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Column: Codger’s snow day

Codger observed last Friday’s official snow day by following School Superintendent Brian Doelger’s directive to “have some fun.” Codger sent his mind outside to play in that first week of what is not so much a new year as the continuation of the New Hard Time.

Thinking of this made Codger nostalgic for the Old Hard Time, say two years ago, when the Big Questions seemed daunting but didn’t include insurrection, the Big Lie, and the concerted attacks on such democratic processes as voting rights and the rule of law.

Codger was so innocent then. All he thought about was partying and being au courant. Imagine arriving at those madcap bacchanals hosted by Carol Galligan, Bliss and Mike, the Goodings, the D’Amatos, Mary Dwyer, Michael and Edie, without an informed opinion on who killed the Reverend Canon Paul Wancura, who chopped down the trees off Menhaden Lane, or whether the short-term rental controversy was a precursor of civil war.

Now, of course, COVID has put a lid on such parties. As for those old Big Questions, none of them have been answered. And thanks to masks, it’s too risky to casually offer your take on spot zoning or code enforcement when you don’t know for sure to whom you are talking.

But, happily, some things don’t change, or shouldn’t.

This hit home recently when Codger read the fascinating obituary of Williette Johnston Piccozzi, whose life and family connections are a history lesson and a genealogical diagram that should be a high school course. A harelegger twin, one of seven kids, she became a clan mother of the Island and a major volunteer. Between her siblings and five children, there were connections to the Bowditch, Griffing, Zabel, Silvani and Labrozzi families, among others.

At first, Codger thought that the richness of her 96 years and her service to the Island might never be equaled. Yet others have always stepped up and contributed. The choice of Laurie Fanelli as the Reporter’s Person of the Year must have been an easy one. As Senior Services director, Laurie has not only been the safety net for hundreds of Island residents, but a model for the positive difference a trained, smart, caring person can make.

Meanwhile, Codger is currently emerging slowly from a month-long brain fog caused by the anesthesia and pain meds from a back operation. It was an interesting fog and in some ways he’ll miss it. A nurse explained to him that old men are particularly vulnerable to hallucinations from such drugs.

Codger came to enjoy the shadow plays that drifted through his sleeping and waking. They tended to be in black and white, noir-ish. Think of the Orson Welles’ film, “The Third Man,” without the zither music.

In one of the hallucinations, Codger was chair of the town’s Unaffordable Housing Committee, which vetted applications to build waterfront single-family homes of more than 8,000 square feet. Prospective owners were asked if they were worth more than five times the value of the proposed home and just how did they earn that money.

Were any members of their family willing to volunteer for the Fire Department or the Emergency Medical Services, or to subsidize a modest, inland, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home for a local person who would volunteer?

Codger remembers waking up suddenly after having ruled against applicants who refused to build such a “community house” if it was within sight of their own house.

In another such dream, Codger was wearing a bandage on his nose a la Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown,” a film about the corruption at the heart of the Los Angeles reservoir system. Codger was chair of the town’s Unified Wet Committee, which included drinking water, the waterways, and moorings.

Codger had gotten his nose cut while sticking it into a conspiracy of all the new hotel owners to create a network of docks and moorings that would turn the island into a boatel, primarily accessible to yachts and seaplanes.

In the foggiest and most recent of the shadow plays, Codger was chair of the Upcoming Committee, charged with devising a comprehensive plan for Shelter Island’s future. Lost on what could have been a Mashomack trail, Codger came to three forks, each with a sign: “Become A Total Resort,” “What’s Wrong With Weed?” and “Continue to Lurch Along As Is.”

As that figment faded, Codger was left with the sense that choosing a fork — maybe even blazing a new trail — would be the most important long-term task of the New Hard Time. He was cheered to remember that the new Town Board was the first to have a majority of women members.

If only that meant three Chris Lewises. But who knows? Maybe hope will be au courant in 2022.

Take more snow days, Codger.