Codger’s Column: Myth makers

Codger and Cricket have almost finished the 18th book they have read together on FaceTime since the beginning of the plague year. They expect another satisfying climax as the teen-aged heroes and their supernatural Norse friends save Valhalla from evil giants and prevent Ragnarok, the end of the world.

Alas, expectations are not so high for the real world, where an American cold civil war seems to be escalating. On Shelter Island, the recent implosion of local government has laid bare more nasty divisions, especially among people who claim to want a more “diverse” and “inclusive” town with those purported to be representatives of business interests who want a “gated community.”

Codger’s problem is that the issues in the 18th book, “Magnus Chase and The Ship of the Dead,” by Rick Riordan, seem clearer than those on Shelter Island. In the book there is an obvious villain, Loki, the God of Mischief, who lives to disrupt. The fact that he is parent to at least two of the heroes is merely an amusing complication. Adults tend to be unreliable in these books. Cricket, who is 9, is convinced it will all work out because Codger has recently ordered a 19th book.

As long as the words flow, thinks Cricket, Ragnarok will be forestalled.  Codger is concerned about the Island outcome. The recent collapse of the Comprehensive Plan seemed like a portent of Ragnarok. Codger thought the Plan was a terrific step in the direction of rational progress and something Shelter Island has long been needing. What could be better than town officials conferring with everyday citizens over the vision and granular details of the future, about land use, water, housing?

So what went wrong?

Codger has been asking around, a big mistake because everyone offers a definite and contrary opinion. And after two members of the Plan’s three-man presiding task force quit after being challenged by their Advisory Board (CPAC) as well as by a Community Housing Board (CHB) member, there could be no assured answers.

Unless, of course, you are Codger, who between books has been filling Cricket’s head with the way the shifting hostilities and alliances among the gods, demi-gods, giants and various spirits of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology mirror more down-to-earth politics.

He began with the gods, Supervisor Gerry Siller, Town Council member Michael Bebon and Edward Hindin, the volunteer project manager of the Plan. Like Zeus, Jupiter and Odin all are the kind of confident, strong-willed, sometimes heavy-handed old white men who have become used to being in charge here since the country and the Island were slavery empires.

Lately, such founding fathers have been attacked — sometimes unfairly — as patriarchal overlords who have kept down women and Blacks. On the Island, some of the 12 members of CPAC, which had taken seriously its mandate to “help create a vision for our island and define the actions to get there” felt disregarded by what it considered the Task Force’s lack of transparency and behind-the-scenes decision-making.

Those who have expressed such feelings have been variously described as civic heroes and obnoxious monsters. The CHB member, Bob Kohn, who discovered in the Town Code that Bebon was illegitimately serving on the CHB, was seen as variously a valuable truth-teller and a Loki-esque disruptor, perhaps both simultaneously.

Then Ragnarok loomed. Under fire, Bebon resigned both his posts and Hindin quit as project manager, soon to be followed by Supervisor Siller placing the Comprehensive Plan “on hold for the next couple of months.” The most outspoken critic of the Task Force, Kathleen De Rose,  who was also applauded and reviled, left CPAC.

Now, there is distrust of Town Hall and its perpetuation of the “good old boy ways of doing business.” There is a parallel uneasiness with what has been perceived as a disruptive new wave, perhaps empowered by more recent residents including COVID refugees. There have been unsubstantiated charges of financial interests.

No wonder Siller declared last week that Shelter Island was “at a crossroads.”

He was standing on Wades Beach at the time in a moment of rare optimism, the dedication of the newly handsome and convenient bathhouse recently renovated by Public Works craftsmen under Commissioner Brian Sherman. It was funded by the Lions Club, the Senior Citizens Foundation and the Great Peconic Race. A tireless member of all three organizations, Don D’Amato, cut the ribbon.

If ever there was a common ground on Shelter Island, there it was, an exemplary civic project accomplished by public and private institutions, model and metaphor for rebuilding a crumbling structure. Codger, encouraged, looked forward to his reading date with Cricket that afternoon. There was hope in both worlds, a 19th book, Ragnarok forestalled.

Codger says: Go make a Plan.