Man on a mission to protect life, liberty and Lasell Gym

If you have ever graced the entrance, nay, the hallowed gates, of Lasell Gymnasium, I can say with categorical certainty that you have in some way interacted with Howard Garbarsky, athletic facility monitor. How can I be so unconditionally assured of this fact? The reason is simple: Garbarsky defends his territory with the persistence of a starving mosquito, the vigilance of Obama’s security force and the perseverance of Lance Armstrong.

If his name does not spark any recollections, perhaps the words, “Excuse me ma’am/sir, you forgot to swipe your card!” spoken in an annoyed but resolute tone, will resonate in your memory and match the legendary face with the less known name. His calling voice, always heard as you attempt to escape into the depths of his athletic kingdom, has been heard by all, and has been a habitual source of frustration on behalf of the student body since at least 2004, when the Record last published a profile of this uncommon and pedantic man (“Swiping cards and spaceships,” February 17, 2004).

However, a mere halfhearted attempt to get to know Garbarsky a little better debunked my personal suspicion that he sustains himself solely on student inconvenience. Rather, conversing with him as he was stationed at his Lasell fortress, I discovered a calculated and dynamic man of many trades and experiences who wants nothing more than to have a positive impact on the College while keeping us all out of harm’s way.

“I’m responsible for the safety and security of people on the Williams campus, and to me I just don’t know how I can take that too seriously,” Garbarsky said, in an almost exact replication of a quote he gave the Record five years ago. “If something’s not done right, if it’s not kosher [he asks me to note that he’s Jewish], I just can’t live with it. Back in the day, when I wore sneakers and didn’t have a laptop, I’d even hop over the counter and chase delinquents down, although I’m too old for that now.”

Legend has it that last fall Garbarsky even hunted Kevin Rose ’11 of the football team all the way into a football film session when Rose, who was late for practice, attempted swipe evasion. “I usually lose sight of him when he goes down the stairs, but I imagine that he frequently follows people a lot further than that,” said Charlie Cates ’10, who works with Garbarsky. “No one slips through the cracks.”

When I pressed him on why he felt such a compulsion to assure that people didn’t get into the gym without swiping, Garbarsky answered emphatically: “People think Williamstown is perfect and all, but I have news: It’s still part of the real world.” Garbarsky proceeded to cite examples of real threats that we face here in Williamstown, including one story in which a student’s debit card was stolen from his locker and ran up over $5000 before the student knew it was missing.

“The students here are definitely academically smart, but when it comes to street-smarts, well – many of you are lacking,” Garbarsky said. “I mean, [he interrupts himself to yell after a delinquent, who turns out to be an oblivious professor] I can’t protect you guys from yourselves, so I just do my job and hope that you guys benefit from the mistakes and experiences that I’ve had in the past.”

Some of those experiences came during the 28 years that Garbarsky spent as an active reserve in the Air Force. “I got to see a lot of things, go to a lot of places that not too many people get to experience,” Garbarsky said. But he instantly warns against equating his perfectionism working for the College with past experiences in the Air Force. “I definitely feel like my obsessive compulsive nature was something I brought into the Air Force. I fit right in when I got there.”

Garbarsky’s passions, however, aren’t limited solely to obsessively ensuring that gym-goers swipe. When the gym empties out at night, Garbasky often takes advantage of the quietude by working on one of the various screenplays that he is currently writing. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been fascinated by cinema,” he said. “So writing screenplays for me is a chance to follow a passion that I’ve had for a long time.”

Garbarsky trained as a screenwriter at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and wrote a number of screenplays, even helping conceive and realize the Williamstown Film Festival. “I came up with the original idea for the festival here,” Garbarsky said with a hint of lingering bitterness. “But let me tell you a life story – people are always ready and willing to co-opt and take credit for your ideas.” He didn’t care to elaborate.
Listing his all-time favorite films – Seven Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Forbidden Planet and Monty Python and the Holy Grail – he stated that he liked them because they all contained the common theme of guys who are on missions. “They remind me of my career in the Air Force and of the ‘mission mindset’ but also of my other endeavors,” Garbarsky said.

Garbarsky’s other ongoing hobbies include bladesmithing and architecture. He even has plans to one day build himself a zero-net input energy house, a “slightly more sophisticated Earthship that would be a total ecological system within itself.”

As the conversation skipped between Garbarsky’s numerous absorbing passions – from science fiction writing to bladesmithing to a number of other subjects – I realized that the same perfectionist tendencies that make Barbarsky our athletic department nemesis also render him a dedicated and creative artisan outside of Lasell. Quoting the wisest of Jedi Masters, Yoda, Garbarsky added, “Do or do not do, there is no try.”
Most impressive about Garbarsky though is the rapport that he has with the various students who greet him throughout our interview. “The students here are all really smart, so I love hearing about what they want to do, and feel flattered if they ask for advice,” Garbarsky said. “I tell them to do what makes them happy, that if they simply follow their passions and dreams, they can’t go too far wrong.”