Diversions
11:04 am
Tue September 18, 2007

Tales from the Lost and Found

From the lost piece of luggage to the long-missing set of keys, what's the most bizarre thing you've lost and then found?

Dan Brucker, spokesman for the Metro-North Railroad, reveals what gets left behind on New York City's trains. Also, Davy Rothbart, creator of FOUND magazine, shares stories of stray belongings.

Davy Rothbart, creator and editor of FOUND Magazine

Dan Brucker, spokesman for the Metro-North Railroad, which operates New York City's Grand Central Terminal

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Where is it? I just had it. Emotions run high when you realize you've lost something, that old familiar heart-stopping panic when we resign ourselves to the loss of whatever it was. On the other hand, there's this special wonder when you stumble across somebody else's lost umbrella or paper bag or their iPod. Do you try to find the rightful owner? Do you hope some kind stranger will find a way to return your former possession?

Today's stories of items lost, items found, reunited and never seen again - the anonymous flotsam of our lives. Later this hour, Lord Cochrane, the man who inspired fictional heroes, like Lucky Jack Aubrey. But first, from the mundane to the bizarre - tales of lost and found.

If you've ever pleaded for somebody, anybody, to return something precious or come across a prosthetic limb on a train, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail: talk@npr.org. There's also a conversation on our blog. You can find that at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And let's see if we can Hal(ph) on the line. Hal is calling us from St. Louis in Missouri.

HAL (Caller): Hey.

CONAN: What's…

HAL: Well, so many years ago, my parents moved to Central, Colorado, and we get out a lot. We hike along four-by-four trails. And that (unintelligible) is the most interesting place to find things. You get leather hats, all-weather shirts. But the most bizarre thing I've ever found on a trail was a color slide - it was in the little plastic jacket for a slide machine - and had the face and shaven head of man who had probably 30 stitches across the top of its head. I don't know if it was an injury or brain surgery or what, but here's this man's face with a bunch of stitches and a shaved head.

CONAN: And did you ever find out who it was?

HAL: Well, no, because it's Central, Colorado. It's out on the Rockies and people come from probably all over the world and get four-by-fours and rent them or buy them and they go up these mountains. And if you're walking along a jeep trail, you're going to find a lot of things that have fallen off of jeeps.

CONAN: And rattled out of people's pockets, I'm sure. But, nevertheless, you must wonder what the story is behind that picture.

HAL: Yeah, I really do. I've got it somewhere at the house in a box and I'll -I mean, I'll never know.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Hal.

HAL: Thank you.

CONAN: Joining us now is Davy Rothbart, founder and creator of FOUND magazine. He's with us from New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, New Hampshire.

Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. DAVY ROTHBART (Founder and Creator, FOUND Magazine): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And its objects like that slide that Hal was just talking about that, as I understand it, inspired you to found this magazine.

Mr. ROTHBART: Absolutely. You know, people have begun to send me notes, letters, you know, anything that you find. It could be somebody's to-do list, someone's love letter, but it gives you a glimpse in another person's life, and it's really interesting to read some of the stuff.

There's one that came from L.A. not too long ago. My friend found this in front of his apartment on the street, and it's a note to Jessie(ph). It says, Jessie, I did not take anything. I know there's no convincing you once you made up your mind. And although I cannot offer you any other explanation as to what happened to it, that doesn't mean I did it. How could I have? You say your car was locked and Katie(ph) had the keys. Anyway, I don't need to take something that's yours when I can get my own. It doesn't make sense. But here's the replacement because I can't stand it when you think I've wronged you. Signed, mom.

CONAN: Mom?

Mr. ROTHBART: Mom. I love the surprise ending in some of these notes. And you know she's guilty, like, I don't know what she took but I'm sure she took it.

CONAN: I'm sure she took it, too. As I understand it, the foundation of your magazine goes back to another letter you found.

