Davy Rothbart: My Heart Is an Idiot
Found founder searches for love, adventure
Published: October 3, 2012
My Heart Is an Idiot
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, hardcover
In his new book of essays, My Heart Is an Idiot , Davy Rothbart confesses that he’s flummoxed by choice. “I often wished that I could split myself a hundred ways and live a hundred separate lives,” he writes. This preoccupation with possibility will resonate with a certain sort of dreamer, but Rothbart, through a warm-hearted embrace of strangers and strange encounters, comes closer to making it a reality than most.
He is the founder of Found magazine, a publication that this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. Made up of discarded and lost love notes, fliers, grocery lists, drawings, and other ephemera sent in by readers, Found is a repository for the fascinating detritus of ordinary lives. And if the essays in My Heart are any proof, Rothbart conducts his life in the same omnivorous fashion. He’s a friendly rolling stone of a guy who approaches the world from a singularly trusting place, the sort who gets to know the person sitting next to him on the bus, who picks up hitchhikers and hitchhikes himself, who routinely falls in love before he’s even spoken with a woman. (By the end of the book, Rothbart, like many a romantic before him, toys with the notion that “that precious, terrible longing I felt every time I saw a girl who could be ‘the one’ was an end in itself, and all I truly craved.”)
Throughout, Rothbart is self-deprecating, characterizing himself at one point as a “small-town dude in grubby maroon pants and a Rasheed Wallace jersey,” but most small-town dudes never have occasion to, say, take a long, stark-naked walk through lower Manhattan, as Rothbart does. Again and again, he makes himself vulnerable to strangers and rides the crest of the resulting adventure: He becomes obsessed with the fishy murder conviction of a regular Found contributor and befriends him, paying annual visits to the man in prison while crashing with the man’s mother; he nearly moves across the globe for a woman he’s spent one chaste, fake tattoo-strewn night with; and he flies to Texas just to meet—hilariously, disastrously—a mysterious phone-sex companion with whom he feels he’s developed a connection.
Rothbart is emotionally honest throughout, sometimes painfully so. It’s this quality, more than any turn of phrase, that makes his essays thrum with clarity. In one titled “Tarantula,” he describes a one-night stand in vivid, embarrassing detail. (Some tidbits: the eponymous spider is present for the event, and Rothbart is actually in love with the girl’s sister. In a typically bizarro turn of events, the encounter ends with a dead body.) Here, he admits to being the kind of guy who cheats on his girlfriend. He describes his tribe thus: “[We] carry our treacheries in silence for weeks, months, and years at a time, like a low-grade fever, always aware of our own rotten cores, but not too caught up in it all to blunt the joys of everyday life.”
Rothbart’s essays are as peppered with memorable characters as they are with self-reflection. Rothbart bums a ride from a man he dubs “Miller Time.” The guy drives a rattletrap black van packed with recreational machine guns and a brood of children, and proceeds to stand up through an open side window as they roll down the highway, flashing his chest at truck drivers and crying, “‘Hey there, look at my titties!’” An Arizona mechanic with a lifelong Grand Canyon obsession finally goes there for the first time—courtesy of Rothbart—and is so knowledgeable, he’s offered a job on the spot. In Buffalo, Rothbart’s quest to win over a girl collides with that of an ancient black man named Vernon who claims to be 110 years old. In that essay, titled “Human Snowball,” a long night’s adventure ends at the bar where Rothbart’s lady friend works. Rothbart arrives with a gaggle of new friends he’s collected: Vernon; Vernon’s great-granddaughter Darla; Darla’s daughter’s ex-husband, Anthony; Anthony’s girlfriend, Kandy; a car thief named Chris; and the entire Liu family, owners of the Chinese restaurant where Anthony works. That’s how Rothbart rolls, and he has such a good time at it he makes you want to follow suit.
My Heart is a rollicking, funny read, the sort you’re tempted to finish in one sitting. But its great gift is that the essays leave you with a swelling heart and a desire to embrace life as the curious, ever-optimistic Rothbart does, to engage with him in “the kick-ass turns of luck life doles out once in a while if you let it, and are open to adventure.”
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