As a great fan of fun science, Codger has been deeply absorbed this entire year by the news that Shelter Islanders will, on average, live to be 93, longer than most anyone except those prune-faced, toothless, yogurt-loving mountain folk in National Geographic.
Codger thinks the big and little ramifications for this sunset island will be interesting to behold. Will a sagging real estate market get a boost from clever promotion — “Buy on Silver Beach for a long Golden Age?” Will stores raise the age for senior discounts to 70 to compensate for all the money lost? Will those short-term renters now stay longer to pick up extended age credits (an extra day of life for every night spent on the Island)?
Codger is such a dreamer.
The new longevity information, according to the Associated Press and assembled from census data, claims that the average life expectancy here is 92.9 years. This is predicated on being a white high-school graduate with health insurance, and an annual income of more than $94,000 a year.
Codger is not insinuating that this might be fake-ish news, but it does not seem to be a rigorous scientific study. Not factored in were attendance at FIT, gender, hosting a Buck, drinking from a well in the Center, belonging to the Lions or swimming in Fresh Pond.
Nor was it announced exactly how many years you had to live here to qualify for the New Age. Could hareleggers who never left count on 100 years?
“Was this from the 2010 census, was it done in summer with second-home owners, what was the methodology?” asked Ann Brunswick, a retired sociologist with expertise in statistics and medical issues. “I was bugged by the report because, at best, it’s a partial picture of something. But of what?”
An old friend of Codger’s, Brunswick is a full-time resident who will be 93 in July. She wonders if the report will make youngsters (under 80) feel better while unnerving the “very old and frail.”
She herself felt “more secure” because the report underscored “the health benefits of living here, at the least the good air.”
Another old friend, Forrest Compton, who turned 93 last September, thought the study was “foolish” and also wondered if some people might be adversely affected, thinking the end was near. Meanwhile, he was finding a certain liberation in old age.
“Not having that much longer to live,” he said, “I can be very frank, honest in my opinions.”
Coming from one of the courtliest of Islanders, the president of the Friends of Music and the delightfully smooth host of its events, it was hard to imagine how frank Compton might be, despite his long tenure as the lead — a tough DA — in the hit soap opera, “The Edge of Night.”
Codger pressed him to take a final poke at the longevity study. Compton frankly said, “It’s not useful.”
The youngest of Codger’s best old friends, the cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer, who turns a mere 90 next week, said he was “pleased” by the study which confirmed his belief that he would now be dead if he and his wife, Joan Holden, had not moved here from East Hampton two years ago.
“I was tired all the time, couldn’t walk a block, and now I feel renewed,” he said. “I started new work. I think it’s the sense of reflection, the slower pace. In the Hamptons, you might as well be in midtown Manhattan.
“Things develop here, they aren’t rushed along. The ferries make this place reminiscent of an America that only old people remember.”
Codger prodded Feiffer toward an edgier take on the new information. After all, Feiffer has only been, for the past seven decades, one of America’s most insightful political, cultural and social commentators.
Without missing a beat, he said: “On the other hand, I have a bad cold right now, I’m sick as a dog, and if I die by morning I’ll call to remind you to retract everything I’ve said.”
Is Codger trying too hard to find a plot in all this? Did the Chamber of Commerce concoct this longevity campaign? Are liberals or conservatives trying to push a notion that civility, neighborliness, a humane pace can make people great again?
But the New Age leaves him with questions. Will we live long enough to see community housing, a fair and enforced short-term rental law and intelligent, fact-based water quality standards? Will we ever elect a Town Board with the gumption to say, “Hey, dude, your proposed house is too big unless your name is Howard Johnson?”
Will we live long enough to find out who paid to decimate all those trees off Menhaden Lane, much less who killed the Reverend Paul Wancura?
He was only 87.