Mr. ROTHBART: Yeah, FOUND magazine started with this note that was on the windshield of my car. This is when I used to live in Chicago. I went out there - my name is Davy, but on my windshield was a note addressed to Mario(ph). So I picked it off and opened it up. It said, Mario, I hate you. You said you had to work then why is your car here at her place. You're a liar. I hate you. I hate you. Signed, Amber(ph). P.S.: Page me later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTHBART: To as something so crazy about, you know, she's so angry and upset but also still sweet and hopeful and in love. You know, it really rang through to me all this complicated emotions and, of course, it wasn't even Mario's car. It was my car. So I don't…

CONAN: But it was underneath your windshield. Why - it's clearly, she thought it was his car.

Mr. ROTHBART: Exactly, but I always wished I could - you know, she left her pager number so I could have paged her later and let her know. But I started showing that to my friends. And then they, you know, they thought it was interesting and then they started showing me stuff that they had found. And soon, people were sending me their found stuff from around the country. And once we put together the first issue of FOUND magazine and got it out there, other people started sending us stuff. And now, you know, we get finds from really every state and dozens of countries.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And do you try to reunite these items with their proper owners?

Mr. ROTHBART: Sometimes, I have, you know? We have sometimes gotten found postcards sent to us. Somebody found a postcard in the ground and, you know, it's all written out. There's no stamp on it, but it's written out and then addressed. So I sometimes just pop a stamp on there and drop it in the mailbox. Sometimes, it's been 15 years since the postcard was written, and I wonder what that experience would be like for the person that received it, you know, this message out of the blue. Of course, you don't even know, like, maybe there was a reason they didn't send it.

CONAN: Yeah, it's also as if it's like a letter in a bottle - you don't know if, you know, what's happened in the intervening years.

Mr. ROTHBART: Well, exactly and that's - it's interesting you mentioned that because in the first FOUND book here, they've got a couple of stories of people who have found stuff and then figured out, you know, returned the stuff to them. And there was a letter in a bottle in Tampa, Florida. A guy found this note in a bottle. It says, whoever finds this - where is it? Here. To whoever finds this, please, write me a letter and let me know. Signed, Roger Clay(ph). And it was dated December 27th, 1984. So, you know, he found it even floating apparently in the Gulf for 15 years and he was able to track down Roger Clay and he wrote him a letter, and it turned - he came to find out that Roger had died in a motorcycle accident five years ago to the day of when he found the letter…

CONAN: Oh, no.

Mr. ROTHBART: …but, which was so sad. But - and yet, for Roger's mother, when -she was so moved by the fact that her son had written this note. She never knew about it. You know, he must just have been walking in the beach and throw it into the ocean. I guess it was really meaningful for her to be reconnected with this note from her son. And she met up with the people. They were able to present the bottle to her and the note. Yeah, another…

CONAN: It's interesting - go ahead.

Mr. ROTHBART: Here's another story that - from the first FOUND book, and it's a guy who was in L.A. He drove up to a Joshua tree, rented a car and he found in a glove box, a lot of coupons collected from all sorts of places, a little change purse and a stack of mail with a lot of, you know, overdue bills. Then, there was also a letter in there, and it said: Dearest brother, I heard you were having a hard time with money and I know I don't have much, but maybe this $20 will help you out. Your loving sister, Kay.

So she had written this letter, this woman, and, you know, hadn't set it yet. There was no $20 there. But the guy that found it, he, you know, he was moved by the fact that she was having a hard time with money, had, you know, all these coupons clipped out and had not been able to pay some of her bills and yet was still trying to send $20 to her brother. So he actually returned all of her things with - you know, her address was on one of the bills. He returned them all with - and he decided to put the $20 in there.

CONAN: He chipped in the 20?

Mr. ROTHBART: He chipped in the 20 and the letter he got in - in response from her is so beautiful. It says hi, you know, thank you so much for returning my things. I sat at my bed about 8 o'clock, reading my mail. And I looked at this big envelope, and I thought, who do I know from Chicago? Then, I thought, nobody. And I began opening the package, pulling out the Ziploc bag and seeing my things and your letter and the $20, I sat in my bed and wept for about three to five minutes. I thought that was nice. So you can't - sometimes when you do find stuff and are able to return it, you know, it pays a lot of dividends.

