"People walk around every day, and there's all this stuff around them that they just see as trash," Rothbart says. "I see those as potentially fascinating notes and letters. Maybe it's a scrap of another person's life that will clue me in on what somebody else's experience in the world is like."
He had no idea, however, that there would be so much interest in his seemingly arcane pursuit. Three years, three issues of Found, a Web site and a book later, Rothbart is now on a 126-city, 50-states-in-8-months tour.
So many people have stopped to check out lost vignettes -- and then sent them to the magazine -- that the book version fills 252 pages, with entries from every state. On tour, Rothbart and his brother, Peter, have been sharing their favorite gems and meeting like-minded finders.
At one Found party last year, Rothbart witnessed a bizarre and memorable reunion. In the enthusiastic crowd was a man he describes as a "sort of elegantly dressed older guy." When he asked people to share their finds, this man read a few notes that he'd picked up. At the same time, the mohawk-wearing, pierced punk kids in the audience were "just looking at him [the older man] really weird," Rothbart says. It turned out that the older man was the principal who used to bust the punk-rock kids at their school.
"They saw him as this humorless guy. They'd never be on the same page about anything with him. But by the end of the night, they were all talking excitedly and making plans to go out looking through dumpsters," Rothbart says. "I just thought that was pretty awesome.