Columns

Codger’s column: Mr. Rogers was here

In these waning months of the Trump regime, Codger has been toying with the idea of asking the president to send federal troops to protect buildings on Shelter Island.

Codger has been most concerned with the buildings that might become targets of those enraged residents who haven’t found enough release on local Facebook pages and letters to the editor concerning the Post Offices, the mobile toilets on Bootleggers Alley, the pavilion at Wades Beach, Marie Eiffel’s Market, and the school gym.

Some targets are more vulnerable than others. The tsunami of mail, particularly packages ordered by the influx of second-homeowners and long-term renters fleeing COVID- 19, have overwhelmed the Post Offices, especially the Center branch, which has historically been highly overwhelmable. The long lines and lost mail, however, are not a strictly local issue. They have been abetted by the president’s attack on the postal service because he openly views it as an enemy effort to make it easier for Americans to vote.

This may seem like insanity, but we are used to that from him. Meanwhile, former Town Councilman Peter Reich has a bi-partisan solution: Rural Free Delivery. Islanders have long dismissed their right to have mail brought to their houses because they prefer to go gabble and grumble at the Post Office. But it’s a lot less fun these days gabbling and grumbling through masks. And nobody wants to talk to the occasional mask-less Trump model dimwit.

Some targets have become moot. The toilets have been removed. But the scent of danger lingers on as people keep making a political litmus test out of the responses to an influx of fishing day-trippers at the beaches off Bootleggers and Reel Point, among others.

Many of them come from the city in cars packed with children who often skip the toilets in favor of beach grass. If you welcome them and sympathize with their desire for a day in the country and some fresh food, you are variously a good-hearted American or a libtard fool. If you wish they didn’t come here you are variously a righteous property-owner or a selfish racist.

Somehow lost is their right to fish off the Island so long as they have fishing licenses. And the rights of all of us to have access to all the beaches below the high-water line, a critical issue fortunately being taken up by Councilman Mike Bebon.

Alas, even Shelter Island is not quite Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, despite the inspiring advocacy of neighbor Tom Junod, seen most recently in a Zoom conversation sponsored by the library and the newly formed Health and Wellness Alliance (and still available online). The spirit of helpful kindness, often invoked in official speeches here, is sometimes harder to generate than the easier, seemingly more immediately satisfying emotion of hate, especially the trickle-down kind. 

Some targets are almost comedic. That lovely little pavilion at Wades Beach put up by the Lions Club for the elderly and people with disabilities has come under attack by a resident who complained that the picnic table and benches (furnished by the Senior Citizens Foundation) left no room for a bridge table.

It fell to the ever diplomatic Don D’Amato, a working officer of both groups, to explain that the picnic table was so placed to allow wheelchair access. He was too Mr. Rogerish to tell the bridge player, as Codger might, “Dummy, you’ve been trumped!”

Some targets are worthy and provocative, but just seem a little exhausting right now. Shelter Island turns out some disproportionately great athletes and teams, primarily thanks to great dedication and coaching rather than the inspiration of its nickname, the Indians. 

Which Indians? American Indigenous people tend to prefer to be acknowledged by the name of their sovereign nations, such as Shinnecock or Poospatuck. Better for now, call the teams Hareleggers, Fourposters, Clam-diggers or Sylvesters.

Some targets are way bigger than they look. Codger happens to be reading Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” a brilliant examination of the deliberate creation of social hierarchies beyond class and race. Think about Indians, day-fishers, maybe even bridge players, but especially the GoFundMe campaigns of a high-end food purveyor versus a construction worker without health insurance.

The popular Marie Eiffel, struggling to maintain her restaurant and market, has raised, since June, about $179,000 of a $300,000 goal.

Alex Cannon, a former South Ferry captain, fell off a roof he was power-washing last year and was paralyzed. A week ago, his campaign had raised almost $32,000 of its $200,000 goal.

The two funds have been compared, sometimes mockingly, for worthiness, righteousness, usefulness and class consciousness. There should be no comparison. Mr. Rogers gently extolled all the “helpers.”

Codger says: Donate to your choice and shut up.