Remembering Clif Garboden

The life and times of an alternative-media true believer
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  March 4, 2011

When I took a job answering phones at the Phoenix right out of college it was supposed to be temporary. I thought it would be a good way to get access to the classified ads early so I could look for a real job. I knew nothing about journalism, had never taken a journalism course, wasn't entirely sure what a professional life even looked like, having been the first generation in my family to go to college. Clif was one of the first people I met at that non-stop Mad Tea Party, and he and others inducted me into what became my life's passion.

It was the best and craziest school of journalism I could ever have attended, and if you ever thought my ideas or headlines were brilliant or idiotic you have Clif to thank (or blame). He was so clever and his viewpoint was so skewed, yet perfectly on the money at the same time. Eventually I got promoted and came to share a cramped office with him for three or four years. As editors, we spent most of our waking hours together. We still worked on typewriters then so everything took a really long time (it didn't help that I didn't know how to type). Cutting and pasting literally meant cutting and pasting. But we shared our workloads, read behind each other, traded page proofs, wrote headlines together, and when the clock hit midnight yet again rolled our eyes. When we ran out of steam we would add to a list called "More things to worry about," an accounting of absurd events.

Every inch of every wall in that office was covered with art and photos, some of them Clif's -- did you know he was an excellent photographer? Clif had a glossy photo of British actress Jean Marsh above his desk and every week (was it Tuesday?) like clockwork he would stand up and walk to the convenience store around the corner from the Phoenix offices to buy the new TV Guide so he could write "Hot Dots," which he loved doing. I wish I had paid more attention to the system he used to choose what got in. He always brought a sandwich from home for lunch and kept the tomatoes in a little plastic container so the sandwich wouldn't get soggy.

I could go on. A lot of what made me any good at what I've done came from those days with Clif.

T.A. FRAIL (Boston Phoenix, 1978-'82):
In 1978 I returned to Boston from a brief and ill-advised detour to Africa with no home, no money and no prospects. My BU pal Ande Zellman told me a colleague of hers at the Phoenix was frantically looking for a temp to do some sort of clerical project on deadline. Thus, through mutual desperation, I became Clif's Summer Preview listings geek that year. Above his desk he kept an 8-by-10 glossy black-and-white of Mike Dukakis smiling in front of an open refrigerator. Taped to his office door was a memo addressed to David Moran and John Ferguson and dated 3 o'clock some morning two weeks previous.

"Can't do no mo," it read, in handwriting that I would learn to identify as Clif's.

"No mo no mo," it read in another hand, which I would learn to identify as John's.

"No mo no mo no mo no mo," in yet another hand, Ande's or Moran's.

I was staring at this memo when Clif handed me a ream of paper and said, "You know, if you don't fuck up these listings, you too could end up in the communications industry."

God knows how many other careers he launched. But I know I owe him mine.

I met Clif when I was 18, in 1979, at the Boston Phoenix. I was hired to be a typesetter and it was a happy day before Friday printing day when I could show him that a story about my hometown Lunenburg was mistyped "Lunenberg" all the way through. This was not just a typo -- this was a finished piece ON THE BOARDS in the paste-up room -- deadline fast approaching! Watching Clif swing into action was like watching a one-man Front Page sequel. "Ask Clif" was a familiar refrain in those years, and asking Clif was always a pleasure.

Since then, I had the idiotic good fortune to have him edit my Worcester Phoenix column "Tales from Tritown" about the colorful antics of crackpot locals (Clif had an especial fondness for the species). Later he oversaw my astrology column,"Moon Signs," which is still published in the Phoenix. Words cannot describe his droll take on life, his spectacular work ethic, his appreciation of quirk, and his cheerful expectation that "things will probably get worse" (always true in newspaper life when the week includes 30 to 75 percent more labor because a supplement is also getting published).

He was always at the top of his game. Working with him changed my life and altered the direction of my career. I was damn lucky to have him as an editor.

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