CONAN: What have you lost? Did it find its way back to you? What have you found? Did you find its original owner? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's talk with Steve(ph), Steve is calling us from St. Louis.

STEVE (Caller): Thanks for taking my call. What a hoot. I just spend most of my day in the car, driving for real estate and I have found probably 15 cell phones. I found purses, wallets. I found a weed eater with a full tank of gas. I found two laptops. And one day, I found a pair of golf shoes still in their brand new box that fit perfectly. So I get a real riot. It keeps me interested as I drive along the highways and byways of the Missouri area.

Mr. ROTHBART: Were you able to return any of the cell phones or the laptops - able to track down the owners?

STEVE: A couple of cell phones, I actually was able to return. The batteries were still good. I tracked down the owners. One was out of town. A number of them have been, you know, obviously run over or broken. One of them I picked up one time, it was ringing on the ground next to me at the intersection, but I couldn't figure out - I couldn't get a number to call back on. But a lot of the stuff has been returned.

Mr. ROTHBART: I find that once I start looking for these kind of stuff, and once my, you know, I keep my eyes open, then it's just everywhere.

STEVE: Oh, it's like - it's hilarious just to see what's laying on the side of the road. Some of it's too dangerous to pick up, but I always wonder where it came from and whose stuff it was.

CONAN: Oh, those golf shoes sure sound dangerous.

STEVE: Pardon me?

CONAN: Those golf shoes sure sound dangerous.

STEVE: Oh no, the golf shoes were on the inside lane of a four-lane highway. They had to wait for traffic one - real early one morning, when it wasn't busy to get run over and get them. And it was about a couple of hours before the sweeper came by and pick them up - wouldn't picked them up.

Mr. ROTHBART: Well, they fit perfectly so we're stopping for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEVE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Steve.

STEVE: Yeah.

CONAN: There's a certain wondrous quality of found items that elevates them above - you know, if he'd gone out and bought a pair of golf shoes, they wouldn't be as great as those once he found on the highway.

Mr. ROTHBART: I think so. I think that, you know, they have some story to him, you know? And sometimes it's just a fragment of a story, you know, like, even with some of these found notes where it's up to you to piece together the rest of the story. My friend is a talented at finding receipts, so he always collects these and gives them to me. And one day last month, he gave me this receipt, just four items on it. It says gun, gun, ski masks, Nerds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTHBART: It sounds like an interesting afternoon.

CONAN: It surely does.

Mr. ROTHBART: And then, a week later, he found this receipt, Neal. It says chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, chicken ramen noodles, 12-pack lubricated condoms.

CONAN: A clear…

Mr. ROTHBART: Sounds like an interesting night.

CONAN: Clearly, a college student.

Mr. ROTHBART: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can - here's an e-mail, by the way, we got from Peter in Crested Butte in Colorado: My wife and I were getting off a plane in D.C. a couple of weeks ago. And as we deplaned, we overheard two of the flight attendants bragging to each other about how if they check the luggage bins, they often find great stuff they can sell on eBay. They were even talking about how much they got for various items. Maybe you ought to tell your listeners that if they have no success with the airline's lost and found system, they ought to try eBay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTHBART: Man.

CONAN: Let's see if can continue getting calls. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. Our guest is Davy Rothbart, creator of FOUND magazine. His voice may sound familiar if you listen to "This American Life." I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back more in just a moment. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here's an e-mail we got from Mark in Tucson, Arizona. My brother-in-law owns a ranch in the Colorado Rockies. One day, he was riding his horse in the national forest and found a door to United Airlines jet. United denied that they - any of their jets was missing a door.

