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Davy Rothbart: Professional Fool for Love

Davy Rothbart
Davy Rothbart
Kevin Scanlon

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Davy Rothbart sits at a picnic table in Elysian Park with a Discman in his pocket. Someone actually stopped him on the street recently while he was traveling on a book tour and said, "That must be the last Discman in New York!" Rothbart shrugs telling this story. Gadgets and tech aren't really his thing. "I guess I'm just a lo-fi person," he says.

Rothbart, 38, is many other things — a writer, documentary filmmaker, This American Life contributor and creator of Found magazine, a print publication that pieces together stray letters, lists, drawings and photos.

Most people would have migrated Found over to a Tumblr by now. Not Rothbart. He's a literary slow cooker in a world of microwave media.

Ask Rothbart what he wanted to be as a boy growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and he'll drift into a love story about his grade-school crush. Like him, she wanted to be either a writer or a baseball player. Both their phone numbers added up to the jersey number of their favorite Detroit Tiger, Chet Lemon. A boyish infatuation that was dormant only moments ago reveals itself as he smiles at the memory.

Rothbart has many love stories, which he recounts in his book, My Heart Is an Idiot. He once paid a girlfriend a surprise visit, nearly got caught up in a car-theft ring and negotiated free Chinese food for a year — all in one night. He carried on a long-term phone-sex relationship with someone he later learned was a man. He also spent much of his youth enamored with Shade from the movie Gas Food Lodging, only to finally realize he was chasing a phantom.

But to call Rothbart a romantic would miss the mark. He's a love adventurer. Reading the book, you root for him every time.

Rothbart falls in love easily, he admits, but doesn't see that as a flaw. "I'm proud of it," he says. "I think it's good. If you're open to people in that way, you're also open to, you know, the old woman across the street."

Because it's not just romantic connections Rothbart seeks. "The personal really is everything to me," he says.

The Echo Park resident spends many months a year touring the country, promoting his work and cultivating fast friends he actually stays in touch with.

That predilection explains his latest literary love child, How Did You End Up Here?: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us, which is a collection of more than 100 questions to ask someone you've just met. It's also why he takes inner-city kids from Washington, D.C., camping every year, instead of simply donating money, which even he admits might go further. But the personal connection fuels him.

Making strangers less strange, that's his thing. "Maybe I'm a really in-person kind of person," he says. "I feel like I've developed a community of kindred spirits."

When asked what he wants for himself, fame and fortune don't cross Rothbart's lips. From his expression, they don't even seem to cross his mind. The simple wish he makes: "I have a dozen — like, three dozen — ideas about stuff I want to do, and I hope I can have at least the resources to do them."

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