Codger: The Alt. Tour


Codger is again cranking up to take his visitors on tours of the Island, especially those second-time visitors who have already been properly enchanted by Mashomack, Sylvester Manor, Shell Beach and the library — the essential treasures.

This second sightsee with Codger is a chance to check out the alternate landmarks that offer insights into the Island’s quirkier crannies. Sometimes they provoke questions that Codger won’t even try to answer.

He usually begins with the eyeless, brooding ghost of what was once a raucous saloon on North Ferry Road called The Inn Between. The building, which has also housed various other bars and restaurants, proclaims itself for rent, but you have to be able to afford the landlord’s price, which is also true of the former site of the pizza restaurant, Bella Vita, and the Death Valley area around Schmidt’s Market, which is begging to be bought. Does this mean there are still good business opportunities on the Island or is someone trying to shut the place down?

To change the mood, the next stop is the Pavilion of Many Colors on North Cartwright, a delight to Architectural Digest readers, less so to some neighbors who were jarred by the whimsically placed panels of yellow, green, red, purple and orange. The house was created by two prominent city architects as a display of their interest in “seemingly disjointed array of phenomena.”

The grave marker on Meadow Place — “Here lies the last dog who pooped on my lawn!” — can be variously interpreted as a liberation from the so-called Politically Correct movement, as an example of the mean-spirited comedy that inspired the movement, or as a subtle campaign to encourage use of plastic bags. Codger enjoys the ambiguity, especially since his constant canine companion (CCC) was neither threatened nor offended. But then, he still can’t read.

The former St. Gabriel’s Retreat Center on Burns Road is a vista of sentimentality, serenity and sadness that masks a killing in real estate. Codger remembers those wonderful months several years ago when Project FIT moved its gym there and one could trudge the treadmill while gazing north at Coecles Harbor. Codger worked out longer then. Now, on the elliptical at the school, he wonders how a do-gooder organization like the Passionists, after years of paying no taxes, can take the money — $15.1 million — and run, leaving the town with a looming development of non-affordable houses.

The Island’s affordable golf course is the Shelter Island Country Club on Sunnyside Avenue, better known as Goat Hill. It belongs to the town and like most of the world right now is struggling with climate change (not enough green on the greens) and finances (not enough green period). Fingers are being pointed, but there’s hope in a new restaurant. Codger, his wife, Crone, and CCC love Goat Hill, a graceful hillock particularly pleasant when no one is around thrashing little white balls.

The Solid Waste & Recycling Transfer Facility on North Menantic Road has enjoyed a renaissance under the current administration, proof that every dump has its day. It boasts a “goody area” (also referred to in signs as a “goodie area”) in which one person’s trash, buffed and tightened, turns up in another person’s yard sale, to be purchased by person number one. That’s recycling.

Fresh Pond, off Lake Drive, usually comes up late in the tour, when visitors either think they “get” the Island or feel bemused, which are Codger’s default positions, often simultaneously. Is the water of Fresh Pond toxic or just the discussion about it? Is it the Flint River of Shelter Island or a prodigious letter writer’s damp, feverish dream? Is it what Rick (Humphrey Bogart) meant when he said that he came to Casablanca for the waters?

While out of the car at the water’s edge, Codger will ask his second-time visitors to look up and imagine the crowded, clattering skies of summer when the helicopters from hell will be ferrying (actually “anti-ferrying”) the wolverines of Wall Street between Manhattan and the Hamptons. Rather than veering out to sea, they will try to save gas money by skimming over the Island. They are good at skimming.

We are still awaiting a federal regulation that would forbid retirement financial planners from cheating by putting their own profits ahead of their clients’ interests. What took so long? How could they be expected to care about the people they fly over?

If there is time on this alternate tour, and Codger’s visitors are still game, he will drive them down to Bridge Street and slow in homage to The Dory, itself a longtime monument to alternate opinion and taste. Right there in front, Codger will say, there used to be a toilet seat.

Imagine. Right here on Shelter Island.