Well, everybody loses things once in a while - not often an airline door. Here in our office, we've had lost cell phones and keys and wallets, even missing scripts. Today, we want your stories of things that were lost or found - the strange, the mundane. Let us know, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Davy Rothbart is our guest. He's the creator and editor of FOUND magazine.

And joining us now is Dan Brucker, spokesman for the Metro-North Railroad, which operates Grand Central Terminal in New York City. He joins us on the line from his office in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. DAN BRUCKER (Spokesman, Metro-North Railroad): Thank you. Glad to be here.

CONAN: And there are 700,000 people, Dan, who pass through that station every day, crossroads of a million lives as we used to say. What kinds of things do people lose?

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, it is astounding what people lose and what shows up in our lost and found. Everything - a basset hound show up there, dentures. It's not unusual for us to find artificial arms and legs showing up there because our trains, which operate at the Grand Central, serve a number of veterans hospitals where the veterans get fitted for these artificial limbs, may find them uncomfortable, take them off and go off with their canes, or else some go off with their legs and leave the canes behind.

But also, glass eyeballs and as well as the usual, such as 300 plus cell phones. In fact, every month, we got 1,600 items coming into the lost and found here in Grand Central Terminal. And let me brag a little bit. Where the usual return rate of items getting back to their owners out for a lost and found is about 30 percent, our return rate is 80 percent of items getting back to their owners.

CONAN: Eighty percent?

Mr. BRUCKER: Yeah.

Mr. ROTHBART: That's incredible.

CONAN: That's fantastic.

Mr. BRUCKER: Even if it's a black umbrella, and we get hundreds of black umbrellas.

CONAN: I think you've got 20 of mine.

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, come and then get some of them. But that's because everything from the second it's found is documented, as to what train, what area, what place it was found, or the full description. It's put into a locked box and then goes from there to a police evidence bag where it's locked with a big padlock then goes on the lost and found. All of that is then entered into a database.

So if you lost your black umbrella and we've got 300 of them, give us some info, we'll find your black umbrella. As a matter of fact, when briefcases, suitcases, backpacks come in, not only do we go through an inventory, we will search to find anything that could possibly identify its owner and then call the owner and tell them it's there.

CONAN: I bet from time to time, you find some incriminating or embarrassing things in those backpacks and suitcases.

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, we don't let on. If we do - unless it's something, you know, illegal. But we found things like $17,000 in cash and all this. One of the oddest things that we found - well, we didn't find a little old lady, but a little old lady showed up at our lost and found, claiming that she have lost a vase.

And she had an absolutely perfect description of the vase - where she left it, what train, what time, even the train car number - everything. Sure enough, we found her vase, gave it to her, she signed for it, walked off. Within a matter of minutes, she returned to the window and said to us, I'd like to tell you about my vase. Well, we couldn't wait to hear it, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUCKER: But we're customer-service defined. She told us all about her 50-year-long marriage. How was anything but successful. How her husband was anything but loyal. With all we've claimed, she said, her husband that he fell asleep on the train and had to spend the night in the train yard when she knew very well he was spending the night some place else. Well, the poor guy died, had him cremated, put him in this vase and if he like straying on the damn train so much, left him there and came back three weeks later to reclaim him.

CONAN: Wow. So he earned his urn.

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, yeah. One could say, yeah. And she got the last laugh on that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's really - that's great. I wonder, how does so many forget their dentures?

Mr. BRUCKER: Oh it's amazing. How do somebody forget glass eyeballs and they forget that.

CONAN: Well, you can't see out of the eye. But that makes sense.

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, one would think so. Maybe they had - and, you know, it's difficult for us to get a perfect identification. They can say what train it is, but you know, they fit it into their mouth, claim that it's theirs. Well, in that case, we believe them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm sure you do. What happens to those - the 20 percent of those items that people don't claim?

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, right now, we've changed our system where it used to go to Salvation Army. Now, it actually goes to a wholesaler, where it goes to something of a - like a lost and found department store - salvaged store. And we garner about $30,000 a year from people's lost items. But certain things, even though it'll be, you know, sent off after 90 days, certain items such as rings, jewelry, cash, whatever, are kept for years and years and then often find their owners.

