In this issue, you’ll read several stories about growing older, from our interview with one of the speakers at SCOPE’s Winter Forum on Aging on Feb. 26 to Su Byron’s lively “How Not to Look Your Age,” with great tips on how women can look youthful and stylish at any age. Although I’m as eager to cheat the clock as any baby boomer, there’s one aspect of getting older I actually appreciate: the opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned with a new generation of young people.
Let me tell you about one of those young people, 19-year-old Eric Guevarez, who was sent here as an intern when he was a senior at Booker High School in the fall of 2007. And I do mean “sent,” because as Eric made clear during his initial visit, working at a magazine was not in his life plan. Looking down at his size 10, black-patent-leather-trimmed Michael Jordan athletic shoes—the colors matched his oversize shirt with a startling image of a skeleton on the front—he mumbled that he’d wanted to intern in a clothing store but this was the only position left. We liked the other Booker student, a perky girl who gushed about her journalism dreams, but shook our heads after Eric left the room. The feeling, it turned out, was decidedly mutual.
“I’m going to be straight-up honest,” he says. “I went back to my counselor and said, ‘Find me something else—it’s not going to work out.’” He was appalled at the idea of sitting behind a computer all afternoon, and he thought “you guys were boring” and our office so quiet “it seemed like a cemetery.”
But his counselor convinced him to give it a try, and we editors pawned him off on our Web manager, who desperately needed help. A few weeks later, the perky young girl had disappeared without a word of explanation, but the tall, lanky kid in the hip-hop outfits kept showing up.
There was a minor dust-up when someone asked him to make some phone calls and he began the first call by saying, “Yo! This is Sarasota Magazine,” but he quickly mastered magazine phone etiquette, and he spent most of his time on the Web, anyway. He was intrigued by seeing the infrastructure—“the insides, the blueprints”—behind the Internet, Eric explains, and he liked learning how to make banner ads and stories go live. Pretty soon, the Web manager was bragging about his bright young intern, who never had to be shown how to do anything twice and was powering through his to-do list at quantum speed.
I was beginning to appreciate the way he spoke—not a mumble, I realized, but a new-American-melting-pot drawl, combining the soft cadence of the Caribbean—his parents were born in Puerto Rico—with the Midwestern-urban inflection of a tough neighborhood in Cleveland, where he lived until he was eight. And the entire office appreciated his fashion sense. We waited every day to see what Eric would be wearing.
An ardent fan of hip-hop fashion sites, he has a collection of close to 300 pairs of shoes, mainly basketball shoes, including a rare and still-unworn pair of red-and-black Air Jordan XIs that he bought for $330 a year ago. Shoe boxes are stacked to the ceiling in his bedroom—“basically, there’s only room for my bed and my shoes,” he says—and he knows exactly where every pair is. He coordinates them with the appropriate jeans or athletic shorts and a statement shirt, then accessorizes with jewelry, like his grandfather’s gold medallion of Jesus Christ on a heavy chain or a gold-cross earring studded with cubic zirconia.
By the time the internship ended, Eric had become so indispensable that we hired him as a part-time Web assistant, and he started doing some work for the editors, too. Composed and quiet, he didn’t volunteer much information about himself, but in May, he surprised me by inviting me to his graduation party.
I felt both touched and honored, and George and I stopped by the party on our way to another event. Bright streamers and balloons hung from the ceilings in the rented hall, and friends and relatives were carrying in big aluminum foil pans of Puerto Rican specialties—beans and rice, pastillos, flan and more. Kids chased each other around while the adults laughed and talked; in the back of the room, someone was loading salsa music into a boom box. Eric, trailed by his adoring younger sister (she gets to wear his outgrown shoes), introduced us to his parents. “He’s got it all going on, all right,” his mother said, smiling proudly when I praised him. When we left, everyone urged us to come back on our way home from the other party—“we’ll be playing music and dancing until 12.” (Actually, the party ended up moving to Eric’s house after the hall closed and continued until daybreak.)
Eric is now in his second year studying business at State College of Florida, where he’s racked up a 3.6 GPA. He and I have been through many a term paper together—including, most recently, an analysis of whether Yeats’ Leda and the Swan meets Longinus’ five criteria for sublimity in a work of art. (And if you think that sounds impressive, let me assure you it was, earning a big fat A from a very picky professor.) I’ve discovered that beneath the quiet surface of this former Booker High varsity basketball player beats the heart of a champion competitor—he rewrites every paper over and over and makes me read every version. “I hate to lose,” he says, “and every time I get an A, I’ve won the game.”
And if I’ve learned that the young man who at first seemed so aloof and indifferent is actually intelligent, hard-working and passionate about all sorts of things, from fashion to his family, he’s learned that the folks at the magazine aren’t quite as deadly and dull as they seemed. He gets a kick out of Bob Plunket’s “hilarious sarcasm” and the way managing editor Ilene Denton “busts out with that laugh of hers”; and he even credits me—who at first he saw as just ordering everyone else around—with “not being afraid to get your fingernails dirty with the work.” He’s become close to several staffers, ranging from a hip young art director to a motherly receptionist. And he’s learned so much about the Internet, including working on a major site redesign, that he may end up in the tech field, although he still hopes to someday open a store specializing in “urban attire.”
But the main thing he’s learned here? He breaks into a big smile. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” he drawls. “That’s the thing that jumps out.”
I smile right back at him and say, “I know exactly what you mean.”