Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2014

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From letters to sketches, ‘Found’ is a great find

Sun coverage

“Sometimes, you just find the eighth page of a letter and you wonder what happened to the other seven pages,” says Davy Rothbart drawing a battered sheet of paper from a stack of documents.

Rothbart is the creator and editor of "Found" magazine, an annual collection of letters, receipts, sketches, notes, to-do lists and other miscellanea stumbled upon by people across the country and sent in to Rothbart and co-creator Jason Bitner for publication in the journal.

Standing on the stage at the Palms Lounge during CineVegas’ Found Magazine-sponsored party, Rothbart begins to read the mysterious eighth page of the mysterious letter. It’s about a new love interest who displays his affections in the form of a gifted pet.

“It was the dopest fish I ever saw,” Rothbart reads animatedly. Further down the page, the couple makes it official. “Twenty-three minutes later I broke up him,” Rothbart continues, as the audience chuckles in unison.

A contributor to public radio show "This American Life," Rothbart’s tie to the 11th annual film festival is not as a contributor, but as a character, the subject of Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Jackpot Premiere feature "Easier with Practice," which is based on the true story of Rothbart’s relationship with an anonymous phone sex caller during a road trip.

While the film was well-acted and enjoyable, Rothbart’s late night lounge reading was a highlight of the festival, a live performance that communicated his enthusiasm and energy in a way film is hard-pressed to do.

Continuing to read from a stack of his favorite “finds,” Rothbart’s selections range from touching to absurd, almost always with a strong dose of humor only amplified by his practiced reading of the odd snapshots of found lives.

“Jenna, Can I give you a sensual massage? Then I will talk about Jesus,” says a note found on a college campus.

A found receipt lists purchases: “Gun. Gun. Ski mask. Nerds.” Another includes “chicken ramen, chicken ramen, chicken ramen, chicken ramen, chicken ramen, chicken, ramen, 12-pack lubricated condoms.”

Rothbart even brings along a to-do list found at the Palms for the Vegas stop of his Denim and Diamonds Tour. It includes one item: “Must win money.”

Another find is a budget with monthly expenses including rent, utilities, food, attorney fees, liquor and crack. The responsible drug user allotted crack $600 for the month, the same as rent.

Each reading, whether a single-line or an entire letter, conjures up an image of the writer and the recipient. Bratty high schoolers, jilted boyfriends and repressed college students all materialize from the crumpled papers next to Rothbart.

Towards the close, Rothbart reads the find that is responsible for launching "Found," a note that was mistakenly stuck to his car windshield in Chicago.

Mario, I (expletive) hate you. You said you have to work then whys your car HERE at HER place?? You’re a (expletive) LIAR. I hate you.

Amber

PS Page me later

Before saying goodbye, Rothbart encourages the crowd to pick up paper scraps and keep an eye out for the “finds” that we normally step over instead of picking up. It’s really a plea to take notice of the details and to find humor and emotion in overlooked, unexpected places. Suddenly, Rothbart’s CineVegas inclusion makes complete sense.

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