CONAN: Hmm. And I wonder, has this ever, you know, I'm writing the episode of "Law and Order" right now, where some found item turns out to be the key piece of evidence in a murder case.

Mr. BRUCKER: Yeah. Well, let's - I'm trying to (unintelligible) anything was so - is so profound there. You see just - lends itself to say a tale, or sometimes-happy ones, really people are getting back their diamond rings. Very often, fascinating stories are connected to something that's lost and how it gets connected. So there are always interesting tales that go along with all sorts of items.

We did have, I must tell you, a huge suitcase that came in. And as I told you, we have to inventory everything. Well, we opened up the suitcase, and there, all nicely sliced up in dry ice was a good portion of somebody's body. But it turned out, all was well and good because apparently, it was a traveling partner of a surgeon who was doing a lecture tour. And we double-checked on that. So he got his partner back and off he went on his lecture tour.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Katherine(ph). Katherine's calling us from Oklahoma City.

KATHERINE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

KATHERINE: A pleasure to be on. Love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

KATHERINE: My husband and I were seeing New York City one year. It was actually the May after 9/11 had happened. And there's a lot security in the airports. We had to have our ID all the time. So we were there to attend a wedding on Long Island. And we took the train to Long Island. And on the way back, left my purse on the train that had everything in it - my driver's license, everything. And we were flying off the next day.

We're so panicked. We were all over Union Station, just trying to figure out what to do, what train we've gotten off of. And we finally decided, well, I guess we'll just go to lost and found. And somebody pointed us to this room that was very dark and had dozens of television screens. And this big guy was sitting down. And right when I walked in, he'd said, did you lose a little handbag? And we just thought, oh my gosh. No way. And he started to recognize you from your ID, and it had already been turned in. They had already tagged it and sent it across the room, across the station actually to another place. They had already called our hotel. And we were just sure that, of course, we were in New York, it would be lost, you know, forever. And so it was a great New York story.

CONAN: Dan Brucker, Long Island Railroad would've been Penn Station?

Mr. BRUCKER: That is correct, yes. And I do give credit to Long Island Railroad. When you talk about a dark cavernous room - ours is just the opposite. It is very large and everything is so organized and heck, we've got it all figured out. But getting items back to their owners, for instance, you know, we get 300 lost cell phones, but we all get it back to their owners because we start dialing every number that was dialed on there, asking the people who receive one of these calls, do you know whose phone this is? And then we will phone those people and they get it back.

We proactively search out even with the smallest clue. Even using our MTA - Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department - in order to find the owners, which is how we found the owner for the basset hound that climbed aboard a train and wound at the lost and found. All we had was just a series of numbers on the brass tag and our police department determined who that vet was and that vet found the owner. So we'll use anything we can to get those items back.

CONAN: Well, Katherine.

Mr. ROTHBART: Yeah, what about - I see on the - I see on the sign there where it says, lost and found, they'll have the keys and then they'll have a cell phone and then a snake. Was that something that turned up in your lost and found?

Mr. BRUCKER: Well, we get all sorts of odd items. And we will get animals showing up. They are very often - well, not so much people leave their pets as animals will either slither on, walk on or whatever and they were sure to wind up in the lost and found. But we do get them back to their owners.

Well to - you know, to give an example how we search things out - just the other week, I would do on a tour down there, a top coat came in and all was in there was a receipt from United Postal Service - UPS. And it wasn't a receipt with a name or a barcode. It was just like you got from, you know, like form a cash register. And just from that, searching, calling, whatever, we found out who the owner was and got it back. It's time consuming, but we do it.

As a matter of fact, we're so advanced now in documenting everything and putting it into a databank that you don't have to call up. You don't have to come to the lost and found. You can literally, from your home, get on to the Web site, ask the Web site for the lost and found if we found, let say, a Fendi bag. And it'll come back saying, you know, we found two Fendi bags that matched your description. Come on in and have a look at it. So if we're having like an anxiety attack at 3 o'clock in the morning because you can't find your purse, you get online and see if we have it.

