If Davy Rothbart’s heart is an idiot, as the title of his new collection of essays proclaims, his inner voice is pulling his wool cap over his eyes. Rothbart, the founder and curator of Found Magazine—which solicits, collects and publishes discarded love letters and other personal ephemera—unabashedly shares his own misadventures with tender, if sometimes perverse, stories documenting the ease with which he falls in love—despite a gnawing intuition he blissfully ignores that tells him to tread carefully—in his new book, “My Heart Is An Idiot.”To wit, in “What Are You Wearing?,” Rothbart recounts his months-long phone-sex affair with “Nicole,” who called his Motel 6 hotel room in Austin, Texas, while on his last book tour without introduction and proceeded to easily seduce him. Nicole, we later find, is not a the horny, neglected girlfriend she claims to be. In fact, she is not a she at all—something Rothbart suspects yet denies in pursuit of a quick sexual release—but a gay black man.
It’s just one incident in a collection that reveals Rothbart’s tendency to trust too much, believe too easily and fall too hard for the wrong girl, or guy, as the case may be. But it is these traits that make his stories so compelling, hilarious and poignant.
So, when he calls from the road between Houston and Austin to talk about his upcoming visit to Chattanooga and his adventures on his current tour, I’m not surprised he has some inside stories to tell.
“One of the great things about this is that sometimes the people in my stories come to life,” Rothbart says. “I just learned that ‘Nicole’ will be in the audience tonight at my show in Austin.”
If Rothbart’s stories sometimes sound like long versions of the discarded love notes his magazine collects, it’s no mistake.
“I’ve been publishing a lot of other people’s most private thoughts and experiences for 10 years,” he says. “It only seems fair to share some of my own.”
And share he does, in the same sort of vivid, wide-eyed style that has made him a popular guest on “This American Life,” the public radio program hosted by Ira Glass.
Rothbart and his brother, Peter, are currently on the tail end of a three-month, 79-city tour across the U.S. celebrating Found Magazine’s 10th anniversary that will land at the Association for Visual Arts Gallery on Monday. Prepare to be entertained.
“My brother and I do this rowdy, energetic media and music event,” Rothbart says. “We get up on stage with our favorite stuff from Found. Peter plays songs based on our most interesting finds and I read from the book with all the energy and emotion it was written with.”
In between, Rothbart invites audience members up to interview them about their lives. “They leave inspired—and exhausted,” Rothbart says. “People come up to me after the show and tell me, ‘You know a lot about me.’”
Found began with one note Rothbart found on his windshield one night in Chicago. “The note was addressed to Mario by a woman who said she hated him, lied to her and then asked him to page her,” he recalls. “I wanted to page her, but of course the note was to Mario and it didn’t include a number.”
With that, Rothbart cobbled together his first issue with plans to print 50 copies at Kinko’s and sell them to friends. “But the guy at Kinko’s loved it and printed us 800 copies. I’ve been amazed and kind of shocked that it’s resonated so much, but it’s really been cool to see it grow.”
Besides writing and touring, Rothbart is a frequent contributor to “This American Life,” which airs on Sunday evenings in Chattanooga on WUTC-FM, and he is finishing a documentary called “Madora,” about a struggling basketball team in the hardscrabble town of the same name.
But it is interacting with the real people he meets on tour that most feeds Rothbart’s interest.
“There’s been some interesting experiences, just a lot of interactions and moments on these trips,” he says, recalling a late-night conversation with a hotel maid who turned out to be the single mother of four who had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. “That’s why I travel, to meet these people.”
Sound Cloud: "You Are What You Dream" Peter Rothbart, The Poem Adept
Found Magazine 10th Anniversary Tour with Davy and Peter Rothbart
8 p.m. • $5
Monday, Dec. 10
30 Frazier Ave.
(423) 265-4282 avarts.org