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Found Treasures

Traveling from state to state in a Dodge van nicknamed Big Red, Davy and Peter Rothbart are in the midst of a three-month, 65-city tour to show off their latest finds. In each city they visit, they are met with eager fans excited to see the Rothbarts' loot.

In the back of their van, you won't find cutting-edge technological gadgetry. Nor will you find the latest wonder drug. What you will find is a collection of artifacts that offer a glimpse into the human heart and mind.

The Rothbarts collect "found" stuff. That means anything left behind--love letters, photos, to-do lists, kids' homework, birthday cards, shopping lists and more. They pick the best items and showcase them in FOUND Magazine. Their current tour is to promote the fifth issue of the publication.

The inspiration for the magazine began on a snowy night in Chicago several years ago. Davy went out to his car and found a note on his windshield that was meant for someone else.

Mario, I fucking hate you. You said you had to work. Then why's your car HERE at HER place?? You're a fucking LIAR. I hate you. I fucking hate you--Amber. P.S. Page me later.

"He showed the note to his friends. They showed him cool stuff they found. ... That, for him, inspired the magazine. He thought it was a cool idea of having a means to share finds with other people," says Peter.

The first issue of FOUND hit the streets in June 2001. Over the years, people around the world have contributed their own finds to the magazine. They are a mix of funny, sad and sometimes confusing items.

"One of the more bizarre things we received was an eel in a Mason jar. The jar was filled with formaldehyde. There was a Post-it note attached that read, 'flaky and self-conscious.' That was inexplicable," says Peter.

Once in a while, they hear back from someone whose note or letter has been published. Peter says most of the people are mystified.

"They want to know how we got it. They wonder: Why in the world would anyone be interested in this?"

To protect the privacy of people, identifying names are changed. The magazine does not print complete names, phone numbers or addresses.

Some of the people who have recognized themselves in the FOUND pages have sent in updates.

"Someone sent us a business card from Gainesville, Fla. I have to paraphrase, but it said something like, 'For ladies who want a carefree date, call Lee.' We got an e-mail from him saying, 'You printed a business card I made. I want to thank you guys. Now, I am a national pimp.'"

The fifth FOUND is the crime issue. "We have a broad definition, including crimes of the heart and mischievous activities," says Peter.

"Someone found eight or nine boxes of the life files of a former FBI agent in a Dumpster in northwest Indiana. There were letters between him and J. Edgar Hoover. ... It was fascinating."

Peter says this is the first issue of the magazine that has a particular theme. Besides the five issues, there are two FOUND books, a Polaroid book and also three issues of Dirty FOUND, a collection of more risqué items.

On their tour, Davy and Peter share their finds, writing and music.

"My brother reads a bunch of his favorite finds from the magazines and books," says Peter. "He does a good job at giving them a voice and pinpointing the emotions. ... He also reads some stories and essays that he wrote."

Peter plays songs based on the items he finds.

"My music is acoustic and folk ... me and my guitar. ... I look for notes and letters that inspire me. There is so much moving material. ... I take the original words and phrases and mix them with my own material ... and craft it into a song."

Taking a look at all of the various finds over the years has given Peter a greater awareness and insight into human nature.

"Before FOUND, I paid as much attention to my surroundings as anyone else. I was trapped in my own thoughts. Now, I really pay attention and am aware of what is around me. There are hidden treasures wherever I go.

"This has provided a raw look into someone else's life ... how many people are having the same joys and sadness that you are having. You start to see how similar people are."

Davy and Peter Rothbart introduce FOUND Magazine #5 with a reading and musical performance from noon to 1 p.m., next Thursday, Nov. 8, at Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. Another performance takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Both events are free. Books, magazines, T-shirts and CDs will be on sale. For more information, visit the FOUND Web site.

More by Irene Messina

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