other people’s lives, and the tangible clues they leave behind began when he was a child. On his way to school, he would walk across a field, past a pile of debris that always seemed to have strangers’ notes or photographs serendipitously placed among its mass. Intrigued by these items, Rothbart began collecting them. One night in the may of 2001, Rothbart found a note that inspired him to begin publishing his findings. One night, after a thin layer of Chicago snow had homogenized the landscape, Rothbart found a note attached to his windshield that read:

Mario, I fucking hate you, you said you had to work then whys your car HERE at HER place?? You are a fucking LIAR. I hate you. I fucking hate you. Amber. p.s. page me later.

That note, as Rothbart says, “spurred me into action” and over the course of the next three nights, with tape, scissors and markers, he put together 50 copies of FOUND magazine. A friend saw the work and suggested that Rothbart make 800 copies and sell them at local stores. They quickly sold out.

Since then, a subsequent issue has been published, and another is slated for this fall. Rothbart, and his partner, Jason Bitner, have seen praise and acclaim from The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, as well as from NPR’s This American Life.

“I didn’t want to make a big magazine, per se,” Rothbart says. “I like that it’s grown. The more people who know about it, the more people who send stuff in.”

Rothbart’s findings come from all over the place, on deliberate FOUND searches, and unexpectedly. He says that some of the best discoveries have come from “around schools, since kids are great at losing things,” as well as libraries, inside Kinko’s copy machines, and university printing centers. Buses, subways, cabs, and trains are goldmines as well.

On the other hand, he claims, some of the best notes and photos are the ones you stumble upon when you aren't even looking in the first place. “It’s more about (finding stuff) in your everyday wanderings throughout the world.”

Rothbart insists he has an eye for fabricated notes and photographs and that only a few counterfeit submissions have been sent to him. Since only a tiny percentage of the submissions get printed in the magazine or posted on the website, “it’s a lot of energy for a hoax that doesn’t pay off.”

“To me, the truth is stranger than fiction,” he says. “And I have a good sense about what is real and what’s not.”

In fact, some of the notes are so sincere, or bizarre, that it's tough to believe that someone didn't fabricate them. Take for instance this note that was placed on the windshield of a car parked illegally in a handicapped space:

“Why are you parked here? I saw you go into Wal-Mart and you are not handicapped. Have some respect for those who are. Who gave you the right?”

Or the love note the website dubs as “what all other notes should aspire to be:”

“I love you. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Others, such as this one found beneath a fallen tree along a woodsy path, wrenches your heart:

“This was a beautiful spot that helped me say goodbye. Thank you.”

This one, made me laugh out loud:

“Paul and Olivia, Our doorbell is not a toy, stop ringing it or I’ll have to call your parents.”

This note, was found by "Jennifer" in her 91-year-old neighbor's apartment after he died. She played music, that apparently "Ralph” didn’t like. The scrawled note reflects the humorous agony the neighbor must have endured while Jennifer played:

“Jennifer, that noise don’t make sense. Cut it out (sic) pls. Its weird.”

The magazine never invades people’s privacy, since it doesn't directly identify anyone, but FOUND does have its foundation in spying into other's lives. But voyeurism to a certain degree, Rothbart says, is healthy. “It’s natural to wonder what other people’s experiences being human is like."

The notes and pictures in FOUND inevitably raise questions about what inspired them and about what resulted from them as well. Readers of FOUND will find themselves in the middle of complex stories about other's lives. Perhaps that is what makes the magazine so intriguing and so difficult to put down. It's difficult not to be entranced by a girl who calls herself "Avon Minisure" and talks about how her “favorite sport is acting like a teenager.”

“Without sounding grandiose, I’ve always thought about the human condition,” Rothbart says. "Whether you’re a CEO or a prisoner sitting in a cell, we’re not too different from each other and we’re all struggling with the same issues in our lives." Rothbart claims that he’s even started paying more attention to the strangers around him.

“I’ve started gazing into people’s faces a little more and listened to the conversations that surround me.”

Rothbart plans on a third issue this fall and hopes to publish a book based on the magazine. Found is carried mostly by small independent bookstores, but you can subscribe or access the magazine via the website, www.foundmagazine.com.

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[email protected] | May 2003 | Issue 38
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