Codger column: The last starfish

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Codger at home with Crone  (Lois B. Morris) and Cur (Milo) at their West Neck Road home.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Codger at home with Crone (Lois B. Morris) and Cur (Milo) at their West Neck Road home.

On vacation this month in a summer resort beach town in Oregon, Codger was determined not to be a “touron,” that inelegant, barely acceptable term that many people on Shelter Island, including Codger, use to describe those inelegant, barely acceptable visitors who walk, talk, dress, drive and park in ways that mark them as tourist morons.

Except for his orange Shelter Island ball cap, Codger wore the muted earth tones that Oregonians seem to prefer, always faced traffic while ambling on the roads and behaved in a generally respectful manner, never suggesting by word or expression that the locals should be grateful for his out-of-town cash.

Over the years that Codger and his wife, Crone, have been visiting relatives in Arch Cape, on the Oregon coast, they’ve watched the starfish, or sea star, slowly disappear, victims of pollution, disease and a warming ocean. One morning at low tide, Codger spotted a lonely orange star fish clinging to a rock wall. It was the only one in sight.

Suddenly, a 50ish man in plaid shorts strode up, ripped it off the rock and stuffed it into a plastic grocery bag. Codger’s daughter, Cat, who was closer, asked what he was doing. He said something about putting it in water and hurried off with his prey.

Codger indignantly told the story that night. Around the dinner table were the hosts, who were second-home owners from Portland; two local business people; and a semi-retired couple making ends meet with the help of airbnb. They were all angry but resigned. Yes, this was inexcusable touron behavior, but these “some-are-people” would be gone soon. The issues they wanted to talk about were beach erosion, the trend toward building larger homes, restrictions on renting, tsunami preparations, wildlife bearing diseases, the looming drinking water crisis and how Big Tech money flowing up from the Bay Area would transform the nature of the small beach towns.

Codger and Crone traded glances; they had changed coasts but not the conversation.

Back home, that conversation took on a more urgent tone.

After a dry summer of dithering over the Water Advisory Committee’s recommendations for mandatory restrictions on water use, the Town Board has finally scheduled a vote on the most obvious one — aquifer-fed lawn watering. Codger wonders if washing your car and topping your pool can wait for the tsunami.

Is Codger all wet? To be fair, the board is a deliberative body that tries hard to weigh complex issues that affect different Islanders in different ways from the water and deer/tick debates to arguments over short-term rentals.

Sometimes Codger thinks that airbnb is a collection of everyday people who rent rooms in their houses to strangers so that they can keep up with the mortgage payments (like his friends in Oregon). And sometimes Codger thinks that airbnb is a large corporation that hires marketers to peddle that image of everyday people as well as hiring lobbyists to keep politicians from restricting rentals.

Both are true, which should have no impact on the airbnb debate here on the Island. All that should matter is that the renting of rooms in residential neighborhoods should have no negative impact on the community. Easy to say — that impact includes taxes, water, traffic and the use of the police department to enforce existing laws about noise and disorderly conduct.

Codger thinks about enforcement a lot because it is not an Island strength, especially in key areas such as building codes and water use. Perhaps too much energy is spent busting undocumented workers for driving home without drivers’ licenses after cutting over-watered lawns.

Maybe this is all about Codger still wishing he could have busted the starfish thief. Codger did not have a revelation on that Oregon beach, but he did have an attitude adjustment after listening to the locals at dinner. Blaming tourons is too easy, too Trumpish. It’s not as if you’ll never meet a hare-brained Harelegger.

Maybe we should be blaming ourselves for allowing our economy to become so vulnerable to the tastes of tourons who didn’t cause our problems in the first place?

Consider what would happen if we put our congressman, Lee Zeldin, an avowed Trumpet, in charge of deporting tourons to their native boroughs before Labor Day, building a sea wall to keep them out and subjecting them to extreme vetting on the ferry.

And yet.

The other day, while thinking about the Olympic swimbrat Ryan Lochte, an ur-touron if ever there was one, Codger was walking the dog, Cur, along West Neck Road when a Range Rover, a typical touron invasion vehicle, veered too close.

The driver was on her cell phone. Codger yelled. She slowed, smiled and said, “It’s all right, I’m asking for directions.”

Remember the starfish!