If you were raised in the South you probably start conversations the way we do: “How’s your mama?”
Usually this is code for “I have three minutes to kill here in the Kroger check-out line.” Not when you’re talking with Davy Rothbart. In his case we were wondering if his mom, who mysteriously turned deaf years ago at age 29, is still channeling an ancient Buddhist monk named Aaron and is still leading tours to a miracle healer in Brazil. (Yes and yes).
In other words Rothbart, an author, filmmaker and frequent contributor to the radio show “This American Life,” is an unusually interesting guy. His rampant curiosity has made him more so. The co-creator and editor of “Found” magazine, he collects random yet compelling scraps of letters, lists and receipts and is now out with a riveting collection of essays titled “My Heart is an Idiot.”
He’ll discuss it all during the Atlanta installment of his nationwide tour, at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Dad’s Garage, 280 Elizabeth Street. (Tickets are $5; call 404-523-3141 or see dadsgarage.com).
“It’s been a really fun ride,” Rothbart told us in an interview, after we’d discussed his mother, who factors frequently in his work and who he credits, along with his gregarious father, with shaping his raconteur personality. “We’ve had a chance to see friends and cities all over the country.”
Although traversing the country has meant a demanding schedule, it’s also produced some new “Found” treasures.
“One of the joys of doing this is every night people bring us great finds,” he said. “Some of them are hilarious. Some are poignant.”
Examples: the receipt for a gun, a ski mask and a pack of Nerds candies.
“Sounded like a pretty interesting afternoon,” Rothbart mused. Then there was the heartbreaking letter, probably penned by a young girl, that a contributor chanced upon.
“It was written in a kid’s handwriting: ‘Mom and Dad, I hate when you do it. I hate when you bring that stuff into the house. You can do it if you want, just not in the house. I worry about you.’ The whole thing was about eight lines. It was a short note but you get a sense of this poor girl’s situation.”
As the title suggests much of the nonfiction content in “My Heart is an Idiot” details Rothbart’s attempts at romance.
“Some of the experiences were really humiliating at the time,” he said. “After a few years had passed I was able to write them down and laugh at them.”
The essay “Human Snowball” gives you a good a sense of Rothbart’s voracious appetite for life. He takes the bus to see some girl he has a crush on, meets a 110-year-old guy on the way, gets his car-thieving buddy to take the old guy to see his estranged great-granddaughter in some recently boosted wheels, and then things get interesting.
“Oral storytelling and storytelling in general is one of our oldest traditions,” Rothbart said. “Before there were books there was storytelling. One thing I’ve always loved about storytelling is the way it’s so relatable. When you read a novel or a book of personal essays the events are not your own, but I always find myself relating.”