Farewell, Boston Phoenix
The first post-college work I got paid for was temping in the cafeteria at the Bristol plant in Syracuse, NY, while working at night to reface the kitchen cabinets in my parents’ home, where I was living rent-free. Hard work, and yet these were not what I’d call “real jobs.” But I couldn’t afford to take a real job right out of school: I had grand designs on traveling across country and using the experience to write my first novel, or screenplay, or something like that (also not a real job). I labored day and night at these quasi-jobs from late May until early August, then packed up my car and headed west toward Rochester, NY, where my girlfriend was staying with her sister, and from there out to South Dakota and Wyoming, and, ultimately, California.
Two months later, I was back in Boston, where I found more work, canvassing for MassPIRG in an effort to get some clean water legislation passed. This employment only lasted six weeks or so. Looking for money by knocking on doors feels a little like begging (the ultimate hard work that is nevertheless not a “real job”), and furthermore, canvassing requires you to interact with people who despise your political views, while you stand on their property (which they hate) and get rained on. However, during those fateful six weeks, I struck up a friendship with a guy who was leaving his job at MassPIRG in order to work for the Boston Phoenix newspaper, an alternative weekly that had been started in the late 1960s. At the last minute, this new friend decided, instead, to take a job with his dad (Bill Moyers!), and told the Phoenix that I might be an OK replacement candidate, given my interest in writing. I interviewed, and soon thereafter was offered the position of editorial assistant. I’ll always regard this as my “first real job out of college”: I had my own desk, a phone, and, since this was the 1980s, my own ashtray into which I could stub out cigarettes. Neither of my other “first jobs” gave me an ashtray. I had finally arrived!
I missed my first morning of work at the Phoenix because I was due in court that Monday, having been arrested the previous Friday night with an “open container” – i.e. a can of beer I was sipping. My sentence was to do 40 hours of community service, which I fulfilled by volunteering at St. Francis House, a homeless day-shelter in Boston. To this day, my regular charitable contributions go to this shelter, and because of that, my bi-weekly paycheck is a constant reminder of my having been arrested at 22 years old, and of having missed my first morning of work at the Phoenix.
Last week, the Boston Phoenix announced it would cease operations after producing one final issue. Alas, yet another newspaper bites the dust, this time a publication that I actually cared about. The Phoenix wasn’t perfect – particularly because no one was paid very well – but it was exciting and “alternative,” and not only did it report on politics and crime, which, as we all know, are often one and the same, but devoted a great deal of space to the arts. Who didn’t consult the Phoenix regularly to find out which plays or films to see, or, more essentially, which bands would be passing through town? Even when I was in college, the Phoenix arrived free of charge on campus on Thursdays as “B.A.D.” – an acronym referring to its earlier incarnation as “Boston After Dark.”
The demise of the Phoenix is hardly a shock, of course. Everyone wants to get their content free these days, and advertisers have left newspapers and magazines in favor of getting in your face when you surf for flip-flops online. Maybe the only way for publications to survive is to exist in the ether rather than in physical offices (or, even better, at the local Starbucks, the way neighborhood “Patch” publications do it.)