CONAN: Well, Dan, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. BRUCKER: Oh, it's my pleasure.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Dan Brucker, spokesman for Metro-North Railroad, which operates Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Katherine(ph), if you're still with us, thanks very much for the call.

KATHERINE: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. Still with us, of course, is Davy Rothbart, the creator and editor of FOUND magazine and a contributor to "This American Life." Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Richard, Richard with us from Charlotte in North Carolina.

RICHARD (Caller): Hello there, Neal.

CONAN: Hi.

RICHARD: Well, I am, like, a stamp collector and some - about a year ago or so I found a - I got bought a collection and it had an envelope - and people sometimes collect just envelopes, but they use stamps on it - and it had a letter still sealed into it.

And I opened it up and I read the letter, and it was from a woman to somebody that she loved very much, kind of like a boyfriend. And I tracked down the woman, and actually, I was able to talk to her daughter and she says, oh, that was my mother.

And so I sent it to her mother and wrote a little letter, saying, you know, I'd love to hear kind of what happened after this because the letter was from about 1963 or so. It had, like, 10 cents postage on it.

CONAN: Hmm. Ten cents. That was a long time ago. Davy Rothbart, this sounds like a man after your own heart.

Mr. ROTHBART: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you find a letter like that, it can really affect you, you know, because it's, you know, you are gaining such a powerful glimpse into that person's life. And you want to know the rest of the story. You know, what happened next?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You know, it's like tuning into a soap opera on a Friday afternoon.

RICHARD: Unfortunately, I never found out the - she never wrote me back. I was a little bit sad about that that is why I made up my own story.

CONAN: Well, she did, but she lost it on the way to the mailbox.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROTHBART: Exactly. You know, and I found that with a lot of these found notes that two different people can look at them and come up with totally different ideas about what's going on in the letter and what happen next, to sort of really does spark your imagination.

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks very much, Richard.

RICHARD: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And you published these notes that you find, don't you?

Mr. ROTHBART: Absolutely, Neal. And some of these notes are so funny and then some of them are kind of touching. You know, this one came from Chicago and this woman - she told me the story of where she had found it. You know, sometimes, that tells some of the stories. And let me share it with you. I'll tell you a little bit more about it afterwards.

It's just a kid writing to his mom. So he says, dear mom, I miss you. I really wish you were here. There's been a lot of bad stuff in my life, but I'm sure you already know that. But this also meant some really good things like Justin. He's my best friend, so is Bethany.

Hey mom, guess what's the best part of all? There's a girl. Her name is Jenna(ph). We've been dating for about a month and a half now. I love her so much. I know if you were here, you would like her a lot. She makes me so happy. There's nobody I've ever been more happier with. She's changed my life in so many ways. She's there for me. She's someone who actually cares about me. I pray to God every day that I would get her and I did. It's unbelievable.

Remember when I was suicidal? Well, not anymore. I wouldn't even think about it. I just love her so much for being with me, you know? This girl is wonderful, mom. She helps me through a lot. I love her so much and she's scared that we're not going to see each other when I move. But I promised her would see each other just like normal.

Well, I got my license this summer, so I can be out here every day. So, yeah, I got to go. I love you so much, mom. I'll write you again. Bye. Your son, Collin(ph). P.S.: Trevor misses you, too.

And so, Neal, the woman that found this, she told me the story of where she found it. And she said she was at a cemetery. And in the middle of the place was this big old oak tree, and she saw a kind of - caught up in the highest branches was a balloon with a ribbon dangling down and tied to the ribbon was a piece of paper.

So she scaled all the way up the tree to pull down the note and, of course, you know, it was this note right here. So you can just picture this kid like going to visit his mom at the cemetery and, you know, writing her this note, sending it up to her in a balloon to heaven.

