“I’m so old I remember/Where I was when I heard/the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor…” Thus begins a great book of poetry, Fourth Quarter: Reflections of a Cranky Old Man, by Carlos E. Cortés. His work is funny and light, but also realistic, as with this:
…I wouldn’t call them the ‘good old days’
but I sure enjoy remembering them
maybe even more than living them.
Which of course is the truth of the good old days. And that’s what Carlos talks about: truth. Truth about aging, about youth, about America, about history.
Carlos is Dr. Carlos Cortés, professor emeritus of history at the University of Riverside, California. His book is all about reflecting on life through the lens of a guy in his later years.
I had the pleasure of meeting Carlos recently. He got in touch after this article about me appeared in our local paper. We enjoyed sandwiches at Jammin’ Bread Bakery in Canyon Crest. I couldn’t quit smiling, partly because he’s an upbeat guy, and partly because I had this weird sense that we were family. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri; I have relatives there.
Carlos puts the lie to our culture’s low expectations of older people. He described his frustration with a recent celebration of age by Poets & Writers Magazine, wherein people over 60 were excluded from consideration. Carlos says people in their eighties are marginalized. (That article is here.)
But with Carlos, as with my other friends in their eighties and nineties, the fourth quarter of life is a brilliant period. For example, the good professor is so busy, it was a challenge just setting up lunch. Although theoretically retired, he’s an award-winning civic figure and lecturer, and he has an office at UCR. He and his wife go to the gym religiously, and they enjoy the cultural life of the community.
Now he’s writing for fun (he wrote and contributed to scholarly publications during his tenure as professor, but I mean to distinguish from that.) He also wrote Rose Hill: An Intermarriage Before Its Time, about his mom and dad. The book description begins,
Dad was a Mexican Catholic. Mom was a Kansas City–born Jew with Eastern European immigrant parents. They fell in love in Berkeley, California, and got married in Kansas City, Missouri. That alone would not have been a big deal. But it happened in 1933, when such marriages were rare. And my parents spent most of their lives in Kansas City, a place both racially segregated and religiously divided…
Rose Hill is a fascinating memoir. My review is here.
As I sat across from Dr. Carlos Cortés at lunch that day, his energy motivated me. Our rapid-fire, funny, and at times wry conversation dabbled with ageism, but we didn’t dwell on it. He’s too intent on wringing the most out of his life, and I wondered again—this is something I often think about—how it must feel to be shunted off to the sidelines by the culture, when in fact this demographic is contributing more than ever. Getting to know Carlos was a treat. He exemplifies life as it really is now for people in their fourth quarter: the game is still on.