Codger column: Island lights


Codger has mixed feelings about Christmas.

He dislikes the marketing that turns grandchildren as greedy as Wall Street hustlers, but he likes much of the music and he loves the lights. Driving around the Island at night last week, he watched houses blink on, although it seemed as though there were fewer than in recent years. He wondered if hope was flickering in reaction to the incoming national administration.

Or maybe people were conserving energy in response to climate change. That would be good. But Codger still missed his memory of dazzling displays on rooftops of Santa and reindeer in full flight, of groves of trees festooned in garlands of shimmering colors and window panes winking come on-a my house. Of course, like many old men, Codger may just have been fantasizing a more luminous past.

Still, there were blazing houses that made Codger stop and back up for a longer look. On the corner of Brander and Petticoat, he spotted a house bathed in floating blue fireflies, a soothing fairyland. On Stearns Point Road, the bed and breakfast called Seven is surrounded on one side by soothingly crystal cool lights. Then there is the lollapalooza on North Cartwright, a riot of small inflatable Santas in planes, sleighs and, memorably, an outhouse.

One night, coming home circuitously from FIT to give Crone time to re-heat his evening gruel, Codger drove through the haunted corridors of Dering Harbor, past its great hollow mansions, their trees and bushes muffled in tan overcoats, staring at him through blank windows. There were no lights in Dering Harbor, except those that warn lurkers like Codger that he doesn’t live there and should leave. Even Village Hall had just discreet lines of green bulbs. Town buildings in greater Shelter Island, including police headquarters and Justice Hall, were lit for welcome.

There were more light shows in HiLo than along Westmoreland, many more in Silver Beach than Hay Beach or Ram Island. Codger is not qualified to make sociological pronouncements, so he offers no explanations. It’s possible, of course, that the more riches you have to plunder, the less likely you might be to call attention to your house. Also, why light up if no one’s home?

The emptiness of so many Island houses at a time when the political discussions here are so much about houses, their size, their affordability, their rental restrictions, makes Codger pensive. One would have to be a communist to even think how many people could live on the Island for at least nine months of the year in all the empty houses. It was Donald J. Trump, after all, who once tried to scare rental tenants out of a building on Manhattan’s Central Park South that he wanted to upgrade by threatening to move homeless men into empty apartments. After years of litigation, the renters won.

Codger is still suggesting that we look ahead, although marching with Crone last week to a Sag Harbor demonstration by a beautifully-lit windmill and Christmas tree, he found the mood evoked the memory of “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” The actual chant that night was “We reject/ the president-elect.” Soon after, one of the jewels of that downtown, the movie theater, burned down.

There were no lights at the end of Burns Road on the site of what had been St. Gabriel’s Retreat, but there were heavy machinery and piles of dug earth. Opposite one of Codger and Cur’s favorite spots, the sweet little Wayside Picnic Park, gifted to the town by Andrew J. Mitchell in 1970, were two posted signs of the times. There was a permit from the town to demolish five of the accessory buildings, including the chapel (now gone), part of the long untaxed 25 waterfront acres that the Passionist Fathers had sold for a reported $15 million to Pandeion (Pandemonium?) Acquisitions LLC of Central Park West.

There was also a notice of permit for construction from the Department of Environmental Conservation that expires March 29, 2021. Codger chooses to take that as hopeful, a possibility there will still be a Department of Environmental Conservation in the new age of anxiety ahead.

Except in the business districts of the Center and the Heights with their glowing Christmas bushes, especially the lovely display at The Chequit, most roads here on moon-challenged nights are dark, requiring bright beams. That’s not a bad lesson for now — you must keep driving forward, but carefully, and make no assumptions about what’s ahead except for what you can see in your headlights.