And for me, it's ones like this one that just move me and affect me, you know, so much that make me want to pick up every piece of paper I see floating down the street or blowing down the alleyway or, you know, hanging from a balloon in a tree. And, in fact, my brother and I right now - my brother Peter(ph) and I were doing a 65-city tour for FOUND magazine, where we're going city-to-city and collecting these kinds of found notes from people who have, you know, who have picked the stuff up off the street.

CONAN: Davy Rothbart of FOUND magazine. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get Ellen(ph) on the line, Ellen's with us from Lawrence in Kansas.

ELLEN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

ELLEN: Hi. I found, actually, a suicide note written by a 15-year-old boy when I was cleaning out an apartment owned by my father. And he had to admit, excuse me, evict the mother because she had been a drug addict and, I think, never paid rent. And it was his last will and testament. He gave away his baseball gloves to his little sister, his gold chain to his mother…

CONAN: That's heartbreaking.

ELLEN: Yeah. It was very heartbreaking. It was very sad. I don't know what became of the boy, if he ever did it or not because the family had moved out and they were gone. I was maybe 11 years old, working with my dad on the apartment when I found it. And I'll always remember that it was heartbreaking. And that's stuck with me for a long time.

CONAN: I can understand that, yeah.

ELLEN: Yeah…

Mr. ROTHBART: Absolutely.

ELLEN: It really has.

Mr. ROTHBART: Yeah, I can see why that would stick with you. You know, if anybody listening has found a note that has, you know, that kind of power to it or even notes that have humor, we would love to see them. And if you go to the FOUND magazine Web site, which is foundmagazine.com, it actually got my address in Michigan where people can send these kind of found notes. It's actually my folk's house, but all the mail goes to their house and I go by there once a week and pick up a whole crate of found mail.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Ellen.

ELLEN: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we get one last caller in. This is going to be Lisa(ph), Lisa with us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.

LISA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Lisa.

LISA: Hi, Neal. When I was traveling to Sri Lanka one time to visit my brother in the Peace Corps, I had borrowed my dear friend's dear backpack that she had taken and travel all the way along the Pacific Crest Trail with her. And she said, of course, I'll lend it to you, my dear friend. And I packed it up full of presents for my brother's family in Sri Lanka and set off on the plane and traveled around the world, got to Sri Lanka - and my bag never showed up.

And so, in Sri Lanka, making a phone call is not necessarily an easy thing. We traveled from Kandy to the place where he lived with a family in Watapuluwa, and up from Colombo to Watapuluwa outside of Kandy, and made another phone call that next day. And then he'd filled in…

Mr. ROTHBART: I think I saw those items - I'm sorry to disturb - but then I think I might have seen those items available in eBay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLEN: You know what? I'm sure you'd see it. We'll the strangest…

Mr. ROTHBART: No, keep going. Keep going…

ELLEN: …so we would travel around and everyone still tried to make our way to phone about the bag. And, you know, after a while that was that lovely moment when you describe in the very beginning of the show that I let go of wanting that bag again. I figured that bag wasn't going to come.

I was having a wonderful journey. Didn't have to carry a bag. Didn't have to carry a thing because I didn't have a thing - didn't have a toothbrush, didn't have a hairbrush and returned home to Ann Arbor. And about four months later, I came home one day to find a cardboard box on the porch.

CONAN: And it was the bag.

ELLEN: It was the bag, and the greatest thing of all was the cardboard box was nearly torn to shreds and inside it, the backpack that was torn to shreds. There were some of my things in it - one sandal, not another sandal. And then there were the most bizarre other things in it. It was chockfull of Mardi Gras beads.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. ROTHBART: It's amazing.

CONAN: Lisa, thanks so much for the call. We appreciate it.

LISA: You're very welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And, Davy Rothbart, thank you for your time today.

Mr. ROTHBART: Thanks so much, Neal.

CONAN: Davy Rothbart of FOUND magazine, and he wish he was out this week.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.