Columns

Codger’s column: Masks

Codger likes to pull on a mask (one of four, thanks to Crone), and not only because it hides the fact he didn’t shave. How else could Codger ever feel cool, roguish, and at the same time a responsible citizen caring about the health of his fellows?

That there are guys who actually think masks make them seem unmanly, that it makes them appear afraid of something besides women, is a difficult concept for Codger to process.

The defining question of Codger’s childhood was, “Who was that masked man?” There would be an incredulous pause, then, “That was the Lone Ranger!” and a final splash of the William Tell Overture, arguably the most recognizable piece of operatic music.

The Lone Ranger was Codger’s childhood hero, a social justice warrior who never bullied, a gunman who tried not to kill, a star who left town before he could be lionized. (This was ages before “his faithful Indian companion,” Tonto, became politically incorrect. But the Lone Ranger deserved a sidekick, even after masked Robin was eventually removed from masked Batman’s side.)

The Lone Ranger’s mask looks more like a porn-ish accessory than a COVID-19 barrier. But Codger likes the connection to his hero as he tries to understand the symbolism of the mask in a culture war that has somehow deflected its importance, just as re-openings and demonstrations make containing the virus more difficult.

It seems clear to Codger that people who won’t wear masks are wimps who can’t be trusted to ride it to the buzzer, who don’t have the staying power to beat the plague. They don’t have your back in this terrible confluence of crises in our physical, economic and moral health.

All that’s been in the Shelter Island bubble along with the out-of-town fisherfolk and their families on the beach off Bootleggers Alley, among other beaches, and the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

In both cases the response by Shelter Island government has been measured, smart and responsible, an example of good local leadership in a time of despicable national leadership. Codger is grateful, but not surprised.

Codger has watched the weekend influx of crowds fishing off Bootleggers with mixed feelings. They usually wear masks upon arrival, they are outdoors, they are easily avoidable. On the other hand, with town beaches closed to dogs, as usual for the summer, Codger is annoyed to have to curtail Cur II — who can’t quite grasp social distancing (he also can’t read) — because of the crowds and their all-day picnics.

On the third hand, Codger thinks, why shouldn’t the beautiful bounty of the Island be shared, offer some pleasure, relief and fresh food to people who could enjoy them? Is this a big deal for anyone besides those whose intrusive docks block low-tide beach access to Codger and Cur II along with everybody else? So does that also mean giving a pass to an out-of-town fisher family who drove its car onto Hay Beach on Sunday?

The larger issue of fearing so-called disruptors of our way of life (short-term renters, second-home owners out of season) became apparent to Codger some 20-odd years ago when he and Crone swam in Fresh Pond. Suddenly, weekday yard workers began appearing on the town landing on weekends with their families and hibachis. It was around then that the adjacent neighbor began an incessant campaign to keep people out of Fresh Pond, claiming pollutants.

Now the good news: Last Sunday’s Black Lives Matter demonstration was a gift from the future of the Island to the future of the world. A rousing speech by organizer Emma Gallagher, senior class valedictorian, kicked off a short march that drew an estimated 800 overwhelmingly masked (except for the police), high-spirited people waving hand-made Black Lives Matter signs. It was the largest — and probably most important — demonstration in Island history. The underlying point of Black Lives Matter has always been Black Lives Matter, Too! and the underlying emotion has always been empathy, that ability to — or be willing to learn to — walk in others’ shoes.

Which brings us to empathy and Codger, who feels immediate kinship with masked people and distrust of the naked public mug. Last week, after waiting for a non-Black, non-out-of-towner to park his red SUV improperly in front of the Heights Post Office, Codger saw him again inside, without a mask.

Codger reviewed his options: do nothing; remind him of mask rules; or take a photograph (which Crone later called “hostile”).

The man had no mail and quickly left. Maybe he was having a bad day, forgot his mask for once, or was in early stage jerkhood. Codger still regrets doing nothing, but not as much as not taking a picture. Crone told him she admired his rare restraint. That’s almost good enough. For now.